Since the food and energy price crisis of the late 2000s, most developing countries witnessed increased foreign investment in agriculture and forestry. This prompted a rapid expansion of plantation monocultures involving displacement and disempowerment of marginalized rural communities, disregard for local land rights, and the destruction of fragile ecosystems – thus undermining a transition to sustainable food systems.
The confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis has reversed many poverty eradication gains and exposed deep-seated vulnerabilities and inequalities within the global food system. It has also revealed the intimate relationship between health, ecosystems and food, highlighting the urgent need to invest in livelihood resilience, the environment and more sustainable food production. This cannot be realized through public and philanthropic funding alone – considerable private sector funding is critical. But, without a profound shift in the business models and practices of many investors, unlocking such funding may do more harm than good.
The need to reshape the way in which investors in agriculture do business has not gone unnoticed. Various private-sector (oriented) declarations, guidelines and principles have been adopted in recent years. Most notably the New York Declaration on Forests, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure and the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems. These provide important guidance to governments and the private sector alike.
Yet, despite growing consensus on what more sustainable and inclusive investment constitutes, as well as growing investor commitment to more responsible conduct, many investors are struggling to effectively translate theory into practice.
TLI was conceived to help with this. Inspired by the work of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) on inclusive and sustainable business development, TLI will support five countries to better leverage private capital for a sustainable food systems transition.
In its work with over 100 agribusinesses, FTA generated valuable insights into the type of business models and conditions that enable investors to better reconcile social, environmental and economic interests. It, among others, found that while many investors are highly committed to innovating toward more impactful business models, most are confronted by large internal resource and capacity gaps. Only investors that succeed in closing this gap by forging cross-sector partnerships with government, civil society, research organizations and/or other agribusinesses are generally able to effectively create shared value.
CIFOR joined up with ICRAF, LEI, SNV and RECOFTC to address investors’ need for independent technical backstopping, partnership identification, development and brokering of support. United by common a vision, yet each bringing unique skills and expertise, these organizations established a consortium with a distinct collaborative advantage; mixing technical, developmental, public policy and value chain development expertise. The first phase of the program (2022–2025) is supported by Swiss Development Cooperation.
Together, the consortium will focus its phase 1 activities on five countries, as well as regionally and globally. To deliver on its goal of leveraging private support for a sustainable food systems transition, the program has formed three reinforcing Innovation Streams: the investor-centric Investment Innovation stream, the national enabling environment focused Business Ecosystem Innovation Stream, and the international development community focused Global Innovation Stream. More information on each can be found here: TLI innovation streams.