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Africa needs SAGRA, not AGRA
By Devinder Sharma

Large agri-business has set its eyes on vast and unexplored market of Africa. The slogan of Second Green Revolution is their pass for a smooth entry. To avoid falling into the trap, Africa should first adopt environmentally sustainable agricultural practices and then create mechanisms to ensure an assured price and market to farmers.


Kofi Anna, seen here with African farmers, has been pushing Agri-business
agenda in Africa

When Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of United Nations, decided to chair the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), it was expected to draw the attention of the African leadership to bring back the focus on agriculture and food security. Sitting far away in India, the original seat of Green Revolution, I watched with interest the pathway AGRA was taking to ensure food security for all.

Green Revolution has become synonymous with food production. The moment you say there is a need to increase production, the chances are that two of the three people you meet would point to Green Revolution as the way forward. Nothing wrong, you would say. In a way I agree. In my understanding, Green Revolution is only indicative of the importance that needs to be accorded to agriculture, but it should not entail going the same route that India had followed.

Indian agriculture is in terrible crisis, a direct fallout of the Green Revolution technology and the accompanying policies. Over 200,000 farmers have committed suicides, often drinking the pesticides they had brought for killing insects. Another 40 per cent of the Indian farmers (of the 600 million farming population) want to quit agriculture if given a choice. Productivity is on the decline, environment has been contaminated by chemicals, insect equilibrium has been distorted, water table has gone down drastically, organic matter in soils has disappeared, and farm incomes have dropped. In short, the natural resource base has been destroyed beyond recognition. The only gainers are the companies supplying chemical inputs and machines. Their profits continue to soar.

I don't think African leaders would like to bring in an unforeseen disaster in the name of food security. But I guess they are so indebted to the international financial institutions that even if they feel that all is not well, they have little choice but to accept the approach being suggested.

While it may appear to be a pious intention, but to a discerning eye it becomes obvious that the real motive is to push unwanted technology and finance/capital to Africa. This will sustain the economies of US/Europe reeling under recession.

Take a look at the recommendations of the 'concrete outcomes' emerging from the latest meeting of the African Green Revolution Forum that ended at Accra/Ghana in the first week of September. While it may appear to be a pious intention, but to a discerning eye it becomes obvious that the real motive is to push unwanted technology and finance/capital to Africa. This will sustain the economies of US/Europe reeling under recession. In a way, AGRA is basically intended to bailout the multinational companies dealing with seed/technology and agribusiness.

  • In a press release (Sept 7, 2010), the organisers said: the moderators of breakout panel sessions published a series of concrete outcomes, including:
  • Empowerment of women throughout the agricultural value chain by accelerating access to improved technology, finance and markets
  • Support for an Impact Investment Fund for African Agriculture to scale up access to finance by farmers and agribusinesses
  • Increased investment for science, technology and research for food nutrition security
  • Accelerated access to improved seed by promoting the entire value chain, including support for plant breeding, seed companies and seed distribution systems
  • Improved fertilizer supply systems and more efficient fertilizer value chains
  • More inclusive business models linking agri-business, commercial farms and smallholder farmers
  • The need for better management of Africa’s water and natural resources
  • Acknowledgement that mixed crop livestock systems are the backbone for Africa’s agriculture
Crop production did not pick up prior to Green revolution period because there were no assured prices and no assured market.

While all this may appear fine, I think even in India there was no need for a Green Revolution. My argument is that when India imported the dwarf high-yielding wheat varieties from CIMMYT/Mexico, it knew that varieties alone would not be able to deliver. What came as a package were two important planks of a policy initiative that I call as 'famine-avoidance' strategies. To ensure that farmers get an incentive to continue farming the same crop, the government set up a mechanism to provide assured prices which came to be known as procurement prices. At the same time, it set up Food Corporation of India (FCI) to mop up the surplus grain that flows into the markets.

Without these two planks, there would have been no Green Revolution.

Just think. If these two strategies were in place prior to the introduction of Green Revolution technology, farmers would have got the necessary support to increase crop production. Crop production did not pick up prior to Green revolution period because there were no assured prices and no assured market.

What is not being realised that the production of wheat and rice (the two most important staples) went up not only because of the high-yielding varieties but because the policy makers had put together the two-planks of the 'famine-avoidance' strategy. Assured prices through the instrument of Minimum Support Price (MSP) became an attraction for the farmer who would normally be squeezed out by the trade at the time of the harvest. At the same time, the government set up a procurement system which ensured that whatever flows into the mandis (and is not purchased by the private trade) would be bought by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and other government agencies.

This means that farmers got an assured price and an assured market. They knew that their efforts would not go abegging. And no wonder, production of mainly four crops -- wheat, rice, sugarcane and cotton -- has gone up. These are the only four crops where the market is assured, whether through the FCI purchase or by the sugar companies etc, and production of these crops has been on the rise.

Africa actually needs to put these two food security planks into place. It has to be backed by a sustainable farming system (among some of the wonderful initiatives are: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47528), which have been demonstrated in several parts of Africa, and provide an assured price and an assured market. Farmers would do the rest. Otherwise, Africa is likely to be destroyed beyond recognition with the kind of Second Green Revolution that is being pushed aggressively, and you know by whom.

Kofi Annan is a wise man. I am sure he will have the courage to stand up, and demonstrate that Africa has a viable and sustainable future. Africa needs SAGRA -- Sustainable Agriculture for Africa, and not AGRA.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Global Development  > Global Economy > Agriculture

Surrendering Indian agriculture before Obama
Thursday, November 04, 2010

Having failed to revive U.S. economy and facing rising opposition back home, President Obama is coming to India with the sole aim to demand drastic policy measures to help revive business of US agri-corps and retail giants.

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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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