The food crisis of 2008 led to a broad agreement in the agricultural development community that the lack of appropriate investment in agriculture had been a key contributing factor to unstable prices and food insecurity. The crisis coincided with an increase in land grabbing in many parts of the world, but especially in Africa. It is in response to these events that the idea of developing some criteria on agricultural investments came up in international policy and governance arenas.
The food crisis also led the United Nations in 2008-09 to reform its Rome-based Committee on Food Security (CFS) to address both the short term food crisis, and the long-term structural issues that led to it. It involved bringing new people to the table where decisions were being made, and this included a new Civil Society Mechanism (CSM). In October 2010, the newly reformed CFS was faced with a challenge: Should it endorse the international Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respect Rights, Livelihoods and Resources (PRAI) developed by the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG), composed of FAO, UNCTAD, IFAD and the World Bank, or refuse to endorse it in response to the CSM position rejecting the PRAI? To the credit of the CFS, the majority of the stakeholders, including most governments agreed with the CSM in October 2010 that the PRAI was inadequate to protect vulnerable communities from land grabbing. Rather, in the CSM view, PRAI would have helped facilitate the large scale investments which were already depriving people of their livelihood sources. Unfortunately, at its November 2010 Summit, the G-20 continued to endorse that flawed process, encouraging “all countries and companies to uphold the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment.” But the debate continued at the CFS, which, while ‘taking note of the ongoing process of developing’ the PRAI, agreed that there needed to be a more inclusive process if these principles were to protect communities from getting displaced from their lands. It initiated the development of Terms of Reference that were endorsed by the CFS Plenary in October 2012. The current Zero Draft of the Principles for responsible agricultural investment (also referred to as CFS-rai) is the outcome of an almost year-long inclusive consultative process on those principles. Last week we joined our partners, International Development Exchange (IDEX) and Grassroots International (GRI), to submit comments on the CFS-rai. We believe there is much scope for strengthening these principles. Over the last six months the zero draft was discussed around the world through regional consultations processes and e-consultation. Civil society groups that advocate for the rights of small-scale producers and workers are actively engaging in this process to make sure that the final draft principles presented to the CFS in October 2014 are indeed strong enough to protect the resource rights of the communities; leads to the progressive realization of the right to food, right to water, and the protection of the genetic, bio diversity as well as enhancement of ecosystem functions. Thus our comments stress that responsible agricultural investments should address the specific needs of small-scale food producers and workers: this entails investors assessing the specific needs of small-scale producers and workers and identifying how they can be supported to strengthen their food sovereignty, rather than seeking to make them part of the industrial food system, with its concentrated value chains. Those investments would support agroecological approaches to food production and the development of locally appropriate technology to reduce their drudgery and postharvest losses. Such investments will help retain wealth in their communities, contributing to ecosystem regeneration and rural economic development. The first draft of the CFS-rai principles, based on the feedback received through the consultation process, will be developed in March-April 2014. There is a very small window of opportunity for civil society to comment on this first draft by contacting their CSM regional focal points, before it is negotiated in May 2014 by the Open Ended Working Group (OWEG) that include CSM representatives. The negotiated text will be presented for endorsement to the 41st session of the CFS in the fall of 2014. Even when rai principles are strengthened according to the civil society inputs and endorsed by the CFS, there is still a real danger that those principles would be rendered ineffective by legally binding provisions in trade and investment agreements. We hope that the CFS-rai principles, if finalized with these inputs received from small-scale producers, workers and those advocating for their rights, come to govern national and international agricultural investments, and pave the way for ensuring that bilateral and multilateral investment agreements do not violate small-scale producers’ right to livelihoods, and result in biodiversity protection and ecosystem restoration.