A Misleading Name and Confused Assumptions: Questioning the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa

Originally posted by Rachael Taylor on 18/11/2014

In 2012 the G8 launched a new initiative in Africa: The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. Ten African countries have signed up to this and have pledged to commit to passing over 200 conditions into law in the coming years.

The New Alliance is intended to accelerate crop production in Africa, thus increasing food security. The agreements under the New Alliance also aim to make it easier for international companies to trade with Africa countries.

I am questioning what the New Alliance means by ‘food security’ and the assumptions that underlie their goals.

A Misleading Title for Agricultural Growth

The most widely recognised definition of ‘food security’ is that of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). They define ‘food security’ as:

“A situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Based on this definition, four food security dimensions can be identified: food availability, economic and physical access to food, food utilization and stability over time.” (FAO, 2014)

It seems that the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition are not using this definition of ‘food security’ because this understanding of the term includes nutrition so the Alliance would not need to specify this separately to food security.

In fact, the New Alliance website doesn’t specify what it does consider ‘food security’ to mean. However, they do repeatedly state that the goals of the New Alliance are to bring 50 million people in Africa out of poverty by 2022 and to end hunger (New Alliance, undated). Neither of these goals necessarily improves food security or nutrition.

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is in fact a new alliance for agricultural-led growth – it is about increasing economic growth through agricultural production and explicitly states so. It’s also questionable whether this alliance is really new as the concept seems to echo the intentions behind existing and historical initiatives to support socio-economic development in Africa.

Assumptions Create Confusion

The New Alliance makes a number of assumptions: 1) that increasing investment in agriculture in Africa will increase production; 2) that adding or revising national laws will support and increase agricultural production; 3) that the increased income from any such increase in agricultural production will go to those who are currently living in poverty; 4) that the increased income from any such increase in agricultural production will be spent on food and thus increase food security; 5) that any such food purchased with increased income will be more nutritious than is available in existing diets; and 6) that the same approach to increasing agricultural production will work throughout a huge, extremely diverse continent.

If the objective of the New Alliance is to improve trade with Africa, then it is implied that the increased produce from agriculture will be exported through these improved trade links, with the income from these international sales being the increased income that will reduce poverty. Having spent quite a lot of time talking to smallholder farmers in one of the New Alliance partner countries this year, I have learned from them that the best way to ensure increased food security is to allow farmers to use any increased crop production to feed their families and communities with.

Many smallholder farmers are subsistence farmers, they grow food to eat rather than to sell. This is a generalization but smallholders are commonly the poorest farmers and the most food insecure, thus the group of people an alliance that aims to increase food security should most directly target. From my knowledge of the New Alliance combined with what I have learned from farmers in Africa, I suggest that the New Alliance is not targeting support at the people who are most in need and any ways that New Alliance initiatives will impact poor, rural smallholders (such as changes in law) will likely have a negative impact on them.

References:

FAO (2014) Hunger: Basic definitions: Food security [online] http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/ [Accessed on 17-11-14]

New Alliance (undated) About: Overview and Goals [online] http://new-alliance.org/about [Accessed on 17-11-14]

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