Next week, the New Alliance Leadership Council will be meeting in a side event during the annual UN General Assembly. Council members will discuss how to measure the initiative’s progress, redefine its role regarding women farmers, and how to ensure investments are made in a responsible way. These issues have big implications for African farmers and are by no means easy to figure out.

We have several more pressing questions we hope that the Leadership Council will address.

1)  Who is in charge? One of the most pressing questions for the Leadership Council is also the most basic: who is in charge of the New Alliance? Originally, the initiative was designed as a clear G8 initiative. Launched at the 2012 G8 meeting in the U.S., it started out with a rotating presidency that mirrors the G8’s rotating presidency. Thus when the U.K. took the G8 helm at the start of 2013, they also inherited the leadership of the New Alliance as co-chair (along with the African Union Commission and the World Economic Forum) of the Leadership Council, with the U.S. government continuing to play a big supporting role. The U.K. government’s ownership of the New Alliance was reflected in a dedicated session they hosted in London, just before the G8, at the June 8th “Nutrition for Growth” event Potential lack of interest in the New Alliance from other G8 members, however, throws into question this rotating model of governance. Does the current G8 president need to be the one to co-chair the New Alliance? Can another G8 donor that might be more interested take this on instead?

Or should the New Alliance continue to be “owned” by the G8 at all? The African Union Commission and the CAADP secretariat have been more involved in the New Alliance over the past year. Perhaps the New Alliance should more formally sit under the leadership of the African Union Commission, and even more closely aligned with the goals and structure of CAADP. As a representative body, the AU has a unique role in sustaining the momentum for responsible private sector investment.

For the New Alliance to succeed, it needs a champion, a clear accountability structure, and a home. Some civil society organizations have called for a secretariat, or at the very least, a comprehensive website in order to be transparent with the public about the composition of the Leadership Council, what’s on its agenda, and updates on investments. The New Alliance has come under intense scrutiny from the media and civil society organizations. The criticism is often based on valid concerns. In other cases, misinformation has fueled opposition. Better and more regular communication and a clear person in charge are necessary, especially to more effectively explain the initiative, clarify, and consult.

2)  How will the earlier cooperation frameworks reflect the same improvements seen in the newest frameworks? Back in April, we made several recommendations for improving and enhancing the New Alliance. In particular, we called for a greater focus on nutrition and women. We are pleased that the newest cooperation frameworks reflect many of these improvements, especially in Benin and Malawi. In particular, we were encouraged to see that:

- Benin’s policy objectives include a strong focus on both women and nutrition. Their goals include increasing “the percentage of women with access to factors of production and involved in decision-making in the agricultural sector” and reducing “the percentage of children suffering from chronic malnutrition.”

- In Malawi, the government plans to “reduce prevalence of stunting among children less than 5 years of age from 47.1% to less than 20% by 2020.” Also, in a bold policy move, Malawi is committing to focus less attention on maize, the country’s not-very-nutritious staple, and promote dietary diversity by supporting pulse, soya bean, groundnuts, and legume production.

These are important improvements to the New Alliance. The question now for the Leadership Council is: what about the earlier countries? Such language isn’t nearly as prominent in the agreements signed in 2012, and updating them would put nutrition and gender more squarely on the agenda.

3)  How will the New Alliance ensure responsible private sector investment? One of the most common criticisms of the New Alliance is the concern that it is not doing enough to protect against land grabbing and irresponsible private investment. Our earlier research illustrated that the vast majority of investment activities involve sourcing goods from smallholder farmers, not investing in land. However, to the extent that some investments do entail the large-scale purchase of land, it is currently not clear what minimum safeguards and protections have been put in place to protect the rights of communities and the environment. While the latest New Alliance Cooperation Frameworks all reference adherence to the Voluntary Guidelines and the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) and suggest they will pilot programs to implement them, this is insufficient in clarifying specifically what steps companies are required to take. It’s important that G8 countries are consulting on the RAI process, but the principles won’t be finalized until October 2014. In the meantime, how are New Alliance member countries ensuring investments follow principles such as fair compensation, free, prior and informed consent, and environmental safeguards? What are the farmers getting in return from the investments? It is not enough to promise employment growth and access to markets. While those things are essential for reducing poverty, appropriate safeguards need to be in place to ensure farmer rights are considered and that working relationships are equitable.

4)  Last but certainly not least, how will the New Alliance give farmers a real seat at the table? While several farmer organizations are represented in the Leadership Council, and in several cooperation frameworks (including Malawi’s framework), the current structure of the New Alliance does not go far enough in eliciting timely feedback from farmers themselves, especially during the development of cooperation frameworks. The Leadership Council could consider CAADP’s consultative model, which includes stakeholder consultations during the process of finalizing a national agriculture plan. Similar consultations with civil society groups and farmers groups should be considered during the planning phase and beyond, for input and accountability.

The premise of the New Alliance is a good one. Helping farmers grow more food while simultaneously gaining access to markets is a proven pathway out of poverty. While there are no easy answers to these questions, addressing them will enable the New Alliance to capture the progress underway and the transformation of African agriculture that’s within reach.