CAMBRIDGE, MA, Aug 29 (IPS) – As the saying goes, when you get stuck in a hole, stop digging. As African leaders and their philanthropic and bilateral sponsors prepare for another glitzy Africa Green Revolution Forum, to be held September 5-8 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, they are instead handing out new shovels to sink deeper the continent into a food crisis caused in part by their failing obsession with corporate-led industrialized agriculture.
Instead of halving food insecurity, as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) promised when it was founded in 2006, the continent has moved in the opposite direction. The number of chronically ‘undernourished’ people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries has risen by nearly 50%, not fallen, according to recent UN hunger data.
AGRA supporters will try to blame the continent’s deepening hunger on disruptions from the COVID pandemic and the war between Russia and Ukraine, but chronic hunger had already increased by 31% in 2018 in AGRA countries, as I documented in my 2020 study at Tufts University. The hole was already getting deeper.
Tanzania, host of the summit, is a good example. As the government braces for another Green Revolution complacency, refusing to allow Tanzanian farming groups to offer a more critical perspective and more effective solutions, UN figures show a 34% increase number of undernourished Tanzanians since 2006. An estimated 59% of Tanzanians are undernourished. Tanzanians suffer from moderate to severe levels of food insecurity, according to data from a survey by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
African farmers: “Lay down the shovels of the Green Revolution”
Once again, African farmers’ organizations are calling on African leaders and the donors who support them to lay down the shovels of the Green Revolution, get out of the hole, assess the damage caused by their failing model of agricultural development and change course. to be more farmer-centric. and sustainable ecological agriculture.
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa concluded its recent continental meeting on seed rights denouncing “Continued pressure from AGRA and other private sector actors to influence African governments’ seed policies and biosafety regulations to increase corporate seed capture and control on the continent. » They programmed a virtual press conference on August 30demanding “No decision about us without us!” »
In calling for a strategic reset, they do not ignore the complex causes of hunger on the continent – climate change, conflict and corruption exacerbated by pandemic-related disruptions and rising fertilizer costs and food imports from Russia and Ukraine. They acknowledge that the Green Revolution’s rural development strategy, business-driven and technology-based, has proven inadequate in helping small-scale farmers face such challenges.
In 2006, AGRA proposed a coherent strategy and admirably ambitious goals. Its aggressive promotion of commercial seeds and synthetic fertilizers would catalyze a virtuous cycle of agricultural development. Increasing yields would feed the hungry and spur new investment in productivity-enhancing agricultural technologies. AGRA’s self-proclaimed “theory of change” would double food crop productivity and incomes for 30 million smallholder farming households by 2020 while halving hunger.
Seventeen years – and more than a billion dollars – later, the the evidence shows that AGRA’s Theory of Change was momentarily wrong. These seeds and fertilizers did not produce a revolution in productivity. Yields have only increased by 18% over 14 years, barely faster than before the new green revolution. Corn yields have only increased by 29%, despite billions of dollars in government subsidies to allow farmers to buy – and companies to sell – inputs. Meanwhile, more nutritious and climate-resilient traditional crops, such as millet and sorghum, saw their yields stagnate or decline as farmers planted more subsidized maize.
With limited improvements in yields, farmers have not seen more food or higher incomes from the sale of their promised new surplus production. They saw it as a losing proposition, as the costs of seeds and fertilizers exceeded the expected returns from crop sales. When subsidies were removed due to shrinking government budgets, farmers stopped buying seeds and fertilizers and went back to their old seeds, if they had managed to save any. Many have found themselves in debt after purchases of inputs failed to return their investment.
Most found farmland that was now less fertile than before, the nutrients drained by maize monocultures. The fertilizers fed the corn, not the soil, which continued to lose fertility, deprived of organic matter provided by greener methods such as intercropping and spreading manure.
So no one should be surprised to see an increase in hunger. Farmers weren’t producing much more food. The foods they grew – mostly starches like corn and rice – were less nutritious than the mix of crops they grew before. And they had little new cash income to buy more food, let alone a diverse and nutritious diet. Many had less cash as they tried to repay their debts from their failed investments in commercial seeds and fertilizers.
Cosmetic changes, less transparency
International donors have ignored calls from African farmers to change course. Instead, AGRA is rolling out a rebrand, a facelift that is not the complete makeover Africa needs.
HAS last year’s Green Revolution Forum, attendees were treated to a series of nifty videos announcing that the forum was dropping the term “green revolution” from its name. Indeed, this year’s gathering is called the African Food Systems Summit. And AGRA itself dropped the term “Green Revolution” from its name, declaring without much explanation that it would now simply bear its acronym, AGRA.
AGRA literally represents nothing at this point. Calling its new five-year strategy “AGRA 3.0,” the leaders refuse to acknowledge the failures of their green revolution model. They keep promoting new versions of the same failed approaches. AGRA continues to promote pro-business policy change in African governments, like the one it helped promote in Zambia this year. It promotes “agropoles” – 250,000-acre “agricultural blocks”, often located on land wrested from local communities so that corporate investors can establish industrial-scale farms.
Like many technological improvements, AGRA 3.0 gives African farmers less of what they really need, not more.
This year, AGRA’s cosmetic changes include a newly redesigned website, replete with AGRA’s new logo but lacking even the rudimentary progress reports it used to make available to the public. Salvaged from the site – or conveniently buried in it – is last year’s damning assessment commissioned by donorswhich pointed to AGRA’s many failures to deliver on its promises.
African farmers have a different view. They want donors and governments to stop supporting the failed Green Revolution initiative and redirect their support to low-cost, farmer-centric, ecological agriculture. Farmers produce their own organic fertilizers and pesticides from local materials, with excellent results. The simple and inexpensive innovation of “cover crop green manure» Scientists are working with some 15 million smallholder maize farmers in Africa to plant landraces of trees and nitrogen-fixing food crops in their maize fields, tripling maize yields at no cost to the farmer .
The solutions are at hand. It is high time for the promoters of the Green Revolution to lay down the shovels and stop pushing Africa further into hunger.
IPS UN Office
© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service