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African governments are increasingly turning to partnerships with donors and multinational companies to stimulate investment in agriculture, after decades of neglect. Such public–private partnerships (PPPs) ‘at scale’ offer the allure of increased capital and technology, rises in productivity and foreign exchange earnings.

In this briefing paper Oxfam assesses the effectiveness and potential of these mega-PPPs as a vehicle for poverty eradication and rural livelihoods. There are three simple questions to ask of these initiatives:Who primarily benefits from them? Who shoulders the burden of risk? And who holds power in decision-making?

The answers to these questions demonstrate that, in all three cases,  it is the poorest who are likely to lose out, be put at risk, or be bypassed. Mega-PPPs are by-and-large unproven and risky, and appear likely to skew the benefits of investment towards the more powerful, while the risks fall on the poorest and most vulnerable. Tried and tested alternative investment approaches, by contrast, may offer a better use of resources in order that the benefits of agricultural investment reach those who need them most.

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