12 June 2013
Rob Bailey

Rob Bailey

Research Director, Energy, Environment and Resources, Chatham House


Despite welcoming the G8's recent pledges on aid for nutrition, NGOs remain unconvinced about the G8's other hunger initiative: the New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition.

On Saturday 8 June the UK government held a high-level meeting on hunger and malnutrition as part of the run-up to the G8 Summit. The result was a raft of pledges from donor governments, foundations and NGOs to increase funding for nutrition, potentially worth over $4 billion between now and 2020. Campaign groups, over 200 of which organized a rally in Hyde Park to coincide with the meeting, were thrilled with the result. And rightly so: recent research identified malnutrition as the cause of 45 per cent of deaths among children under the age of five.

NGO Concerns

Campaign groups are less positive about the previous year's G8 initiative to tackle hunger and malnutrition. The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition aims to develop partnerships between African governments, businesses and donor governments to support agricultural growth. The model essentially sees African governments commit to market-based reforms, companies commit to specific projects and investments, and G8 donors provide funds to support the bargain – about $4 billion from 2012 to 2015. In 2012 six African governments and 45 companies signed-up to the New Alliance, three more countries joined this week.

The goal of scaling-up private sector investment in African agriculture is entirely justified: there is a yawning investment shortfall that cannot and should not be met only through public resources. However campaign groups have voiced concerns that governments will be pressured into reforms that make it easier for large multinationals to grab land and sell smallholder farmers expensive genetically modified and hybrid seeds unsuited to their needs.

A quick glance at the national 'cooperation frameworks' developed by the first tranche of New Alliance governments reveals seeds and land to be the subject of key reforms in all six. However this does not necessarily mean that the reforms will be bad: millions of African farmers would benefit tremendously from more secure access to land and better access to improved seed varieties. On the issue of land, New Alliance businesses and governments are supposed to pilot new international frameworks designed specifically to ensure secure land tenure for farmers and responsible investment practices from companies. And while the New Alliance does include multinational seed companies, it also includes a larger number of African businesses; the lion's share of planned private investments aim to bring smallholder farmers into value chains as suppliers of crops, not as customers for seeds and other inputs.

Top Down or Bottom Up?

In reality, different types of business – financial services, telecommunications, seed, fertilizer, farming, trading and processing – all have something to offer. The question is less about which companies should be included, but how they should be included and what they should do. And here there may be some cause for concern. Research by Oxfam suggests many companies are participating on the basis of pre-existing business plans, and governments have developed national frameworks to support and enable such investment.

Despite the New Alliance's full title, the starting point appears not to have been food security and nutrition. There seems to have been insufficient involvement of farmers and civil society in the design of projects and cooperation frameworks, and only a few per cent of planned private investments include a nutrition component. Perhaps most remarkably, despite the central role of women in agriculture and nutrition outcomes, cooperation frameworks and business plans make almost no mention of women at all.

After only one year, it is still too early for the New Alliance to have had an observable impact on hunger and nutrition, however a more bottom-up approach involving farmers in the design and monitoring of national frameworks and investment plans might reasonably be expected to yield better results. Nevertheless, the top down model means governments have been able to report progress of a sort: about a third of the total three-year funding commitment has been disbursed by G8 donors to African governments, which have in turn implemented about a third of the reforms they have signed-up to. Platforms on technology, risk management and information have also been launched.

Interestingly, progress from the private sector appears to have been more modest: companies have invested $60 million integrating smallholders into supply chains, but identified a number of constraints to implementing their investment plans including a lack of government capacity, a lack of access to capital, and restrictive laws, policies and regulations. Despite NGO fears and the New Alliance's best efforts, the private sector has yet to be unleashed.