Rebranding of AGRA, Is a Confession of Failure – African VOICES

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From tackling hunger, poverty and inequality to responding to climate change to safeguarding biodiversity and expanding nutritional choice, agroecology echoes the goals of the 2030 Agenda. - Picture by PORET-Zimbabwe.
From tackling hunger, poverty and inequality to responding to climate change to safeguarding biodiversity and expanding nutritional choice, agroecology echoes the goals of the 2030 Agenda. - Picture by PORET-Zimbabwe.

FOOD and agriculture stand at a crossroads today. Looking back, major improvements in agricultural productivity have been recorded over recent decades to satisfy the food demand of a growing global population.

The current African policy solutions places further pressure on small-scale food producers to participate in industrial agricultural programs such as climate-smart agriculture, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) seeds, and chemical inputs derived from fossil fuels.

However, the progress has often come with social and environmental costs, including water scarcity, soil degradation, ecosystem stress, biodiversity loss, decreasing fish stocks and forest cover, and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and malnutrition, among them due to the mono-crop been championed by the conventional model of agriculture.

Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), the biggest continental voice for food sovereignty and agroecology, is worried by the extractive model of agriculture agenda unveiled by the multinational corporations who are not even environmental or climate conscious, but continue proposing the new silver bullet solutions to smokescreen their earlier failures in the transforming of agriculture in Africa.

Farmers, civil society and faith leaders of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa recognise the double rebranding of the “Green Revolution” as an admission of failure, a cynical distraction, and reject the new strategy offered by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

The double rebrand sees the name of the African Green Revolution Forum changing to “Africa’s Food Systems Forum”. At the same time, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa now insists that it will be known only by its acronym AGRA, without the words “green revolution” in its name. Both organs of the Green Revolution are attempting to distance themselves from the failed industrial agriculture project while essentially continuing with business as usual.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)’s Communications Officer, Kirubel Teshome says the civil society organisations and faith leaders were quick to denounce the cosmetic change. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa soundly rejects AGRA’s new strategy, announced last month, which promises a continuation of many of the same failing approaches.

“AGRA has sorely disappointed Africans suffering the effects of the climate crisis. Africa must shift away from dependency on imported food and fossil fuel technologies and reduce vulnerability to historical and current crises generated outside Africa’s shores, including climate change, conflicts, pandemics and neo-colonialism,” Kirubel Teshome, AFSA’s Communications Officer added.

An independent expert evaluations released by AGRA, after considerable pressure, comprehensively substantiate the findings of the study ‘False Promises’ confirms that Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)’s approach has failed and underscore the fact that there is no basis for the further cooperation of African governments and those from elsewhere, with AGRA either financially or politically; there was also lack of accountability in this billion-dollar project.

The African agroecological voices, are telling their own narratives. “AGRA is just putting new labels on the failed policies of the past,” said Anne Maina of the Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya, “After 16 years and one billion dollars, we say AGRA’s time is up! Donors should pull the plug on AGRA.”

“We demand not a rebranding of AGRA, and an end to funding harmful green revolution programs,” said Gabriel Manyangadze of Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute. “What we need now is a Green Restoration.”

“AGRA propagates this idea that African farmers don’t produce enough food because they don’t use enough chemical fertilisers,” said AFSA General Coordinator, Dr. Million Belay. “This might be true for some farmers till they transition to agroecology; the implication is that if we pump soils and plants with agrochemicals, we will grow more food. But we know what that means in terms of polluting the soil, making farmers dependent on external inputs, compromising the health of farmers and consumers, robbing farmers their right to food, and increasing the vulnerability to climate change.”

A Kenyan farmer Ferdinand Wafula was emphatic in his plea, “We urge policymakers, governments, and donors to provide more funding to agroecology, which offers clear solutions to nutrition challenges, the climate crisis and escalating food prices.” The food and climate crises compel Africa to turn away from Green Revolution practices that undermine small-scale farmers’ ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

And the Zambian agroecology advocate and Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB) National Coordinator, Muthinta Nketani said recently during the media engagement, “AGRA reinforces very expensive way of producing food which has potential to make our traditional seeds and foods disappear forever from our diets (due to its mono-cultural nature. These foods contribute greatly to Household food and nutrition security.”
Ms. Muthinta Nketani further said, “AGRA contributes greatly to environmental degradation and risks human health (depletes soils, contributes to biodiversity loss due to intensive use of chemicals both selective and non-selective, pollution of water bodies and other natural resources.”

The loss of crop diversity reduces nutrition and not only undermines the ability of households to cope with external shocks, but also diminishes social cohesion, knowledge, leads to increased reliance on the cash economy and reduces the ecological resilience of farming systems.

And a study conducted by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) – Zambia in 2019/20 established, “The mono-cultural nature of the Green Revolution model (supported maize and soya beans mainly) has led to loss of bio-diversity, leaving farmers vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

An analysis of AGRA’s New Five-Year Strategy for 2023 -2027, with its $550 million budget, shows that the organisation is doubling down on its efforts to promote commercial seeds and fossil-fuel-based fertilisers and pesticides and to enact policy reforms that threaten peasant seed systems and the right to food. The strategy makes no commitment to improved yields, incomes, or food security for small-scale farming households.

AGRA intends to build strong, efficient and robust private sector led seeds systems that will give farmers timely and affordable access to appropriate, quality varieties with traits for better yields and pest and disease tolerance. “AGRA will strengthen national seed systems by enhancing government and private sector support for seeds and building a stronger seed policy and regulatory framework,” AGRA’s Five-Year Strategy indicates.

Furthermore, AGRA’s Five-Year Strategy, wants to see, “A committed, capable state (government) with the right policies, programs, and incentives is a critical scaling partner for inclusive agricultural transformation and helps to attract private sector investment.” This continued industrial model of agriculture, driven by the interests of multinational private seed companies, is premised on the privatisation of seed, limiting farmers’ rights to save and share seed.

AGRA’s Five-Year Strategy clearly shows that the small-scale farmers will again be left behind, as the control of the seed, is still entrusted in the hands of the private seed sector, and to criminalise the small-scale farmers with laws that squeeze the indigenous seed of out of ecological agricultural space.

A year ago, 200 organisations signed on to an AFSA letter demanding that donors withdraw support from AGRA. Some of AGRA’s donors are reducing their contributions, leaving the lame-duck AGRA project as a de facto wholly owned subsidiary of its primary funder, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which quickly pledged $200 million for AGRA’s five-year plan.

Founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller Foundations; and registered in the US, launched in 2006, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was unsuccessful in achieving its goals of doubling agricultural yields and the incomes of 30 million small-scale food producer households thereby halving both hunger and poverty in 20 African countries by 2020.

In a study ‘False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)’, published in July 2020, five organisations from Germany, as well as five others from Mali, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, conclude that, based on investigations by researcher Timothy Wise and his team from Tufts University in the US, AGRA not only failed to achieve its goals, but also has fallen far short of them.

Further, AGRA’s claimed expertise in fighting hunger and its leadership role, such as currently at the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), is not warranted. AGRA neither represents the interests of small-scale food producers, nor has its approach with the Green Revolution’s technology package reduced hunger or poverty in its focus countries in Africa.

By means of African agroecological lens, AFSA continues to call on donors and African governments to shift funding away from a Green Revolution strategy and towards proven agroecological alternatives. Africa needs a radical and just transition away from industrial agriculture, corporate monopolies, and false climate solutions – toward food sovereignty and agroecology.

And in affirmativeness, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land 2019 recognizes agroecology’s key role: “In summary, increasing the resilience of the food system through agroecology and diversification is an effective way to achieve climate change adaptation (robust evidence, high agreement).”

Besides, according to ‘FAO’s Work on Agroecology: A pathway to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ 2018 Publication – the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) nods, “Agroecology simultaneously addresses climate change adaptation and mitigation, making it a promising option to implement the Paris Agreement.”

Furthermore, AFSA is building momentum based on the three days ‘Clarifying Africa’s Roadmap to Adaption and Mitigation through Agroecology’ Convening (19th to 21st September, 2022) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia were 32 African countries demand that COP 27 puts agroecology at the centre of Africa’s climate adaptation, creating resilience for Africa’s small-scale farmers, fishers, pastoralists, indigenous communities and their food systems.

“Africa can feed herself, many times over. And agroecology can, and it must not be overlooked by decision-makers, but as the most effective means to build resilience and enable small-scale farmers, pastoralists and fishers to adapt to climate change,” Dr. Million Belay, AFSA General Coordinator, challenged.

And the World Resources Institute (WRI)’s Director for Vital Landscapes, Dr. Susan Chomba advocated, “Africa offers the “late comer advantage”, the ability to change its food transformation without damage to nature (excessive use of synthetic nitrogen, pesticides, etc.) There is an urgent, holistic food systems approach, which is offered by agroecology, is immediately needed.”

Take your heads out of the sand and stop fiddling with false solutions such as industrial agriculture strategies unveiled by AGRA, they’re meaningless. This crystal clear counsel abridges on agroecology that offers a unique approach, as a people-centred option to maintain power over the farmers managed seed systems.

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