New Project Will Worsen Poverty
The Herald (Harare)
28 January 2008
Posted to the web 28 January 2008
By Sifelani Tsiko
The introduction of the new Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa will have serious social, economic and agricultural implications on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who are the majority in Africa, development experts have warned.
Agronomists, agro-ecologists, environmentalists and development experts who met in Mali at a conference on Climate Change, Agriculture, Fisheries and Pastoralism in Africa, urged African governments to reject this project which got US$150 million funding from its main handlers — the Rockerfeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve African seed and distribution over the next five years.
“AGRA ignores the many successful agro-ecological and non-corporate approaches to agricultural development,” said Eric Holt-Gimenez of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, commonly known as Food First.
“AGRA will undermine Africa’s food sovereignty and kill its cultural diversity and agriculture.”
AGRA was unveiled on September 12, 2006, by the Rockefeller and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations to improve seed hybrids, inorganic fertilizers, water management and agricultural extension services in Africa.
The goal of this new agricultural project is to develop 100 new varieties in 5 years focusing on at least 10 different staple crops, which include maize, cassava, sorghum and millet.
AGRA’s programmes are administered through the Programs for a Green Revolution in Africa which got an initial grant of close to US$30 million for selected countries in East, Southern and West Africa.
Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety said the officers of AGRA and ProGRA will initially be key senior staff from the Rockefeller Foundation who will be based in Nairobi, Kenya.
The first major initiative of ProGRA, she said, is the Programme for Africa’s Seed System intended to operate in 20 African countries. PASS will focus primarily on improvement and distribution of copy varieties, training of a new generation of plant breeders, seed distribution through seed companies, public community seed systems and public extension.
Provision of credit and training for small “middle men” agro-dealers for distribution of seeds, chemical and fertilizers will also be done.
Agricultural experts say a “green revolution” merely includes efforts aimed at increasing productivity of major food crops by incorporating scientific advances in plant breeding, development or expansion of supportive technologies and implementation of various reforms.
They say large-scale investment in irrigation, application of chemical fertilizers and other inputs and farm equipment all make up a “green revolution.”
Proponents of AGRA say Africa “missed the first Green Revolution” and hence the need to embrace this new alliance project. They feel strongly that Africa missed out on the Green Revolutions that took place in Asia and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s.
They suggest that efforts aimed at improving food crop varieties through the use of fertilizers, irrigation and farm equipment failed in Africa hence it is important for the continent to support this project to fight hunger and poverty.
AGRA is joining other multilateral institutions, G8 and other donor countries, international foundations and multinationals to invest in African agriculture.
African scientists, agricultural specialists, farmers’ organization and civil society activists are calling for a total rejection of AGRA as they cite several key concerns.
They argue that the growing influence of powerful multinationals such as Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Dow Chemical Company, BASF and Syngenta will lead to an extensive investment in genetically modified hybrids and “suicide” seeds, which make farmers lose their indigenous and affordable seeds.
Monsanto, for example, controls 88 percent of global transgenic seed production. “There is not any other reality,” said Holt-Gimenez.
“This new Green Revolution is meant to perpetuate slavery and dependence on the major US seed companies. A new AGRA project in Africa means a new market for their seed.”
“These multinationals are only speaking about profits and poisons. They are not speaking about the culture and needs of the Global South farmers,” he said. “The wisdom of all farmers in the Global South and indigenous communities is not taken into account. They are promoting mono-cropping at the expense of promoting agro-biodiversity,” he added.
Added Renato T Salazar, a South East Asia Regional Initiative for Community Empowerment senior fellow: “We must come out strongly and inform the political side and farmers about the badness of AGRA in Africa. The Green Revolutions that were implemented in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s had disastrous effects.”
“Prescription from AGRA will not work. The simplest solution to this project is to reject it,” said Dr Regassa Feyissa, a veteran Ethiopian plant researcher.
Opponents say, beyond the yield gains from Green Revolution projects, there are many costs — economic, agricultural and social. The use of large amounts of water, fertilizers and chemicals impoverishes the soil, leaving it less fertile and heavily polluted. Apart from health hazards, there are also human health implications.
The biodiversity kept by farmers for ages is lost and this forces farmers to depend heavily on pesticides and seed supplied by multinationals.
“The profound cultural and economic changes wrought by the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s produced a massive rural exodus and with it, a profound loss of traditional knowledge and skills,” Grain, a Food First publication reported.
“The Green Revolution is based on a scientific reductionism, which has resulted in monocultures, the use of chemicals, fertilizers and inappropriate mechanization. This is alien to Africa’s peasant farming systems which pursues a more holistic approach to agriculture in which crops are combined with livestock, organic manure is used, soils are looked after and there is a deep respect for the wider environment.”
There are so many questions that need to be asked. How will AGRA address the lessons learned from the last Green Revolution in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s? Who sets the agenda for AGRA? Is accountable to African farmers and does it place their interest first? Will this project benefit African farmers or big multinationals, who will benefit most?
“The Green Revolution is a serious threat to the continent’s peasants, seeds and livelihoods,” said Diamantino Nhampossa of Mozambique’s National Peasants Union and Via Campensina in Africa. “Instead of recognising the rich knowledge that peasant women and men have managed for millennia, the introduction of hybrid seeds and technological packages will further damage the peasants own production systems.”
The winner of the Green Revolution projects from 1970-1990 is the US, which got revenue amounting to US$10,2 billion through seed and chemical sales by its multinationals.
Opponents say the biggest loser was the environment.
They say two-thirds of agricultural land worldwide has been affected by soil erosion, the green revolution has led to the salification of 70 million acres of land and the creation of Dead Zones in the Gulf of Mexico and Israel and other parts of the world.
Salazar said in Asia, the negative effects of the Green Revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s included the loss of indigenous rice landraces, dependence on external inputs, loss of control of indigenous agricultural science and technology, increased pests resistance, loss of genetic diversity and loss of farmers’ innovation using indigenous knowledge systems passed on from one generation to the other.
“We need to learn from each other. The learning process is the one that empowers and can help us to promote and rehabilitate alternative approaches which farmers in the Global South have,” he said. Renowned Ethiopian geneticist Dr Melaku Worede said: “There’s so much potential with seeds in Africa that is not being explored. It’s being undermined by outside solutions. Rather than the industrial agriculture model, we should support more holistic approaches to agriculture. Farmer-led programmes tend to look at more than just yields. There are about raising productivity without losing biodiversity.”
Opponents of AGRA say African farmers have sophisticated crop and livestock breeding and ecosystem technologies and their own research networks. They argue that only farmer-led agricultural and rural development initiatives that build upon existing working systems can lead to real improvement. In the end, the issue is not so much about what can be introduced into Africa but about what needs to be done to strengthen the continent’s resilient food production and ecosystem methods. Money, resources, new technologies and new imported projects alone cannot be a panacea to hunger and poverty in Africa.
There is a complex interaction of various factors that have to be taken into account to improve food security and food sovereignty in Africa.
And as Dr Melaku Worede rightly puts says: “We need to build from the strengths of the farmers. Our work shows that farmers are the best breeders and the best judges of new agricultural projects.”