«Green Revolution in Africa August 2009 Report Contributions: Sam Moyo, Walter Chambati, Tendai Murisa and Amade Sucá TABLE OF CONTENTS 1. ...»
The AGRA initiative does not directly call for a public sector programme to support the infrastructural needs of resource-poor smallholder farmers, although its partners, including the state, are expected to address the capital investment challenges beyond the farm (e.g. roads and other essential infrastructure). AGRA argues that these fall outside its mandate (Rockefeller Foundation, 2006).
AGRA appears to subscribe to the mainstream development paradigm of a ‘minimalist state’ and ‘active market’, with some space being provided for NGO partnerships. It has used largely private consulting firms for programme design, sidelining the planning role of African governments, while including African universities and farmers’ unions in minor implementation roles. African agricultural development must be based on participatory national development strategies and led by national governments. AGRA seems to believe that technology transfer is not an intractable problem, but rather that African markets and the state have failed to provide these to small-scale producers. Yet planning in the first green revolution was coordinated by the state, with donor support. The AGRA approach may suffer from weak coordination and risk duplication in the absence of a central role for the state and civil society engagement.
Furthermore, AGRA’s financiers seem to believe that Africa has to play ‘catch up’ with the developed West without the need to reform global agrarian structures of capital, aid and trade (e.g. WTO), despite the inequalities and crisis (food, energy and financial) these have generated.
4.2 The small farmer focus The AGRA initiative is correct to focus on smallholder farmers since they produce the bulk of the food and other agricultural commodities. However these farmers are food insecure themselves and poverty is largely a rural phenomenon in Africa. Such a focus should not forget women farmers as they are the main actors in small farmer systems.
Beyond technology per se smallholder farmers in Africa face wider structural constraints, such as access to land, water, infrastructure, information and credit that need redress to facilitate meaningful production. Only since September 2008, has AGRA initiated activities in some of these broader areas. It is envisaged that AGRA would implement a holistic small producer support system; including essential services such as infrastructure, extensions, training, marketing and distribution services etc. For it is not clear how the technologies being promoted by AGRA would be accessible to the majority of poor small scale producers, without such public support. Indeed the supply could not be captured by large scale farmers, as happened in the first green revolution in Asia and Latin America, leading to increasing inequality in the countryside (see Freebairn, 1995). For instance, access to improved seeds through credit has proved to be tied to land ownership as found in Kenya, where many small farmers without their own land are excluded. AGRA needs to be cautious not repeat the mistakes of the previous green revolution, whose ‘one-size-fits-all’ plant breeding strategy, led to the support of increased monocultures.
Assessing the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa
P a g e | 12 Moreover, most of the inputs supplied by TNCs have tended to focus on export crop biotechnology and genetic engineering research rather than the staple food crops grown by most smallholder farmers (FAO, 2004; Forum for Environment and Development, 2007).
Although smallholder involvement in export crop production has been growing (e.g. horticulture and floriculture in Kenya), such exports are mostly dominated by larger-scale farmers in both volume and value terms.6 A key contradiction in AGRA’s smallholder farmer focus is that some of its key partners, such as the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria (IITA), have recently shifted focus away from smallholder farming to the development of industrial production and processing of cassava for export biofuel markets. AGRA´s strategy entails encouraging a transformation which moves from ‘subsistence’ to large scale farming (GRAIN, 2007).
In general, AGRA is perceived as being likely to contribute to the deepening of class differences between the rich and poor farmers (Gimenez, et al 2006), given that AGRA seems to assume that small-scale farmers are a homogenous group, who can respond to input markets and extension incentives in the same manner. Although AGRA indicates that they will concentrate efforts on small holder farmers with land size between 1/4ha to 4ha it does not elaborate on other criteria such as labour and capital intensities. Linked to the fact that AGRA does not implement activities (as it works through partners) there is no clear mechanism to guarantee that the partners will have the poorer small farmers as the actual beneficiaries.
4.3 Access to land and water resources and tenure security Although AGRA recognizes the importance of land access and security of tenure, these have not been part of its direct interventions, until early 2009, when land, gender and environment programmes were set up in the policy unit. The priority instead was ‘stimulat[ing] investment[s] by small scale farmers in technologies, farm inputs and off farm inputs’ (AGRA, 2008a, p4) through the PASS programme. AGRA expects to work with the AU, New African Partership for African Development (NEPAD) and United Nations Economic Commission on Africa (UNECA) ‘to further advocate equitable land access and security of land tenure’ (Ibid, pp.4) but falls short of advocating for extensive land redistribution and tenure reform. Moreover, its NEPAD partner neglects the inequitable land redistribution of land and water resources and tenure insecurity in its founding policy documents. Instead, it poses Africa’s land problem primarily as being the declining fertility of soils and climatic variability (Moyo, 2006). Without balanced (re)distribution of land and water resources and the security of women’s land rights the predicted ‘benefits’ of AGRA would most likely accrue to the larger scale male farmers, with more secure land rights.
The current AGRA support to seed improvement is fortunately (presently) focused on Africa’s main food crops such as cassava (eight grants), sorghum (five grants), maize (38 grants), banana (two grants), beans (eight grants), cowpea (four grants), groundnuts (three grants), millet (three grants), rice (six grants), soybean (two grants), sweet potato (two grants) and wheat (one grant). It cannot be ascertained yet whether export-oriented land uses and production goals will find their way into AGRA, as has been the case with most African agricultural initiatives. Moreover, the AGRA project could still find itself contending with existing and new private sector-led and government facilitated export-oriented land uses, as we have seen with biofuels. For instance, agribusiness dominated initiatives to increase biofuels indicate that over 5 million hectares in Africa are being converted to biofuel production with the target exceeding 55 million hectares by 2012 (see Thompson, 2008). For example in Ethiopia and Assessing the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa P a g e | 13 Mozambique, 1.2 million and 3.5 million hectares, respectively, have been earmarked for biofuel feedstock production.
The AGRA strategy is also unclear as to the effects of the technological revolution on Africa’s complex social relations of agricultural production, including widespread tenancy sharecropping among rural households.7 Experiences from India and Brazil show that the green revolution undermined existing tenancies, where some small land owners, who suffered viability problems related to expensive external inputs (HYVs, fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides), lost control of their land (Muller, 1988; Babu, 2006).
4.4 Technology (seeds, chemicals, fertiliser, machinery, irrigation and labour) The AGRA initiative is probably correct in identifying some of the technological shortfalls underlying African agriculture. Yet AGRA’s focus on training mainly crop scientists and neglecting social scientists reinforces the critique of its excessively technical orientation, by defining Africa’s agriculture problem as technological. Since Africa is characterised by complex social relations of production, it requires that social scientists assess the effects of technical change. Alumira and Rusike (2005) argue that the development of new technologies for small farmers should be based on understanding the behaviour of households.
Moreover, smallholder farming is mostly practiced through self-exploitation of backbreaking family labour, and thus a key source of employment for over 60 percent of the largely rural population in Africa. It remains unclear (especially for females and children) whether AGRA technologies are benignly labour intensive and/or would have a positive impact on rural employment generation. There is evidence that capital intensification of agriculture has led to job displacement in Africa, prior to and during the era of neo-liberal reforms.8 Agricultural job displacement in Africa would have severe consequences for poverty reduction, given the limited job opportunities in non-farm rural and urban sectors.
There are also concerns about the forms of technology and transfer models proposed by AGRA.
On the transfer of technology and development, the initiative proposes to work with local seed companies and smallholder farmers using local knowledge for the development of improved seed varieties. However there are concerns about the role of TNCs, as their monopolistic control of seed technology patents is increasing through the privatization of public research results and technologies. For example, Zambia and Zimbabwe transferred publicly owned seed patent to private firms. This raised concerns about the security of intellectual property rights, even where public institutions are involved. While AGRA reports that its support to seed breeding is directed at public institutions, it is not clear that this patrimony will not again be privatized.
There is need to investigate further the sources of the 1000 seeds to be improved and their intellectual property rights status, as many observers feel that small holder farmer’s local seed banks and breeding systems need to be given greater consideration. For that purpose, AGRA should support the local small and medium private companies that are producing improved seeds that originate from the farmer’s locality and assist agro-dealers to provide those seeds to the communities, in order to avoid dependence on large TNCs and expensive credit.
Assessing the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa
P a g e | 14 AGRA’s agro-dealer development programme if not well monitored may end up facilitating trade for TNCs that provide agricultural inputs. In its current form AGRA does not supervise the outcomes and trends of agro-dealers it has supported in their development. As indicated by Veronica Kingoo, co-owner of Nduki agro-chemical shop in Machakos, Kenya ‘currently we work with seeds from Syngenta, Buyer, Seminis, Monsanto and others and fertilizers from Yara.
Syngenta supports us with technical training and refer people (farmers and local agro dealers) to us. It is good because they publicize our work and provide clients to us’. Veronica Kingoo further indicated that ‘we advise farmers to buy the hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers because they will get high yields. Today there’s no more traditional seeds as these were infected by the new hybrids through cross pollination’. A seed company – Leldet Ltd affirmed that it ‘recognizes that for sustainability of the business, the emphasis must lie on developing demand for seed at the farmer level’ (AGMARK, 2009:8). These reinforce the idea that the private sector will do all they can to make sure farmers buy the inputs they are selling.
As such, AGRA could potentially induce smallholder farmer dependency on expensive, externally driven inputs from TNCs (Holt-Gimenez et al, 2006). Hybrid and genetically modified (GMO) seeds undermine smallholder seed independence, based on saving and sharing own seed, as well as practices such as intercropping, which are critical in farmers’ food security strategy (Ibid, Gill, Lindberg, Thandi and Babu, 2006; Mayet, 2007). Mainstream research and development has focused on uniform seed varieties which promote monoculture farming systems that could potentially displace multiple seed varieties in Africa leading to loss in agrobiodiversity as happened in the Philippines where over 7,000 rice varieties were displaced by green revolution rice (Freebairn, 1995). Hybrid and GMO seeds also require heavy application of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides meaning increased input costs for smallholder farmers in the absence of state subsidies, and rapid input price increases.
ActionAid does not reject technology. However there are concerns that this be socially constructed, informed by the needs of the people and suitable for local context. Technology must be owned and controlled by the people and not driven by profit motives, otherwise it will deepen the power imbalances between smallholder farmers and TNCs, represented by the ‘local’ agro dealers and regional wholesalers.
The GMO question Doubts are also being raised about AGRA’s position on GMOs through the inherent contradictions that have been exposed since its formation. For instance in July 2007, Kofi Annan indicated that GMOs will not be part of AGRA programmes. For this he was criticized by the pro-GMO lobby around the world (Mayet, 2007). In reaction, AGRA released a statement stressing GMOs were not part of the current programmes but remain an option for future programmes depending on their endorsement by African governments and availability of provisions for their safe use (Ibid; AGRA, 2007). Prior to that, a meeting on ‘Biotech, Breeding and Seed Systems for African Crops’ organized by the Rockefeller Foundation which included many of AGRA’s collaborators, heard a number of presentations on research and trials on GMO crops in Africa (Mayet, 2007). Thus, at this point in time, AGRA’s position on GMOs remains unclear and ActionAid is not in a position to predict whether they will be introduced or not in later phases of the programming.