Advocates urge U.S. to cease support for African agriculture initiative

Campaigners against the New Alliance dressed as business people from Monsanto, Diageo, SABMiller and Unilever deliver a cake to the Department for International Development to thank the UK government for its support to allow them to carve up Africa. (Credit: Global Justice Now)

A program meant to help agriculture in Africa is causing more harm than good and should be closed, says an advocacy group. The 3-year-old New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition allowed large corporations to make land grabs that are to the detriment of small farmers, according to a new report by ActionAid. Released ahead of the G7 Summit in Germany, a meeting of the world’s seven leading economies, the report urges members at the meeting to end the New Alliance and embark on a better initiative.

“The New Alliance was supposed to provide much-needed support to some of Africa’s poorest farmers but this flagship project of Obama’s G8 presidency has forced some of the continent’s poorest farmers off their land,” said ActionAid USA’s Senior Policy Analyst Doug Hertzler to the media.

An analysis of New Alliance initiatives carried out in Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania and Senegal shows 1.8 million hectares of land were offered to large-scale investors. The majority of which is in Malawi. Its offering of 1 million hectares to commercial farming represents more than 26 percent of the country’s arable land. So much land in countries without strong land ownership rules and protections leaves small-holder farmers extremely vulnerable when changes are made.

“Land titling can give small-scale food producers more security over their land, but in the current New Alliance-related processes, it appears to be a way to primarily help governments facilitate large-scale acquisitions of land,” says the report. “The abolition of customary or communal tenure systems and their replacement with freehold title and the private land market has often led to extinguishing the land rights of the poor, notably women.”

The New Alliance was established in 2012 by the G8 (U.S., U.K., France, Italy, Canada, Japan, Germany and Russia) and European Union. It sought to provide incentives for the private sector to invest in and support agriculture and nutrition in Africa. The initiative brought on 10 African countries and more than 45 companies. African countries agreed on a set of policy commitments including trade, land ownership, seed imports, taxes and more. G8 donors kicked in $4 billion between 2012 and 2015 to support the governments and companies. Advocates were immediately divided on the program. Some NGOs warned that the rules benefited corporations and left African farmers behind.

“This New Alliance – is a nice complement at best, a deflection at worst. The role of the private sector is important, but they will not be able to make up for the G8’s broken promises,” said Oxfam’s Lamine Ndiaye in response to the unveiling of the New Alliance. “Smallholder farmers need the freedom to pursue their own growing strategies, not take overly-prescriptive tips on farming from G8 leaders, or one size fits all technologies from far away CEOs.”

The major concerns were that the New Alliance moved in a direction that was not in line with promises already made by G8 countries in support of solutions to global hunger and food insecurity. But supporters of the New Alliance say its detractors got it wrong. The advocacy group the ONE Campaign was an early supporter. It supported the idea that the initiative could help lift 50 million people out of poverty in a matter of 10 years.

“Our findings show that, although not perfect, the New Alliance is comprised of a diverse group of companies – including many small businesses – which are trying to expand economic opportunities for farmers and their families. It’s high time to recognize the importance of this initiative and encourage the U.K. to expand and enhance the New Alliance by adding at least 12 new countries, and ensure current compacts have time-bound commitments,” wrote ONE’s agriculture policy manager David Hong in a blog post debunking myths about the New Alliance.

But the early concerns may have been warranted. The allocation of 350,000 hectares in Nigeria to eight companies involved in the New Alliance worries ActionAid. Especially since three of the companies stand accused of making prior land grabs in Nigeria. The group says the only way forward is to throw out the New Alliance and create a new program that will actually benefit small-holder farmers.

“President Obama has pledged billions of U.S. dollars to support the New Alliance. But the money is helping big international companies set up huge plantations growing crops for export, rather than supporting Africa’s poorest farmers,” said Hertzler.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.

  • Simon Collery

    “The advocacy group the ONE Campaign was an early supporter. It supported the idea that the initiative could help lift 50 million people out of poverty in a matter of 10 years.”

    The support of ONE should be a clear enough warning sign.