African farmers and activists and a new food security and nutrition alliance

By Adedamola Nadi    


“The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition ushered in a new phase of global investment in food security and nutrition, building on previous G8 efforts.  The New Alliance is a shared commitment to achieve sustained and inclusive agricultural growth and raise 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years”. This is how the U.S. Government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative described the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition which is gradually becoming popular amongst African nations.

The New Alliance was launched by the G8 in May 2012 to build upon previous efforts to improve food security in African countries and to help combat poverty and hunger. Since its launch in 2012, ten African governments have signed up to the initiative namely; Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania.

The New Alliance is not entirely new or game-changing in terms of co-operation between African states and the West in the agricultural sector. There have been numerous bi-lateral agreements which are aimed at achieving some of the same goals as the New Alliance. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which is not an exclusively agricultural programme was established in the year 2000 and it provides the opportunity for 40 African governments to import over 7000 products to the USA duty-free. Of these 7000 products, 800 are agricultural products. As good as that may sound, many have criticised AGOA of marginalizing the small-holder farmer because of the strict requirements and standards that prevent them from accessing American markets. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is also one of such attempts at improving agricultural productivity in Africa. Although AGRA claims to be “African-led” with over 95% of its staff being African, it is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Highly criticised for its focus on cash crops destined for the global market and its push for Genetic Use Restriction Technology or suicide seeds, AGRA continues to face stern criticisms from activists, NGOs and farmers in Africa and the globe.

The New Alliance builds on initiatives such as those mentioned above. What makes the New Alliance somewhat new is that it brings together a wider range of stakeholders. These stakeholders include African governments, the private sector, donor Countries (development partners), International Institutions, research institutions and non-governmental and civil society organisations. However, the principal aim of the New Alliance is to aggressively put into practice the theory that the private sector is needed to enhance agriculture in Africa; therefore the New Alliance aims to “unleash the power of the private sector” according to its proponents.

Co-operation Frameworks

The various stakeholders and governments draw up a “negotiated co-operation Framework” which outlines the appropriate policies and investment commitments of the investors and the governments involved. According to the G8, each New Alliance stakeholder must provide an annual progress report which should show the progress on commitments. The co-operation frameworks must support the agricultural and food security plans and priorities of the countries signing up. In the case of Nigeria, its New Alliance co-operation framework supports the National Agricultural Investment Plan which has already been in place and supported by the African Un- ion’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

One particular feature of the New Alliance is that the initiative aligns itself closely to national and continental agricultural programmes. This idea is that by it being in-line with national agricultural priorities of the host country, the New Alliance is seen as less threatening, less invasive and less paternalistic. A close identification with CAADP’s goal which is to halve poverty in Africa by 2025 ensures that the New Alliance is well received by governments and makes it more appealing to NGOs and the civil society. This particular character of the New Alliance has made it easy for it to slip through the cracks and avoid the necessary attention which would also bring about criticisms and proper scrutiny.

The Cooperation Frameworks typically contain objectives and conditions which the host country must meet in order to be a part of the New Alliance. Meeting these conditions often mean huge policy changes for the host country. On close examination, these policy actions are really there to create favourable conditions for the investing agribusiness multinationals, not necessarily the host country or its people. A few of the common conditions require host countries to create a secure investment climate for private investors, facilitate access to land, reduce tariffs, increase private sector participation in the production of seed and fertilizer and so on.

While many would immediately see a pattern similar to the Structural Adjustment Programmes of the 1980s/90s  at play here, some proponents argue that the New Alliance is actually good for Africa because some of the private sector investors are African or Africa based firms.

ONE, a non-profit organisation campaigning against extreme poverty founded by Bono, stated that “contrary to common perceptions, several large investments come from African firms”. While this may be true, what is often less scrutinized is the true ownership of those firms.

Dominion Farms is listed as an African investor, registered in Kenya but its Headquarters is in Oklahoma, USA. Arguably the biggest “African” investor, Agro EcoEnergy Tanzania Ltd, is registered in Tanzania but is a subsidiary of the Swedish- based EcoEnergy Africa. The New Alliance does not really represent Africa or Africans; it is set up by the G8 to advance the interests of multinational companies. However, there are a few African firms involved. An example being Dansa Holding Ltd, part of the Dangote Group which is owned by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote of Nigeria.

Small-scale farmers and the New Alliance

Food security remains a hot topic for many African countries and even as less money is spent on the agricultural sector by many governments, agriculture still plays a very important role in many countries, especially in the rural parts. Using Nigeria as an example, agriculture has gradually become less of a priority for the government since independence. From around 60% contribution to the GDP in the 1960s to 22% in the 1980s, investment in agriculture has gradually become less of a priority for the Nigerian government. While agriculture suffers in many African countries, the sector still employs over 65% of the population in Africa, especially the women. This sector is very important to the livelihoods of many families, both in the rural and urban areas. Small-scale farmers are deemed to be the key to maintaining food security and ending hunger in Africa according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and therefore, they must be empowered and be allowed to fully participate in the development of the agricultural sector. With the advent of the New Alliance, it is important to examine whether or not,  small-scale farmers are being empowered and carried along in the process of ending poverty and hunger. Many have criticised the New Alliance as leaving no room for indigenous local farmers to flourish. In Malawi for example, many smallholder farmers were not aware of the G8’s agricultural programme until after the government started to implement some of the required policy commitments.  Why were the farmers that are deemed responsible for the food security of Malawi not carried along in an initiative that claims to promote food security?

Furthermore, in terms of nutrition, Ewan Robinson and John Humphrey of the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) noted that there have been debates about how the New Alliance stacks up against promoting food security but less attention has been paid to Nutrition. Their findings, one year into the New Alliance (2013), revealed that more than half of the private investment projects focus on non-food crops like cocoa and cotton. In January, ActionAid wrote, “…much of the production supported by the New Alliance is in crops with relatively low nutritional value as well as crops which are destined for export and/or non-food production”.

In Burkina Faso, Oxfam reported on the uneven commitments and the unfulfilled expectations that have marred the implementation of the New Alliance there. One of the main focuses of the New Alliance in Burkina Faso is the Bagre Growth Pole Project which was originally launched by the World Bank. The project’s objective is to increase economic activity in the Bagre Growth Pole area through private investment, employment generation and agricultural production with the ultimate aim of reducing poverty. The advent of the New Alliance was expected to boost this project and enhance the country’s Rural Sector National Programme (PNSR) but this has not been the case.

It was noted by Oxfam that the New Alliance Cooperation Framework for Burkina Faso was designed neither with consultations with Small Scale Producer organisations nor Civil Society organisations but the private sector appears to have been consulted.

Within the Burkina Faso Cooperation Framework which was designed without the input of  Small holder farmers, the vast bulk of the land in the Bagre area are reserved for foreign investors only – of the 12,712ha of irrigated land available, 9,922ha is reserved for investors while 2,790ha is reserved for local small holder farmers. That is 78 per cent of government irrigated land in the Bagre Growth Pole area up for multinational agribusiness at the expense of local small-scale food producers. The new alliance is working against its purported aims of promoting food security and raising 50 million people out of hunger because ignoring the needs of local and small-scale farmers will only create more poverty.

The fact that the New Alliance is nothing but a neo-colonial attempt to open up African agriculture to unfavourable multinational agribusinesses without the consideration of the needs of African farmers is becoming increasingly clear.

African farmers, research institutions and the African civil society are at the forefront of the fight against the New Alliance despite the complicity of some of their governments.

Organisations like Food Sovereignty Ghana have and continued to speak up against the New Alliance and its elements. In October 2013, the civil society in seven African countries rallied against Monsanto, one of the biggest players in the New Alliance, decrying the unfavourable contracts that local farmers will be subjected to.

There is also an ongoing lawsuit in Ghana in which Food Sovereignty Ghana is seeking an injunction on the commercial release of Bt cowpea and GM rice in Ghana.

Also opposed to the New Alliance is the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), a Pan-African network of farmers and agricultural organisations campaigning for food sovereignty, land justice and traditional food and farming solutions. AFSA’s core beliefs stands firm against what the New Alliance seeks to bring to the table. Bridget Mugambe of AFSA stated that “More than 80% of all seed in Africa is produced and disseminated through informal seed systems, that is, on-farm seed saving and exchange between farmers… marginalising and criminalising farmers’ seeds through UPOV (a plant patenting scheme) and by introducing strict marketing regimes will be great for multinational seed companies but a disaster for our small family farmers”.

Last month, Burkina Faso decided to dump Bt Cotton, Monsanto’s GM cotton seeds. Interprofessional Cotton, an association of cotton farmers and other stakeholders made this decision citing poor yields and poor quality cotton fibre. They claim that the yields of Monsanto’s Bt Cotton were below what was promised in the contract signed and that the end product was disappointingly low in quality. The decision to phase out the use of Bt Cotton is also expected to be followed up with a claim for compensation for the losses incurred since the start of its cultivation 7 years ago.

Recently, Dominion Farms, a Kenyan registered company with its headquarters in Oklahoma, was in the news for displacing farmers in Taraba state, Nigeria. Dominion Farms, a part of the New Alliance was provided with a 300 square kilometre farmland in Taraba state by the Nigerian government for farm development in 2011. The Chairman of Dominion Farms claimed that the company did not displace farmers. In an article written by the Chairman in March 2015, he claimed that the 300 square kilometres fertile farmland lacked any farming activity and that there was not a single house built on it. What was ignored was the fact that the farmland belongs to the Gassol community of Taraba state who frequently use the land for grazing; therefore, it is unlikely to have homes built on it. The community which comprises of about 45,000 people resisted and said that the start of the project poses a threat to their rights and livelihoods. The campaign drew worldwide attention which won lots of support for the local farmers.  In the UK, Global Justice Now, a social justice organisation offered support and helped in pressurising Dominion farms and the Nigerian government. According to Dominion Farms, the company has ceased operations in Taraba state and perhaps even Nigeria as a whole.

The opposition to the New Alliance is growing as more people are becoming educated about it. In the UK, Global Justice Now and War on Want have been campaigning against British involvement in the New Alliance, requesting that UK taxpayer ’s money (£395  million) should not go into a project that will only widen inequality and increase poverty. As the New Alliance seeks to assert itself on the continent, the resistance increases and we must be a part of that. We must continue to pressurize the UK government to withdraw its support for the New Alliance while we continue to voice our support for the rights of small-scale farmers in Africa.


Adedamola Nadi is a Africa researcher at Liberation




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