Finally, we have confirmation of what we have long suspected: AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, has been created to facilitate the corporate takeover of African agriculture, not support African smallholder farmers with real solutions.
AGRA’s African Agriculture Status Report 2013 released two days ago confirms the organisation’s Green Revolution agenda, despite the legacy of soil degradation and water depletion left by the Green Revolution in Asia.
AGRA, founded by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations in 2006, claims that it is spurring a “uniquely African Green Revolution”, but there’s little original thinking here. Instead, it seems to be more of the same agenda that locks farmers into a spiral of corporate control, making them dependent on seeds and fertilisers from transnational corporations which dictate price and product delivery times.
In a meeting with AGRA officials in Nairobi in January 2013, we asked for greater transparency about the projects that AGRA is funding. This request was met with accusations that Greenpeace was making assumptions about AGRA’s work and a vehement denial from AGRA that it was funding genetically engineered (GE) crops and pesticides.
Although AGRA may not yet be funding GE directly, it’s certainly laying the groundwork by providing the “enabling environment” and facilitating the “public private partnerships” that will see the privatisation of profits. The end result is that the social and environmental costs will be borne by society, particularly the smallholder female farmers that AGRA claims to be helping.
In setting up agro-dealerships and facilitating credit lines to smallholder farmers to enable them to buy fertilisers and hybrid seeds, AGRA is rolling out the model of debt-driven agriculture that has seen farmers in India incur huge debts when harvests fail. Debt is a likely reason behind the suicides of thousands of farmers in India.
The introduction of AGRA's report recognises the vagaries of the global commodity market, but stops short of showing the devastating effects that “price fluctuations” can have on debt laden smallholder farmers.
Through its policy hub programme, AGRA is driving the corporate agenda that aims to harmonise seed laws to the lowest common denominator that would stop farmers retaining seeds and instead pave the way for the introduction of patented GE seeds, despite the concerns of farmers.
It seems that AGRA has listened to farmers’ concerns about these seeds and then carried on regardless, discarding their opposition as "a farce". Greenpeace believes that only ecological farming can clearly help farmers by optimising traditional agriculture with the latest developments in technology research and knowledge-based systems.
Instead of driving farmers into the unreliable arms of commodity markets, organisations like AGRA and their funders should fund additional research into ecological farming, schooling for farmers and informational support services provided by other NGOs, research centres and foundations.
Ecological farming is the only system that empowers local farmers to feed themselves and their families, keep income in their communities, preserve their livelihoods and the ecosystems of Africa. This is the agricultural future farmers and all of us want to see for Africa, not corporate greed.
Iza Kruszewska is a Senior Ecological Farming Campaigner at Greenpeace International.
Glen Tyler is an Ecological Farming Campaigner at Greenpeace Africa.