Sunday, August 16, 2020

Not Alright with AGRA

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a favorite cause among Western donors. But a study finds that the work of the organization is actually counterproductive. The accusations against AGRA are particularly serious as the organization is a favorite among Western donors. 

Its website is full of figures, highlighting some of the organization's self-declared milestones such as the 550 million euros ($650 million) it has invested across the continent, the 119 seed companies AGRA has founded, the 700 scientific papers it has financed, and the almost 23 million small farmers the organization has reportedly impacted.  AGRA had set itself the ambitious objective of doubling the earnings of 20 million small farmers by 2020 while halving food shortages in 20 African countries. This is what the organization had pledged to do when it was founded in 2006.

 The figures highlighted in the report do not paint AGRA in a good light: The number of starving people in AGRA's 13 partner countries across Africa is said not to have fallen at all but is reported to rather have risen — by almost a third.

Agricultural output is purported to have risen at a slower rate than before ever since AGRA's involvement began in eight of those countries. In two of those countries, it even decreased over that period, according to the analysis.

 Farmers in Zambia, for example, were subsequently forced to take out loans to buy such fertilizer and seeds, adding that when their anticipated proceeds failed to materialize, they were no longer able to repay their debts.

Zambian agricultural expert Mutinta Nketani says that when an organization like AGRA "fails to achieve the goals it had set itself, all alarm bells should go off — not only amid civil society, but also amid AGRA itself as well as its donors." Nketani wants to know: "Whose interests does AGRA actually represent? In most cases, it's the interests of private companies, such as seed and fertilizer producers. And in Zambia, those are mostly multinational corporations."

The AGRA initiative was founded in 2006 by two US organizations: The Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. The Gates Foundation alone has so far supported AGRA with the equivalent of 498 million euros ($589 million). Both those US-American foundations remain its largest donors to date.  

Dr. Agnes Kalibata, AGRA's President, has built up a strong international network and knows how to go about getting people to listen to her.

AGRA's growing influence is also the result of an offensive public relations campaign: AGRA has always been open to responding to media interviews, inviting journalists to pen guest commentaries, and paying their travel expenses to cover AGRA events. It is only now, in the midst of the mounting allegations against AGRA, that the organization for the first time failed to answer an interview request by Deutsche Welle for days. Eventually, AGRA's head of strategy, Andrew Cox, replied,: "We reject the criticism arising of this 'analysis', which was not conducted in a transparent manner. AGRA was not afforded any opportunity to comment on these ‘results.' We therefore find it impossible to comment any further.”

 Nketani might meanwhile be rather disappointed to hear that; she wants to witness a radical sea change on how investors deal with African agriculture: "They must support agricultural projects based on local techniques and experience,” she said in an interview, adding that every without AGRA's help, African farmers already know how to produce seeds and organic fertilizers while protecting the environment.

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