Third Eye

Industrial agriculture no solution to food insecurity

Wednesday, September 1st, 2021 20:59 |
Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security. Photo/PD/file

Francesca de Gasparis and Gabriel Manyangadze       

The theme for this year’s African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) to be held in Nairobi next week 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, data from the countries where AGRA has focused its efforts have seen continued poverty and a 30 per cent rise in food insecurity.

To highlight the gravity of this issue and the level of concern in African civil society, faith leaders and supporting organisations across Africa, nearly 500 actors, signed an open letter to the Gates Foundation asking them to stop supporting AGRA’s industrial farming initiatives.

Our view is that we do not need farming ‘solutions’ but rather support locally appropriate solutions, working in partnership with small-scale farmers in ways that increase climate resilience.

Over the past 15 years AGRA has been working to restructure seed laws, so that corporate entities’ certified varieties are protected, while criminalising trade of non-certified seed.

This is particularly problematic for small scale farmers in Africa, where 80 per cent 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.

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, small holder farmers, oftentimes women, are indispensable to its nutritional and climate resilient future.

Those funding AGRA need to take stock of its failures to date and realise that farmers already know what they need to tackle climate change and need support to do so.

If the Gates Foundation really wants to transform 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 to 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. —de Gasparis is Executive Director at the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute while Manyangadze is SAFCEI’s Climate Justice Coordinator

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