Green revolution jitters in Africa

Green revolution jitters in Africa

Launching of green revolution in Africa has raised appre-hensions among farming communities.

With the dire prediction that the population of Africa will double by 2050, the continent’s food production needs to keep pace with this exponential growth.

Raising farm productivity and meeting the needs of a generally food insecure people is the biggest challenge in a region where 75 per cent of the land is degraded and the soils are acidic.

In order to meet this challenge, an African born green revolution is taking roots in some countries of Africa. “It is a uniquely African green revolution, one that places smallholder farmers first, who protects biodiversity, promoting sustainability and advancing prosperity,” claims Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa, (Agra), the Nairobi based organisation.

With a singular goal to achieve food security, Agra is collaborating with national governments of African countries, and international institutions and corporations to ‘enhance the economic empowerment of small holder farmers in Africa.’ To begin with, out of 56 countries in Africa, it is concentrating on 16, including the breadbasket regions of four countries, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique and Tanzania to achieve breakthrough agricultural production. In order to meet the goals of food secure and prosperous Africa, the strategy is to bring transformational changes across the entire process of agricultural value chain in seeds, soils, markets, policy and finance.

Historic event

The green revolution to increase the food production had been a historic event in Asia and Latin America. It had bypassed the African continent. Agra is attempting to bring this revolution among the small holder women farmers who constitute 80 per cent of farmers and those who work hard on the arid soils to produce food, basically millet and cassava to feed their families.

Will Africa’s green revolution follow the footsteps of its predecessors in Asia and Latin America? Will it be based on the high chemical dependence on fertilisers and pesticides? Or will it leap frog the third generation biotech seeds based on Genetically Modified crops?

In this context, the launching of green revolution in Africa has raised apprehensions among the farming communities, especially regarding the approach of Agra in implementing the ideas on the ground. “What Agra is advocating is high tech skills developed by scientists and intellectuals; there is lack of ground level farm realities and they claim to address the issue of farmers but in fact the commercial interest overrides the interests of farmers, soils and sustainability” says Juan Otiep, a small farmer form Nyanza province, Kenya in East Africa.

In Ghana the farmers controlled ‘striga hermonther’ weeds by rotating the crops. They conducted experiments with rotating crops and realised that continuous cultivation of millet on the plot of land for more than three years was reliable method to eradicate the weed.

These ground truths reveal the gaps between the rhetoric and reality in bringing the green revolution to small holder farmers. It also indicates to the inextricable links to the funding organisations that support this venture. One of the main funding organisations for Agra is the Gates Foundation, which has acquired stakes in Monsanto, the giant seed company promoting GM crops worldwide.

Some of the apprehensions are coming true in the initial phase of the revolution. The target to increase fertiliser consumption per hectare, concentration on only few limited staple crops like rice and corn indicate the neglect of existing crop diversity. These ground level realities indicate that the road map of the green revolution in Africa is facing the trust deficit, despite having the high profile African former UN chief Kofi Annan as the chairman of Agra.

The scientists from Agra claim that the green revolution in Africa is not the copy cat of those revolutions in other continents in Asia and Latin America. It is unique because it is led by African scientists based on the development of science and technology and is built on local seed varieties.

The crop diversity and the staple food crops of Africa are under serious threat due to the introduction of high yielding corn and rice crops. With the climate change impacting the availability of water in this region, it becomes imperative that one of the options to address food and nutritional security in Africa is to assist in those processes that demand little water, basically dryland coarse crops like millet's, which has been cultivated since millennia by the inhabitants of this continent. However, the ongoing land grab in Africa to grow food crops is aimed at exploiting its water and soil. The debate is intensifying on whether the green revolution in Africa will rescue the resource-poor small farmers from the crisis of food shortages or will it force them into debt and chemical trap.

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