We’re STILL not convinced by DfID’s support for the New Alliance

We’re STILL not convinced by DfID’s support for the New Alliance

Date: 7 August 2015

The debate between Global Justice Now and DfID over the contentious New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (New Alliance) seems to be going nowhere fast. Global Justice Now’s latest appeal to DfID to end their support to the New Alliance was met with an underwhelming response via a web statement in which DFID mount a somewhat unconvincing defence. It would appear that, despite the growing evidence of the disastrous impacts, DfID remain resolute in maintaining their £600million backing for the New Alliance.

Indicators of Success

In their statement, DfID declare that “preliminary findings on the progress of…the New Alliance…are positive”. The evidence they offer is that “over 200 African and global companies have made investment commitments totalling over US$10billion…reaching over 8.6million smallholder farmers and creating 58,000 jobs”. While repeating impressive sounding figures is common amongst New Alliance partners, it appears that somewhat less effort goes in to demonstrating what these figures actually mean or how they can be used as accurate indicators of success for the stated ambitions of improving nutrition and food security.

Simply using the presence of corporate investment as an indicator of success is problematic. It fails to recognise that numerous different types of investments exist, and corporations can invest in countries in several different ways. It is widely acknowledged that successful investment is heavily dependent on a number of variables such as country context, investor behaviour and policy frameworks, which means that not all investments are automatically positive. This is particularly the case when investment comes in exchange for heavy policy reforms. Between them, the countries involved in the New Alliance have committed to over 200 policy changes via their respective country frameworks. Ranging from land reform in Malawi which have paved the way for ‘land grabs’ to new seed laws in Ghana which, if passed, will impede the abilities of farmers to breed, save and exchange seeds. So while substantial investments are being channelled via the New Alliance, to imply that these are automatically beneficial and can therefore be used as an indicator of success, while ignoring all evidence to the contrary, is a somewhat disingenuous way to measure impact.  

The other dubious figure is the number of smallholder farmers ‘reached’ by the New Alliance. This elusive term, used as a New Alliance performance indicator, is never accompanied with an explanation of the criteria used to classify a smallholder farmer as ‘reached’. With some reports suggesting that it can mean something as broad as how many people listened to a radio programme it becomes hard to see how this is anything more than a simple way to garner up impressive sounding figures. It is also not clear to us where DfID’s 8.6 million figure has come from given that less than 12 months ago the New Alliance progress report stated 3 million smallholders had been reached since the start of the scheme in 2012.

On the third indicator of success cited by DfID, that of job creation, once again simply stating employment figures tells us nothing about the status of this employment, especially when jobs on commercial farms and plantations are renowned for their low pay, job insecurity and poor working conditions. To cite just one example, an investigation into Wilmar’s investment in Nigerian palm oil shows that although the company has created 5,000 jobs and promises up to 250,000, most of the employment on offer was “non-permanent, unskilled, and lacking basic remunerations and incentives such as health insurance…poor working conditions are serious enough to have warranted the intervention of the state’s Agricultural Labour Union.” Even if conditions were improved, 58,000 jobs across 10 countries is a small figure when one considers that in 2015 alone some 19 million youth will be entering the labour market across sub-Saharan Africa.

The fact that none of the indicators cited in DfID’s response tell us anything about improving nutrition or food security is not simply a problem with DfID’s monitoring and evaluation, it is symptomatic of the fact that the New Alliance is an inadequate model through which to address these issues. There are alternative models, such as food sovereignty, which we urge DfID to switch its focus to if they are serious about addressing these issues.

Policy reform

Of the concerns Global Justice Now raised with DfID, the most pressing is the devastating consequences being felt by smallholder farmers as a result of policy reforms passed under the auspices of the New Alliance; policies which primarily service the interests of big businesses. DfID’s response to this was that “Agricultural and economic policies that encourage investment by small and large players are essential” and “It is not the case that the New Alliance promotes policy reforms which are designed to benefit big business”. DfID’s determined effort to ignore the evidence of disastrous policy reforms is going to become increasingly difficult the faster the evidence mounts. In the last few months alone a number of new reports have been published documenting further stories of corporate land grabs, displacements, mounting debt, and lost access to vital resources of land, water and seeds. Even without the dreadful stories documented in these reports, just looking through the policy reforms being offered by African partner countries it is hard to see how these are anything but designed for the benefit of big business. Nigeria explicitly entices businesses with zero corporate tax for five years followed by favourable rates thereafter. This is alongside the active promotion of “low average wages”. Likewise, Cote d’Ivoire is committed to reforms that will explicitly work in favour of corporations such as controversially “developing and implementing domestic seed laws that encourage increased private sector involvement”. When countries are offering such unambiguous reforms to entice corporate investment, and with the likes of Nestle, Mars, Syngenta and Unilever set to benefit, it is hard to see how big business is anything but set to make huge gains from the New Alliance. And it is not just NGOs coming to this conclusion; the Independent Commission for Aid Impact recently reported that the New Alliance is serving as “little more than a means of promotion for the companies involved and a chance to increase their influence in policy debates.

Participation and accountability

DfID further legitimise their support for the New Alliance with claims that it includes “active participation…from civil society and farmers’ organisations” and pointing to evidence that “three African farmers’ organisations and one civil society organisation are members of the New Alliance Leadership Council to ensure their perspective and input are received and acted on”. This is disingenuous given that the participation of these groups was a late addition to the original Council and, despite its name, the Leadership Council does not take a ‘lead’. It is an advisory body with no decision making powers nor clear purpose. It was not even involved in shaping the country frameworks which were made at country level behind closed doors. While there has been some effort to include civil society, this has been through token gestures long after decisions were made.

Furthermore, the Leadership Council includes the world’s most powerful and wealthy players including six multinational corporations, among them Unilever, Yara and Syngenta and consists of more non-African than African states, including all G7 countries plus the EU. Throw in the World Economic Forum and a couple of multilateral organisations and it quickly becomes hugely unconvincing that this is a legitimate forum for input from smallholder African farmers and civil society. The actual participation of civil society and farmers’ organisations is also far less clear than DfID imply. The farmers’ organisations may have been invited to recent meetings but at least one chose not to participate, while Oxfam, which previously participated, left last year describing a flawed, undemocratic process that failed to adequately integrate the voices of farmers’ organisations. If DfID genuinely want to listen to the voices of all African farmers then they should be paying attention to the thousands who have been protesting against the impacts of the New Alliance.

More productive and profitable

DfID’s devoted focus on growth and higher productivity is reflected in their claim that there is a “need for business models that make a difference to poor farmers, both large and small, increasing their productivity and profitability by effectively linking to markets” The problem with this vision is that simply increasing production does not address hunger if, as is the case with most New Alliance projects, the focus is on crops with relatively low nutritional value, crops destined for export, or commercial crops such as tobacco or biofuels. A case in point, where increasing productivity actually negatively impacted hunger and nutrition, was where farmers in Ghana began producing cassava for beer production which increased prices for this staple crop making it increasingly unaffordable to the local population.


A further defence of the New Alliance offered by DfID is the claim that “parties involved in the New Alliance commit to support implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests and the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment” Firstly, the two documents referred to are very different. The Tenure Guidelines, developed by the UN Committee on World Food Security, are a welcome step in the right direction, whereas the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment written by the World Bank have been widely condemned and it is therefore not reassuring that the New Alliance supports these. Secondly, there is a big difference between ‘committing to support’ guidelines on paper and actually upholding them in practice. ActionAid have recently documented a number of instances where the guidelines are being violated, in particular that much of the land reform taking place via the New Alliance is in direct contradiction to the guideline’s position that investment should not result in “large-scale transfer of tenure of rights to investors” yet this is precisely what is happening across the New Alliance countries.

DfID end their statement conceding that “Yet more work is needed to ensure the voice of farmers is heard by policy-makers in each country and to protect them from any risks of exploitative practice by governments or business” and this is probably a diagnosis we share, but our prescription is that the best way to ensure farmers’ voices are heard and avoid exploitative practices is to end support for the New Alliance once and for all.

The full DfID response can be seen here.

The Global Justice Now petition to DfID can be seen here.