11 October 2014

The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture: a new tool for an enlightened capitalism?

A little more than two years after the launching in London of the New Alliance for Food Security at the international meeting on «Nutrition for Growth - Beating hunger through business and science», a new alliance, the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture was launched on 23 September in New York, on the occasion of the UN Summit on Climate Change, its inaugural meeting taking place on the next day.

As was the case of its elder sister, this alliance is ‘‘a  voluntary, farmer-led, multi-stakeholder, action-oriented coalition’’. But this one is, according to its action plan  ‘‘committed to the incorporation of climate- smart approaches within food and agriculture systems. The Global Alliance will seek to improve people’s food and nutrition security by helping governments, farmers, scientists, businesses, and civil society, as well as regional and international organisations, to adjust agricultural practices, food systems and social policies so that they take account of climate change and efficient use of natural resources.’’ Great programme indeed, where members of the coalition will help each other to adjust the way they work. Presented like this, this seems a beautiful ideal of disinterested mutual assistance! But will things really be as stated? One may doubt it.

The Alliance announces that it will catalize partnerships that ‘‘will inspire the development and dissemination of innovative, evidence-based options for climate-smart agriculture in different settings, and will involve a broad range of government and other stakeholders.’’ Priority activities of the Alliance will be set by a ‘‘government-led agenda’’ (not farmer led in this case?) and ‘’will focus on three initial action areas: knowledge, investment and enabling environment.’’

The Alliance’s vision is one where productivity of the most vulnerable population groups will be improved with the view to enhancing their food security and the livelihoods of producers. For this, there will be a need to make ‘‘transformations in ways that bridge traditional sectoral, organisational and public/private boundaries’’. The document does not explain what this means in concrete terms, but one can fear that it may assume that the way forward is through more public/private partnerships or more partnerships between private corporations and farmers, the underlying principles being left open for unbalanced negotiations, if any, ...

The document also states that the Alliance will ‘‘take into account other international processes, related to agriculture, food security and nutrition and climate change, such as the UN Committee on World Food Security and Multilateral Environmental Agreements’’ and others, meaning that the Alliance is de facto a separate initiative that does not fall within existing governance mechanisms. But no reason is given of why such an additional, and separate, initiative is needed and what it will do that existing processes will not not do yet! One may however imagine that the main rationale for the Alliance - whose members are different from those governing existing processes and among which considerable potential space is left for private corporations - will be to be the framework for implementing programmes that would never have been approved by the membership of existing processes.

Outcomes of the Alliance’s actions are to contribute to sustainable and equitable increases of productivity and incomes, greater resilience and reduction and/or removal of green house gasses (GHG) emissions associated with agriculture. Fine, but importantly, the Action Plan leave space for activities that would not simultaneously achieve these three main outcomes. This means that some activities may very well work towards increased productivity without reducing GHG emissions (e.g. more fertiliser use, the fertiliser industry being well represented in the Alliance), or actions may remove or reduce GHG emissions without contributing to greater resilience (e.g. extensive corporate plantations on land previously cultivated by small farmers). This critical limitation found in paragraph 6 of the Plan basically allows the Alliance to be a new framework for its members to continue business as usual while hiding behind good intentions. Paragraph 9 of the Plan also makes an optional reference to indigenous knowledge systems and ‘‘bears in mind smallholders and the poorest and most marginalised communities’’, which means that, as this also is only optional, the Alliance can very well work without taking them in account

The rest of the text makes all the right noises about participation, integration, inclusiveness  and providing ‘‘a voice for farmers’’ (someone will need to explain why this is needed here as this is supposed to be a ‘‘farmer-led alliance’’?).

The menu is similar to that proposed by the Alliance for Food Security: policy reform (in what direction?), investments (by whom? according to what principles?) and creating links (e.g. between farmers and big international corporations ?).

Regarding governance, ‘‘the Alliance will have a light organisational structure composed of a Strategic Committee and a supporting Facilitation Unit, to be hosted by FAO’’, and annual platforms will be organised to discuss progress. No more information on how the Alliance will be ‘‘farmer-led’’ and by which type of farmers.

Current membership includes 14 countries (including France, the UK and the US), just two farmer organisations, 28 other members of various types including several international organisations, environmental as well as pro-fertiliser associations, and two private corporations, the fertiliser giants Yara and Mosaic (see detailed list below). Several other corporations have already expressed their support for the Alliance.

There have been strong critiques from civil society organisations which have stressed the vagueness of the objectives and mode of operation of the Alliance and the questions of international governance it raises. Some have also interpreted the Alliance as an effort to counter recent interest for ecological agriculture.

It is too early to figure out what this Alliance will do. But it will be important to keep an eye on its activities, hoping that it will not repeat and expand what the already existing New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition has been doing [read here]. Considering the lead role FAO seems to be taking in this initiative, one can doubt that fundamental questions that need to be raised to develop a climate-smart agriculture will really be dealt with by the Alliance [read].

List of members as of 23 September 2014 :

Costa Rica, Ireland, France, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Niger, Norway, Philippines, Spain, United Kingdom, United States of America, Viet Nam, The Alliance of Religions & Conservation (ARC), Asia Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Development (AFA), Association for Agricultural Research Asia Pacific (NAARAP), Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium, Central Himalayan Environment Association (CHEA), The Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences (IICA), Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Institute of Himalayan Environmental Research and Education (INHERE), Colorado State University, CSA Youth Network, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), International Coffee Organization, The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR),The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA), The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Mosaic Company, The Nature Conservancy Organic Consumers Association, Pan African Vision for the Environment (PAVE), Rainforest Alliance, Tropenbos International, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), World Farmers Organization (WFO), World Food Programme (WFP), World Resources Institute (WRI), Yara International ASA.


Further readings:

On climate-smart agriculture

  1. -Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture - Action Plan - Provisional copy

  2. -Climate-Smart Agriculture, FAO Website

  3. -Promoting climate smart agriculture: why be so shy about policies?

On the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition

  1. -The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition: a coup for corporate capital? by N. McKeon

  2. -A first analysis of the implementation of the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition confirms worries about this initiative


Last update:    October 2014

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