By Timothy A. Wise
February 25, 2021
Internal evaluations carried out by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), recently obtained by the U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) campaign through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, show no new evidence that AGRA is making progress improving yields, incomes and food security for African farmers. In fact, the reports, which AGRA had previously declined to share with researchers, suggest that AGRA is only now beginning to track progress for its current programming period while providing no evidence from its first ten years of work.
AGRA was founded in 2006 with the goals of doubling yields and incomes for 30 million small-scale farmer households while halving food insecurity by 2020. Our 2020 report, “False Promises,” documented limited progress across AGRA’s 13 focus countries in achieving those goals. For AGRA countries as a group, yield gains for just 18% for staple crops from 2006-2018, well below the goal of doubling productivity (a 100% increase). We found few signs of income gains, and the number of undernourished people increased 30%.
In the course of that research, AGRA first promised then refused to provide data from its own progress evaluations of impacts on its beneficiaries. After the July 2020 publication of our report, AGRA refused to respond to my requests for evidence to refute our findings and declined an explicit request from three African organizations, two of which were involved in the research, to provide evidence of impacts. (See my October 2020 update for details.) They received a courteous but not very informative reply, one that offered very little data. Anne Maina of the Biodiversity and Biosafety Organization of Kenya, speaking for the three organizations, responded:
“In our letter, we posed a concrete set of questions about impacts and invited you to present evidence to counter our report’s findings that yield growth is slow and uneven across staple crops, that farmer incomes are not rising much as a result, and that food security has not improved and may have gotten worse with the decline in crop and diet diversity. We would be interested in engaging in a public, evidence-based dialogue on these issues if AGRA is willing to present evidence. Perhaps a good place to start would be the ‘outcomes panel surveys’ you refer to and the mid-term evaluation of your 2017-2021 strategy.”
AGRA refused to provide those reports. USRTK obtained the documents last month through FOIA requests to the U.S. Agency for International Development, one of AGRA’s key funders. AGRA recently published the mid-term evaluation and the 11 country outcomes surveys, so they are now publicly available.
As the lead researcher who provided the background research for the “False Promises” report, I was asked by USRTK to review and assess the documents to determine if they provide new data on AGRA’s progress in improving yields, incomes and food security. Unfortunately, they do not. In a cumulative 1,365 pages of reports, these commissioned evaluations:
- focus only on AGRA’s current 2017-2021 programs, providing no data on the first ten years of AGRA’s work;
- provide some data on beneficiaries but only as a “baseline” against which to compare data from two future surveys;
- as such, they provide no data at all on AGRA’s impacts over time on farmers’ yields, incomes or food security.
As the evaluators write in their Mid-Term Evaluation:
“AGRA would benefit from reconsidering and strengthening its intervention logic…. This includes interrogating the assumptions and evidence that their inputs and outputs will result in expected outcomes and impacts such as inclusive agricultural transformation, given the risks and opportunities within their operating contexts.”
As our “False Promises” report suggested, AGRA should indeed question its “theory of change,” recognizing that promoting the Green Revolution technology package to Africa’s small-scale farmers will not achieve “inclusive agricultural transformation” that significantly increases yields, incomes and food security.
(read the analysis of the AGRA documents in my IATP blog)
More on AGRA and the Gates Foundation’s Agricultural Development Work:Stacy Malkan at US Right to Know has a series of articles on Bill Gates’ interventions in agriculture coming out. We thank USRTK for its important work pulling the veil back on corporate secrecy.
Read more on Wise’s work at IATP on The Future of Food.