AGRA on spot over Africa’s food insecurity despite huge donor funding

The board chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (right) with his predecessor Strive Masiyiwa addressing journalists at Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi on August 16, 2019 during the handover ceremony.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

A group of civil society organisations have accused the African Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) of doing little to make Africa food secure.

At a media briefing at a Nairobi hotel, the organisations under the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), Africa’s largest civil society network, said that despite AGRA promising to reduce food insecurity in Africa by 2020, the situation remains dire.

AFSA, which brings together lobbyists- Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya, Future of Food at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) among others, urged the donor community to stop funding AGRA and other programmes that promote industrialised agriculture on the continent.

This comes even as AGRA dismissed the accusations by AFSA lobbyists.  

“We welcome investment in agriculture on our continent,” wrote AFSA General Coordinator Million Belay in a recent co-authored article in Scientific American.

AFSA represents more than 200 million farmers, fishers, pastoralists and indigenous peoples across Africa.

In 14 years, the report says, AGRA has received about a billion dollars in donations and disbursed 524 million dollars, mainly in 13 African countries, promoting the use of commercial seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

This has been further supported by about $1 billion per year in subsidies from African national governments.

“We seek it in a form that is democratic and responsive to the people at the heart of agriculture, not as a top-down force that ends up concentrating power and profit into the hands of a small number of multinational companies,” says Mr Belay.

The call to stop funding AGRA, supported by a petition supported by 500 signatures, is based on the findings of a United Nations (UN) report.

The UN report has established that in Sub-Saharan Africa, there has been an increase of nearly 50 per cent in the number of malnourished people.

Share data

Mr Timothy Wise, a senior advisor on the Future of Food at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy says AGRA is unable to provide evidence of the progress it has made so far.

Mr Wise notes that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the US Agency for International Development (USAid), or any of AGRA’s other donors have not been willing to share data on progress so far made.

“I chose to examine data from AGRA’s 13 priority countries to see if there were indications that a productivity revolution was taking place with rising incomes and improved food security. I found little evidence of significant productivity improvements,” notes Mr Wise on his research on AGRA’s project.

But AGRA has faulted AFSA and largely, Mr Wise’s survey.

It claims that the survey was conducted under the aegis of Tuft University’s Global Development and Environment Institute and that the research failed to meet “basic academic and professional standards of peer review.

Mr Andrew Cox, chief of staff and strategy at AGRA, is quoted terming the research as “not professional and ethical”.

“AGRA prefers to have transparency and engagement with reporters and others directly around the issues. AGRA will do a full evaluation against its targets and results at the end of 2021,”Mr Cox says.

However, Tufts University administrators defended his methods. Wise insists that AGRA’s model of high-input agriculture is failing to reach large numbers of smallholder farmers.

“When it does reach farmers, it is failing to significantly increase their productivity, and incomes are not increasing in a way that would reduce poverty and food insecurity,” he says.

Ms Anne Maina, the Director of Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya, a member of AFSA called on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest financier of AGRA, to cut its taps.

“We are here to state clearly and categorically that the AGRA does not speak for Africans,” said Ms Anne Maina, director of the Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya and a member of AFSA.

Already, AFSA has vowed to deliver its protest note to AGRA donors, with hundreds of endorsements from international organizations, next week during AGRA’s annual Green Revolution Forum.

AGRA was founded in 2006 with ambitious goals- to double productivity and incomes for 30 million smallholder farming households by 2020 while reducing food insecurity by 50 percent. But it has not lived to the expectation as the deadline lapsed.

Food security

The rosy promises are far from being realized, the AFSA members say. AGRA was meant to be a game-changer in Africa’s food security by revitalising Agriculture, enriching livelihoods and creating jobs.

All this was meant to be implemented in a ‘green’ way. Protecting the environment was at the heart of the whole enterprise.

While this ambitious project appeared from the onset as what the doctor ordered for Africa’s agricultural sector and hungry population, AGRA is now hard-pressed to demonstrate its achievements almost two decades later and billions of dollars down the drain.

Data gleaned elsewhere, which AGRA’s critics are quick to cite, point to a reversal in Africa’s food security dream.

The UN, for instance, estimates that the numbers of severely “undernourished” people in 13 African countries increased 30 percent since 2006, a far cry from AGRA’s promise of cutting food insecurity by half.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) annual hunger report published on July 12, the world experienced an almost unprecedented increase in severe hunger from 2019 to 2020.

The Agency’s annual estimate of “malnutrition” showed an increase of up to 25 percent over the 2019 level, to between 720 and 811 million people.

The international call to cease AGRA funding comes after AFSA wrote to AGRA donors in June to request evidence of the program's success.

Agro-ecological transitions

AFSA is now pushing donors to fund programmes that “respect and support locally-defined, holistic approaches that enable agroecological transitions to sustainable food systems in Africa.”

“What African farmers need is support to find communal solutions that increase climate resilience, rather than top-down profit-driven industrial-scale farming systems,” says Francesca de Gasparis, Executive Director of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI).

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that about 44 million people faced severe malnutrition, with 30 percent of the continent’s population struggling to feed their families.

FAO further notes that some 66 percent of the population faced “moderate or severe food security” in 2020, representing an increase from 51 percent in 2014.

The lobbyists’ arguments have been echoed by various reports, which assert that the green revolution has in fact emerged to be a bane, rather than a boon to food security plans.

African and German civil society organisations produced a report, “False Promise,” which calls on countries to abandon AGRA’s “green revolution” and go for initiatives that boost small-scale food producers, particularly women and youth, develop climate-resilient and environment-friendly farming practices.