Statement on Independent Commission for Aid Impact Report

The New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition: Big risk to small farmers

Action Against Hunger's Samuel Hauenstein Swan and Sabrina De Souza outline why DFID must implement significant reforms that will lead to benefits for the world’s poorest.

By Action Against Hunger

May 21 2015

Today over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than £1 a day, and an further 805 million people continue to go hungry, the majority of them children. Given the level of need the UK Government, like many other donors, are increasingly looking to others to support in the fight against hunger. Progressively, donors are turning to businesses to play their role – not as contractors but as fully-contributing as partners in development. 

Today’s latest report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) – an independent body responsible for scrutinising UK aid – on how the Department for International Development (DFID) works with and through business has reinforced our concerns about the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition initiative.

DFID, the department responsible for leading the UK’s work to end extreme poverty and hunger, scored amber-red across all areas of ICAI’s assessment – from its objectives, delivery, and impact to its learning – meaning that in terms of their work with and through business for development their programmes “perform relatively poorly overall against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money, and significant improvements should be made.” 

The New Alliance, formally established in 2012 and made up of big players in agribusiness, aims to improve food security and nutrition by helping 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty by 2022. To achieve this goal, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is counting on speeding up the involvement of private capital to develop African Agriculture. DFID has pledged £600 million to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition initiative.

While we are of the opinion that we hall have a part to play in the fight against child hunger, we strongly believe in a core development principle of first ‘do no harm’ and that those involved, and those facilitating them, must ensure that new initiatives do not unintentionally threaten the food security and nutrition of people across some of the world’s poorest and most food insecure countries. 

The New Alliance, in particular, has raised some concerns about their ability to support small-scale family farming, to speed up the reduction of rural poverty. A year ago Action Against Hunger raised serious concerns in our report – Hunger: Just Another Business – that the New Alliance initiative was not and would not, as it currently functions, lead to tangible benefits for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to hunger. Furthermore, that the New Alliance could even threaten the food security of people across Africa. 

In order to drive forward radical reform our report called for:

  1. Greater support to smallholder farmers and local economies to combat poverty and hunger

If the New Alliance is to meaningfully combat poverty and hunger, then earlier commitments need to be revisited and reviewed, with priority given to those that have a proven impact on food and nutrition insecurity.

If DFID is to continue funding the New Alliance then its projects need to have a direct, proven impact on the food and nutrition security of local people and support family farming sustainably. It should also cease funding companies that contribute to the supplanting of local enterprises, consequently endangering the livelihoods and food security of family farmers and smallholders.

The latest ICAI report reinforces this and makes similar recommendations, calling on DFID to be more specific on how the strategy for working with business will translate into programmes that are implementable, with specific guidance on how businesses should engage in efforts that focus on the poor.

     2. Major improvements in the transparency and accountability of the New Alliance

Graham Ward, ICAI Chief Commissioner, said that this collaboration holds  “great potential” it is not yet clear “how DFID will translate these goals into practical actions” that will benefit the poor.

In order to increase their transparency, donors like DFID need to publish all its New Alliance financial and political commitments. We recommend that DFID produce an annual progress report, similar to what they have done for their Nutrition for Growth commitments.

ICAI reports concerns that current mechanism are not fit for purpose. Out of ten DFID-business partnerships reviewed, the New Alliance was the only one that had not set out clear targets for how it would benefit the world’s poor. Similarly, in our report we noted the need for performance indicators and strict accountability mechanisms for all those involved in the New Alliance, including private companies. We recommend a single monitoring format – to measure impact – that every New Alliance member including private business partners would be required to fill in annually and funding would be dependant on completing this exercise.

Similarly, ICAI recommended that DFID must do more to pull together and share information to ensure that lessons are being learned, even from mistakes, so they can be used to improve performance of their programmes in order to have real benefits for poor.

     3.    A focus on improving people’s food and nutrition security above profits

We are concerned that, although the purpose of the New Alliance is to improve people’s food and nutrition security, profit-making could take precedent over the assisting the worlds poorest and most vulnerable to work their way out of poverty. Members of the New Alliance must agree above all to create a situation where an “environment that is favourable” to food and nutrition security takes priority over an environment that is favourable to investment that mainly goes to multinationals. 

African countries need guarantees to protect their agricultural sector through tariff and tax regimes, for example, that favour family and smallholder farming.

An area what was overlooked by ICAI, but one which we believe is critical for improving people’s food and nutrition is the role of women. Women make up more half of the agricultural labour force in many developing countries and are often the ones responsible for the food and nutrition of their families. It is widely accepted that gender-sensitive policies have a positive impact on food and nutrition security. If the New Alliance is serious about improving households access to food then investments urgently needs to be focus programmes that empower women and to involve them in combatting poverty and food and nutrition security. 

The fact that DFIDs work with business for development has performed relatively poor against ICAI’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money is very concerning, particularly in regards to the New Alliance. DFID must make significant reforms in accordance with our own findings and those of ICAI that will lead to benefits for the world’s poorest.

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