By Agbonkhese Oboh
Rising from a webinar on AGRA’s Failed Promises: Liberating our Agriculture, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF; African Faith and Justice Network, AFJN; Navdanya International, and the Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternative Development, IRPAD, have declared that the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, programme failed.
With conversation based on the recent report by a coalition including Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Bread for the World, IRPAD and Biodiversity & Biosafety Association of Kenya, BIBA, the panelists outlined ways by which “African agriculture can be liberated from under the thumb of institutions that may be well meaning, but are utterly and even dangerously wrong in their approaches.”
The report— False Promises-The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa — outlines the promises that AGRA dangled before African countries and what the result has been in over 14 years after the launch of the “Green Revolution” in Africa.
Recall that AGRA, founded in 2006 by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, promised to double the agricultural yields and incomes of 30 million small-scale farming households by 2020 and, thereby, halve hunger and poverty in the 13 countries of focus.
To attain this, AGRA received as much as US$1 billion, mainly from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but also from governments like the US, UK and Germany.
The focus countries are Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, among others.
African governments have supported this programme with $1 billion a year on items, including subsidies for fertilizers.
However, for panelists at the webinar Africa is blessed with vast natural resources and is equipped to produce enough to feed its population.
But “instead of addressing the root of food insecurity on the continent, our governments are led to adopt and invest in programmes and agriculture models that further worsen the situation for farmers and for African households.”
Panelists included Timothy Wise, co-author of the report on AGRA, and senior advisor at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Mamadou Goita, also a co-author of the report, a development economist and Executive Director of IRPAD.
The others are Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and renowned anti-globalisation author, and Devinder Sharma, one of India’s leading agriculture, food and trade policy expert, researcher, and writer.
Speaking, Wise pointed out that there is no evidence of 100% increase in productivity or income doubling as AGRA promised.
Instead, there has been a 31% increase in the number of undernourished people in the 13 focus countries.
Wise said maize was heavily supported by the programme, but it showed just 29% yield growth and even where production increased, as in Zambia, the near-tripling of maize production did not result in reduction in rural poverty or hunger.
Small-scale farmers were not benefiting; poverty and hunger remained staggeringly high with 78% of rural Zambians in extreme poverty.
According to Wise, the focus on maize drove land use out of more nutritious and climate-resilient traditional crops such as millet and sorghum, eroding food security and nutrition for poor farmers.
He added that the use of artificial chemical fertilizers led to the degradation of soil quality.
He noted that the Green Revolution model is failing and stressed that agroecology offers higher net returns, diverse and nutritious crops, lower costs to governments and farmers, soil-restoration and other environmental benefits.
The Green Revolution, GR, according to Vandana Shiva, from the beginning was not about feeding the world, but about selling fertilizers.
She stated that the programme should more appropriately be termed war chemical revolution.
The GR uses more land and water to grow commodities (which do not indicate nutritional content or cost of inputs) and this translates to less food for the people.
Agribusiness models are driving hunger. The industries produce for industries while the people hunger.
Her words: “We should measure true productivity not pseudo-productivity; measure total output and true yield not the fiction of high-yielding varieties.
“We should measure the true costs of production and not hide cost with a commodification measure like GDP, which only measures commodification of an economy not the true production, not how much food people have, not how healthy the soil is.
“That is why there is questioning of GDP around the world.”
Farmers commit suicide in India
For Devinder Sharma: “The Green Revolution is a failed model; it failed in Europe, in India, in America and the best ways to understand this is in what it has done to the environment, to human health and nutrition and to farmers’ income.”
He further explained that in India, over 50 years after the programme was introduced, farmers, despite producing record harvests every year, are still living in distress.
In Punjab, about 1,000 farmers commit suicide yearly. This model of agriculture has kept farmers in poverty and small scale farmers are the worst affected.
In 2007, the government of India reported that the average annual income for farmers was US$250 – an amount that can’t rear a cow or dog for a year.
Between the year 2000 and 2016, farmers are reported to have lost up to US$600 billion and in the last two decades farmers’ income has either remained negative or frozen.
Sharma advised that “Africa should learn from India’s mistake. We see that this model has not only failed in the developed countries but also in the developing countries.
“This tells us that we need a new model of agriculture, different from the chemical-intensive industrial farming model.
“Farmers need a kind of farming system that is ecologically sustainable and economically viable and that provides them with assured income. Farmers shouldn’t be left alone to face the volatility of markets.”
According to Goita, “we don’t need the homogenisation of policies in the continent that the AGRA programme promotes because the contexts are not the same and the farmers are not at the same level of production.
“Africa is diverse and we need to consider the territoriality of African food systems.
“We need to change our way of investing in agriculture. We cannot rely on foreign investments that lead to land grabbing.
“Investment in agriculture must be based on a vision and that vision is agroecology, which is not an imported system but an African way of farming in tune with nature.
“The agroecological perspective that people are pushing forward on the continent will be a key instrument in feeding the world and in creating wealth.”
Among key recommendations of the report (False Promises) that the webinar endorsed are that donor governments should withdraw their funding from AGRA and shift it to programmes that help smallholder farmers, particularly women, develop climate-resilient ecologically sustainable farming practices such as agroecology, which is increasingly recognised and supported by FAO and the international donor community.
Second, African governments should withdraw from AGRA and other Green Revolution programmes, including input-subsidy programmes, and transition their agricultural development programmes toward a more robust array of policies that respond to smallholder farmers’ expressed needs.
It was also recommended that all governments and donors should respect the right to food, peasants’ rights and other internal organisations.
“Seeing how AGRA has failed”, it was agreed that it did not make sense for AGRA’s head, Agnes Kalibata, to be the special envoy of the UN Secretary-General to the UN 2020 World Food Summit.
At the conclusion of the webinar, Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF, encouraged African governments to “take the recommendations to heart and remember that when we move in the wrong direction, no matter how far or fast we go, we will never get to the right destination
“When one makes a mistake and takes a wrong road, wisdom says turn back.”