Big agricultural companies need a “gold standard” set of global rules to guide their investments after a new Oxfam report shows that even supposedly “responsible” deals can hurt poor local farmers.
Oxfam’s Smallholders at Risk report is aimed at the UN’s Committee on World Food Security that will meet next month in Rome to begin talks on new investment rules to support the right to food, called “the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems”.
Oxfam investigated three deals by US companies in marginalized regions of Paraguay, Guatemala and Colombia, to grow mono-crops of soy, oil palm and corn. The governments encouraged the deals as the best way to boost development.
Despite the companies’ corporate social responsibility policies, Oxfam found the deals had largely undermined local communities and failed to live up to their potential. New jobs tended to be poorly paid. Local farmers fared little better by becoming suppliers and often lacked the finance to benefit from the new supply chains or to manage the risk involved. Local communities had been hit by environmental problems and some had lost access to their land.
The companies all had philanthropic projects such as providing school materials and joining social marketing schemes but these did not empower local farmers.
“Farmers in low and middle-income countries invest $170 billion in agriculture each year. They are by far the biggest investors in our planet’s food system. They deserve policies that support and protect this huge investment – not undermine it,” said report author Stephanie Burgos.
Lauren Ravon, Senior Policy Advisor for Oxfam Canada, added: "Women are often most at risk in big agricultural deals. Their contribution to food production is already systematically undervalued and ignored, and unguided private sector investment is not the solution to a global food system that is broken. To reduce poverty and improve food security, we need to ensure that women food producers receive more support and that their access to land and resources is strengthened."
Oxfam wants more and better investment in agriculture in order to reduce poverty and improve food security. The conditions of investment are equally important. Oxfam is calling on the members of the CFS to ensure that all forms of agricultural investment avoid harming smallholders and contribute to the right to food for all. The CFS should say specifically what companies need do or to avoid in order that their investments be genuinely responsible.
Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign seeks to improve company policies and practices in agricultural supply chains. In the past year it has secured new commitments some of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies, including “zero tolerance on land grabs” by Coca Cola and Pepsi and commitments to empower women by Nestlé, Mondelez and Mars.
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