UN to vote on agri investment principles

The private sector has been actively involved in the two-year negotiation process for the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems, according to Robynne Anderson, secretariat for the International Agri-Food Network.

The United Nations is set to vote on the endorsement of new principles for investment into the agriculture sector on October 15, 2014.

The Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems have been in the making for two years with FAO’s Committee on World Food Security taking the lead and involvement from various supranational bodies such as the World Bank’s agribusiness arm. The private sector has also taken an active interest with input from Coca Cola and other multinational firms.

Here Robynne Anderson, secretariat for the International Agri-Food Network, a body representing the private sector during the process, talks about that private interest.

What are the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems? When were they initiated and why?

The Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems is an initiative of the UN Committee on Food Security to create a document which is endorsed by the member states of the United Nations and provides guidance on the key issues related to agricultural investment globally.

There have been various attempts at providing guidance to investors in the past so hopefully this will fill the gap and provide a single place to get that information.

The process is seen to be more credible than prior discussions because it involves a multi-stakeholder dialogue and engages the member states of the United Nations.  It is also designed to reference the roles of all actors, not just investors.

The principles have been under discussion for two years and will be voted on at the UN on October 15 where it is expected they will be endorsed.

How has the private sector been involved until this point?

The UN Committee on Food Security provides a unique opportunity for the private sector to engage throughout the negotiations via a Private Sector Mechanism that coordinates input from more than 10,000 companies and associations across 139 countries.  More than 100 companies have participated in a line-by-line review of the draft principles over the past two years. This private sector participation was coordinated by the International Agri-Food Network – an effort I have been leading.

It has been very active and we have had various participants from every aspect for the value chain.

Also of relevance, the Committee on Food Security in 2012 had agreed voluntary guidelines on land tenure. Consistency with those is part of the new principles. Given the complexity of agriculture and the multiplicity of situations among countries, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

What were the main concerns of the private sector during the process?

A primary concern was that the principles would be workable and provide real clarity on the best ways to support agri investment which is much needed to ensure food security globally.

The operating environment for private investors was another area of particular concern such as the need for transparency, fairness, predictability, open markets and private enterprise. Enabling small scale farmers to become small scale entrepreneurs is also essential along with making sure that farmer organisations are able to organise rural communities effectively.

Private investors also promoted the need for farmer-centric investor approaches, ensuring access to essentials such as water, seed technology, inputs and rural infrastructure for the sale of produce. And the availability of global agricultural research. Inclusive business models were also encouraged where businesses implement outgrower schemes to empower local community farmers.

How will the principles be implemented?

The principles are voluntary.  Private sector actors will be working on ways to do the reporting, capacity building, and operationalization of these principles once they are endorsed by the UN. But it is unlikely there will be one single path to implementation – the document is very complex. It is understood that investors want clarity and direction on implementation, however it is too early to comment on how that might be possible.