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February 13, 2018

Over the last two years the U.S. government has abandoned its once highly touted “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition” policy aimed at Africa. Now, the Government of France has finally announced that it is formally withdrawing from the Group of 8/7 initiative that came out of a 2012 summit at Camp David.

These developments are a good thing. The French withdrawal is as an outcome of several years of work done by social movements and nonprofit organizations in the United States and across Europe and Africa, including ActionAid. The New Alliance promoted policies for African governments oriented toward the production of export commodities and biofuels. The supposed goal was to improve food security and reduce poverty by encouraging companies to invest in farming. The New Alliance gave large-scale agribusiness control over land and water, as well as seed, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and machinery markets in Africa.

The problem with these policies was that they only made things worse. They threatened the livelihoods of local farmers, and in several countries the companies attempted to drive farmers off their land.

While the French government cited “mixed results” of its participation in Burkina Faso, and promised new approaches, it was just formally acknowledging what the United States and other governments might prefer to ignore. The fact is that they could not demonstrate either successful investments or the benefits they promised for local farmers. In fact the website once funded by the U.S. government has not reported on the New Alliance since 2015.

Unfortunately, the danger of governments working with large agribusiness to take resources away from the communities hasn’t stopped. In fact the large agribusiness organization Grow Africa continues the New Alliance agenda even as the overt support of some governments has faded. While different kinds of businesses can and do play a positive role in healthy food systems, large corporations should not dominate or centralize control over something as important as the food supply in countries and communities.

As the government of France noted, a new approach is needed. This approach must focus on connecting local farmers to regional markets, by funding appropriate roads, irrigation systems, and agro-ecological training, along with the education and healthcare that diverse food-producing communities need to thrive.