What's wrong with the New Alliance?

Monday, March 9, 2015 - 11:46

What is it?

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched in 2012 by the G8 (now the G7, with Russia’s departure), with the aim of “rais[ing] 50 million people out of poverty in Africa by 2022”. The rationale behind this initiative is to engage the ten participating countries from Africa to commit to policy reforms to create an ‘enabling environment’ for private sector investments in agriculture.

What stage is it at?

The ten African countries have committed to carry out these reforms, notably on land and seed laws. Donors have committed to put money on the table. The EU is a very strong contributor to the New Alliance, with a promise to disburse €1,203.5 million. 180 companies have signed letters of intent, amounting to promises of investments totalling $8 billion.

What are our concerns?

Most of those letters are not public, and companies cannot be held accountable if they don’t deliver.

The promoters of the New Alliance say that within two years their private investments have already reached 3 million smallholder farmers in Africa. This looks fantastic. But what do they mean by “reached”? Nobody knows.

How many people were evicted from their land as a result of New Alliance projects? That would be an unhappy way to be “reached,” indeed. Nobody knows. But evidence from the ground is starting to emerge, not because companies are reporting it, but because NGOs and farmers’ organisations are.

How many smallholder farmers will be impacted by the revision of the new seed or land laws, which will privilege the rights of corporations over farmers? Those numbers have not been counted.

And how much money has been lost for agriculture, education and health because of tax breaks offered to multinational corporations taking part in the New Alliance – even if many of those tax deals are independent from the New Alliance itself? Nobody knows either.

What are CSOs doing about the New Alliance?

Civil society organisations have started to gather evidence on the negative impact of New Alliance projects on people living in poverty in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mozambique.

In particular, they have highlighted the lack of an accountability framework for companies, of participation of those who are supposed to benefit from those policies – smallholder farmers - and the lack of transparency. They have also highlighted the risk that the New Alliance could further marginalise women farmers and people living in poverty. The attacks against land and seeds laws under the New Alliance have also been documented.

How has the New Alliance responded to criticism?

Recently, light touch reforms have been brought to the New Alliance, with a few more seats provided for civil society organisations and African governments in the body managing the initiative (the Leadership Council).

But these are cosmetic measures, as the whole framework has been built without small farmers, to pursue a model of agriculture that adds pressure on the natural resources they need and will make food more expensive for many. Large corporations will benefit from state guarantees, loans and policy reforms that will largely benefit the private sector. In addition, African companies will have to compete with these large multinationals, even though they have far fewer resources, access to credit, and other advantages.

What should be done?

CSOs are arguing that before the damage becomes irreversible, the New Alliance must be either radically reformed – or simply dropped.