Bold action for resilient food systems? End the failing Green Revolution

African Green Revolution Forum

President Uhuru Kenyatta (top left) during the 2021 virtual African Green Revolution Forum summit. Speakers at the virtual meeting, among them Presidents Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi), Hage Geingob (Namibia), and UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed.

Photo credit: PSCU

In the next few days, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa will hold its 12th Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, promising to take “bold actions for resilient food systems.” They had better because they have taken Africa in the wrong direction.

At the African Green Revolution Forum on September 5-9, government officials, corporate leaders, and international donors should not just be shaking hands but wringing them over the lack of progress in addressing the continent's multiple crises. Agricultural production is down, costs to farmers are up for fertilisers that fail to produce results, and hunger is getting worse – not better.

Fertiliser price increases have only worsened a food crisis already made severe by Covid-19, conflict, and climate change.

Our leaders cannot keep doing something the same way and hope for different results. As I told U.S. congressional representatives in March, the Green Revolution model is failing to produce the desired results. It has been failing for years.

I have hardly been a lone voice. African civil society, farm, and faith leaders have been saying the Green Revolution approach is doing more harm than good.

During last year’s AGRF, they delivered a letter signed by more than 200 organisations that called on AGRA’s donors to stop funding the initiative.

Yet neither AGRA nor its donors have heeded our call. On the contrary, they have marched on, praising AGRA instead of demanding a change of tack.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID), one of AGRA’s core funders, for instance, quickly dismissed critical findings of donors’ own evaluation which found little improvement in productivity or food security, with most benefits going to wealthier male farmers. USAID says it sent a mission to Kenya and Ghana to consult with “stakeholders” but never talked to my organization or any others that are on the record asking for change.

USAID reported that it found no indication of mismanagement that would prevent them from continuing current funding. “AGRA’s extensive network of local, African partners support the Agency’s localization objectives,” USAID told a congressional committee, giving AGRA a ringing endorsement to march on with its disastrous high-inputs model.

Despite this intransigence by the big players in agriculture, however, the realities on the ground tell a radically different and tragic story. AGRA’s monocultures of maize and rice fed by synthetic fertiliser have ruined the soil and hurt African farmers’ chances of producing more diversified, wholesome food that is less dependent on fossil-fuel inputs. It has been disastrous for local ecologies, reducing agricultural productivity, ruining soils, and worsening the hunger crisis.

More tragically, the Green Revolution model has made local agriculture dependent on imports, diverting the hard-to-find dollar that would have addressed a myriad of other needs.

The situation is likely to worsen, with the prices of synthetic fertilisers remaining beyond the reach of poor and small-scale farmers.

In the meantime, global fertiliser giants are feeding off the hungry, making stratospheric profits from their exports to Africa. A new study by German researcher Gideon Tups, which he prepared for the Berlin-based charity INKOTA, demonstrates company profiteering from fertiliser prices have risen dramatically, in Kenya's case by a factor of six.

The report, published in German, notes that compared with the previous year, the big fertiliser firms were able to increase their profits by up to 70 times and, to their own figures, “recouping their increased costs many times over,” They are the runaway winners in the global food crisis.

AGRF, its donors, and African governments should be taking bold action to support resilient agriculture that works with nature, builds crop and diet diversity, respects climatic patterns, and empowers marginalised farmers such as the smallholders and women to enable them to support their families while growing food for a hungry continent. Africa has workable alternatives right here at home.

Farmer-managed bio-input centres that need government support to scale up.

Resilience cannot be achieved by doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The Green Revolution has failed. I will join other community leaders on September 1 for a press conference to again deliver that message to the AGRF. It is past time to change course.

 The author is the National Coordinator of Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya which is a member of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa. Email [email protected]