This week, the Development Committee of the European Parliament declared its position on the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a big Public-Private Partnership launched by the G8 in 2012 to support private investments in agriculture in Africa. After months of work and debates between the different political forces represented in the Parliament, the resolution has been adopted by an overwhelming majority of the members present.
Civil society organisations, including ActionAid, have asked the EU and European governments to stop funding the New Alliance, and to replace it with an appropriate investment framework to support agriculture in Africa. Instead, the Parliament has pointed to a number of flaws in the New Alliance, and has called upon the EU, a major financial supporter of the New Alliance, to address them.
Even if we believe in ActionAid that the New Alliance flaws are so profound that it will be very hard, if not impossible, to turn it into a pro-poor and pro-women tool, we consider that the Parliament’s resolution means that business as usual is not an option. Behind the New Alliance, there are much broader questions: Which kind of private sector investments are needed to lift small-scale farmers out of poverty? How can private sector interventions be designed so that they can strengthen local food systems and the climate resilience of African farmers? If farmers’ right to save and exchange seeds is a pillar of the right to food, should Europe and large seed companies not stop encouraging African governments to enact laws incompatible with that right?[i] What should be the respective place of global value chains and local and regional value chains in agriculture, and where should public development money go? Where is it more needed? All those tricky questions are now on the table!
In fact those very issues were debated a week earlier in Accra, Ghana, where the African Union, which now manages the New Alliance, organised a consultation with New Alliance Member States, Development Partners, Grow Africa, CSOs, farmers organisations and members of the private sector about the partnership. The African Union officials agreed on the significance of these issues – and promised to do more to address them. We shall be watching in the coming weeks and months whether this consultation will bear fruition as the new NA coordinating team promised. As my Gambian colleague Buba Khan says: “They need to walk the talk!!!”.
While debates continue in capital cities, in the field there are day-to-day struggles against the impact of legislative changes that African governments promised under the New Alliance in order to attract foreign agricultural investments. In Malawi, for example, facilitating access to land by investors is one of the commitments made by the government of Malawi under the New Alliance…[ii] But civil society organisations, including ActionAid, are presently trying to push for the inclusion of provisions in the Land Bill that would protect the land rights of small scale farmers and women.
We are often left with a sour taste of failure in Brussels, when the same slides about private sector providing 90% of the jobs in developing countries are shown again and again in various events…[iii]But a new narrative is emerging, and it gives hope that space will open up for scaling up alternatives and listening to people’s aspirations concerning the future of agriculture and natural resources – in
[ii] “release 200,000 hectares for large scale commercial agriculture by 2015, for more details, see http://www.actionaidusa.org/sites/files/actionaid/new20alliance20new20risks20of20land20grabs.pdf
[iii] While some studies show that actually in Africa, permanent wage jobs in the private sector account on average for only 10% of total employment (a share similar to that provided by public administration and state owned enterprises), see How Large Is the Private Sector in Africa? Evidence from National Accounts and Labor Markets, Institute for the Study of Labor IZA, Dec 2011, available at http://ftp.iza.org/dp6267.pdf. Almost a third of workers are still poor, and about half—particularly women—are informal workers. In some of the poorest countries, informality and underemployment, rather than unemployment, are the main issues: IFC Jobs Study Assessing Private Sector Contributions to Job Creation and Poverty Reduction, January 2013, http://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/0fe6e2804e2c0a8f8d3bad7a9dd66321/IFC_FULL+JOB+STUDY+REPORT_JAN2013_FINAL.pdf?MOD=AJPERES