This weekend, David Cameron hosted the G8 “Hunger Summit” in Northern Ireland, resulting in promises, pledges, praise – and a lot of backlash from African civil society, who this summit was supposed to help. What was the problem?
(the IF campaign actually had a really good promotion video.)
Prior to the summit, Cameron announced his goals – trade, taxes, and transparency – and stressed the continued importance of the G8, since “as eight countries making up around half of the world’s entire GDP, the standards we set, the commitments we make, and the steps we take can help solve vital global issues, fire up economies and drive prosperity all over the world.” He promised that this G8 would be different, though – “Too often, development at the G8 has been about rich countries doing things to poor countries. But at Lough Erne, we in the developed world will concentrate on issues that involve us putting our own house in order and helping developing countries to prosper.”
Rich countries doing things to poor countries indeed.
To be fair, some of the announcements were impressive: overall, $4.15 billion dollars were pledged by 51 countries with the goal of saving 1.7 million children’s lives by increasing breastfeeding and through better treatment of malnutrition by 2020. According to The Independent, this money was pledged to improve the nutrition of half a billion pregnant women and young children by 2020, and reduce the number of under-fives suffering stunted growth by 20 million. However, it is hard to find out how exactly this money will be spent.
While the British IF campaign lauds the commitments of politicians and challenges them to follow up on their goals, African civil society groups have rejected the G8 Summit a priori, arguing that the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is simply a “new wave of colonialism” imposed on the continent to benefit corporations headquartered in the North. According to their statement, “Africa is seen as a possible new frontier to make profits, with an eye on land, food and biofuels in particular. The recent investment wave must be understood in the context of consolidation of a global food regime dominated by large corporations in input supply (seed and agrochemicals) especially, but also increasingly in processing, storage, trading and distribution.” The more than 40 organizations that signed the statement argue that private-public partnerships will only lead to skewed free trade that opens up new markets for multinational corporations without benefitting the majority of small-scale farmers. They fear that the great number of small farmers that currently supply local food for their communities will be seen as “more inefficient than those producers who are in a position to adopt the new technologies” and be “forced out of agriculture to become passive consumers. Instead of building the broad base of producers, G8 and AGRA investments, supported by African government policies and resources, will narrow the base of producers.“
What is needed, according to these groups, are differentiated strategies to educate and provide farmers with the resources to adapt local and informal markets, proven low-input and ecologically sustainable agricultural techniques including intercropping, on-farm compost production, mixed farming systems (livestock, crops and trees), on-farm biofuel production and use, and intermediate processing and storage technologies. Their demands to the G8 are as follows:
Acknowledge variation amongst farmers and commit to providing appropriate, dedicated support to all food producers rather than only a thin commercial layer;
Abandon efforts to assert private ownership of germplasm, agricultural techniques and knowledge and to accept that these all emerge from a common pool;
Invest in and facilitate open source technological development together with farmers;
Invest in ecological agriculture following the IAASTD proposals;
Development finance to be based on grants and public programmes not for profit;
Ensure smallholder women and men farmers are at the centre of any strategy for increasing investment in this sector. There should be recognition of the ongoing broad consultation of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) on Responsible Agricultural Investments (RAI). This process was the result of a decision of the CFS in 2011 following their rejection of the World Bank blueprint for Principles on Responsible Agricultural Investment in 2010.
If you compare these demands to the goals of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, you can find stark contrasts. In particular, some aims of their Fact Sheet are the following:
- Report on the progress of G-8 development finance institutions in catalyzing additional private investment in African agriculture and increasing the range of financing options and innovative risk mitigation tools available to smallholder farmers and medium-sized agribusinesses.
- Announce the signing of Letters of Intent from over 45 local and multinational companies to invest over $3 billion across the agricultural value chain in Grow Africa countries, and the signing by over 60 companies of the Private Sector Declaration of Support for African Agricultural Development outlining their commitment to support African agriculture and public-private partnerships in a responsible manner.
- Launch the Scaling Seeds and Other Technologies Partnership, housed at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to strengthen the seed sector and promote the commercialization, distribution and adoption of key technologies improved seed varieties, and other technologies prioritized by the Technology Platform to meet established goals in partner countries.
- Support the accelerated release, adoption and consumption of bio-fortified crop varieties, crop diversification, and related technologies to improve the nutritional quality of food in Africa.
It is apparent that these demands and goals are far apart – while the African civil society groups focus on food sovereignty and the improvement of livelihoods through ecologically and socially responsible change, the G8 seems convinced that technological progress and scaled-up business models are necessary to “feed the future”. A telling sign was the fact that the Hunger Summit was held at the headquarters of Unilever, one important business partner of the Alliance.
This split in ideas on how the future should look is reflected in a split in civil society, where the IF campaign, created by Bill Gates and backed by over 200 organizations including Save the Children, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Unicef, is accused of cozying up to policy makers and of skirting around the structural problems in the current food system in their recommendations (which mainly consist of calling for more aid, transparency, including tax transparency, and an end to land grabbing). The greatest hole in their policy recommendations is that the IF campaign does not address food sovereignty as an overall goal, despite the fact that this is the framework the international farmers’ groups such as Via Campesina have adopted for years. Read this piece by the NGO War on Want if you want to know more about the debate.
One last opinion comes from Mamadou Goïta, director of IRPAD Afrique, the Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development:
“In the new alliance the market has become the state and the state the market. Big businesses are dictating policy and governments are handing out land to them.”
What do you think about the controversy around the IF campaign and the New Alliance? Do we need private-public partnerships and the increased cooperation with multinational corporations to successfully tackle hunger in the developing world?