kawuli (kawuli) wrote,

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

Posted in full at: http://ift.tt/2aaRFsp at July 27, 2016 at 10:09AM
First, some post-Green Revolution history.

The 1990s and early 2000s were not a good time to be involved in agriculture. The neoliberal bandwagon told poor country governments to leave agriculture to the private sector, so budgets for agricultural research and education were slashed, as were many subsidy programs (although not, let’s remember, subsidies in the US and EU). Then in 2007 the World Bank remembered that a) it’s supposed to care about reducing poverty and b) a hell of a lot of poor people are farmers, and focused its World Development Report on agriculture. 

In 2008, the Rockefeller Foundation, major funders of the first Green Revolution, and the Gates Foundation, which had recently decided it wanted to get into agriculture, started the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Their vision for how to improve agricultural productivity and thus reduce poverty has been incredibly influential, and is based on three key axioms, which I will present here.

Quotes (unless otherwise noted) are from a paper titled “Building an Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa” (Toenniessen et al., 2008 and available ungated )

Most of [African] poverty and hunger is rural, and the root cause is lack of sufficient food production and income generation from small-scale farming.

Root causes are very tricky things to sort out, but okay. Although “from small-scale farming” is awfully confining…

Poor rural families in Africa have few, if any, good non-agriculture-dependent livelihood options.

…right now. (I would actually consider *this* to be among the root causes of rural poverty)

[Agriculture] can generate considerably greater income and stimulate economic growth.

Just because you’re a big shot at the Rockefeller Foundation doesn’t mean you can make this claim without any citations to back it up. Macroeconomic evidence I’ve seen shows that improvements in agriculture reduce rates of extreme poverty (~$1/day level) but don’t necessarily contribute much to overall GDP growth (Christiansen et al., 2011, on ResearchGate)

Agriculture significantly affects broader national economies through forward and backward linkages and consumption linkages

And they cited this one [ungated!] so I can see that you actually do get pretty substantial benefits from increased incomes recirculating in rural areas. Cool.

Sustained economic growth will not occur in Africa unless farm productivity and food production from agriculture increase significantly.

Axiom 1: A “significant” increase in agricultural productivity is both necessary and sufficient for economic growth in Africa.

That’s a really big claim, I sure hope you have some really good evidence for it! (Spoilers: not really)

Because agriculture has yet to become an engine of economic growth in Africa, urbanization is occurring without a reduction in poverty.

Oh, you don’t want to provide evidence for either a) agriculture is not an engine of growth, b) urbanization is occurring without a reduction in poverty or c) that b is because of a? OKAY THAT’S FINE. (not fine)

The Green Revolution was one of the great technological success stories of the second half of the 20th century.

…I’d go with the moon landing, but I guess you did say “one of.” And you limited it to “technological” success story, which I guess it was. Economic success story probably also? Social success story? eeeehhhhh maybe.

When food production rises through such increases in land and labor productivity, the rural poor gain.

Do they though? "The proportion of the population in Asia that is undernourished declined from 41% in 1960 to 16% in 2000.“ Okay that’s pretty good. "The increased productivity and profitability of Asia’s small-scale farms helped to kick-start the overall economic development that continues in that region today.” Okay, you have a citation from Science for that, let’s look at the abstract: 

Over the period 1960 to 2000, international agricultural research centers, in collaboration with national research programs, contributed to the development of “modern varieties” for many crops. These varieties have contributed to large increases in crop production. Productivity gains, however, have been uneven across crops and regions. Consumers generally benefited from declines in food prices. Farmers benefited only where cost reductions exceeded price reductions. 

Farmers are sometimes also consumers, but still, not exactly the glowing picture you’re trying to paint

Axiom 2: The Green Revolution was a technological success story that led to Asian farmers and national economies being better off.

Okay, this is mostly true but with some VERY IMPORTANT caveats, like “some farmers” and “usually the ones who were better off to start with.”

The conditions for improving agricultural production in Africa are substantially different and more challenging than those that existed in Asia in the 1960s.

Yes. For many reasons including bad geographic luck but also a few hundred years of colonialist extraction and stuff. But we won’t mention that part because it’s “political” and we are apolitical scientists despite the fact that this document is setting out an inherently political agenda.

The ‘one size fits all’ approach that worked so well for the vast irrigated regions of Asia is simply not appropriate for the highly diverse rainfed farming systems of Africa.

YES finally something I pretty much completely agree with! (okay, it did work pretty well for irrigated regions of Asia…)

What Africa needs has been called a 'rainbow’ of crop improvement revolutions that combine productivity growth for many different crops and place greater emphasis on farmer participation, local adaptation, strengthening national and local institutions, and the building of agricultural value chains that enables farmers to generate profits from surplus production.


most African farmers have the land assets adequate to provide food security and to rise above subsistence farming.

………………….most as in >50% maybe but certainly not an overwhelming majority. Also [citation needed].

To do so profitably, they need to intensify production by combining genetic and agroecological technologies that require only small amounts of additional labor and capital, and they need greater access to markets.

The citation for this is an article in Science that presents one imaginary woman’s farm as an example of what awesome things are possible with new technology. Wow, that sure did get published in Science. 

Axiom 3: If we can solve technical problems and link farmers to markets, we can improve agricultural productivity, thus (see Axiom 1) solving poverty.

Another huge claim with limited supporting evidence.

So in the end we have three basic axioms. I call them that because they are unproven (and arguably unprovable) assumptions that underlie everything AGRA does, the same way things like “parallel lines never meet” underlie Euclidean geometry. And since AGRA has a lot of money and influence, they also influence what a lot of other agricultural research and development actors do. They are:

Axiom 1: A “significant” increase in agricultural productivity is both necessary and sufficient for economic growth in Africa.

Axiom 2: The Green Revolution was a technological success story that led to Asian farmers and national economies being better off.

Axiom 3: If we can solve technical problems and link farmers to markets, we can improve agricultural productivity, thus (see Axiom 1) solving poverty.

So what are the alternatives? If I’m going to sit here and poke holes in the arguments of people who do things like “run the food security division of the Rockefeller Foundation” I should probably also provide other options. 

Which I will do. But that’s another post for another day.

Tags:mo talks about agriculture, i maybe shouldn't have spent 2 hours writing this, but in my defense a shorter version without yelling will be part of an actual paper, so it's not really wasted time, mo rambles, agriculture, international development, green revolution, perhaps i should start an ag-stuff sideblog?, it could be all ~professional~ and i could separate it from the superhero flailing and TMI posts, hmmmmmmm, crosspost

(Tumblr crosspost, for links that work go to tumblr because I am lazy)
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