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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,

(Here follows the second of two parts. References and notes included.)

2. The idea of investment and how it influences policy

Definitions of 'responsibility' and of 'investment' are now informed from the ground. These definitions - by peasants' and farmers' groups and associations - recognise the behaviours of the many different actors who produce, handle and sell food. They are quite different in character and tone from a set of weak universal and consensual principles by being local, tied to legislation and enforceable, and whose structure and remit can be amended locally. When practiced by community and supported by local administrations, such definitions can halt the negative impacts of industrial- and 'market'-scale investments in agriculture. They can also control the irresponsibility of such investments dispossessing local communities of their land, of clear-cutting forests, sterilising the soil and polluting water.

In contrast the consultations (however well-intentioned) about RAI have little local basis and less community future. That is why they are very likely to be employed to obscure the power imbalances that exist to deepen industrial control of the means of agricultural production - and that is why these will not be acceptable as a measure of food growers' and food consumers' rights. The guiding of local responses is the need, which RAI does not recognise, and not an international or global charter that is fundamentally inapplicable to any actual food-growing region and therefore of no use.

Howsoever idealistic one or all of the eight principles in the zero draft are, to what extent will they be diluted or done away with entirely? Why should this happen? Because of the considerations of economic viability of agricultural (or land, or biotech) investment, of the expected profitability of a course of action that includes land grabs. My view is these principles will not be demonstrable in situ by any of its signatories in just the same way that market mechanisms that have been invented in the last 15 years as means to tackle serious inter-generational problems have proved (and continue to prove) to be instead mechanisms around which new industries profit.

These market inventions are the Clean Development Mechanism and the certified emission reduction schemes in all their hues which have contributed not at all to reducing CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, Payment for Ecosystems Services which have been cynically refined recently in the form of 'nature offsets' (a gross perversion of an already destructive concept), reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) which has become rather than a mitigating mechanism one through which forest-based communities are alienated from their living habitat and which has further endangered forests by financialising their benefits.

Mechanisms that have international sanction, principles that include inclusionary clauses and concepts (but which are not offered for amendment/objection to affected communities in their own languages and idiom), campaigns to promote the use of 'best practices' and to assure transparency are increasingly being invented and followed by the functionaries of monetary and finance capital. These mechanisms may accompany international trade between two countries but may also be present when internal consumption (private companies selling goods in a country, or newer forms of social welfare such as direct benefit transfers / cash transfers) takes place. These are deemed as being necessary and desirable interventions to reduce hunger, reduce poverty, tackle inequality, increase access to service and so on, but are very likely not to result in processes and outcomes that advance the interests of project affected peoples and communities.

Investment to which a 'side-car' of moralistic mechanisms have been attached have only, in the last two decades, weakened local and indigenous control over crop choices and the uses to which primary crops are put (currently seen as raw material for an international or regional food retail industry). This phenomenon is amongst the reasons why social movements have warned (and continue to warn, more loudly than before) of a spectre of extensive dispossession and displacement of small farm producers and pastoralists [see GRAIN, 'Grabbing land for food', Seedling, January 2009]. On the other hand there also exist civil society technocracies which consider these investments as providing 'developmental' opportunities and hence they argue that the potential threat of dispossession can be mediated through internationally supervised guidelines on 'best practice', such as RAI which we are discussing.

In these circles - which includes a section of the proponents of RAI, which includes the international agricultural and crop science network (usually led by the CGIAR system in rather cozy partnerships with pliant national agricultural research systems, such as those of Brazil and India), and which includes the formidable armoury of the agbiotech industry - these land acquisitions are portrayed as a benign search for food security among countries destabilised by the world food price crisis (which shocked in 2007-08, and continued the shock from 2010-11 so that it remains current). At the same time, agriculture as being profitable enough to interest the enormously influential investments funds is now a sales pitch over five years old [see ' 'Land grabbing by foreign investors in developing countries: risks and opportunities', International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Policy Brief, 2009, and also see 'Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?', World Bank, 2011].

(A concluding part follows.)

References and notes

GRAIN, 'Grabbing land for food', Seedling, January 2009

' 'Land grabbing by foreign investors in developing countries: risks and opportunities', International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Policy Brief, 2009

'Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?', World Bank, 2011

'The global food crisis and what has capitalism to do with it', W K Tabb, International Development Economics Associates, Networkideas, 2008

'Global capitalism, deflation and agrarian crisis in developing countries', U Patnaik, Journal of Agrarian Change, 2003

'The resurgence of rural movements under neoliberalism', in Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros, 'Reclaiming the Land: The Resurgence of Rural Movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America', Zed Books

'The Agrarian Question in the Neoliberal Era: Primitive Accumulation and the Peasantry', Utsa Patnaik and Sam Moyo, published 2011 by Pambazuka Press and the Mwalimu Nyerere Chair in Pan-African Studies, University of Dar es Salaam

An example of banking finance determining agricultural futures: Deutsche Bank

"Agricultural production must double - To combat world hunger successfully, it is important to address the diverse, long term causes of underfeeding and malnutrition. The central task in agriculture involves producing higher amounts of food staples and providing additional healthy and affordable foodstuffs. Prognoses by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicate that grain production alone will need to double by 2050 if everyone is to have enough to eat in the future."
"Agriculture must change - To achieve this, we must turn our environmentally damaging industrial landscape into a food production and distribution system that is more just, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable. That calls for innovative models and new, intelligent technologies to increase productivity and efficiency. These range from irrigation systems and precision technologies to a market for sustainably produced food that models itself on consumers’ needs. We must also use resources more efficiently and waste less food."

A short, representative list of 'asset managers' for whom agriculture is in 'investment class':
Adveq, Allianz, Altima Partners, Barclays Capital, BlackRock, Bligh Agri, CAIA, Capital Partners Group, Ceres, Connexion Capital LLP, Cornish Consultancy, Dilworth Paxson LLP, Duxton Asset Management, ED Capital, Emergent Asset Management, Helvetica, InvestAg Savills, Kendall Court, Macquarie, Miro, Olympus Capital, Robeco, Societe Generale, Worldwide Aginvest