On the heels of the G8 Summit at Camp David, President Barack Obama announced a US$3 billion initiative to fight hunger and malnutrition in Africa.
The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition calls on leaders from across key sectors - government, industry and civil society - to join forces and ignite sustainable, scalable and innovative initiatives to make hunger a thing of the past. USAID emphasizes that the "New Alliance supports the accelerated implementation of the African-developed and led agricultural plans (known as CAADPs)."
During the May 18 Chicago Council on Global Affairs Symposium in Washington, DC, President Obama said fighting hunger and malnutrition is a moral, economic and security imperative. And so, together with forty-nine companies, African Presidents and civil society leaders, a massive multi-sectoral commitment to invest in Africa's agricultural sector was born. The commitments were developed in collaboration with Grow Africa, a partnership led by the World Economic Forum, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia are the first countries to be part of the New Alliance. Six more African countries, including Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, will join in the coming months.
But this announcement has not come without valid concerns. Among them is the need to ensure that the very communities the New Alliance is aimed to benefit, actually inform approaches and the interventions that are needed.
"The New Alliance is neither new nor a true alliance,” said Oxfam’s Lamine Ndiaye. “The rhetoric invokes small-scale producers, particularly women, but the plan must do more to bring them to the table.”
It's important to note that the majority of smallholder farmers are women and happen to make up the majority of hungry people in the developing world. Women also are catalysts for change in their communities.
In addition, civil society leaders fear that by involving the private sector, governments will drop their responsibility to fighting and investing in food and nutrition security.
“A billion people go to bed hungry every day and a challenge of this magnitude requires a new approach," said San Worthington, President and CEO of Interaction. "But any partnership with the private sector must not be a substitute for governments meeting previous obligations, such as those agreed in 2009 at the G8 summit in L’Aquila when $22 billion was pledged in agricultural and food security assistance.”
President Obama assured us that the New Alliance is not a substitute for government commitment. But how do we guarantee this?
As the New Alliance rolls out, governments will have to follow through on their promises, and private sector and civil society will need to work together better than they ever have before. In fact, for the New Alliance to be successful, it will require all three segments to share the responsibility and measure impact. It also requires all three segments to hold each other highly and unapologetically accountable to ensure the kind of progress that Africa has the potential to deliver.
If not, the New Alliance will be relegated to yet another initiative that no single entity owns, with plenty of blame to go around if it fails.