Agriculture summit opens in Kigali

The Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) will hold its 10th annual general conference from tomorrow amid growing concerns by critics that it has failed to half hunger and reduce poverty as it had pledged.

The four-day meeting, the first to be held virtually owing to the global Covid-19 pandemic, runs up to Friday in Kigali, Rwanda.

The summit themed ‘Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent – Leveraging Urban Food Markets to Achieve Sustainable Food Systems in Africa’ is expected to attract 2,000 delegates.

The extravaganza comes amid increased criticism of consistent lack of transparency and accountability from an initiative that has received about $1 billion in funding for the last 16 years.

Billed as the sure-fire answer to food insecurity in Africa, the initiative was mooted through a partnership between the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation to jumpstart a comprehensive agricultural transformation on the continent.

The US, UK and German governments are the other financiers of AGRA.

Double yields
AGRA’s goal was to double yields and incomes and improve food security for at least 30 million farming households in Africa by 2021.

Subsidised synthetic fertiliser and affordable hybrid seeds were the driving force.

But even as the high-powered conference starts, AGRA will be required to make available assessment of its progress towards achieving the goals in its 2017-2021 strategic plan and any survey data from its own monitoring and evaluation at country level.

The summit comes up on the backdrop of ‘False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)’ which found “very little evidence that AGRA is benefiting 30 million smallholder households, and that it is likely benefiting large-scale commercial farmers, mostly men, rather than smallholder women farmers.”

The study was undertaken by a coalition of German and African civil society organiSations backed by research from Tufts University in the US.

The data portrays what the researchers described as weak yield increases of just 18 percent over 12 years and a disturbing evidence of worsening food insecurity situation across AGRA countries, with a 31 percent increase in the number of undernourished people in AGRA’s 13 target countries since 2006, the year of inception of the initiative.

Staple crops
The study, published in July, found that in nine of AGRA’s 13 countries the number of undernourished people increased and in four of those, yields for staple crops decreased.

Timothy Wise, the lead researcher and senior advisor at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), notes that the results the alliance has so far achieved are not commensurate to its funding. 

“We used national data to see what evidence there was of progress towards these goals now that we are in 2020. I contacted AGRA early on asking if they would share their own data on progress. They initially said they would but then stopped responding to my requests,” Mr Wise, a research fellow at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment, says.

AGRA lauds its success, indicating that since inception 22.6million smallholder farmers have been reached, 119 African seed companies established, 44,000 agro-dealers supported.

The data further shows that AGRA has accrued $553 million in investments, sold commodities valued at $554 million through small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and has had $47 million private sector investments leveraged, among others.

It all looks like quite an achievement indeed. But critics such as Dr Wise say it is not reflected on the ground. 

Other critics accuse AGRA of trying to increase crop yields through methods used by large-scale industrial farms in wealthy countries.

They say most farmers cannot afford AGRA’s expensive recommended commercial seeds and fertilisers and charge that the idea that a small-scale farmer with double yield has twice as much money in their pocket doesn’t make sense.

False Promises
Amid these contentions, Andrew Cox, the chief of staff and strategy at AGRA, says the alliance “will do a full evaluation against its targets and results” at the end of 2021.

He also dismisses the False Promises study, and in particular Dr Wise, its lead author, saying he has “a history of writing unfounded allegations and uncorroborated reports about AGRA and its work.”

“AGRA is an African institution that is open to critique and happy to share information with researchers and media,” Mr Cox said.

But Mr Wise challenges AGRA to respond substantially to the findings because the public and funders deserved it.

“What evidence is there that productivity has increased? What evidence shows that such productivity increases have increased farmer incomes significantly? What evidence is there that food insecurity has been reduced?”

Source: The East African