Two Blows in a Row: The New Alliance for Food Security Loses Ground

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"The approach of this initiative is too ideological and there is a real risk of land grabbing at the expense of smallholder farmers," a French government official explained France’s withdrawal from the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). France’s decision to pullout, announced on February 9 2018, came just a few days after another embarrassment for the NAFSN. In January, revelations of political manipulation and flawed methodology of the main progress indicator of the New Alliance, the Doing Business Report (DBR) by the World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer, created worldwide outrage. This revelation combined with France’s bold decision, is a significant victory for citizens, farmer organizations, and NGOs from around the world who oppose the corporatization of agriculture.

The New Alliance: From Theory to Practice

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN) was launched in 2012 by the G8 in “partnership” with 10 African governments, private corporations, development organizations, and aid donors. This controversial agreement aimed to "unlock private investments in agriculture in Africa" and lift 50 million out of poverty. From its very inception, it came under heavy criticism for promoting the reach of multinationals like Monsanto, Syngenta and Yara, into African seed, pesticides, land, and fertilizer markets—to the detriment of smallholder farmers.  

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair Bill Gates and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim at the 2016 World Bank / IMF Spring Meetings. Credit: Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair Bill Gates and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim at the 2016 World Bank / IMF Spring Meetings. Credit: Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

The NAFSN operates through Cooperation Frameworks—negotiated documents where members outline their commitments: African governments commit to policy reforms, while companies and donor agencies outline their promises of investments and aid money.

In the Cooperation Frameworks approved in 2012, the ten New Alliance countries initially committed to 213 policy changes across a range of agriculture and food security issues, all focused on improving the 'investment climate' through pro-business reforms. These include corporate tax exemptions, reforms on seed and fertilizer policies to facilitate and increase private-sector investments, implementation of private property regime for seeds, and easing of land transfers and leases, to name a few.

Ethiopia, for instance, promised to "refine land law, if necessary, to encourage long-term land leasing". Meanwhile Mozambique committed to "systematically ceasing to distribute free and unimproved [non-commercial] seeds to farmers except in emergencies". In Nigeria, policy commitments explicitly envisioned the "removal of restrictions on areas of investment and maximum equity ownership by foreign investors", and "free repatriation of capital and returns". It is hard to believe such extreme incentives for foreign private-sector investors could ever contribute to local communities' food security and smallholder farmers' livelihoods. Instead, bad faith agreements as such could only lead to the exploitation of local natural resources for the further concentration of wealth (and land) in the hands of a few large-scale business owners.  

These policy reforms are guided and monitored by two indexes run by the World Bank. The Doing Business Report (DBR) scores countries according to the ease of Doing Business, and the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) is an adaptation of the DBR, developed to guide the pro-business policy and regulatory reforms specifically in the agriculture sector. The EBA, created in 2013 as one of the so-called "enabling actions" for the NAFSN, was commissioned by the G8 when they launched the New Alliance.

The New Alliance initiative is also strongly linked to Grow Africa, a platform comprising over 200 companies and 12 countries, 10 of which are part of the NAFSN. The Grow Africa partnership was created for strengthening commitments between African countries and private sector investors in agribusiness, being fully funded by USAID and having its secretariat incubated by the World Economic Forum in Switzerland until 2015.

By June 2015, in the most recent New Alliance and Grow Africa Joint Annual Progress Report, a total of 46 policy reforms for "enabling the environment for private sector investment" were mapped, together with 26 reforms on land and resources rights and policies, and 34 changes on inputs policies. This means, the less "barriers" for foreign investors and businesses to access land, register and sell industrial fertilizers and seeds, less taxes and tariffs, the higher the country scores in the DBR and EBA rankings, making it more attractive for foreign corporate investors. It also means doing away with labor rights and environmental regulations is rewarded. Using the DBR and EBA to encourage reforms that benefit corporate investors, the NAFSN is the Trojan horse for the corporate take-over of African agriculture.

Monitoring Progress with Flawed Indicators

The first big blow to the New Alliance came in January 2018, when World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer revealed that politically motivated methodological changes skewed the Doing Business report (DBR) of Chile, decreasing artificially its score under socialist president Michelle Bachelet. These revelations led to Romer's resignation a few days later.  

In 2013, the World Bank’s own independent panel of evaluators highlighted that the DBRs rely on a narrow information source which does little to reflect realities on the ground. The researchers also criticized the reports' data-collection methodology and raised the issue of the rankings becoming a normative drive for policy change. All of these internal and external criticisms contribute to the mounting evidence against the methodological flaws and unreliability of the DB indicators and reports.   

Despite the critical concerns raised, both the DBR and EBA remain as the main policy indicators to monitor progress of the NAFSN cooperation frameworks, continuing to push countries into a race to the bottom on deregulation.

Some governments have been forced to reconsider their support for EBA’s ill-conceived approach to fight poverty and hunger. Consequently, the Dutch and Danish governments—two of the five EBA donors—have pulled out their financial support, leaving only USAID, DfID, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation financing this DBR-inspired problematic ranking.

Losing ground: France Drops Out

The second major upset for the New Alliance happened with France’s withdrawal from the initiative in February 2018. Following an independent evaluation of the impact of the NAFSN in Burkina Faso, France decided it was time to back out. "The measures taken there to free up land for future investors caused profound changes in food security and food consumption practices", Le Monde Afrique quoted the report. As affirmed by Marie-Cécile Thirion, head of the rural development division at the French Development Agency (AFD), “[The New Alliance] did not really promote useful new investments and it did not prevent bad ones."

Crop spraying on the Agrica rice plantation. Credit: Greenpeace.
Crop spraying on the Agrica rice plantation. Credit: Greenpeace.

The same conclusion can be reached by looking at other NAFSN member countries. Tanzania, for example, has increased economic growth in recent years, but the country's social inequality has widened. Its fast-improving Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has failed to translate into progress in Food Security and Nutrition. The Oakland Institute's report on Agrica's investments in a rice plantation in Tanzania exposed yet another example of failure –so-called 'sustainable agribusiness investments' do not automatically translate into benefits for local communities. Agrica, one of the private-sector agribusiness part of the NAFSN commitments, is backed by considerable financial support from USAID and DfID, two of the last remaining funders of the EBA report.

Overall, buzzwords like the 'business-enabling environment,' which underlie the New Alliance discourse and practice, are merely supporting the expansion of large-scale and export-oriented agribusinesses, at the cost of local farmers and biodiversity. NAFSN key indicators and monitoring tools are based on a failed assumption: more agribusiness investments equal more food security and less poverty. But two blows in a row since January 2018 have weakened the New Alliance and its flawed progress indicators are in an even faster free fall.

Our Land Our Business

Since 2014, the Our Land Our Business campaign has been demanding the end of World Bank’s Doing Business ranking (DBR) and Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA), key premise of the New Alliance cooperation frameworks.

Over 280 civil society organizations from over 80 countries have signed onto the campaign. For more information, visit the campaign's website.

To learn more:

Unfolding Truth: Dismantling the World Bank's Myths on Agriculture and Development

New Name, Same Game: World Bank's Enabling the Business of Agriculture

The Unholy Alliance, Five Western Donors Shape a Pro-Corporate Agenda for African Agriculture

Willful Blindness: How the World Bank's Doing Business Rankings Impoverish Smallholder Farmers