Ahead of the annual forum of Agra – an organization founded to transform African agriculture – a large network of African food producers and their allies are calling for international donors to stop funding the initiative, which they say has failed to improve productivity, incomes or food security.
This year’s forum takes place from September 5-9, when corporate executives, governments, and donors will gather in Kigali, Rwanda, championing “Bold Action for Resilient Food Systems”. Agra’s donors include the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, USAID and governments of the UK, Germany, and others.
The organization’s critics cite studies showing that since Agra’s founding, food insecurity increased by 31% in the countries in which AGRA operates. The critics are demanding a decisive shift away from imported fossil-fuel-based fertilisers and chemicals and towards self-sufficient, ecological farming that revitalises soil and protects ecosystems. Last year over 200 organizations signed a letter from the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) saying Agra continues to “disenfranchise” the farmers that they claim to support and called for a move toward agroecological farming.
AFSA is the largest civil society movement on the continent, bringing together farmers, pastoralists, fishers, Indigenous peoples, faith groups, women’s movements, youth, and consumer associations in a united voice for food sovereignty. It is a network of networks operating in 50 African countries, representing 200 million people.
According to Anne Maina of the Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya, since the founding of Agra in 2006, and after receiving over U.S. $1 billion in funding, the results are dismal. Agra had said the approaches it advocates they would double productivity and food producers’ incomes in Africa by 2020, but that has not been the case. In the countries where AGRA works, almost 30% of smallholder farmers continue to face hunger.
“We need Afrocentric solutions to our problems, and our problems ought not to be settled or resolved by people external to the continent… AGRA is investing a lot in chemical fertilisers … The other thing that is problematic, especially with Green Revolution Forum is the fact it’s focusing on agribusiness …Agribusiness is all about intensified chemical use on the soil, intensified use of pesticides, and the push for monoculture. And as you all know that with monoculture, soil is losing its fertility … Our forefathers never suffered from various diseases that opening our continent is leading us to today. What we need is an ecologically produced method of food production that is healthy and culturally appropriate,” says Leonida Odongo of Haki Nawiri Afrika.
Ferdinand Wafula of Bio Gardening Innovations is calling for the use of locally sourced inputs that are in tune with nature and within farmers’ reach, like fermentation processes where animal manure can be used with other additives, such as ashes and rock dust and bokashi, which can be prepared locally, ready for 15 days and producing amazing results on a diverse level of crops.
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“Promoting these bio-fertilisers will contribute to recycling of local wastes for healthy soils and this can support the diverse cropping and animal systems. We do not need these chemicals, our soils are diverse and we have the knowledge that is in tune with the ecological principles of working with nature,” says Wafula.
The Food and Agriculture Organization predicted that worldwide use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser will see a 50% increase from 2012 level by 2050. This will in turn lead to a large increase its nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural soils, potentially threatening the Paris Agreement climate target of keeping global warming within 1.5 degrees or well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, according to Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.
“As we all know we are having a climate crisis that is driven by the very industrial funding that AGRA is championing in Africa. As people of faith, we are calling on AGRA and funders to stop industrial farming and support the small-scale farmers who’ve been living in harmony with nature, with biodiversity and to promote agriculture that is agri-ecology…
“We are calling on the funders that at this juncture you may redirect your money to the smallholder farmers, to the pastoralists, and the fisher folk,” says Gabriel Manyangadze of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI).