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 Women from Abrono Organic Farming Project (ABOFAP) showcase their seeds near Techiman, Ghana.

Women from Abrono Organic Farming Project (ABOFAP) showcase their seeds near Techiman, Ghana. (Photo: Global Justice Now via flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Time to Rethink the 'Green Revolution'

A new analysis debunking the promised benefits of the model should serve as a wake-up call.

Timothy A. Wise

 by Mongabay

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.”

The evaluation should be a wake up call, and not just for the private and bilateral donors that have bankrolled this 15-year-old effort to the tune of $1 billion. It should also rouse African governments to repurpose their agricultural subsidies from the Green Revolution package of commercial seeds and fertilizers to agroecology and other low-cost, low-input approaches. They have been providing as much as $1 billion per year for such input subsidies.

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.

Such transparency is welcome. AGRA has been plagued by a lack of accountability since its founding in 2006. I undertook my own assessment of AGRA in 2020 when I could find no comprehensive analysis, from AGRA nor its donors, of its progress toward ambitious goals to double yields and incomes for 30 million small-scale farming families while halving 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 comprehensive. 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. And it fails to incorporate or address the concerns raised publicly by African civil society and 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 from the evaluation:

  • “PIATA improved maize yields in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria, 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.
  • “Across these six countries, only farmers in Burkina Faso experienced improved maize sales as a result of 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…. productivity and income gains were also concentrated among these relatively high-resource farmers.” 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 are currently not suited for rigorous impact analysis.” Evaluators offer many criticisms of the initiative’s poor monitoring and evaluation methods.

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 to rethink the Green Revolution model.


© 2021 Mongabay
Timothy Wise

Timothy A. Wise

Timothy A. Wise is a senior advisor at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), where his work focuses on agribusiness, family farmers and the future of food, based on his recent book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (The New Press). He was a senior advisor with the Small Planet Institute, where he directed the Land and Food Rights Program from 2016-2020. He is also a senior research fellow at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute, where he founded and directed its Globalization and Sustainable Development Program.

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