AGRA update: Throwing Good Money After Bad

By Timothy A. Wise
IATP Blog, July 1, 2021

According to an anonymous inside source, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is preparing a campaign to raise $1 billion in the coming months to fund its promotion of industrialized agriculture through 2030. The organization, which has spent $1 billion since its founding in 2006, is reportedly counting on the September United Nations Food System Summit as a key platform for its fundraising. AGRA’s president, Agnes Kalibata, was named Special Envoy last year by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to lead the summit. The simultaneous fund drive raises immediate questions about her conflicts of interest.

The reported funding campaign comes one year after our research documented that AGRA was failing on its own terms. Our review of national-level data from 13 AGRA focus countries showed that Green Revolution programs were falling far short of stated goals of doubling productivity and incomes for 30 million small-scale farming households while reducing food insecurity by half by 2020.

AGRA’s fund drive is sure to intensify calls from African farm, environmental and community organizations to demand that donors shift their funding from expensive Green Revolution programs to more affordable and sustainable approaches such as agroecology. Ecological agriculture received another vote of confidence earlier this month when the U.N. Committee on World Food Security approved a set of policy recommendations supporting such measures.

Good money after bad

AGRA’s failures are now well documented, as is the organization’s lack of accountability to its own ambitious goals. My background research, and the resulting False Promises report, documented that there were no signs of a productivity revolution in AGRA’s 13 focus countries:

  • Staple crop yields had grown just 18% in 12 years of Green Revolution programming, which included up to $1 billion per year in subsidies from African governments to farmers to purchase commercial seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. This is far short of the promised doubling of yields, a 100% increase.
  • Poverty remained endemic, particularly in rural areas, as promised yields fell short and farmers often strained to cover the costs of the new inputs, even with the subsidies.
  • Subsidies to favored crops such as maize drove land out of other nutritious and climate-resilient staples such as millet and sorghum. Millet production declined 24% under AGRA.
  • Chronic hunger, measured by the U.N. as “undernourishment,” rose dramatically instead of being cut in half. The number of undernourished people in AGRA countries increased 30% from 2006-2018. (See my IATP policy brief for a summary of the findings.)

Despite repeated requests from African organizations and journalists, AGRA has provided no evidence to refute these findings. After AGRA refused to publish its own Outcome Monitoring reports, the US Right to Know organization obtained them from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through a Freedom of Information Act request. (AGRA subsequently published the reports.) As my analysis showed, in 1,365 pages of commissioned evaluations of 11 country programs AGRA could report no positive impacts on farmers’ yields, incomes or food security. As the publishers of the False Promises report show in a June follow-up report, now out in German with English and French versions expected in July, AGRA is failing to help farmers but it is succeeding in changing government policies to be more favorable to the agribusiness interests selling Green Revolution inputs.

AGRA’s annual report on 2020, promised for early May, has still not been published. It is unlikely to reveal new evidence. AGRA has not yet published its post-2021 strategy, but significant changes in its underlying approach are not expected.

Pressure on AGRA’s donors

AGRA’s poor results and lack of accountability leave a dark cloud over its looming fund drive. When there is little positive to show for the first billion dollars of a multi-donor initiative, how can donors justify their continued support?

Two-thirds of AGRA’s budget has come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with additional support from the Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, UK Agency for International Development, and smaller amounts from Canada, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands, according to AGRA. The Mastercard Foundation and several private or corporate foundations are also listed as donors.

The Gates Foundation is clearly the elephant in the room. The foundation has routinely refused to respond to requests from African farmers, researchers or the media, and the foundation has refused to release its own commissioned evaluation of AGRA’s first 10 years. As a recent report from the non-profit GRAIN showed, the Gates Foundation has provided nearly $5 billion in funding to drive its technology-driven Green Revolution policies in Africa. Yet it never directly responded to a public call from Southern African faith leaders to stop pushing failing policies on the continent.

With Bill Gates and his foundation mired in controversy over sexual misconduct, lax internal accountability, efforts to undermine public availability of COVID-19 vaccines and investment decisions that leave him the largest owner of U.S. farmland, the time may have come to demand transparency and accountability from the world’s largest private foundation.

So too for AGRA president Agnes Kalibata as she prepares to lead a U.N. food summit that was supposed to question prevailing food and agricultural policies, not raise another billion dollars for them. The food summit is now surrounded in controversy, as leading farmer and civil society organizations (including IATP) have refused to participate, arguing that Gates’ corporate-driven agenda has hijacked this much-needed revision of policies that are leading Africa and the world toward rising hunger and deepening climate calamities.

As Southern African faith leaders state in their letter to the Gates Foundation, “We believe the Gates Foundation approach is not helping to alleviate hunger and poverty. Rather, it is harming both farmers and the environments on which African food production systems depend.”

For more detail, see Wise’s “Selling the Past as Innovation in Africa.” See also “Africa at the Crossroads: Time to abandon failing Green Revolution,” with Million Belay of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). For more on the Gates Foundation’s intervention in food systems, see U.S. Right to Know’s Bill Gates Food Tracker.

Food-matters,

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