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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

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,

My thanks to the administrators and facilitators of this subject who are guiding the consultative process. This note contains three sections. One that examines the rationale and background to the principles pertaining to 'responsible agricultural investment' (which is now referred to commonly by the 'RAI' short form); one that explains, from a point of view that is seated in a personal and regional perspective, the concepts about agricultural investment (or spending on agricultural activities) especially what are assumed and what are implied; and one that is critical of the RAI and the multi-lateral effort to find common ground with a set of principles.

(This is the first of two parts. References are included.)

1. Where the RAI has emerged from and where it may want to go

It will help if there is a willingness by the CFS to take a step back and review why we have, in 2014, a discussion about 'responsible agricultural investment' when in fact, in well balanced and thoughtful societies that are agrarian in nature, such a discussion would have been unnecessary. There is, in the prefatory material surrounding the principles up for discussion (and there is similar material to be seen for the last four years or so, over the life of this concept), a view on 'investment' and on 'responsible'. These are unlikely to be the view that one would find in a province or state, in a district or county, the majority of whose population is engaged in farming because there is undoubtedly such a variety of view about the nature of their activity. There is therefore a need to decide what degree of agnosticism can be acceptable (or tolerated, or welcomed) vis-à-vis the authority of the RAI concept. My advice is to be as realistic as possible and not turning a consultative consensus into a statement that has emerged from a deterministic process, as this shows a danger of becoming.

For that reason I would like to see in this consultation a fuller analysis of what is meant by 'investment' and by 'responsible'. That we have such concepts also means that we have conditions of irresponsible actions towards agricultural practice and agrarian societies, and that investment ought to include as thoroughly as possible a discussion about the public, social and private natures of investment. This is because investment tends to be given meanings that originate in finance and banking, in the financial and commodities markets, and from the sources of monetary and technological capital - whereas these views must not be allowed under any circumstance to dominate how the meaning of a term comes into acceptance. The investment made by generations of a community who have enriched a particular strain of traditional knowledge pertaining to the cultivation of a food staple is both implicit in the way their lives are led and implicit in their status as members of a community. In such a case (and there are fortunately still numerous such cases to be found) the term 'investment' becomes a vulgar one and is neither used nor translated.

Part of the rationale for declaring the need for RAI is the invoking of food security, of the banishment of hunger, and of the imperative to protect the biospheres while doing so. Unfortunately, the background and rationale for RAI does still not overtly and clearly enumerate what irresponsible actions or policies are when states pursue food security, seek to reduce hunger and to grow crops in ways that do not harm the environment. Without clearly enumerated actions and policies that are irresponsible, it is then left to the states themselves, to private corporations and agencies, to the financial and commodity markets, to the traders and retailers, to adjudge themselves responsible (for they will not do the opposite).

The work of the CFS will be strengthened by the presence of a teleological guide to determining irresponsibility and its opposite - this goes well beyond the enunciation of principles, adherence to which comes at no loss of profit nor is it enforceable under national or local legislation. Moreover, in what way policies will be aligned with 'responsibility'? Countries produce food and biofuel stock for internal use, but also import portions of both. In what ways are 'responsible' and 'investment' defined under these circumstances (which are the circumstances demanded by a country following its World Trade Organisation 'responsibilities' as a member state of WTO)? Lacking such definitions, the CFS when considering RAI is in danger of accepting the production, distribution and consumption patterns that are commonplace in most countries because they are imposed by the 'market', but which are systemically flawed in environmental and social terms.

(Part 2 follows.)

References:

Main page for Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments - CFS-RAI

Summary of the international initiatives that provide guidance on responsible investment: key characteristics

Comparative analysis of selected instruments on responsible investment: similarities, differences and gaps

Annotated list of international binding agreements that may have implications for the formulation of the rai principles

Matrix of Issues Covered by Related Initiatives

Knowledge Exchange Platform for Responsible Agro-Investment (World Bank, FAO, UNCTAD, IFAD)

Other guidelines, standard schemes or codes of conduct:
Equator Principles
Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)
Santiago Principles
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

The Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (PRAI) - UNCTAD

Report to the G20 Development Working Group: Options for Promoting Responsible Investment in Agriculture (June 2011)

Focusweb - why we oppose the principles of RAI

Transnational Institute - why so-called 'responsible agricultural investment' must be stopped

Farmlandgrab - We do not believe in responsible agriculture investment

Organisations working on agrarian issues, farmers' rights, land rights, social justice and equity: Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano (Study Centre for Change in the Mexican Countryside), FIAN International, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International, Global Campaign on Agrarian Reform, GRAIN, La Via Campesina, Land Research Action Network, Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos (Social Network for Justice and Human Rights), World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP), World Forum of Fisher Peoples