Redirect funding to agroecology, not AGRA, African civil societies tell donors

traditional vegetables

Jane Munga’ashia on her farm in Vihiga County.

Photo credit: Isaiah Esipisu | Nation Media Group

African civil society, faith groups and farmer leaders have called for a stop to funding of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and instead support restorative agro ecological farming.

Speakers at a virtual media briefing held on September 1, 2022 in Nairobi under the aegis of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), spoke ahead of the five-day Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) to be held in Kigali, Rwanda from September 5th to 9th this year.

The civil society groups highlighted how AGRA, which has so far received over USD $1 billion in donor funding, has pushed a development model that reinforces dependency on poisonous chemical inputs from the Multinational Corporations (MNCs).

The inputs include expensive fertilizer that undermines the resilience of African food systems.

Mr Gabriel Manyangadze, a Climate Justice Coordinator at Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (SAFCEI), said that the AGRA initiative has failed to improve productivity in Africa despite huge funding from the donors.

Stop funding AGRA

“We are calling upon all the funders to please stop funding AGRA and redirect your funding to systems that enable people to have their dignity, for all creation to have an equal chance to live, where there are no chemicals in our water, in our ground, and in our food.” said Mr Manyangadze.

AGRA’s donors include the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, and governments of UK, Germany and others. The AGRA meeting will bring together corporate executives, representatives of governments and donors to “claim Bold Action for Resilient Food Systems.”

However, AFSA, which prides itself as a united alliance representing the largest network of food producers and faith leaders in Africa made clear that the ‘bold action’ they want is for AGRA’s donors to stop funding an initiative that has failed to improve productivity, incomes, and food security.

Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-K) national coordinator Ms Anne Maina said it was time the voice of the smallholder farmer was heard.

“Our voice has to be heard. It’s the smallholder farmer who feeds the world,” said Ms Maina. 

“AGRF demands a decisive shift away from imported fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and chemicals, and towards self-sufficient, ecological farming that revitalizes soil and protects ecosystems,” she noted.

Chemical fertilisers

Ms Leonida Odongo of Haki Nawiri Africa said that “our problems cannot be resolved by people outside the continent.”

“AGRA is investing a lot in chemical fertilizers. Intensified chemical use on our soils which is dangerous to the microorganisms and the potency of our soil fertility and its ability to support crops,” Ms Odongo observed.

Article 43 (1) (c) of the Kenyan constitution provides for the right to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality. 

“This is essentially right to food that is healthy. Not those laced with chemicals,” she said even as 3.5 million people especially in the Northern part of Kenya face hunger.

“Even camels, the hardy animals are dying. We are eating poisonous foods. What we want are Afrocentric solutions- the ecological model of food production,” said Ms Odongo.

Mr Ferdinand Wafula of Bio Gardening Innovations in Western Kenya (BIOGI), said that unless interventions are made to check soil pollution, farming in African countries will be a thing of the past.

“We need to change the AGRA model because it failed in Asia. We do not want Africa to suffer. The future is agroecology,” Mr Wafula, an agroecology practitioner trained in community-based development, bio-intensive and permaculture methods, said.

Healthy food

He is also a promoter and trainer of bio-inputs at the farmer level for healthy soil, healthy food.

Last year, over 200 organizations signed a petition by AFSA demanding that donors withdraw support from AGRA.

They described AGRA as a project that continues to disenfranchise “the very farmers that they claim to support” and embrace agroecological farming.

“To date, these donors and AGRA are yet to change course.”

AFSA is the largest civil society movement on the continent and brings together farmers, pastoralists, fishers, indigenous people, faith groups, women’s movements, youth and consumer associations in a united voice for food sovereignty.

It is a network of networks operating in 50 African countries, representing 200 million people.

A recent donor-commissioned evaluation confirmed that AGRA has failed to increase farmers’ yields, incomes and food security.

Studies show that since AGRA’s founding, food insecurity increased by 31 percent in the countries in which AGRA operates. AGRA has failed to achieve maize yields in over half of the countries studied.

Of all these countries, only farmers in Burkina Faso have experienced an increase in net maize sales.

In addition, crop diversity has declined, and heavy agrochemical use has degraded soils.

Nutritious, climate-resilient indigenous crops such as millet and sorghum have significantly fallen in production.

The very few who AGRA can prove to have benefitted were wealthy, larger-scale male farmers, not small-scale farmers or women.

Ms Anuradha Mittal, the executive director of Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank, said that AGRA’s green revolution model is even less viable today, with fertilizer prices at double or triple their levels than just two years ago.

“This shift has only enriched agrochemical multinationals with record profits while hunger in Africa has surged to alarming levels,” Ms Mittal said.

She added that the past Green Revolutions in India, Mexico and the Philippines have created similar problems- the erasure of local food systems, high dependency on costly inputs, the resulting farmer suicides and destruction of local ecologies.

“Given this background, it is shocking that a number of international donors continue to prioritise corporate profits over people, leaving the necessary transition to sustainable agroecological practices underfunded,” said Ms Mittal.

She noted that it is wrong to ignore the opposition of millions of African farmers and the evidence that exists of sustainable ways to increase yields and improve livelihoods.

Industrial inputs

Ms Mittal also noted that the African Development Bank (ADB) is using the food price crisis to expand the use of industrial inputs to the benefit of agrochemical and agribusiness firms.

Ms Odongo said that AFSA has its own answer to large increases in fertilizer prices noting that ample evidence and case studies on agroecology have led to widespread calls by farmers, civil society and United Nations agencies to transition towards “these more sustainable models.”

These systems and practices, according to Ms Odongo, have demonstrably improved soil fertility, increased productivity with lower costs and higher incomes for farmers, while building climate resilience.

“We have the expertise. The best people to solve problems in Africa are people from the continent itself. We need Afrocentric solutions. Our big question as African people is why should our problems be solved by entities outside the continent?” Ms Odongo posed.