Agra schemes great for fertiliser and seed firms but not Africa’s smallholder farmers

Wednesday September 16 2020

Lead researcher and senior advisor at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) Timothy Wise. PHOTO | COURTESY


Lead researcher and senior advisor at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) spoke with Fred Oluoch on what he terms failings by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) and its impact on agriculture on the continent.

You have accused Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) of failing to reduce hunger and poverty by half 14 years after inception. Can you give examples of specific countries where things have not improved?

Overall, the UN data on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, released in July 2020, shows a 31 per cent increase in the number of undernourished people in Agra’s 13 focus countries since 2006.

We find that undernourishment and poverty was reduced in only four countries in the continent — Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali and Malawi. Instead, we are seeing alarming increases in Nigeria Uganda and in Kenya, which saw a decline in crop yields under Agra and an increase in hunger.

Even Rwanda, an Agra “success story,” saw a 41 per cent increase in the number of undernourished people despite large increases in maize production.

Your report False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa faults Agra for emphasising high-yields methods by large-scale industrial farms in wealthy countries. What is its impact for African farmers?


Agra is promoting practises that are not appropriate for most small-scale farmers. Many fall into debt to pay for inputs that fail to generate good yields.

They stand to lose their land and their source of sustenance, with few alternative livelihoods available to them in the cities. Agra’s programmes are certainly good for the multinational fertiliser and seed companies.

They are not good for Africa’s small-scale farming families because they have many negative impacts.

So, is the continent making any progress towards food security?

The continent is far from food-secure, and our report suggests the Green Revolution strategy is moving it in the wrong direction.

The latest UN hunger report warns that Africa is projected to overtake Asia as the region with the most hunger by 2030. It says that if policies don’t change, severe hunger will go up 73 per cent.

In general, the Food and Agricultural Organisation pointed out that the prevalence of undernourishment in Africa was 19.1 per cent of the population in 2019 from 17.6 per cent five years earlier.

This prevalence is more than twice the world average (8.9 per cent) and is the highest among all regions.

What are some of the challenges that still face African farmers despite the existence of Agra?

African farmers are mostly farming small plots of land. Agra’s high-input approach increases their costs without significantly increasing their yields or incomes from crop sales.

The heavy promotion of maize and other starchy staples is displacing more nutritious and sustainable crops such as millet and sweet potato, reducing diet diversity and nutrition. Commercial inputs applied to monocultures of maize are decreasing the long-term fertility and climate resilience of their farms.