A World Bank pilot project designed to measure and improve agricultural productivity will jeopardise food security in developing countries and create a "one-size-fits-all model of development where corporations reign supremely", according to a coalition of thinktanks and NGOs.
An international campaign – Our Land; Our Business – is urging the Bank to abandon its Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) programme, claiming it will serve only to encourage corporate land grabs and undermine the smallholder farmers who produce 80% of the food consumed in the developing world.
The campaign, whose signatories include the US-based Oakland Institute thinktank and the Pan-African Institute for Consumer Citizenship and Development, argues that the Bank's attempts to adapt its ease-of-doing-business rankings to the agricultural sector will sow poverty "by putting the interests of foreign investors before those of locals".
The BBA was devised after the G8 asked the Bank to explore a doing business in agriculture index two years ago under the G8's controversial New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition programme.
BBA pilot schemes, which receive funding from the US development agency, USAid, the UK's Department for International Development (DfID), the Dutch and Danish governments and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are being trialled in 10 countries: Ethiopia, the Philippines, Guatemala, Rwanda, Morocco, Spain, Mozambique, Uganda, Nepal and Ukraine. Among the issues under investigation are access to seeds, fertiliser, mechanisation, finance, markets, transport and technology.
"Despite a language that claims concerns for small farmers, the goal of this newagriculture-focused ranking system is far too clear: [to] further open up countries' agriculture sectors to foreign corporations," the campaign said in a statement. "The doing business [rankings] give points to countries when they act in favour of 'ease of doing business'. This consists of smoothing the way for corporations' activity in the country by, for instance, cutting administrative procedures, lowering corporate taxes, removing environmental and social regulations or suppressing trade barriers."
The campaigners point to Liberia – where dozens of business reforms between 2008 and 2011 attracted considerable foreign direct investment that resulted in the corporate acquisition of more than 607,000 hectares in the space of a few years – and the Philippines, which shot 40 places up the doing business rankings between 2011 and 2014, and where foreigners last year acquired 5.2m hectares of land.
They say that squeezing out the small farmers, who often lack tenure security and government help yet still produce the overwhelming majority of food in developing nations, is not only unfair but also dangerous.
"It is time that the World Bank ceases to ignore that smallholders are the only future of an agriculture that can guarantee food security, ensure a sustainable use of natural resources and bring human development," the statement concludes. "We know far too well how damaging large-scale industrial farming is to the environment and the people. This model shall not be expanded to the developing word." More