Did you know that in order to end poverty and hunger by 2030 we would need to secure an additional US$267 billion in investments per year?
Actually, depending on whom you talk to and how you choose to look at it, that number tends to fluctuate. There are multiple factors one must consider in this equation, including the types of investments being made, the communities being supported, and unsustainable externalities like food loss and food waste, for example.
In any case, investments are needed. And in a world where money is often called the root of all evil, we must be careful what we do with it. Not all investments are created equal, and irresponsible investments can and do have social, environmental and economic consequences.
There is, however, a way to do business responsibly, and that is exactly why the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners initiated the creation of 10 Principles for Responsible Investment. Known as the RAI, they offer a very broad and holistic view of criteria that helps donors, national and local governments, the private sector and civil society make responsible investments.
As the principles are indeed very general, they have been criticized for not having strong enough language to truly stop irresponsible investments. Maybe that is why they have been linked with the very successful Voluntary Guidelines and other instruments in the new FAO Umbrella Programme for Responsible Investments, launched at this year’s UN Committee for World Food Security (CFS).
The CFS endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines in 2012 and the RAI two years later, in 2014. This gives the impression that both are somehow needed. The Guidelines, though voluntary, have been very successful in securing land rights for vulnerable people, and with the addition of the Principles under the Umbrella Program, things like climate change, food loss, smallholder connection to markets (to name a few) can be prioritized and supported too.
The way I see it, the RAI offers a sort of value-based checklist to ensure that commonly-agreed objectives are met. True, they are quite random, and when reading through them you might be left feeling unsure of how they can be applied in practice. Still, if used and respected the RAI can offer governments and the private sector alike, tools to safeguard against possibly irresponsible investments. And at the end of the value-chain, they can also offer retailers and consumers tools to ensure that products are responsibly and sustainably produced.
We live in an extremely complex world, where multiple viewpoints and needs make it difficult to find the perfect solution for everyone. We must, however, start somewhere, and I think this Umbrella Program, acknowledging its apparent faults, has the potential to help us do that. The Voluntary Guidelines are a huge success, but they only cover land and land rights. With the addition of the RAI as a guiding light, we are definitely on our way to creating a responsibly invested, sustainable world.
Need for a human rights-based approach
I spoke with Christian Mersmann of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, who told me why he supports a human-rights based approach to sustainable development.
Approaches led and based in human rights ensure that women and vulnerable groups are protected, that communities and marginalized voices are able to participate, and gives decentralized structures rights to land and land administration that are not officially documented in traditional practices.
Ultimately, though, Mr. Mersmann says we need an instrument of democratic participation. “We need more engaged people that about what is going on and speak up for it.” Irresponsible investments by bad actors are not going to be completely eliminated with any overarching principles or guidelines, so it is up to us, national governments and civil society together, to be the watchdogs.
“The organizations out there that are rebuilding social structures (church groups, NGOs, civil society organizations) play an enormous role, not necessarily in the way of economic growth and job creation, but in consolidating the social structure and building family and community governance,” he explained.
This leads us to a whole other conversation. Community-based, cooperative structures are key to many other sustainable goals we are trying to achieve in the world. I know it sounds idealistic, but I do believe that although the problems we face now seem quite enormous, when we learn to trust and believe in one another again we will be able to solve them.
In an ideal world
Investors could easily align with the RAI but, as with any business endeavour, it is a question of cost-benefit analysis. It is also a question of social responsibility. To respect land rights and protect the rights of women, to ensure jobs are sustained or created, or that there is other forms of local economic growth, all costs money.
The truth is, the cost-benefit analysis may not always play out in the investor’s favor. Being a responsible investor will most likely not make you the richest guy in the room. But consumers have a responsibility too. The economy is a circle, and if responsible production costs more, then responsible consumption will too.
And you know what? That is just going to have to be okay. In order for the world to transition to a sustainable system for all, we are going to have to compromise on many things that the industrial economy has fooled us into believing will be around forever.
In a world where responsible investments support sustainable development and sustainable goals are met, is it possible for all of us to benefit, prosper and live happy lives?
Mr. Mersmann is convinced that it is. “We have to take many, many, many steps and we are aware more than ever of these steps. One of those steps is that the environmentalist, the economist, the agriculturalist, and trade people come together and agree on a common agenda.” Of course that is more easily said than done, but it is possible, and it is already beginning to happen. Multi-stakeholder dialogues and trans-disciplinary research are hot topics these days in development circles. It is going to take a lot of hard work, openness and flexibility, but it can be done and it is possible.
If you’re like me, you’ll wonder why it has taken so long. But that is politics, and on a global scale, snail-like speed can make it feel like we will never accomplish anything. But just look around you: local communities are already hard at work building a world that benefits everyone. Little by little, international entities will catch up, and until then, it’s like they say, “look for the good, there is always good.”
Blogpost by Samie Blasingame, #CFS43 Social Reporter — samieblasingame(at)gmail.com Picture: Images Money (via Flickr) This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.