The G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was set up last year under the US presidency, with the aim of improving food security in Africa by stimulating private investment in the agriculture sector. In 2012, more than 80 companies made investment commitments in the six African countries which had signed up. Today, nine African countries belong to the alliance, which says its target is to lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2022.
This all sounds like good news for Africa, but some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been critical. The Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development (IRPAD) is concerned that the alliance includes many multinational food companies and will mean “big businesses are dictating policy” in Africa. IRPAD believes smallholder farmers, who make up the bulk of Africa’s growers, will lose out to land grabs and deals signed with multinationals in a “new wave of colonialism”.
And it’s not just smaller NGOs who are concerned. The Pan Africa Head of Economic Justice for Oxfam warned that the alliance “focuses too heavily on the role of the private sector to tackle the complex challenges of food insecurity” and argued that smallholder farmers do not need “prescriptive tips on farming from G8 leaders, or one-size-fits-all technologies from far away CEOs”.
But other NGOs, such as ONE, have defended the alliance, highlighting the fact that many of those who shaped its design and take part in its leadership council are key figures in the African Union or African farmers’ organisations. Senior politicians, including Joyce Banda, the president of Malawi (which joined this year), have also spoken in its favour. Ms Banda highlights the fact that most of the 20 companies involved in the alliance’s co-operation framework in Malawi are “domestic” businesses. The Malawian president welcomes the new investment (more than 60 million pounds) and the part it will play in improving “seed production, crop diversification and [the] expansion of agro-processing facilities”. Ms Banda clearly believes private investment will benefit her country’s farmers.
In its 2013 progress report, the Alliance gives examples of domestic agricultural companies being supported, such as Lozane Farms in Mozambique which has signed contracts with the leaders of farming groups and Tanseed in Tanzania, which is working with over 8,000 smallholders and is testing drought-tolerant maize hybrids for possible registration. The report clearly aims to show that many of the participating private companies are not “far away” and will be working hand in hand with Africa’s smallholder farmers. The new alliance is also backing projects which link smallholder farmers to markets, as well as those which “extend insurance services” or “increase access to innovative technology”.
It is too early to tell whether the new alliance will prove successful in its aims and the signed-up African governments are therefore taking a gamble with their involvement. But given the desperate need for better harvests and increased food security in their nations, clearly they believe it’s a bet worth taking.