How is the New Alliance like your favorite glass of pinot noir?

In the 2005 film Sideways, the main character Miles has a scene where he discusses the reasons why he prefers pinot noir to other wine. He describes how it’s a tough grape to grow and that only the most patient and nurturing growers are up to the task. However, if done right, the end result is nothing short of amazing. For wine lovers, a good pinot can enliven the senses with a rich, fruity, and not to mention delicious flavor.

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Like a perfect glass of pinot noir, a lot of things in life require the right conditions in order to be successful. Here at ONE, we think the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, launched at last years’ G8 meeting at Camp David, has lots of potential, but needs the right set of growing conditions to flourish. However, the New Alliance is not without criticism, and some NGOs raise concerns that the initiative isn’t designed to help farmers lift themselves out of poverty.

Check out a brief describing what the New Alliance involves.

In our first post, we debunked common myths that only large US multinational companies were in the New Alliance. We found that there are sizable investments from African companies, many investments  led by African companies, and that many of these companies are small- and medium-size businesses. In this post, we will address concerns from some civil society organizations that the New Alliance is only designed to help big agribusinesses, not farmers.

Since the main component of the New Alliance is the planned investments companies are undertaking, we examined how these investments contribute to an environment where smallholder farmers can benefit from:

- Increased (and more consistent) incomes;
- Better health and nutrition;
- Economic empowerment of women

With the world’s population expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050, new sources of supply are needed, and 500 million smallholders represent huge potential. Traditionally, only large, estate farms provided crops for large agribusinesses. Today, smallholders, through training, access to credit, and better technology, can produce output that meets high-quality standards. The important thing to remember is that farmers need the co-investment (i.e. training, better seeds, etc.) to create the right conditions to thrive. 

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After sifting through New Alliance investments, our findings reveal that agribusinesses intend to predominantly “source” or purchase crops and produce directly from farmers (see chart). In order to help farmers increase their yields, they’ll provide training, modern equipment, and hybrid seeds. This is promising news. Around 86 percent of all investments are targeting these issues of increasing productivity, which is a huge priority of other initiatives, namely the African-led Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program, or CAADP.

However, other conditions need to be further addressed for the New Alliance to live to its full potential, namely targeting women farmers, including more nutrition investments, and addressing postharvest storage in order to safely capture increases in productivity. We address each condition below.

Investments need to directly target women and report back how they’re doing it. Only one investment, UCERB, a women’s producer organization, is explicitly targeted at women producers. UCERB is investing 20 percent of the total cost of the project to build a postharvest storage facility in Burkina Faso that can store 200 tons of rice. Some other investments include indirect benefits of wage employment, such as EBT-Trading Sarl, which is planning to build several farms (avg. size 125 acres) in Burkina Faso with rural youth and women benefiting from new jobs. Other investments may well benefit women – either directly or indirectly – but without clear reporting, it’s impossible to account for these benefits. Given the high proportion of women involved in small scale farming, the New Alliance should include more investments targeted at women, and better reporting across all investments.

Investments should help farmers not just grow more food, but more nutritious food. Only 7 percent of investments include a direct nutritional component, while an additional 14 percent of investments help farmers who grow fruits and vegetables. An example of a direct approach includes Guts Agro Industry, a company developing a chickpea-based, emergency food for children suffering from malnutrition in Ethiopia. In the future, the New Alliance should incorporate more of these nutritionally sensitive approaches in its planned investments.

Farmers need more support to storage their harvests. Farmers can lose up to 30 percent of their harvest during the storage process due to mold and unsafe storage conditions. Despite the importance of addressing this challenge, only 9 percent of investments include a postharvest storage component in their investment. While increasing productivity is vitally important, much more can be done to address how to preserve the excess food being gown. As the New Alliance expands, more investments should establish public-private partnerships with companies like GrainPro, which manufactures durable plastic bags that keep grain dry during storage.

Two big upcoming events will release updates to the New Alliance and represent opportunities to improve the initiative:

  1. May 8-10th: New Alliance Leadership Council meeting in Cape Town, South Africa;
  2. June 8th: Nutrition for Growth event, hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron in London

The UK government, which holds the 2013 G8 presidency, signaled that it wants the New Alliance work better for women farmers and improve its focus on nutrition. We applaud these efforts to develop a better varietal of the New Alliance, and ask the G8 leaders, African governments, and private sector companies to work with farmers to transform intentions into reality. That’s something we can all raise our glasses to.