Blog by Sean Woolfrey (ECDPM): Can ‘Responsible Investment Principles’ de-polarise the debate on agricultural PPPs in Africa?

Clear need for PPPs to mitigate risk of investments on local communities

The use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) to promote agricultural development is becoming increasingly prominent in Africa, but has provoked fierce criticism due to concerns about their impact on local communities. There is a clear need for these instruments to mitigate the risk of large-scale investments to these communities and to ensure best practice is followed.

Recent years have seen the emergence of a number of public-private partnerships to promote agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa, including ‘growth corridors’ such as the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) and the Nacala Growth Corridor in Mozambique. The discourse around such PPPs, however, is highly polarised. Advocates tout various benefits, such as the fact that by bringing together different stakeholders, PPPs provide a forum for i) discussing and developing policies that are truly responsive to the needs of all stakeholders and ii) promoting investment that is sensitive to local socio-economic and environmental circumstances.

The Environment and Climate Compatible Agriculture project (ECCAg) being run in the SAGCOT region illustrates the potential benefits of agricultural PPPs in Africa. ECCAg, which is being led by multinationals Yara and Syngenta, in partnership with the Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, has been examining whether the intensification of agriculture through improved agronomic protocols can boost productivity and profitability at the farm level in an environmentally sustainable way. Test results show significantly improved crop yields and increased farmer profitability.

On the other hand, civil society organisations have been heavily critical of agricultural PPPs due to their perceived negative impacts on land rights and inequality and the fact that many  appear to be paying “insufficient attention to the interests, needs and priorities of smallholder farmers”. This last issue is particularly important given the ubiquity of smallholder agriculture in Africa and the need to ensure the viability of this sector in order to improve food security on the continent. Concerns have also been raised about the commercial sustainability of many PPPs and the imbalanced nature of the relationships between their participants.

Read the rest of Sean Woolfrey’s blog post here.