Agnes Kalibata, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa president, spoke to The EastAfrican on the review of its work and issues on agricultural transformation
What are the highlights of the impact of Agra’s work so far?
At the time of evaluation, Agra reached 10.1 million farmers directly by improving access to markets, removing inefficient subsidies, and streamlining value chains. A further 19.1 farmers were reached at the time of the evaluation indirectly through Agra's partnerships and work with governments. Regionally, 7.9 million farmers in seven countries received better seeds, fertilisers, technical assistance, and in some cases, access to markets through Agra-supported village-based advisors.
In Ghana, the Agra-designed Planting for Food and Job programme, a flagship strategy focused on boosting smallholder agricultural production by facilitating market linkages and creating jobs along several value chains reached 1.74 million farmers, while in Tanzania, Agra helped catalyse fertiliser reform that saw 1.65 million farmers benefit from an easier, cheaper regulatory regime.
Has this impact been assessed by an independent third party?
Yes, our work is continuously assessed as part of Agra’s monitoring, evaluation and learning system and by third parties, the most recent being a comprehensive evaluation by an organisation called Mathematica. We are also evaluated as part of several USAID missions.
The credibility of our reach numbers is fundamental to our commitment to transparency and accountability. Agra’s reach methodology is well documented: Actual numbers are captured and consolidated quarterly and reviewed periodically through data quality assessments and gaps are remedied.
What has been the impact of Agra interventions on yields?
The evaluation found that yields were better for Agra-supported farmers compared to non-Agra-supported farmers in six out of seven countries studied. Low or high yields are an expected outcome of the unique diversity of factors that impact crop productivity – from climate, to soil quality, farmer practices, input mix, etc.
Climate change has brought drought, extreme weather events, and degraded land but also unforeseen hazards, such as Fall Army Worm and locusts. These external shocks have been magnified by Covid-19 which, over the past two years, impacted agricultural SMEs in many unexpected ways. The more farmers adopt an integrated package of technologies, such as seeds, nutrients, and agronomic practices, the more likely it is that their yields and incomes will increase.
Expound on how Agra reached 10.1 million farmers directly.
About 70 percent of these were reached through our village-based advisors (VBAs) extension model. These are local farmers who live and work with others and provide direct support to smallholders with good agronomic practice, seed packs and other inputs.
VBAs are often used to amplify government support. Agra also worked with other partners, including agro-dealers, SMEs, local civil society partners, and government workers through various interventions. The comprehensive Mathematica evaluation raised sustainability questions over the VBA model.
Agra recognises the importance of VBA sustainability and is actively working with its local partners to explore alternative financing models – from integrating income generating activities alongside their support (i.e., aggregation and distribution services) to assuring governments provide base support as part of a wider agricultural policy support effort.
How do you respond to criticism that Agra promotes a broken, ‘green revolution’ industrial model?
That is criticism based on an inadequate appreciation of our model. Agra’s model is based on an approach that African farmers can change their lives with improved food security and incomes if they had better access to finance, inputs, knowledge, and markets.
We support the change needed in African farming systems by complementing government agricultural development efforts, and by working to develop a vibrant agricultural SME sector.
How central is agroecology in Agra’s agricultural transformation strategy?
Agra sees opportunities in agroecological thinking and practice to support development of agriculture and supports its principles and practices thus:
Through a soil health program that promotes integrated soil fertility management options, particularly increasing soil organic matter through combined use of organic fertilisers along with limited inorganic fertilisers; Promoting inoculants to increase soil fertility and reduce demand for chemical fertilisers, and, through regenerative agriculture, which promotes key agroecological practices like minimum tillage, agroforestry, intercropping/crop rotation, use of cover crops, organic/compost manure, micro-dosing, soil and water conservation structures and mulching.
Agra was accused of spurring a decline in crop variety, with a bias towards growing primarily maize at the expense of other equally essential food crops. How is Agra addressing this?
True, Africa is over dependent on maize as the staple of choice either due to cultural preferences or ease of access. However, Agra remains cognizant of the need to support diverse crops and actively works to achieve this end.
On average all the local seed companies Agra works with produce more than one crop. For instance, in eastern and southern Africa the common ones are maize, beans, rice, soybean, while in West Africa it is maize, sorghum, rice and cow peas. Production of planting materials for cassava and sweet potatoes require a special seed system and Agra has supported farmer groups and NGOs who are playing that role. This has shown good results in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. Overall, we have supported the development and release of 670 varieties of crops.