Donors Must Rethink Africa’s Flagging Green Revolution, New Evaluation Shows (Commentary)
– • A scathing new analysis of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) finds that the program is failing at its objective to increase food security on the continent, despite massive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US, UK, and German governments.
• On March 30, critics of AGRA will brief U.S. congressional aides about why they think it is doing more harm than good.
• As fertilizer and food prices spike with rising energy prices from the Russia-Ukraine war, African farmers and governments need the kind of resilient, low-cost alternatives that techniques like agroecology offer, a new opinion piece argues.
A critical new donor-funded evaluation of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has confirmed what African civil society and faith leaders have claimed: “AGRA did not meet its headline goal of increased incomes and food security for 9 million smallholders.”
This evaluation should be a wakeup call for all those who have contributed to this 15-year old effort, not just the private and bilateral donors. It should also wake up African governments to repurpose agricultural subsidies from Green Revolution package of fertilizers and seeds commercial. agroecologyThese are low-cost, low-input methods. These input subsidies have been worth as much as $1Billion annually.
Failing Africa’s farmers
Carried out by consulting firm Mathematica, the evaluation confirms that the Green Revolution has failed to achieve AGRA’s stated goal to “catalyze a farming revolution in Africa.”
The assessment was funded by AGRA’s primary sponsor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on behalf of other lead donors in AGRA’s Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA): the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office; the Rockefeller Foundation; the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The evaluation includes a summary of findings, a statistical appendix, and AGRA’s formal responses to the findings, all available publicly.
This transparency is welcomed. AGRA has suffered from a lackluster accountability since its inception in 2006. I took on my own responsibility assessment of AGRA in 2020AGRA and its donors could not provide me with a comprehensive analysis of progress towards its ambitious goals to double incomes and yields for 30,000,000 small-scale farmers, while halving the level of food insecurity by 2020. Using national-level data, I found little evidence of progress, with meager productivity increases, little progress on poverty, and a 31% increase in the number of undernourished people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries.
The new evaluation is far from complete. It covers only AGRA’s last five years of work, ignoring its first 10. It reports on results in just six of AGRA’s current 11 focus countries. Its data on yields is almost exclusively on maize and rice, to the exclusion of the many other staple food crops crucial to Africans’ sustenance. It fails to address or incorporate the public concerns. African civil societyAnd faith leaders in public letters to AGRA’s donors.
Still, the findings about poor outcomes for farmers should raise concerns for private and bilateral donors to AGRA’s PIATA strategy and for the African governments that are active partners – and funders – in that effort.
Quoting the evaluation:
- • “PIATA increased maize yields in Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopia, but not in Tanzania, Burkina Faso or Kenya..” Maize is AGRA’s most heavily supported crop, so the failure to achieve yield growth in half the countries studied is alarming.
• “Only Burkina Faso’s farmers saw an increase in their maize sales thanks to PIATA..” This raises serious questions about the Green Revolution “theory of change.” Even when yields rose, they failed to translate into rising incomes for farmers.
• “Farmers who adopted improved inputs and experienced yield increases were typically younger, male, and relatively wealthier…. These farmers with high-resources also saw increased productivity and income..” This finding directly contradicts the stated goals of USAID and other bilateral donors to ensure that their assistance programs benefit and empower women.
• “AGRA’s next strategy could formally recognize that agricultural technologies and practices—such as fertilizer use and rice cultivation—can negatively impact environmental conditions and greenhouse gas emissions.” Evaluators fault AGRA on a wide range of environmentally damaging impacts, including a lack of attention to helping farmers adapt to climate change.
• “AGRA surveys do not currently allow for rigorous impact analysis..” Evaluators offer many criticisms of the initiative’s poor monitoring and evaluation methods.
It is time to rethink Green Revolution model
Evaluators gave AGRA credit for some of its work, saying it “was successful in developing key policy reforms, mobilizing flagships and partnerships, and reaching farmers with extension and seeds,” and it helped “incentivize private sector engagement in the production and delivery of improved seeds in some countries.”
But these intermediate objectives, carried out with substantial funding over 15 years, have thus far failed to further the goals of improving farmers’ productivity, incomes, and food security. When one’s development successes fail to produce the intended results, after 15 years and one billion dollars in donor funding, it is time to reconsider the efficacy of the initiative. It is time for a rethink of the Green Revolution model.
Check out these related links: Push-pull agroecology method debugs organic farming’s pest problem in Kenya
AGRA’s management responded to the evaluation saying, “We must therefore rethink our models and focus our support, and that of our partners, on building resilience and adaptation specifically for smallholder farmers.” But there is little sign AGRA intends to pull back from its costly input-intensive Green Revolution model. AGRA president Agnes Kalibata defended the status quo in an interview. Q&A with the East African.
We hope that donors and African governments will be more serious about the new evaluation. African civil societyAnd faith leadersHave urged donors to shift funding towards agroecology or other low-cost systems with low inputs. These were endorsed last Year by the U.N. Committee on World Food SecurityClimate-resilient development is a key strategy. These strategies have yielded far better results. They can increase yields across a wide variety of food crops, increase productivity over the course of time as soil fertility improves, increase incomes, reduce risk for farmers, and improve food security and nutrition from a wide array of crops.
USAID quickly rejected any changes in aid priorities. A spokesperson stated that US Right to Know, “USAID reviewed the findings and recommendations and is satisfied with the independence and rigor of the [Mathematica] evaluation. We appreciate AGRA’s response to the report conclusions and concur with their proposed next steps to improve performance outcomes.”
This will not satisfy African civil society leaders and faith leaders who were not consulted in the Mathematica evaluation. They will complain to the U.S. Congress. This year, Congress must reauthorize funding for AGRA under its Feed the Future initiative. They will brief congressional aides on March 30 to explain to them why they believe AGRA is doing more harm that good. The main beneficiaries are male farmers who are more financially secure, which is in direct contradiction to U.S. development policy goals.
African farmers and governments require the resilient, low-cost options that agroecology can provide as food and fertilizer prices rise with rising energy prices due to the Russia/Ukraine war. Today, Kenyan farmers claim that biofertilizers they create from locally available materials are only one-quarter of the cost of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers.
African governments must recognize that subsidizeing increasingly expensive synthetic fertilizer is a loss-making proposition, especially since it and other Green Revolution inputs are producing such poor results.
It is time for private and bilateral donors – and African governments – to stop throwing good money after bad and recognize that their 15-year effort to “catalyze a farming revolution in Africa” through Green Revolution seeds and fertilizers has fallen short. There are other promising options that are proving their effectiveness all over the globe. They are worthy of support.
Timothy A. Wise is a Senior Research Fellow at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute. A detailed analysis of the recent evaluation of AGRAThis information is available at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, where the author is a senior adviser.
IPS UN Bureau