Friday, December 02, 2022

AGRA - Repeating Mistakes

 The Gates Foundation-sponsored Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) announced a new five-year strategy in September after rebranding itself by dropping “Green Revolution” from its name. AGRA offered no explanation for why it dropped “Green Revolution” from its name. 

Ignoring evidence, criticisms and civil society pleas and demands AGRA’s new strategy promises more of the same.

AGRA’s new slogan — “Sustainably Growing Africa’s Food Systems.” Likewise, the new plan claims to “lay the foundation for a sustainable food systems-led inclusive agricultural transformation.” But beyond such lip service, there is little evidence of any meaningful commitment to sustainable agriculture in the $550 million plan for 2023–27. AGRA’s new strategy is built on a series of “business lines,” e.g., the “sustainable farming business line” will coordinate with the “Seed Systems business line” to sell inputs. Private Village Based Advisors are meant to provide training and planting advice in this privatized, commercial reincarnation of the government or quasi-government extension services of an earlier era. 

The new strategy promises “AGRA will promote increased crop diversification at the farm level.” But its advisers cum salespeople have a vested interest in selling their wares, rather than good local seeds which do not require repeat purchases every planting season.

Despite heavy government subsidies, AGRA promotion of commercial seeds and fertilizers for just a few cereal crops failed to significantly increase productivity, incomes or even food security. Despite spending well over a billion dollars, AGRA’s productivity gains have been modest, and only for a few more heavily subsidized crops such as maize and rice. And from 2015 to 2020, cereal yields have not risen at all. Meanwhile, traditional food crop production has declined under AGRA, with millet falling over a fifth. Yields actually also fell for cassava, groundnuts and root crops such as sweet potato. Across a basket of staple crops, yields rose only 18 percent in 12 years. 

Farmer incomes have not risen, especially after increased production costs are taken into account. As for halving hunger, which Gates and AGRA originally promised, the number of “severely undernourished” people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries increased by 31 percent.

But instead of addressing past shortcomings, the new plan still relies heavily on more of the same. It is time to change course, with policies promoting ecological farming by reducing reliance on synthetic fertilizers as appropriate. But despite its new slogan, AGRA’s new strategy intends otherwise. 

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa rejected the strategy and name change as “cosmetic”, “an admission of failure” of the Green Revolution project, and “a cynical distraction” from the urgent need to change course.

donor-commissioned evaluation confirmed many adverse farmer outcomes. It found the minority of farmers who benefited were mainly better-off men, not smallholder women the program was ostensibly meant for.

 Earlier international agricultural research collaboration associated with the first Green Revolution — especially in wheat, maize and rice – seems to have collapsed, surrendering to corporate and philanthropic interests. 

AGRA is not strengthening resilience by promoting agroecology or reducing farmer reliance on costly inputs such as fossil fuel fertilizers and other, often toxic, agrochemicals. Despite many proven African agroecological initiatives, support for them remains modest.

Gates Foundation Myopia on African Agriculture (

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