Principles for responsible agriculture and food investments are approved

Plenary of CFS endorses guidance to ensure investment in agriculture and food systems benefits local food security and workers’ rights

16 October 2014, Rome -- Governments from around the world have approved a landmark set of principles meant to guide investment in agriculture and food systems, aimed at assuring that cross-border and corporate investment flows lead to improved food security and sustainability and respect the rights of farm and food workers.

The Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems were approved by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva applauded the agreement, saying that a clear and unified set of principles would "enable larger and more sustainable investment in agriculture while also making all stakeholders responsible for creating the conditions for the principles to be met. The private sector will play an important role in implementing the principles. FAO stands ready to assist governments and all stakeholders into transforming the principles into reality, as we are also doing with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure. "

The Principles were hammered out over two years of consultations and negotiations. They build on and are complementary to the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, endorsed by the CFS in May 2012 amid heightened global concern about rising food prices and large-scale purchases of agricultural land and operations in developing countries, dubbed "land grabbing" by critics and widely seen as a threat to smallholders.

The Principles are voluntary and non-binding, but represent the first time that governments, the private sector, civil society organizations, UN agencies and development banks, foundations, research institutions and academia have been able to come together and agree on what constitutes responsible investment in agriculture and food systems.

"This agreement represents the hard work of all stakeholders to develop a shared vision on how to ensure that much needed investment in food and agriculture benefits those that need it most," said CFS Chair Gerda Verburg. 

FAO estimates that an average net investment of $83 billion a year will be necessary to raise agricultural production by 60% and feed the global population of more than 9 billion expected by 2050.

The cornerstone of the agreement, Principle 1, states that responsible investment in agriculture and food systems contributes to food security and nutrition, especially for the most vulnerable parts of local populations, and "'supports states' obligations regarding the progressive realization of the right to adequate food." That entails increasing sustainable production and productivity of safe, nutritious and culturally acceptable food, reducing food loss and waste, improving income and reducing poverty, enhancing market efficiencies and fairness - in particular taking into account the interests of smallholders.

Other principles outline how responsible investments should contribute to gender equality, health, youth empowerment, respect of legitimate tenure rights to land, fisheries and forests as well as existing and potential water uses, sustainable natural resource management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and mechanisms to assess and address their economic, social, environmental and cultural impacts. They also touch upon other important and at times contentious issues such as genetic resources, indigenous rights and climate change.

The Principles address all types of investment in agriculture and food systems - public, private, large, small, and in both the production and processing spheres - and provide a framework that all stakeholders can use when developing national policies, programmes and regulatory frameworks, corporate social responsibility policies and programs, and individual agreements or contracts. The agreement also outlines the roles of all types of investors from states, to business enterprises, to smallholders, who while dispersed are in aggregate the world's largest investors in primary agricultural production.

One striking feature of the agreement is a clause in the sixth principle which links responsible investment in agriculture to "taking measures, as appropriate, to reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas emissions." While the principles are voluntary and the wording far from binding, that marks the first international agreement in which no party objected to explicit language on reducing emissions.

Another noteworthy detail is the extension of legitimate tenure rights to land, fisheries and forests as agreed in the 2012 guidelines to include "existing and potential water uses." Water resource management will be a central theme for discussions by the CFS over the coming year.

The CFS is a United Nations committee based at FAO's headquarters. Its Secretariat comprises the three Rome-based UN agencies - the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP), all of which are ready to provide support and assistance to member states in implementing the Principles

Photo: ©FAO/Astrid Randen
Aerial view of smallholdings around Tigray, Ethiopia. New principles say that investors must respect workers' rights and contribute to food security