Oxfam calls for greater controls on huge agri public–private partnerships

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

'These risks are stark against a background of heightening competition for fertile land and water,' says Oxfam report on public–private partnerships.
'These risks are stark against a background of heightening competition for fertile land and water,' says Oxfam report on public–private partnerships.

Related tags Africa

The increasing trend towards government investment partnerships with large multinationals threatens land rights, equality and the environment in Africa, an Oxfam report warns.

The Oxfam GB report​ warned: “So-called mega agricultural public–private partnerships [PPPs] are by and large unproven and risky, and are likely to skew the benefits of investments towards the privileged and more powerful, while the risks fall on the most vulnerable.”

It said that although it was true that African agriculture required funding, governments should look to more “effective, tried and tested approaches”​ to nurture smallholders, revitalize public investment and unlock the potential of domestic and regional markets.

In its report, based on a literature review, informant interviews and three case studies in Burkina Faso, Malawi and Tanzania, Oxfam asked who benefited primarily from these initiatives, who shouldered the burden of risk and who held power in decision making processes?  

It concluded that “the poorest people are all too often likely to lose out or be bypassed [by such investment plans], while the priorities of women are left unmet”, ​questioning therefore whether these partnerships should be such a key focus for overseas development assistance.

Incentivising private-sector investment

The report, authored by Oxfam policy adviser Robin Willoughby, said legislative and policy changes had incentivised private-sector investment, typically involved large multinationals, as did initiatives such as the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and growth corridor programmes.  

“Such is the enthusiasm for these partnerships that donors have committed over $5.9bn in multi-annual aid to further the aims of the New Alliance, and 1.5bn in grants and loans to support African growth corridor programmes.”

While it warned that the current situation needed a radical rethink, it said that this did not mean private sector funding had no place in agricultural development.

“On the contrary, with recognition of tenure rights for local communities, and transparent, responsive and judicious land governance, strong labour and women’s rights legislation and the application of human rights standards, the private sector has a crucial role to play in driving poverty eradication and food security improvements in African countries, across both small- and large-scale models.​”

Regulating ventures

Yet the report said these investments required strong governance to ensure fair play, something which was not always possible in sub-Saharan African countries where issues remained in regulating markets and representing the voices of poorer demographics in policies. It also flagged corruption as a possible danger to the just management of PPPs.

Land rights were also earmarked as a key risk, saying in the context of poor governance and stalled or incomplete land reform, the mega-PPP model threatened to increase risks around land use rights and access for local communities.

“These risks are stark against a background of heightening competition for fertile land and water: rural communities are experiencing rapid population growth creating pressure over land use, wealthy urban dwellers are investing in land at a growing pace, and foreign companies are looking for abundant and apparently cheap land.”

It said transferring land to larger investors reduced the “already diminishing”​ land holdings available to smallholder farmers. 

Related topics Commodities Cocoa Sustainability

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