EU Parliament: stop 'aid' funding billions to agribusiness in Africa

| 7th June 2016
Farmers like Madame Fatu Kanu, near Freetown in Sierra Leone, have nothing to gain from the kind of corporate agricultural development offered by the 'New Alliance', and everything to lose. Photo: kenny lynch via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Farmers like Madame Fatu Kanu, near Freetown in Sierra Leone, have nothing to gain from the kind of corporate agricultural development offered by the 'New Alliance', and everything to lose. Photo: kenny lynch via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
The European Parliament today called on the Commission and member states like the UK to stop funding the 'New Alliance' plan to force export-oriented agribusiness onto Africa. Instead they want support for small-scale family farms and agroecology.
The New Alliance aims to replicate in Africa the 'Green Revolution' model based on monoculture, mechanisation, biotechnology, fertilisers, long distribution channels and the production of export crops.

The European Parliament today voted overwhelmingly to accept a highly critical report by the EU Development Committee on the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN) that calls on the EU and its member states to cease funding it.

The New Alliance is a controversial aid initiative, supported by major agribusiness enterprises, that has received $1.1 billion from the EU's own aid directorate and £600 million from the UK international aid department DFID.

In its conclusion the report "severely questions the ability of mega-PPPs such as NAFSN to contribute to poverty reduction and food security, as the poorest communities risk to bear the brunt of social and environmental risks associated with it.

"Given the existing deficiencies, the rapporteur believes that the EU and its Member States should stop its current support to NAFSN.

"Instead, both donors and national governments should invest in a model of agriculture which is sustainable, pro-smallholder farming, pro-women, and which unlocks the potential of domestic and regional markets so as to benefit family farmers and provide quality food for consumers at accessible prices ...

"Official Development Aid (ODA) should serve the goal of poverty reduction, not the interests of EU trade policy. The rapporteur believes that the EU should not use ODA to support transnational companies operating as monopolies or in cartels which contribute to undermining the local private sector, thus endangering family farmers and smallholders."

By agribusiness, for agribusiness

Founded in 2012, the 'New Alliance' is aimed at the commercialisation of African agriculture. It seeks to open up the continent to agriusiness and to encourage small farmers to raise production using expensive inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides and high-yielding proprietary seeds, including GMOs.

The New Alliance brings together corporate investment with aid money from G7 countries and the European Union, with its stated aim to lift 50 million people out of poverty in 10 African countries. In exchange for aid investment, African countries undergo a number of policy reforms to ensure a more business friendly environment to benefit the investors - among them fertilizer giant Yara International, Syngenta, Monsanto, Coca-Cola and Nestle.

It is based on the assumption that corporate investment in agriculture will increase production and automatically improve food security and reduce poverty. But the initiative has been widely criticised by civil society organisations across the world.

Not only has it failed to address poverty or hunger, but the scheme has facilitated the grabbing of land and natural resources, undermined small-scale farmers and their right to adequate food and nutrition, and accelerated seed privatisation.

The report, which was commissioned earlier in the year, highlighted numerous concerns about the scheme, including:

  • the introduction and spread of certified seeds in Africa increases smallholder dependence, makes indebtedness more probable, and erodes seed diversity;
  • the need for EU Member States to invest in agro-ecological farming practices in developing countries;
  • the need for independent grievance mechanisms for those communities affected by land dispossession;
  • the lack of consultation with civil society groups from Africa before the launch of the scheme;
  • the flawed assumption that corporate investment in agriculture automatically improves food security and nutrition and reduces poverty.

The plan: Green Revolution part 2

In its Explanatory Statement the EU report sets out the heart of the problem: "NAFSN aims to replicate in Africa the model of the 1960s/1970s Asian 'Green Revolution', based on monoculture, mechanisation, biotechnology, dependence on fertilisers, long distribution channels and the production of export crops. The limits of this approach are well known, particularly the associated environmental risks.

"Moreover, the agreed policies in host countries are meant to create a business-friendly environment through reforms of infrastructure, tax, land or trade policies; easier access to 'idle' land for long-term lease; and regulatory reforms in the area of seeds to strengthen intellectual property rights of plant breeders.

The report also draws attention to the New Alliance's most fundamental contradiction: its total exclusion of the very people the initiative is ostensibly designed to help:

"Strikingly, smallholders were barely consulted in the creation of the CCFs although they are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiaries of NAFSN. Consequently, NAFSN has been heavily criticised by civil society, public figures like the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and by African small-scale farmers themselves. They warn that NAFSN risks facilitating land grabs, to further marginalise small-scale producers and women, while supporting unsustainable farming ...

"Family farmers and smallholders are the main investors in African agriculture, and provide over 60% of employment in SubSaharan Africa. They have demonstrated their ability to increase food production sustainably (often through agro-ecological practices), to diversify production, to contribute to rural development, to increase incomes and, in turn, to help reduce poverty.

"Instead of supporting NAFSN's model of 'modern', 'business-oriented' agriculture based on large-scale industrial farming, your rapporteur, in line with recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and the 2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), calls on African governments to invest in family farming and agroecology."

Not 'aid' but 'a means of promotion for the companies involved'

The New Alliance has also been slated by Olivier De Schutter, the former special rapporteur to the UN on food security, who wrote his own highly critical review of its methods and performance.

And in 2015, an independent audit of the UK's aid partnerships with corporate partners singled out the New Alliance as being particularly ineffective. The report suggested that the £600 million that the UK had poured into the scheme served as "as little more than a means of promotion for the companies involved and a chance to increase their influence in policy debates".

Aisha Dowell, a food campaigner with Global Justice Now said: "This is the most high profile and damning report so far of the New Alliance, and proves that this is a scheme that has been cooked up to benefit big agribusiness companies rather than to help small-scale farmers or vulnerable communities."

There needs to be an urgent inquiry as to why DfID is continuing to support such a fundamentally flawed initiative, she added: "There's plenty of good reasons why the UK should be committed to contributing a fixed amount of GDP in aid money, but we need to be critically examining how that money is spent. The current fixation on corporate partnerships is based on an ideological vision of development that that is dangerously dated. 
"Small scale farmers across the globe produce 70% of the world's food, often using techniques that are much more sustainable and climate-friendly than big agribusiness. There are plenty of ways that aid money could be used to improve the lives and livelihoods of these people. But the New Alliance is doing exactly the opposite by facilitating big agribusiness' takeover of food systems in different African countries."



The report: 'Report on the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition' (2015/2277(INI)) Committee on Development is written by Maria Heubuch as Rapporteur and was today adopted as the official view of the European Parliament.

Oliver Tickell is Contributing Editor at The Ecologist.

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