Columnists

Industrial farming model is not the solution to Africa’s hunger problem

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A farmer ploughs at Kaaboi in Turbo, Uasin Gishu County on January 28, 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The theme for this year’s African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) to be held in Nairobi from September 6-10 is ‘Pathways to Recovery and Resilient Food Systems’.
  • AGRA has been funded to date by governments and major international donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to “transform African agriculture from a subsistence model to strong businesses that improve the livelihoods.

The theme for this year’s African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) to be held in Nairobi from September 6-10 is ‘Pathways to Recovery and Resilient Food Systems’.

Yet 15 years after its convener, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was founded in 2006, questions remain about the viability of its high inputs model in addressing Africa’s food insecurity.

AGRA has been funded to date by governments and major international donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to “transform African agriculture from a subsistence model to strong businesses that improve the livelihoods of the continent’s farming households”.

However, some of the countries where AGRA has focused its efforts have seen continued poverty.

African civil society, faith leaders and supporting organisations across Africa have raised concerns about the industrial farming initiatives in a letter to the Gates Foundation. Our view is that we do not need farming ‘solutions’ but rather support to locally appropriate solutions, working in partnership with small-scale farmers in ways that increase climate resilience.

TOP-DOWN APPROACHES

As can be seen from other top-down approaches that have failed in Africa, such as UNFCCC REDD+ and the World Bank’s CDM, climate change is a complex issue, and it will not be solved by a narrowly defined business-oriented approach that focuses on profit and investment returns.

Protecting corporate entities’ certified varieties while criminalising trade of non-certified seed is particularly problematic for small-scale farmers in Africa, where 80 percent of non-certified seed and food come from millions of smallholder farmers who recycle, and exchange seeds each year.

This “open-source knowledge bank” of seeds that cost little-to-nothing have all the nutritional value needed to sustain these communities. Not only does the corporatisation of seed undermine existing indigenous knowledge systems regarding seed diversity and multi-cropping, but more insidiously, it centralises control of production systems, disempowering and reducing the resilience of small-scale farmers who rely on informal trade, historical and cultural knowledge in addition to their unique understanding of their ecological landscapes.

Around the globe, agribusinesses, driven by initiatives like AGRA, have been trying to convince governments and financial institutions that they hold the answer to solve the world’s hunger problems through improved production.

However, this concept has been debunked by food system research and a complete lack of success. The world does not have a food production problem, rather hunger is a result of lack of access and inequality.

The ‘Green Revolution’ has already failed in India where recent widespread farmer protests made it crystal clear that this approach does not work out fairly for small farmers.

In Africa, smalholder farmers, often women, are indispensable to its nutritional and climate resilient future. Farmers already know what they need to tackle climate change and need support to do so.

ACCESS TO MARKET

If the donors really want to transform poverty in Africa, they need to sit down and learn from small-scale farmers around the world, who have food systems that are socially just and ecologically sustainable. Their challenges include access to market and other factors where assistance would make a difference.

We urge donor foundations to find ways to work with smallholder farmers to ensure that they have ample support and to assist governments to implement holistic, supportive strategies.

And, instead of giving ownership to multinational corporations, they should help ensure that local communities have a real stake and have their voices heard in policy negotiations.

They need to secure a commitment to land reform and ensure that communities have agency and power over their own circumstances for self-determination.

Ms de Gasparis is Executive Director at the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI). Mr Manyangadze is SAFCEI’s Climate Justice Coordinator.