By Jimoh Babatunde
A new report by Biovision, IPES-Food and the UK-based Institute of Development Studies has revealed that only a fraction of agricultural research funding in Africa is being used to transform food and farming systems.
Kenya ranks third in sub-Saharan Africa in spending on agricultural research after Nigeria and South Africa.
The Money Flows report looks at investments in sub-Saharan Africa with a focus on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest philanthropic investor in agri-development; Switzerland, a major bilateral donor, and Kenya, one of Africa’s leading recipients and implementers of agricultural research for development or AgR4D.
The report shows that only three percent of Gates Foundation projects in Africa support sustainable, regenerative approaches — or ‘agroecology’.
Agro-ecology is a set of agronomic practices that reduce the use of external inputs and maximise the use of local resources, by betting on diversity at field level and that relies on poly cropping schemes, which lend themselves less well to mechanisation and economies of scale.
It also shows that as many as 85% of projects funded by the Gates Foundation are limited to developing industrial agriculture, or increasing its efficiency.
Speaking on the report, Biovision President, Hans Herren, said: “Most governments, both in developing and developed countries, still favour ‘green revolution’ approaches, with the belief that chemical-intensive, large-scale industrial agriculture is the only way to produce sufficient food.
While noting that these approaches have failed, Herren, winner of the 1995 World Food Prize and 2013 Right Livelihood Award, said: “They have failed ecosystems, farming communities, and an entire continent.
“With the compound challenges of climate change, pressure on land and water, food-induced health problems and pandemics such as COVID-19, we need change now. And this starts with money flowing into agro-ecology.”
Herren noted that approximately 30% of farms around the world are estimated to have redesigned their production systems around agro-ecological principles, the report says.
The report finds that support for agro-ecology is now growing across the agri-development community, particularly in light of climate change, but this hasn’t yet translated into a meaningful shift in funding flows.
Around 13% of projects carried out by Kenyan research institutes are ‘agro-ecological’, with a further 13% of projects focussing on the substitution of synthetic inputs.
Olivia Yambi, co-chair of IPES-Food, said: “We need to change funding flows and unequal power relations. It’s clear that in Africa as elsewhere, vested interests are propping up agricultural practices based on an obsession with technological fixes that is damaging soils and livelihoods, and creating a dependency on the world’s biggest agri-businesses.
“Agro-ecology offers a way out of that vicious cycle.”