Businesses and NGOs discuss agricultural PPPs at House of Lords

Fairtrade PPP event

Participation of smallholders is vital if agricultural public-private partnerships are to be effective

Businesses including Matthew Algie, the Co-operative Group and Waitrose joined the Fairtrade Foundation and Oxfam at the House of Lords this week (4 November), to discuss the opportunities and risks of engaging in agricultural public-private partnerships in Africa. The event was hosted by Heidi Alexander MP, Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development.

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have become an increasingly common development tool in recent years, as governments and NGOs have sought to leverage private sector investment to help tackle food insecurity and global poverty. One of the most highly-publicised is the New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition, launched at the 2012 G8 Summit by President Obama and promised $3bn in agriculture-related corporate investment, with the goal of lifting 50 million people out of poverty within 10 years.

But the Fairtrade Foundation warned that some agricultural PPPs in Africa appear to be prioritising commercial interests while ignoring the needs of the smallholder farmers they claim to help – and in the worst cases, they could even exacerbate poverty. Tim Aldred, Head of Policy & Research at the Fairtrade Foundation, said his organisation's study of four agricultural PPPs in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya found PPPs failing to engage effectively with smallholder farmers, making assumptions about farmers' needs, and treating farmers as beneficiaries rather than equal partners. "We found very few, if any opportunities for farmers’ representatives to sit around the table with government and business, or to input to the design or development of programmes intended to improve their position," Aldred said.

David Bright, Head of Economic Justice Programming at Oxfam, said that 'mega-PPPs' can result in African governments change policies to make conditions more favourable for their investment. This means the risks for companies are reduced, but the risks for those living in poverty, such as smallholders losing title to their customary land to make way for PPPs. "The important question is, who shares the risks and who receives the benefits?," Bright asked. "In the case of mega-PPPs, often the benefits are bypassing the poorest. Secondly, you have to consider the opportunity cost of investing in these partnerships instead of other programmes that could address poverty alleviation. A critical check and balance is having an accountability framework explaining how this investment will reduce poverty and create transparency mechanisms for the communities concerned."

Ewan Reid, Technical Director at coffee roasting company, Matthew Algie, which sources 90 per cent of its coffee beans from Fairtrade certified cooperatives, said his company had been seeking to go beyond ethical certification, to work in partnership with smallholder farmers on development projects for more than a decade. Instead of investing in large-scale PPPs, Matthew Algie has worked with ethical trading organisation, Twin to establish its own projects on three continents, including a climate change adaptation project with the San Juan del Oro coffee cooperative in Peru. "The farmers are supported to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change and to deal with climate change-related disease such as coffee leaf rust, which helps them to continue producing coffee and earning a living, but as a company we also benefit from security of supply and longevity", Reid said. Other programmes have targeted the most marginalised groups, including women farmers and those living in conflict zones, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Matthew Algie supported farmers to gain organic and Fairtrade certification.

The coffee company has also turned down offers to work on projects where they do not take into account the smallholders' needs and context. "There was a project in Rwanda that proposed installing washing stations for coffee, which would divert much-needed water away from growing other crops, in a community affected by food insecurity. We couldn't get involved with a project like that", Reid said.  

The Fairtrade Foundation recommended that for agricultural PPPs to be effective, governments and businesses need to ensure that funds are directed to clear and measurable development goals, that there is a transparent design process that involves smallholders, and that they invest in building the capacity of farmers so that their representatives can participate if they wish. "Really, we'd like to see a fourth 'P' added to PPPs, to stand for participation of smallholders," Aldred said. "Getting participation is hard, but the onus is on the donor to find ways to support farmer engagement," he added.


For more information or images please contact Nicola Frame, Fairtrade Foundation's Media & PR Manager on 020 7440 8597 or

Notes to editors

The Fairtrade Foundation is an independent certification body which licenses the use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products which meet international Fairtrade standards. This independent consumer label appears on products to show that disadvantaged producers are getting a better deal from trade. Today, more than 1.3 million people – farmers and workers – across more than 70 developing countries benefit from the international Fairtrade system.

Over 4,500 products have been licensed to carry the FAIRTRADE Mark including coffee, tea, herbal teas, chocolate, cocoa, sugar, bananas, grapes, pineapples, mangoes, avocados, apples, pears, plums, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, satsumas, clementines, mandarins, lychees, coconuts, dried fruit, juices, smoothies, biscuits, cakes & snacks, honey, jams & preserves, chutney & sauces, rice, quinoa, herbs &  spices, seeds, nuts & nut oil, wines, beers, rum, confectionary, muesli, cereal bars, yoghurt, ice-cream, flowers, sports balls, sugar body scrub and cotton products including clothing, homeware, cloth toys, cotton wool, olive oil, gold, silver and platinum.

Awareness of the FAIRTRADE Mark continues to be high in 2013, at a level of 77%. Estimated retail sales of Fairtrade products in 2013 reached £1.73 billion, a 12% increase on sales of £1.53 billion in 2012.