Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

المنتدى العالمي المعني بالأمن الغذائي والتغذية

Re: Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments

Rahul Goswami
Rahul GoswamiUnesco Asia expert on intangible cultural heritage; adviser, Centre for Environmental Education Himalaya, IndiaIndia

Dear FSN Forum members,

(Here follows the conclusion based on the earlier two parts. References and notes included.)

3. A multi-lateral diversionary effort arranged around virtual goalposts

The adoption of RAI will aid, in any host country, the tailoring of all policies and strategies to fit investors (foreign and domestic, for the technological advantages are now common, as much as the conduits of capital flow for food and agriculture investment are many) so that they can be 'competitive' in the market. Instead of prioritising a model of agricultural production where women, farmers/peasants, pastoralists and all small-scale food producers are at its core, in which agro-ecological forms of farming and raising livestock are supported, and through which local markets and economies are strengthened, the eight RAI principles listed here for discussion will if accepted legitimise policies that put the government and country at the service of such investors (both foreign and domestic, it must be noted). Moreover, from the point of view of human rights terms this is discriminatory; and will turn a parlous situation into a destabilising one - already countries are falling short of their obligations related to realising the right to adequate food (a foretaste of which was seen most recently during the World Trade Organisation ninth ministerial conference in 2013 December which brought to the fore disagreements about governments' own procurement of food for public programmes as distorting world trade).

Consider some of the examples presented to the public in recent months which are seen as exemplary of inclusive, sustainable development. An IFAD-supported project in Uganda has supported farmers who are now "able to send their children to school, pay for medical expenses and build better homes for themselves". The arrangement promoted (or facilitated) is perhaps too conveniently called "the type of public-private partnership that we need to see throughout Africa, with government, the private sector, civil society and smallholders all benefiting from working in partnership".

However, behind these homogenous labels are partners whose outlook and imperatives are usually contradictory, are often in competition and inimical to one another - realities in the districts and counties can be brutally but not surprisingly different from the umbrella assessments made at the regional level of international agencies. The manner in which these sharp-edged realities find voice is, for example, in the following way - "as investment in rural Africa grows, we must ensure that there are mutually beneficial partnerships between smallholders and other private sector investors. These can take many forms, including out-grower schemes, contract farming or joint share equity schemes" - here again investment is the locus of activity and outcomes, but self-determination and there is no giving way to any alternate conceptualisation of an agrarian economy.

Less sophisticated in manner is this announcement concerning Ethiopia: "A new agency responsible for large-scale agricultural investments was officially launched two weeks ago. The Agriculture Investment Agency (AIA) was set up to oversee large-scale and mechanised agricultural investment on land belonging to the Ministry Land Bank. Its aim is to boost investment in agriculture." Blunt and to-the-point (when viewed on an interested investor's screen). Can we imagine that the eight proposed principles will, in any fashion or form, temper the ambitions of either the invited investors or the local actors in Ethiopia who have established this new agency? I would flatly say 'no'. Likewise, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development of Canada has advocated "increasing private investment in Africa's agriculture sector will help lift millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty. Canada is taking a leadership role, on behalf of G-8 countries, to support Senegal in joining the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition ... "

Moreover, governments supporting - via departments of trade, foreign ministries, alliances of industry networks and through a complex matrix of subventions - the private sector of their countries investing in the South (the erstwhile Third World, or "developing" countries or "emerging" economies) see agriculture as "a complex and risky undertaking; for that reason, many private firms don't feel comfortable investing in African agriculture as opposed to other economic opportunities". That is why, about two years ago, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, was said to have "leveraged" US $3 billion in private investment which USAID promised would be the beginning of the "much greater investment that Africa needs to achieve the growth targets of the African Union" - and of course to reduce poverty.

These perspectives help dispel some of the fog, but principles such as RAI (and all multilaterally promoted 'voluntary guidelines' concerning land, water or forests, for example) cannot encompass in any meaningful way the alliances being formed - involving government, business, technology and finance capital - which have blurred the boundaries between primary crop that becomes food, animal feed and biofuels in what are now called vertically integrated agribusinesses.
To illustrate, the Indonesian palm oil trade is dominated by Cargill, ADM-KuckWilmar (the world's largest biofuels manufacturer), and Synergy Drive, a large Malaysian government company. This co-exists - particularly in finance capital terms - with both an 'ethanol alliance' involving the USA, Brazil and Argentina, and a sugar-soya alliance that brings together (often uncomfortably) India, China, Mozambique and South Africa in new production enterprises backed by European Union and American subsidies and trade preferences. Are they 'Northern' acquirers of 'Southern' agri-lands? That is too simplistic, for there are powerful South-South alliances, and a web of relationships between Northern and Southern actors, both public and private (including local elites and politicians). [See 'The new enclosures: critical perspectives on corporate land deals', The Journal of Peasant Studies (July-October 2012), by Ben White, Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones and Wendy Wolford.]

We have tied 'land' to being 'responsible', however the transfer of resources through extra-economic coercion or non-market mechanisms is equally prevalent. This is an issue that lies outside principles, commitments and voluntary guidelines because included here are mechanisms (other than outright violence) of expropriation such as cynical manipulation of the public debt, the exploitation of the designed biases in the international credit system, financial speculation, stock-exchange gambling (what has also been called 'casino capitalism'), restrictive practices in market transactions inclusive of price manipulation, and the like.

The powerful combination of multinational corporate alliances, biotechnology, bilateral trade agreements, commodities markets and exchanges, asset managing companies, banks and financial institutions, political classes in league with industry, and the retail food industry have foisted upon us an unnatural vocabulary. Hence we are led, quite unnecessarily, to fit the kaleidoscopic cultures of small cultivation into grey bins labelled 'investment', 'competitiveness', 'logistics', 'supply / value chain', 'efficiency' and so on. Textbook business school blather assumes oracular weight and an agribusiness-oriented vision for agriculture, with large-scale (or technologically-empowered farms at the core), even if linked through "outgrower" schemes to smallholders, is one that some see as the logical and inevitable extension of global capital into rural economies. This readymade argument has been adopted by national governments, investors and (unfortunately, some) donor agencies alike.

Hence, concerning the questions raised for this consultation:
Q1. Are all relevant issues and areas ...
A. No longer a consideration as I advocate without reservation, condition or alternative the complete scrapping of the RAI.
Q2. Are the roles and responsibilities of relevant stakeholders ...
A. These are done locally and any international set of principles does not supercede local agreement in all its variations.
Q3. Does the Zero Draft achieve the desired outcome to promote investments ...
A. Does not arise as I advocate without reservation, condition or alternative the complete scrapping of the RAI.
Q4. The principles are intended to provide practical guidance ... current structure and language ... principles to be used and implemented by different stakeholders ...
A. The principles may or may not be acceptable to communities, which - as we have seen for a century now in the case of indigenous peoples and tribes, first nations and aborginal populations, who have drafted, enacted and implemented their own natural resource protection laws and exercise sovereignty - are very competent in defining their codes and (if required complementary legislations).

What else if not RAI? What I have outlined in the two preceding parts of this contribution and in this conclusion are the adverse outcomes of the market-driven neoliberal paradigm that has fostered what since 2007 we call the food crisis (itself a meta text for linked crises such as dispossession, urbanisation and concomitant migration, the feminisation of agriculture, the volatility in cost of cultivation and retail food prices both, the loss of agro-biodiversity, and a host of others). However, in the South there are many experiments with more development-driven local and community institutions that provide morally acceptable and culturally sound alternatives.

References and notes

'The agrarian question', volumes I and II, Karl Kautsky, Zwan Publications, 1988

'Summary of selected parts of Kautsky's The Agrarian Question', Jairus Banaji, Economy and Society, 1976

'Power, property rights and the issue of land reform: A general case illustrated with reference to Bangladesh', M H Khan, Journal of Agrarian Change, 2004

'The land question: Special economic zones and the political economy of dispossession in India', M Levien, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2012

'The new enclosures: critical perspectives on corporate land deals', Ben White, Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones and Wendy Wolford, The Journal of Peasant Studies, July-October 2012

"In the study area (and Bangladesh generally), land grabs by foreign governments and transnational agencies have not been particularly significant compared to those by domestic corporations, private interest groups and state agencies. However, alienation of land has been indirectly influenced by factors at the global level, inclusive of policy and development interventions promoted by international financial and donor agencies." - 'Land grabs and primitive accumulation in deltaic Bangladesh: interactions between neoliberal globalisation, state interventions, power relations and peasant resistance', by Shapan Adnan, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2013

"In recent years the government of Laos has provided many foreign investors with large-scale economic land concessions to develop plantations. Many have lost their agricultural and forest lands, or conditions of production, making it difficult to maintain their former semi-subsistence livelihoods, and thus compelling many to take up employment on the same plantations that displaced them, despite frequently having to work for low wages and under poor conditions." - 'Turning Land into Capital, Turning People into Labour: Primitive Accumulation and the Arrival of Large-Scale Economic Land Concessions in the Lao People's Democratic Republic', by Ian G Baird, New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry, November 2011

Agri-business corporations involved either with the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and/or are World Economic Forum partners:

AGCO Corporation, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Carlsberg Group, Coca-Cola, Diageo, DuPont, Ecolab, General Mills, Heineken, Kirin Holdings, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Mondelez International, Monsanto Company, Nestlé SA, Orkla, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Sinar Mas, Syngenta Crop Protection AG, The Coca-Cola Company, The Mosaic Company, Unilever, Wal-Mart, Yara International, Yum! Brands, Zhangzidao Group