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Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA): Laying the groundwork for the commercialisation of African Agriculture

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The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) is a non-profi t organisation, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was established to protect Africa's biodiversity, traditional knowledge, food production systems, culture and diversity, from the threats posed by genetic engineering in food and agriculture. It has in addition to its work in the fi eld of genetic engineering, also opposed biopiracy, agrofuels and the Green Revolution push in Africa, as it strongly supports social justice, equity and ecological sustainability.
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www.acbio.org.za
September 2012
Laying the groundwork for
the commercialisation of
African Agriculture
Alliance for a
Alliance for a
Green Revolution
Green Revolution
in Africa (AGRA)
in Africa (AGRA)
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The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) is a non- profi t organisation, based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It was established to protect Africa’s biodiversity, traditional knowledge, food production systems, culture
and diversity, from the threats posed by genetic engineering in food and agriculture. It has in addition to
its work in the fi eld of genetic engineering, also opposed biopiracy, agrofuels and the Green Revolution
push in Africa, as it strongly supports social justice, equity and ecological sustainability.
The ACB has a respected record of evidence based work and can play a vital role in the agro-ecological
movement by striving towards seed sovereignty, built upon the values of equal access to and use of
resources.
©The African Centre for Biosafety
www.acbio.org.za
PO Box 29170, Melville 2109 South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)11 486 1156
Design and layout: Adam Rumball, Sharkbouys Designs, Johannesburg
Cover photo: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-MEvuwGxs1i4/T1YkI_-viGI/AAAAAAAABQA/iVbE0oZymhU/
s1600/PP3.JPG
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Contents
Acronymns 4
1. About this paper and why the focus in AGRA 6
2. Key fi ndings 6
3. Structure of the paper 7
4. The Green Revolution in Africa and new frontiers of accumulation 7
5. AGRAs philosophy and structure 10
5.1 What does AGRA do? 14
6. AGRA’s Programme for Africa’s Seed System (PASS) 16
6.1 Problem statement 16
6.2 AGRAs plan 17
6.3 Education for African Crop Improvement (EACI) 18
6.4 Fund for the Improvement and Adoption of African Crops (FIAAC) 19
6.5 Seed Production for Africa (SEPA) 20
6.6 Agro-dealer Development Program (ADP) 23
7. Seed policy interventions 24
8. Soil Health Programme (SHP) 25
9. Responding to AGRA 28
9.1 Technological pathways 28
9.2 Farmer organisation 29
9.3 Improved seed 30
9.4 Seed markets/distribution 31
9.5 Soil fertility 32
9.6 Holistic approach to agricultural production 33
9.7 Finance and credit 35
10. Conclusion 35
Appendices 37
References 42
Acknowledgements: The ACB would like to thank Stephen Greenberg for his hard and diligent work
in putting this paper together and Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss for her invaluable comments.
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Acronyms
AAC African Agricultural Capital
ACCI African Centre for Crop Improvement (UKZN)
ACTESA Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa
ADP Agro-dealer Development Programme
AECF African Enterprise Challenge Fund
AFAP Africa Fertiliser Agribusiness Partnership
AfDB African Development Bank
Agmark Agricultural Market Development Trust
AGRA Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
AU African Union
Ca Calcium
CAADP Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme
CARD Coalition for African Rice Development
CGIAR Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
CIMMYT International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre
CNFA Citizen’s Network for Foreign Affairs
COMESA Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
DANIDA Danish International Development Agency
DFID Department for Foreign International Development (UK)
EACI Education for African Crop Improvement
FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN)
FDI Foreign direct investment
FIAAC Fund for the Improvement and Adoption of African Crops
FOSCA Farmer Organisation Support Centre in Africa
GDP Gross Domestic Product
GM Genetic modification/genetically modified
IARCs International agricultural research centres
IDRC International Development Research Centre (Canada)
IFAD International Fund for Agricultural Development
IFDC International Fertiliser Development Centre
IP Intellectual property
ISFM Integrated soil fertility management
K Potassium
Mg Magnesium
N Nitrogen
NARS National agricultural research systems
NEPAD New Partnership for Africa’s Development
NGO Non-government organisation
OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
OFAB Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa
P Phosphorous
PASS Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems
PPP Public-private partnership
R&D Research and development
S Sulphur
SEDF Soros Economic Development Fund
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SEPA Seed Production for Africa
SHP Soil Health Programme
SSA Sub-Saharan Africa
UKZN University of KwaZulu-Natal
UN United Nations
UPOV International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties
USDA United States Department of Agriculture
WACCI West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement
WRS Warehouse receipt systems
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1. About this paper and why the focus on AGRA
This paper examines the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) with a focus on its work
around seeds. AGRAs intervention in African agriculture ties together a number of otherwise
disparate initiatives by public sector institutions, national and multinational government structures
and private companies and investors. AGRA thus provides an organisational and technical nucleus
for the expansion of profit-making ventures in African agriculture. It focuses on interventions in
seed as one of the central technologies for the commercialisation of agriculture, and as a profit
centre.
Appraisals of AGRA from sovereignty movements so far have tended to focus on generic critiques
of Green Revolution approaches to agriculture, and on the links between the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation (Gates Foundation) and multinational biotechnology and seed companies, in particular
Monsanto. Most existing critiques emerged soon after AGRA’s launch in 2006 before much had
happened, based on the historical experience of the Green Revolution and the role of the Rockefeller
and USAID programmes amongst others, based on the historical experience of the Green Revolution
and the role of the Rockefeller and USAID programmes amongst others.
Enough time has passed now since AGRAs launch to begin interrogating the initiative on the basis
of its practical experiences. What we have tried to do in this paper is to dig a bit deeper into AGRAs
philosophy and practice to understand in more detail what they are proposing and interrogate this.
While there was not an opportunity to go to the sites and speak to participants in AGRAs activities,
there has been a chance to work through the growing body of material related to AGRA’s philosophy
and orientation. These include important books and papers either written by key AGRA proponents
or papers commissioned by AGRA to inform their strategic direction.
2. Key findings
We have found a fairly complex array of solutions being proposed by AGRA.
On the face of it, it would appear as if AGRA recognises the limits of trying to replicate the Green
Revolution as it unfolded in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s in Latin America, where social and ecological
conditions are markedly different. In this regard, AGRA appears to be proposing an approach to the
introduction of new technologies based on the Green Revolution model that aims to work around
some of these limits. In this regard, it emphasises the importance of local adaptation and the
blending of different technological approaches according to context. For example, AGRA appears to
be promoting work with resource-poor smallholder farmers and participatory plant breeding and
selection.
However, AGRA considers hybrid seed, biotechnology (including genetic modification), synthetic
fertilisers, irrigation, credit provision and general commercialisation of agricultural production as
long-term goals to strive towards.
What AGRA has done is to set itself the immediate task of putting in place the building blocks to
move towards the wider scale adoption of these Green Revolution technologies without trying to
impose them all at once or immediately in a context where they will not be satisfactorily supported
or taken up.
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In this regard, an important focus of AGRAs project is to work on building both institutional
and regulatory systems that can support the introduction of these technologies. Working with
individuals and organisations with a long history of agricultural development work in Africa, such
as USAID and the Citizen’s Network for Foreign Affairs (CNFA) – organisations whose key focus
historically has been on the expansion of US agribusiness, AGRA has identified specific countries
and areas within countries where this work can proceed most effectively.
From a seed point of view, at the top of the policy agenda is the harmonisation of laws and policies
to allow for the cross-border flow of technology, regulated as far as possible by private capital but
with government support as required, and the securing of intellectual property (IP).
AGRAs emphasis on the profit motive as the driving force of economic development, and its long-
term orientation towards the rolling out of Green Revolution technologies based on biotechnology,
synthetic fertilisers and debt-driven commercialisation place it on a potential collision course
with the agroecological approaches being endorsed by farmer-based sovereignty movements. The
directions in which these contradictions might proceed are very much dependent on the strategies
and actions taken by farmers and their independent associations and movements in Africa, both in
response to AGRA, and in developing their own programmes and practices.
3. Structure of paper
This paper investigates the role of AGRA in Africa’s seed systems in the context of the ‘Green
Revolution push in Africa and the new frontiers of accumulation. The first section considers AGRAs
broad philosophy and structure, focusing on AGRAs own views or those of its consultants, before
turning to a more detailed consideration of its specific work in the Programme for Africa’s Seed
Systems (PASS) and, in slightly less detail, its Soil Health Programme (SHP). These programmes are
inseparable because seed and soil fertility technologies are interlinked. Seed and fertiliser are the
fundamental technological interventions on which AGRA’s strategies hang. The paper concludes
with thoughts for ways for the broad agroecological and food and seed sovereignty movements to
respond to AGRA.
4. The Green Revolution in Africa and new frontiers
of accumulation
In the second decade of the new century, a growing consensus has emerged that we have entered a
period of structurally higher food prices (Timmer, 2008:32). These rising prices are driven inter alia,
by limited arable land and rising urban populations and the expansion of biofuel production using
maize, especially in the US (the historical generator of maize surpluses for food aid to Africa). The
United Nations (UN) predicts that food prices as a whole will rise at least 40% in the next decade
(Vidal, 2011). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development/Food and Agriculture Organisation (OECD-FAO) predict that global
wheat and grain prices will be 30-60% higher in the coming decade than they were during the
period 2002-2007 (Headey, et al., 2009:17). There is also an expectation of growing volatility because
demand for cereals is highly inelastic (there are no alternatives).
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As a result, land and agricultural production have become more important as well as a site for
potential profitable investment. Africa is seen as the ‘new frontier’ of accumulation (Goldman
Sachs, 2012). Following decades of neglect, the past few years have thus witnessed growing
external investment in African agriculture, including in Africa’s seed systems. The possibilities
for profitable investment are situated in the context of foreign direct investment (FDI) as the
perceived answer to Africa’s problems, both from within and outside Africa. The New Partnership
for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and its related agricultural programme, the Comprehensive
Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), are explicit in their support of a strategy that
attracts FDI on the basis of investor friendly policies and systems. The limits to Africa’s development
are identified essentially as lack of capital and expertise.
There are two sides to this new wave of investment: on the one hand is the production and export
of raw or semi-processed materials for consumption outside Africa in a continuation of Africa’s
colonial role as an exporter of raw materials. On the other hand is an emphasis on building local and
regional markets in Africa. That is, Africa is an emerging zone of consumption for the realisation of
surplus value in its own right. Much of the consumption based on Western diets currently means
imports from other countries, e.g. wheat from the US, and soya from Argentina and Brazil. However
soya and other crops are targeted for development in Africa. The first side provides inputs into
production and consumption elsewhere; the second side is the expansion of markets. Biofuels,
maize, rice and cassava are key focus areas from an agricultural point of view.
The key challenge facing investors in African agriculture is how to increase productivity so that
sustainable profits can be made. It is logical that they will turn to the experiences of the Green
Revolution in Asia and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s to see what lessons can be learned
for application in Africa. Green Revolution seed work was spearheaded by the Consultative Group
on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), with its roots in research institutes that pioneered
technological innovations in plant breeding and seed systems since the 1940s. The first such
institute, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) was sponsored by the
Rockefeller Foundation, which continued its funding as the group of institutes expanded over the
decades. Although the Green Revolution did lead to rapid and sustained increases in yields, this
came at immense social and ecological cost (Box 1). These costs must be considered an integral part
of the Green Revolution package.
Social and ecological costs of the Asian Green Revolution
Replacement of locally-used crops with cash crops for export, and associated replacement
of polycultures (mixed farming) with monocultures;
Land degradation and soil nutrient depletion through overuse of synthetic fertilisers and
pesticides, led to destruction of soil life;
Negative health impacts for rural communities as a result of pesticide poisonings;
Water pollution and waste;
A focus on a few high-yielding varieties resulted in a narrowing of agricultural and wild
biodiversity;
Sharp rises in input costs, resulting in greater indebtedness of small-scale farmers and
consequent loss of farmland;
Concentration of land holdings, and rising social inequality.
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In comparison with Asia and Latin America where the Green Revolution took hold, Africa has low
grain yields, with stagnating per capita grain production (Minot et al., 2007:1). The dominant story
until recently was that Africa’s low agricultural productivity was caused by the failure of the first
Green Revolution to take root. Initially lack of African capacity to adopt new technologies and lack
of government will or support was blamed for this failure. More recently, however, the arguments
have become more sophisticated, and there is greater recognition that the simple transfer of
technology model that allowed for the rapid uptake of new technologies in Asia in particular is
not appropriate for Africa’s more diverse ecological and social context. The World Bank argues that
the wide diversity of agroecological zones in Africa require
adaptations in technology and “the ‘technological distance’
between growing conditions prevailing in Africa and those
prevailing in developed countries is unusually large, so
technologies travel even less well to Africa than they do to
other developing regions” (World Bank, 2009:61). According
to this argument, there was not enough emphasis on local
adaptation in the first Green Revolution. Numerous other
factors played a role in the inability of Green Revolution
technologies to gain traction in Africa. For example, Minot et
al. (2007:152) add that the higher costs of fertiliser, unreliable
rainfall, lack of irrigation and low population density “which
makes yield-increasing technology less appealing” were also
contributing factors.
It is in this context that AGRA, an initiative of the Gates and
Rockefeller Foundations, was formed in 2006 as a private
sector initiative with links to government institutions
globally and in Africa. AGRA is registered as a non-profit
institution in the US, but operates out of Nairobi in Kenya
where it is registered as a branch of a foreign corporate
entity. The Gates Foundation has made large investments
in agriculture globally since 2003, to the value of US$2bn up to 2011. Recipients include CGIAR
institutes, universities, public sector institutions and non-government organisations (NGOs), and
AGRA offers a wide range of support from research into genetic modification (GM) to organic
farming support. Up to 2011, AGRA was the recipient of 16% of global agriculture grants from the
Foundation.1
Funding for AGRA is primarily from the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations and the UK Department
for Foreign International Development (DFID). To the end of October 2011 the Rockefeller Foundation
had contributed US$72m to AGRA and up to September 2010 the Gates Foundation had contributed
US$329m2, with another US$56m in February 2012 to AGRAs Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems
(PASS – see below)3. Later funding has come from the Danish International Development Agency
(DANIDA), the Swedish foreign ministry, the New Venture Fund (which invests in seed work in Liberia
and Sierra Leone), and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
1. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Gates_Foundation_Global_Agriculture_Grants
2. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=AGRA
3. This Day 2012 Africa: Bill Gates boost Africa’s food crops drive with US$56 million”, This Day, 28 February http://allafrica.com/
stories/201202280809.html
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AGRA is only one programme the foundations are involved with in Africa. Others include the
African Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF)4 and the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD)5.
The AECF is a US$150m “private sector fund” sponsored by the governments of Sweden, Denmark,
Netherlands, Australia and the UK, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
and hosted by AGRA. The focus is on building markets to enable the expansion of agribusiness and,
where it is potentially profitable, the commercialisation and incorporation of smallholder farmers
into these formal markets. It is currently operating in 16 countries with regional hubs in South Africa,
Ghana and Kenya.
CARD is an initiative between AGRA and the Japanese government to increase rice production in
Africa using green revolution technologies based on hybrid rice. It builds on existing programmes
such as the Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice) and the African Union’s (AU’s) CAADP. Partners include
the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), the FAO and a number of CGIAR institutes. It
currently operates in 23 countries.
5. AGRA’s philosophy and structure
AGRA considers the fundamental problem in African agriculture to be low productivity. It identifies
a few key areas that contribute to this problem: i) lack of scientific knowledge and capacity, caused
by ii) lack of investment in African agriculture, iii) poor soils, iv) limited seed systems that inhibit the
introduction of new varieties, and v) weak governance and regulatory systems.
Two key themes can be extracted from the body of work surrounding AGRA: first, local adaptation
is critical to improvements in agricultural productivity in Africa; and second, technologies should be
blended with one another without ideological hang-ups, so that techniques ranging from organic
methods through to biotechnology are incorporated where appropriate.
AGRA adopts a fairly good critique of prior approaches to support for African agriculture, including
systematic under-investment, the historical focus on large-scale agriculture and standardised
technologies, and efforts to transfer technologies developed elsewhere which were inappropriate to
the context (both seed and manufactured fertilisers).
The following discussion draws heavily from an influential book written in 2001 by Joe DeVries
and Gary Toenniessen called Securing the Harvest. DeVries is the current director of AGRAs
Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS), which is at the core of AGRAs seed work. He has
worked on agriculture in Africa since the 1980s, and was a director in World Vision International
and the Rockefeller Foundation where his work on genetic improvement of African crops laid the
foundations for AGRA. Toenniessen has worked with the Rockefeller Foundation since 1971, where he
is now Managing Director, leading the Foundation’s strategic direction on agricultural development.
DeVries and Toenniessen were instrumental in AGRAs formation.
DeVries & Toennissen argue that the wholesale adoption of what they call the Asian Green
Revolution cannot work in Africa (2001:7). In particular, in Asia it was possible to immediately target
a layer of existing better-off farmers who were able to adopt the technological package and make it
4. http://www.aecfafrica.org/
5. www.riceforafrica.org
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work in their interests. In contrast, in Africa rain-fed marginal farming conditions are the norm, not
a secondary focus to be targeted once the more favourable areas have been tapped. This means the
emphasis at the outset must be on resource-poor small-scale farmers in the context of the actual
constraints they face.
AGRA draws from different sources of knowledge in its responses to the core problem of low
agricultural productivity. These range from locally-sensitive agroecological practices through to
biotechnology, with the idea that there is a right time and place for different types of technology.
In the current context, AGRA argues, biotechnology is not appropriate in most places in Africa,
although it explicitly views biotechnology (including GM) as part of the longer-term solution. It
therefore suggests that conventional Green Revolution technologies can only be introduced over
time as systems are put in place and the various components become readily available to farmers.
AGRA says that without effective distribution systems, improved seed varieties will just sit on the
shelf without being used. Another example it offers
is that the effectiveness of fertilisers is reduced by
the absence of irrigation. In this regard, it argues that
GM crops cannot be introduced without a proper
institutional base and regulatory framework that
ensure they can be properly developed and controlled
in the field. Therefore, according to AGRA, certain
key building blocks must be put in place first, before
moving forward with these technologies.
AGRAs focus is on seed improvements and soil
fertility. A background report written for AGRA
(Minot, et al., 2007) in preparation for the launch of
its seed work recognises some value in informal or
farmer-owned seed systems. These systems produce
inexpensive seed, farmers are familiar with the
performance of the seed, the varietal heterogeneity
that comes from these systems may reduce the
risk of severe crop losses, and selection is for a
range of criteria (Minot, et al., 2007:157). However,
AGRA considers these systems to be insufficient by
themselves to increase productivity in a sustained
way. According to AGRA, there are limits to the local
sharing of seed. Over time the quality degenerates because the genetic pool is not wide enough,
and in particular that local sharing systems are weak at introducing new and ‘improved’ varieties. A
related argument is advanced by AGRA that formal seed systems in most parts of Africa generally
lack capacity and therefore little if any work is being done in developing new varieties based on
locally-adapted germplasm. As a result, AGRA focuses its efforts on building formal seed systems.
AGRA identifies a number of areas where interventions are required to facilitate the expansion of
formal seed systems. First, modern scientific methods must be introduced, built up and supported
where they already exist, to enable African institutions to develop higher yielding varieties of crops.
Second, systems must be developed to multiply and distribute improved seed. In this context,
there is very limited production of foundation seed as this is seen as a primary bottleneck in the
expansion of new varieties (DeVries & Toenniessen, 2001:xiv). Local specificity is key to AGRAs
approach, and DeVries and Toenniessen argue for country-level programmes where practitioners
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can operate in close proximity to the various agroecologies where they can develop “localised
‘agro-ecology-based’ breeding programmes” (2001:xiii). In their broad philosophy, AGRAs designers
strongly promote farmer participation in agricultural research. On the face of it, it seems as if they
recognise that farmers best understand the conditions they work in, and breeding programmes
will be most effective if they operate in close proximity to farmers and involve farmers especially
in variety selection (DeVries & Toenniessen, 2001:xv). Whether these ideas match the way the seed
programmes actually materialise in practice is an important issue for further investigation.
Although systems are not currently in place for the effective use of biotechnology, this according
to AGRA, can change. Part of AGRA’s mission is to induce such change through ‘modernisation of
seed systems and the associated R&D. The approach is to support biotechnology capacity where it
exists (DeVries & Toennissen, 2001:xiv), starting with tissue culture of clonally propagated crops and
marker assisted selection for traits. Once effective biosafety systems and regulations are in place, it
will be possible to advance to GM, using the genetic base of already well-adapted varieties (DeVries
& Toennissen, 2001:xiv).
Soil fertility is the second strand of AGRAs strategy. According to DeVries and Toenniessen (2001:xv),
“in spite of its potential, genetic improvement of crops will always face limitations with regard to
what it can offer to farmers in regards to their levels of productivity. No matter what efficiencies
genetic enhancement is able to build into crop plants, they will always draw their nutrition from
external sources, and this places enormous importance on the investments that can be made in the
soils of Africa”. The basic argument is that there is need to increase the organic content in soil, and
AGRA will support work in this direction. But, as with existing farmer-based seed systems, AGRA
argues that in and of itself this is not enough. According to AGRA, there is also need for the judicious
use of manufactured fertilisers, e.g. rock phosphate is necessary for plant growth, and this can be
manufactured into a form that is easily taken up by plants. Like seed, AGRA says that fertilisers
need to be adapted to local conditions. A one-size-fits-all, standardised technology will not work
in Africa’s diverse agroecological conditions. Again, the notion of blending different technological
approaches, at least in the conceptual framework, can be seen here.
AGRA places a focus on small-scale farmers as the main producers of food in Africa, stating that
upwards of 70% of the African population is involved in agriculture, but because of past policies
these farmers are caught in a poverty trap. New technologies mean this is no longer necessary, but
changes need to be made, in particular in the governance and funding environments. It is thus the
view of AGRA that the focus should be on “the very poor, rural people who have been left behind
by globalisation and the interests of the private sector” (DeVries & Toenniessen, 2001:xv). That is,
AGRAs initial emphasis is on building new markets rather than on supplying export markets. To
realise this goal AGRA promotes farmer organisation, noting the importance of organisation in
facilitating communication and to provide a market for seed (Minot et al., 2007:158). In 2010 AGRA
established the Farmer Organisation Support Centre in Africa (FOSCA), which identifies networks of
organisations in AGRAs target countries, and links them to service providers to realise AGRAs goals
(AGRA, 2010:13).
There is some acknowledgment of the limits of a profit-driven private sector in building African
agriculture. “In Africa, multinational seed companies may be motivated to popularise one or even
several high-yielding maize varieties among better-off farmers in favourable areas, but it is less likely
that they will find it profitable to devote significant resources to developing varieties with the very
specific adaptation advantages required by small-scale, low input farmers” (DeVries & Toenniessen,
2001:22). However, despite this recognition, there is an acceptance of the dominance of the private
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sector and thus the emphasis is placed on private investment of all kinds in the seed sector (DeVries
& Toenniessen, 2001:xv). DeVries’s position is carried over into AGRAs design, with emphasis
being placed on the private sector and market-led development, based on the understanding that
the development of the market economy is incomplete in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), requiring
interventions to facilitate commodification processes (Morvaridi, 2012:246).
AGRA also recognises the role of the state/public sector. It explicitly recognises that government
interventions can legitimately be based on efficiency (market failure) or equity (redistributive)
grounds. As a result, AGRA has public-private partnerships (PPPs) at the core of much of its
work. This starts with the international agricultural research centres (IARCs) under the CGIAR
umbrella, but also seeks to integrate national institutions wherever possible. Part of the reason
for this is access to a large pool of free locally-adapted germplasm, infrastructure and expertise,
which amounts to subsidisation of the private sector. The state is also necessary to create the
‘enabling environment’ for effective private sector functioning and to build markets. An important
institutional channel for AGRAs work is via
NEPAD/CAADP, although CAADP is considered
to have limited acceptance in Africa (Action
Aid, 2009:18). AGRA aims to leverage additional
government resources on the basis of its own
funding (Minot, et al., 2007:162).
AGRA is embedded in the G8’s New Alliance
for Food Security and Nutrition initiative,
announced in 2012. This is a partnership
between G8 countries, the AU and
multinational agri-food and input companies,
including Monsanto, Syngenta, Du Pont,
Cargill, Unilever, Yara International, United
Phosphorous, Vodafone, SABMiller and others.6
One component is the Scaling Seeds and other Technologies Partnership which will be housed in
AGRA, with resources promised from G8 countries. This initiative promotes the commercialisation,
distribution and adoption of key technologies including improved seed varieties and other
unspecified technologies prioritised by the CGIAR-led technology platform.7 AGRA is therefore an
important component of the broad thrust of increasing investment in and commercialisation of
African agriculture, and integration of African agriculture into global circuits of accumulation.
Many have been taken by what on the face of it, seems to be a good idea: combining resources
and focusing them on a clearly defined set of technological challenges. However, some critics, with
good reason, perceive a hidden agenda behind the humanitarian façade. According to Thompson
(2012:345-6) the core goal of AGRA is not included in its promotional materials: access to African
genetic wealth without benefit sharing, based on free access to genetic materials, with the
offspring privatised for corporate profit. The result is free inputs but outputs sold at monopoly prices
via patenting, producing soaring corporate profits. Thompson defines this theft not as the sharing
6. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=New_Alliance_for_Food_Security_and_Nutrition
7. Government of Canada 2012 “Fact Sheet: G8 Action of Food Security and Nutrition” http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/g8/
summit-sommet/fssa-2012-05-18.aspx?view=d
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of the genetic base through free circulation of these resources, but rather the privatisation of new
varieties without sharing with farmers who played a major part in developing the genetic base.
There is good reason for suspicion. Although AGRAs public face is linked to ‘neutral’ UN and
government missions, it has less visible links to multinational biotech and seed corporations.
For example, AGRA retains two main consultants, David Westphal and Aline Funk. Westphal has
worked his 41 year long career for Cargill and Monsanto,8 including as Monsanto’s Area Co-Director
for Sub-Saharan Africa, Vice Chairman of Sensako Seeds, and Managing Director of Carnia Seeds.9
Westphal works on start-up seed businesses with AGRA. Aline Funk was the CEO of Channel Bio
Corp. registered in the US in Kentland, Indiana. The company is now named Channel Seed, owned by
American Seeds Inc, a Monsanto holding company. It trades in corn, soybean, alfalfa and sorghum
– ‘row crops’ amenable to industrialisation, and also has a focus on GM crops.10 Funk stepped down
as CEO to take up work with AGRA. She has a background in financial markets11 and risk analysis.
Between them the consultants have been paid US$584,000 in three AGRA grants until early 2012.
The Gates Foundation has US$23m in stock in Monsanto (Haeder, 2012), thus giving it a material
interest in boosting the company’s value. Many of the organisations funded by AGRA also receive
separate funds from Monsanto (English, 2010).
5.1 What does AGRA do?
AGRA consists of four focal areas: seed, soil health, market access, and policy and partnership
programmes, with a cross-cutting theme on “innovative financing”.
The first focal area is the breeding, production and distribution of improved seeds through PASS,
which has offices in Accra and Nairobi, and was allotted US$100m in AGRA funding from 2006-2011.
This programme is the focus of this paper and more detail is provided below.
The second focal area is the extension of locally appropriate soil nutrients, and integrated soil and
water management through the SHP, which was allocated US$164.6m in funding from 2007-2013.
There is more detail on this programme below. More recently AGRA is considering ways to integrate
livestock into their work (AGRA, 2010), which is related to soil fertility.
The third area is improved market access through trade and value chain development. This area has
received US$43m for the period 2008-2014. The basic argument is that in some areas surpluses are
produced but access to markets is non-existent, leading to local gluts and collapse in local prices
in season, which acts against farmers adopting yield-improving technologies (AGRA, 2010:20). The
aim is to expand market access for surpluses, built around a commercial orientation of smallholder
farmers, farm storage technologies and intermediate processing technologies. One strategy
is to adopt and expand warehouse receipt systems (WRS) to enable farmers to store products
until the end of the peak harvest season, and borrow against the stored harvest if they require
(AGRA, 2010:21). This will operate privately and be at a cost to the farmer of storage and collateral
management fees.
8. http://sbc.ucdavis.edu/education/Courses/SB101_focusonFieldCrops.html
9. Sensako and Carnia were two of South Africa’s largest grain seed companies, both acquired by Monsanto at the end of the
1990s.
10. http://www.channel.com/Products/Pages/seed_finder.aspx
11. http://www.seedquest.com/forum/roundtable/lessonsfromotherindustries/FunkAline.htm
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AGRAs approach to wholesaling and processing technologies is based on building greater co-
ordination and predictability in government actions in favour of the private sector, and greater
investment in ‘public goods’ (production and marketing infrastructure, including transport
networks). An important part of this, which connects closely to the broader agenda of building
commodity markets in Africa, is opening regional trade networks through lower barriers (Minot et
al., 2007:160). A regional initiative is co-ordinated by the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern
and Southern Africa (ACTESA), which was launched in 2008 by the Common Market for Eastern
and Southern Africa (COMESA). ACTESA acts as an agency to integrate smallholder farmers in
local, regional and international markets. The alliance is funded by the US, UK, EU and Australian
governments together with AGRA.12
AGRAs fourth focus is financing for agriculture. It states that only 2-3% of commercial bank loans
and investments in Africa go to agriculture, even though agriculture’s contribution to Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) is much higher than this almost everywhere in Africa. This indicates under-
investment in African agriculture. Banks see agriculture as a risky investment, especially smallholder
farmers. AGRAs Innovative Finance Program aims to provide loans for smallholder farmers and
agribusinesses, using loan guarantee funds to leverage larger loans from commercial banks (10
times the guarantee amount) (PWC, 2010:9-11). The banks’ risks are lowered through a syndicated
risk-sharing pooled facility (PWC, 2010:14) where risks are shared by a number of participants. The
guarantees allow the banks to reduce requirements for their own funds. A core objective of the
scheme is financial returns for investors, i.e. profit-bearing loans (PWC, 2010:22).
Stanbic (Standard Bank) is leading a consortium of banks and funds, including African-owned banks
and funds in Mozambique, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda to implement AGRAs financial support
strategy. Equity Bank in Kenya and Microfinance Bank in Tanzania are participating in micro-
financing at reduced interest rates (AGRA, 2010:23). AGRAs loan guarantee facility allows the banks
to leverage additional funding.
12. http://www.actesacomesa.org/
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Figure 1: AGRAs ‘breadbasket’ focus areas
Source: AGRA, 2010:11
AGRA has identified a number of geographical focus areas for its work, and has developed an
approach based on agricultural corridors with ‘bankable projects’. Its core ‘breadbasket strategy’
focuses on regions with good soil, adequate rainfall, basic infrastructure and large numbers
of smallholder farmers (Figure 1). These areas are considered ripe for rapid improvements in
agricultural production. Such breadbasket areas have been identified in Mozambique, Tanzania,
Ghana and Mali, and AGRA is also working in other countries to “prepare the ground” for expansion:
Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger in West Africa; Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda in East Africa;
and Zambia and South Africa in southern Africa (AGRA, 2010:11&14).
6. AGRA’s Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS)13
6.1 Problem statement
According to AGRA, African smallholder farmers have limited access to responsive, high-yielding,
locally-adapted varieties of their staple food crops. They primarily have access to low-quality seed
that has been saved and reused, degenerating over the course of decades. “For self-pollinated crops,
13. http://www.agra-alliance.org/section/work/seeds
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farmer selection is effective in the short run but it cannot efficiently make use of non-local genetic
material” (Minot et al., 2007:154). Coupled with poor soils, this means reduced yields. According to
AGRA, although organic and low-external input methods are part of the solution, these AGRA says,
are insufficient on their own, and need to be supplemented with fertiliser and improved seed, which
in turn need institutions and systems to be put in place.
6.2 AGRA’s plan
The core of AGRA’s plan is an “intensive long-term programme of investment in crop improvement
which takes advantage of the full range of approaches now available” (DeVries & Toenniessen,
2001:xvi). DeVries and Toenniessen (2001, xvi) lay out the basic plan for spreading high performing
crops throughout Africa for the purposes of improving food security:
i) Constructing breeding teams within national agricultural research systems (NARS) supported by
IARCs;
ii) Delineating and classifying the agroecologies which merit targeting;
iii) Determining farmer preferences for new varieties;
iv) Employing appropriate parental materials and breeding methods aimed to produce new varieties
within an acceptable time frame;
v) Getting seed to farmers via public and private means.
It is clear that this strategy focuses on building formal (commercial) seed systems. AGRA aims to
increase African capacity to breed, produce and disseminate quality seed of staple food crops such
as maize, rice, cassava, beans, sorghum, millet and other staples. US$150m has been earmarked to
develop seed systems that deliver new crop varieties to smallholder farmers efficiently. Up to the
end of 2010, 41% of total AGRA grants went to PASS, valued at US$84.5m (AGRA, 2010:43). This is
AGRAs biggest programme, followed by the SHP with 22% of grants.
Funds are used for research and policy development too, with a focus on private enterprise. AGRA
plans to develop formal seed systems, with the public sector focusing on breeding and regulatory
issues and private seed suppliers attending to production and marketing (AGRA, 2010:31). According
to AGRA, up to October 2009 the work of PASS across the seed value chain trained over 150 African
crop scientists; funded some 60 crop breeding programs; steered 125 new crop varieties into
the field; provided start-up capital for 35 African seed enterprises which collectively produced
approximately 15,000MT of certified seed; and enlisted 9,200 agro-dealers who have provided
smallholder farmers with US$45 million worth of seed and farm inputs.
PASS has four sub-programmes: Education for African Crop Improvement (EACI), Fund for the
Improvement and Adoption of African Crops (FIAAC), Seed Production for Africa (SEPA), and the
Agro-dealer Development Programme (ADP). EACI and FIAAC focus on developing new locally-
adapted varieties through training scientists (EACI) and farmer participatory crop selection (FIAAC)
to develop and release new varieties. SEPA aims at the multiplication and distribution of new
varieties, including investment funds to fund seed companies. ADP seeks to establish distribution
networks for inputs (especially seed, fertiliser and knowledge).
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6.3 Education for African Crop Improvement (EACI)
EACI concentrates on building the capacity of NARS in the strategic fields of plant breeding and
seed production to develop improved varieties of indigenous and staple crops. The sub-programme’s
targets are:
PhD fellowships for 80 African scientists to investigate the traits of important food crops in their
home countries;
MSc fellowships to 170 aspiring African agronomists and strengthening training curricula in crop
science disciplines in at least 10 African universities;
Short-term training on crop improvement and seed topics to technicians in the public and private
sector.
EACI is built around core institutions in southern and West Africa. In southern Africa the African
Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) pre-existed AGRA
as a unit at the university, and has received US$8.1m from AGRA. The West Africa Centre for Crop
Improvement (WACCI) at the University of
Ghana was founded by AGRA in 2007 when
the programme was launched, and received
a grant of US$4.9m. Cornell University in the
US received a US$1.7m grant from AGRA to
provide academic support to the centres.14
AGRAs promotional materials indicate that
GM is not a major focus at the moment
for 2 reasons: first, according to AGRA,
conventional (hybrid) breeding can produce
short-term benefits at low cost and have been
underfunded in Africa; and second, according
to AGRA, a focus on conventional breeding fits
into existing regulatory frameworks. Nevertheless, AGRA argues that GM has an important role to
play in more developed markets, and aims to get African seed and fertiliser markets to that point
through its current work.
In preparation for this, the Gates Foundation has dedicated significant resources for GM research
outside AGRA (see Appendix 1). Around 49% of Gates Foundation funding to the R&D sub-
programme of its Agricultural Development Programme has gone to projects where there is an
explicit GM research component (Gates Foundation, 2011). The Foundation supports a wide range of
projects. GM is not the only focus, but is nonetheless very significant, and is obviously seen as part
of the longer-term solution to increasing agricultural productivity. In May 2012 AGRA announced a
US$3m grant to the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) in Kenya to advance
the cause of GM crops.15
14. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=AGRA%27s_Programme_for_Africa%27s_Seeds_Systems#Education_for_African_
Crop_Improvement_.28EACI.29
15. The Star 2012 “Kenya to get Sh249m GMO technology boost”, The Star, 6 May http://www.the-star.co.ke/national/
national/74422-grants-to-boost-gm-technology
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Even if AGRA is putting GM based agriculture on the back burner for the time being, it must be
recognised that GM is driving competition in the market, and is forcing others into a technological
race. Conventional breeding and GM based agriculture can operate from the same technical
base. Developing conventional breeding systems simultaneously lays a platform for potential
biotechnology investment. The basic infrastructure is the same. However, AGRA propoments do
not see an assured return on investment with GM, and the development of GM crops takes longer
than generally projected (Minot, et al., 2007:155). Therefore, AGRAs current emphasis is on building
conventional breeding systems: hybrids, and thus agrichemicals, most of which are imported.
6.4 Fund for the Improvement and Adoption
of African Crops (FIAAC)
FIAAC’s objective is to develop and release 1,300 new crop varieties over 10 years (AGRA, n.d.:4).
The aim is to develop locally-adapted varieties with higher yields than existing varieties in specific
agroecological contexts. FIAAC provides support for breeding teams working closely with farmers
to develop new varieties. A decentralised approach to crop improvement is adopted that brings
breeding work closer to farmers, with testing amongst farmers for selection and an emphasis on
agroecological diversity (AGRA, n.d.:4). FIAAC uses breeding stock available through international
channels such as CGIAR, and local landraces. Given their strong pro-IP stance, this raises questions
around ultimate ownership of products emerging from this research, and farmers’ rights to save and
exchange seed using a common genetic pool.
One hundred new varieties have been produced through the programme using conventional
(non-GM) breeding methods, including vegetative crops. The release of new varieties in 2010
surpassed the target by 50% (60 new varieties released compared with a target of 40) although
commercialisation of these varieties lagged behind expectations (30 targeted but only 15 varieties
commercialised) (AGRA, 2010:17). Thus instead of 75% of released varieties being commercialised,
only 25% were. The annual report provided no reasons for this result. It may suggest unanticipated
difficulties in commercialising new varieties. In a press release in July 2012 AGRA indicated it had
released 400 new varieties and commercialised 200 of them.16 However, there is no further detail
provided, and AGRA has not released an Annual Report since 2010, so it is hard to get a real sense of
progress towards these goals or what difficulties AGRA might be facing in realising them.
The strategy relies on the freely available genetic base of locally-adapted germplasm already
existing in Africa either in the NARS or amongst farmers. From the point of view of longer-term
corporate strategies, those who can acquire germplasm already adapted to local conditions have
an advantage over competitors who will have to adapt their technologies to local conditions first
before launching new varieties. Private companies with access to locally-adapted germplasm are
therefore the target for acquisitions, such as Pioneer Hi-Bred’s recent acquisition of Pannar Seed, a
South African company with a large germplasm pool and a big African footprint (Pannar currently
operates in 25 African countries).
Alternatively, multinational seed companies may target the national agricultural research
institutions. These institutions are ripe for capture by those with sufficient resources in the context
16. AGRA 2012 “Visionary African Plant Breeders tackle issue of better and more available seed for farmers”, press release, 31 July
http://www.agra-alliance.org/news-events/news/visionary-african-plant-breeders-tackle-issue-of-better-and-more-available-
seed-for-farmers/
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of privatisation of their functions and the reduction of state expenditure on agricultural R&D over
the past decades in Africa, especially as a result of imposed structural adjustment policies in the
1970s and 1980s. These institutions form the backbone of formal seed systems in most African
countries. Multinational seed companies have formed ‘partnerships’ with these institutions over
the years, which essentially have enabled the seed companies to use the public resource base for
private activities, with free access to germplasm pools and subsidised research infrastructure, while
the commercial benefits have been retained by the private sector (outright private ownership or
exclusive licence), as Thompson (2012) argues.
6.5 Seed Production for Africa (SEPA)
The SEPA sub-programme focuses on the establishment of local seed enterprises to multiply and
distribute seed developed by international and national breeding institutes through private and
public channels. SEPA also promotes the production and distribution of non-commercial crop
varieties, including vegetatively propagated crops. AGRA aims for the establishment of 40 seed
enterprises serving eight million farmers in five years (AGRA, n.d.:6).
SEPA seeks to build seed storage and processing capacity, and to link seed enterprises to public
sector crop variety development programmes to access improved seed. The sub-programme
provides information to companies and non-commercial seed enterprises on improved varieties, and
offers financial support (start-up grants), business development services, and loan and equity fund
facilities.
Two funds have been set up through AGRA to support SEPA. The African Seed Investment Fund in
Uganda is managed by African Agricultural Capital17 (AAC) with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation,
as founding investors. AAC also makes investments in agribusiness in its own name, beyond acting
as a fund for AGRA. Tom Adlam is the managing partner of Pearl Capital Partners Group (registered
in Mauritius) who, via wholly-owned subsidiary PCP Uganda, administers portfolio management
on behalf of AAC”. The board of AAC has representatives from chemical, financial, European farming
and equity investment interests. AGRA contributed US$12m to the fund, which aims to support 30
enterprises over eight years, linked to FIAAC, the crop variety development programme. The focus of
the fund is on East Africa, with funding split between micro-financing and commercial financing.
Funding is in the form of blended debt and equity investments, with Western Seed Company (Kenya)
and Naseco (Uganda) being two beneficiary seed enterprises.
The West Africa Agricultural Investment Fund (domiciled in Mauritius) is managed by Injaro
Agricultural Capital Holdings with offices in Accra and Abidjan. Initial investors are AGRA (US$3m),
Soros Economic Development Fund (SEDF) and the Lundin Foundation. Amongst investments being
made by the two funds are investments in the carbon offset market, which construct ecosystem
services as a tradable business.
SEPA has provided grants of around US$13.5m directly to recipients between 2007 and 2012. The
grants went to enterprises in East Africa (around half), West Africa and then southern Africa (Figure
2 and Appendix 2). Table 1 shows the individual countries receiving the largest share of SEPA grants.
17. http://www.aac.co.ke/web/
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Table 1: Top 5 SEPA grant recipient countries, 2007-2012
Country Grants received (US$’000) % of total grants disbursed
Tanzania 2,389 17.7
Uganda 1,567 11.6
Ghana 1,478 11.0
Mozambique 1,211 9.0
Ethiopia 1,054 7.8
Total 7,699 57.1
Source: AGRA
In East Africa, Tanzania has received the most funding, followed by Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya,
with Rwanda a bit smaller. In West Africa, Ghana is followed a bit further back by Nigeria and Mali.
Ghana received around the same investment as Uganda, the second largest recipient in East Africa.
West Africa has seven recipient countries, compared with five in East Africa, which means expansion
will be more rapid in West Africa and deeper in East Africa.
Figure 2: SEPA grants to public and private sector by region (US$), 2007-2012
Source: AGRA
Figures 2 and 3 show the distribution of SEPA grants between public and private entities in each
region. 71% of SEPA grants overall went to the private sector, with the highest percentage going to
the private sector in West Africa (90% of grants to West Africa by value) (Figure 3). The split was a
bit more even in East Africa although 59% of grants still went to the private sector.
East West Southern
Public 2713 422 734
Private 3856 3639 2120
7000
6000
5000
4000
3000
2000
1000
0
US$’000
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Figure 3: SEPA grants to public and private sector by region (%), 2007-2012
Source: AGRA
The SEPA grants are divided into four categories: private sector, public sector, business training
and policy. There are many projects supporting smaller local organisations, especially private seed
companies for producing, processing and selling seed to smallholder farmers. SEPAs focus is on
hybrid seed, and the method of production is via contracting of smallholder out-growers. Despite
statements about supporting a wide range of local crops, the main crops supported through SEPA
are maize (64% of funds), followed by cassava and groundnuts (Figure 4 and Appendix 3). These
indicate AGRAs priorities.
Figure 4: SEPA grants by crop type, 2007-2012
Source: AGRA
Maize received by far the largest proportion of SEPA grants by value, at US$9.6m from 2007 to 2012
(Figure 4). The majority of funding for maize was to the private sector (78%), where for other crops
more funding went to the public sector. This was notable for cassava as a vegetatively propagated
crop, which means replication and thus profits cannot be captured through seed technologies. A
third of all public sector grants went to cassava.
Maize Cassava Groundnut Other
Public 1019 1281 322 1247
Private 7538 130 538 1409
9000
8000
7000
6000
5000
4000
3000
2000
1000
0
US$’000
East West Southern Total
Public 41.3 10.4 25.7 28.7
Private 58.7 89.6 74.3 71.3
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
%
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Figure 5: Crop type as percentage of total SEPA grants by value, 2007-2012
Source: AGRA
The business training component of SEPA was granted US$2.18m for 20 projects. These grants were
given to service providers to support AGRA-funded seed companies with business management,
seed production, processing and storage. Of this, US$1.44m (two-thirds) went to US consultants.
South Africa has one project, the Dryland Seed Company, which produces and processes seed. The
Seed Management Institute at the University of Nairobi in Kenya was established using a grant of
US$4.5m to facilitate business development of seed enterprises.
6.6 Agro-dealer Development Program (ADP)
The logic of the ADP is to strengthen networks of village-based agro-dealers to distribute seed
developed through AGRAs breeding programmes to remote farmers. It supports the establishment
of entrepreneurs who distribute seed and other agricultural inputs to farmers. There is an aspect of
extension support, with training of agro-dealers on production methods and knowledge of available
products. Business management and technical support on handling, use and storage of inputs is
provided to participants. The ADP creates a distribution infrastructure oriented to the market.
The ADP is a key intervention for AGRA; constructing tangible markets for the product being
created in the R&D and seed commercialisation work. Through the programme AGRA aims to
establish 5,000 agro-dealers by 2017, compared with targets of 300 individuals assisted in the
other programmes (scientists and agronomists, seed enterprises). The target of 100,000 tons
of certified seed sold through agro-dealers in 2010 was surpassed: actual sales of 373,000 tons
were made (AGRA, 2010:17). An early focus was on Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. The US-
based NGO CNFA (formerly Citizen’s Network for Foreign Affairs)18 has received most funds for the
implementation of the ADP. CNFA has a Kenyan affiliate called Agmark which carries out its work
in Kenya. CNFA also receives funds from USAID for similar programmes in other African countries
(ActionAid, 2009:8), and has corporate members including Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred (ACB,
forthcoming). The NGO is basically a private sector development arm.
Maize Cassava Groundnut Other
Public 78.4 1.4 5.6 14.7
Private 26.3 33.1 8.3 32.2
Total 63.5 10.5 6.4 19.7
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
%
18. http://www.cnfa.org/
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Figure 6: Schematic representation of PASS
Supply chain node and programme Implementing agents
7. Seed policy interventions
AGRA has established policy hubs funded to the tune of US$15m in 2009-2012. Its current focus is
on regulatory and legislative change in Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana, Mali and Ethiopia. Its aim is
to promote policies that accelerate the release of proven new varieties, strengthen seed regulatory
systems, eliminate seed trade barriers and harmonize regional seed laws.
A background paper commissioned by AGRA on African seed systems proposed the following:
A regulatory framework with seed laws that at least promote private seed companies;
Fair competition against subsidised state enterprises;
Access to germplasm in national and international stores, with an immediate focus on
multiplication of existing varieties for seed companies, to “streamline approval of new varieties
and to make public germplasm available to private seed companies” (Minot, et al., 2007:157);
Limit the distribution of free or subsidised seed by the public sector or NGOs, with such
distribution only in emergencies (Minot et al., 2007:156), this is presumably to prevent ‘unfair
competition’;
Relax restrictions on imported seed and germplasm;
Seed certification should be either voluntary or based on looser standards to allow a wider range
of types of seed in the market place (Minot et al., 2007:158);
Support the independence of contract growers from the public sector or NGOs;
Training and credit to members of co-ops or farmer associations;
Capital and technical assistance to private seed companies (Minot et al., 2007:157).
It is apparent from this list that the focus is on the development of the private sector and the
limitation of public sector involvement with regard to seed production and distribution, although
not R&D or regulation. AGRA has identified the production and distribution segments of the supply
chain as being conducive to private sector involvement, and it aims to influence policy to promote
the private sector in these nodes. Proposals were made for the deregulation of the approval of new
Education and training
PhDs, MScs, technicians
EACI
African Centre for Crop Improvement (University of KwaZulu Natal)
West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (University of Ghana)
Academic support - Cornell University
Research & development
1,300 new crop varieties
FIAAC
Germplasm – International agricultural research centres and National
agricultural research systems
R&D - public and private sector
Seed multiplication and
storage
Seed enterprises
SEPA
Investment – African Agricultural Capital (AAC) & West Africa
Agricultural Investment Fund
Implementation – seed enterprises with private sector support
Input distribution
Agro-dealer enterprises
and networks
ADP
Private sector including CNFA
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private sector varieties, with company reputation’ the determinant of quality standards (Minot et al.,
2007:158). Initially this would happen for non-staples to learn from the experience, although the size
of the market would surely determine some of the practices, and thus the impact of deregulation
of the approval process would not be the same from crop to crop. Deregulation of quality standards
would include the testing of voluntary certification. AGRA’s background paper on seed systems
favoured a tender process for allocating public sector germplasm to private companies, although
breeding units were not expected to cover their costs with this revenue (Minot et al., 2007:158).
According to the authors, plant variety protection may stimulate some investment but mainly in
profitable crops (hybrid maize, vegetables and industrial crops) (Minot, et al., 2007:159).
Minot et al. (2007) propose permission for trading of seed if approved in the country of origin, but
only if the seed comes from a similar agroecological zone. According to AGRA, harmonising seed
laws regionally can facilitate the exchange of seed across national boundaries. However, it must be
borne in mind that if South Africa and other countries permit the importing and production of GM
seed, these harmonised laws can also enable the rapid spread of GM seed regionally, undermining
biosafety laws put in place by national governments to exclude the dissemination or planting of
GM seed. We are of the view that harmonisation is a strategy to fast-track the implementation of
UPOV9119 in Africa (ACB, forthcoming). This essentially means the tightening of intellectual property
rights on seed and the erosion of farmers’ rights to save and share seed (ACB, 2012).
8. Soil Health Progamme (SHP)
The SHP operates parallel to PASS. The problem is defined as degraded soils in SSA. Farmers use
10 times less fertiliser than elsewhere, with the result that crop yields are 2-5 times lower than
the global average. Three main macro-nutrients are required in the soil for food crops to grow:
nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Other secondary macro-nutrients are also needed,
viz. calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulphur (S) as well as a number of micro-nutrients. These
can be found in a combination of organic sources (manure and plant residues), minerals (P and
K) and N fixed from the atmosphere. In synthetic fertilisers, these are combined using industrial
manufacturing techniques.
AGRAs solution is that greater fertiliser application is a key to increasing yields, stating that 40-60%
of crop yields in the Green Revolution are attributable to commercial fertilisers. AGRA has adopted
Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) as its core approach. This involves the application of
water and nutrients as efficiently as possible to the plant’s roots, maximising soil organic matter
and mulching, and minimising soil disruption. In the latter, SHP promotes a no-till or conservation
farming approach. Organic matter is left on the surface rather than ploughing and discing the soil.
However, it is combined with significant use of manufactured fertilisers. Such techniques are not in
contradiction with the use of GM seed. In fact proponents of GM seed claim increased no-till from
the use of Roundup Ready seed as one of the benefits of the technology (Givens et al., 2009). No
weeds mean no need to till and thus no disturbance of the soil structure.
19. International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties, 1991 version, which reduces farmer’s rights and intensifies
intellectual property protection compared with the 1976 version, to which most developing countries are signatories.
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AGRA proposes that cover crops, legumes and manure are part of improving fertility. According to
AGRA, ‘improved’ fallows are also important, entailing the planting of fast-growing legume trees
to fix nitrogen and provide water and soil retention. However, these practices are not sponsored by
AGRA because of the lengthy time required for results and the need for additional fertiliser inputs.
According to AGRA “purely organic approaches to African soil fertility are not sufficient… and are
not appropriate for poor farmers” (AGRA SHP proposal, 2007:8). Alley & Vanlauwe (2009:27), writing
on ISFM, argue that such approaches require too much land and labour and farmers thus do not
adopt them fully. AGRA argues that “most ‘low input’ methods are also characterised as ‘low-output’
systems”, resulting in low quantity and quality of nutrient provision, producing poor outputs.
Here are some challenges with the use of organic fertilisers at scale: Organic fertilisers are said to
prevent precision in distribution of nutrients or timing of release, leading to inherent variability in
production and yields. This is related to a focus on precision farming, treating each different part
of the farm differently with regard to inputs based on varying physiological conditions. Organic
fertilisers are also said to be very bulky and thus difficult to move around, and may contain
pathogens if not properly produced,
including heavy metals in manures
that may accumulate in the food chain
(Alley & Vanlauwe, 2009:30). Organic
N sources must decompose prior to
nutrient release and therefore must be
applied further in advance of the crop’s
need (Alley & Vanlauwe, 2009:15). It is
our virew that the issues raised here
concern farmer knowledge rather than
an inherent limit of organic N sources.
We also acknowledge the importance
of improving and sharing knowledge
amongst and between farmers about
soil fertility techniques.
AGRA argues that organic soil fertility
techniques have been tried in Africa
but have proven inadequate on
their own in increasing yields sustainably. AGRA says that even if all available organic matter was
efficiently converted into fertiliser, mineral fertilisers and synthetic nitrogen are still required as
a supplement to compensate for leaching, and atmospheric and runoff losses. Some proponents
of organic farming agree on the need for mineral additions to the soil. According to Nancy Bubel
(1973:37), writing for the Rodale Institute (one of the oldest organic farming institutes in the US),
“no plant can grow successfully, attain a ripe maturity, or reproduce its own kind without the
phosphorous and potash found in rock minerals”. Others support this view by stating that balanced
nutrient supply requires supplements depending on the specific nutrient content of the soil (Alley &
Vanlauwe, 2009:22). At the same time, it is conceded that the application of fertiliser alone on poor
soils is not enough to improve agronomic efficiency, and fertiliser is best applied in combination
with organic sources (Alley & Vanlauwe, 2009:25).
AGRA proposes increasing the use of synthetic fertilisers in association with hybrid seeds which
have greater yield potential built into the seed. Alley & Vanlauwe (2009:25) indicate that integrated
plant nutrient management (based on a combination of organic and synthetic fertiliser sources) is
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combined with improved germplasm to fully realise ISFM. Rather than broadcasting fertiliser, the
approach aims at “targeting of fertiliser in space and time” (Alley & Vanlauwe, 2009:25).
The SHP is based on this idea of supplementary inputs. It identifies access to fertilisers as a
constraint and therefore endeavours to build fertiliser supply chains to increase the use of fertilisers
by smallholder farmers in SSA. The aim is to reduce the cost and increase the availability of fertiliser
for smallholder farmers, and develop supply chains for more efficient import and wholesale and
retail distribution of fertilisers based on principles of private sector investment and competition
(Scarpone, 2011:10). The emphasis is on the efficiency of value chains (retail networks, tariffs,
logistics, local blending), and building the efficiency of port operations in particular to facilitate the
import of fertilisers. Some effort may be put into local production of some inputs (e.g. phosphates,
which are in abundance in Africa) and local blending and granulation of imported materials. But the
emphasis is clearly fixed on adapting imported fertilisers away from “niche, over-engineered blends”
for new fertiliser markets in SSA (Scarpone, 2011).
To this end, AGRA established the Africa Fertiliser Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), initially focusing
on Mozambique, Tanzania and Ghana (AGRA, 2010:19). All these countries have access to the
sea and are gateways to other countries: Ghana is a gateway to Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso;
Mozambique is a gateway to Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Malawi; and Tanzania is a
gateway to Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC (Scarpone, 2011:3). Soil Health
Consortia have been established in AGRA focus countries, and were operational in 10 countries by
end of 2010. These build capacity amongst soil specialists and agronomists, and include private seed
and fertiliser companies (AGRA, 2010:19).
Given the reticence of African farmers to purchase fertilisers, AGRA argues that subsidies may be
required to incentivise fertiliser use. AGRA identifies a key role for credit and finance to develop
fertiliser supply chains, and is working with NEPAD, the International Fertiliser Development
Centre (IFDC) and the Agricultural Market Development Trust – Africa (Agmark), the latter which
is registered in South Africa. Part of this is to provide micro-financing for farmers to help them to
access fertilisers.
The SHP aims to assist 4.1 million farm households to increase yields by 50-100% by 2012.20
According to AGRA, in its implementation so far, micro-dosing (at one third of recommended
fertiliser application rates) has increased yields in AGRA sites (AGRA, 2010:19). The programme was
assigned US$164.5m from 2007-2014.21 This can be compared with allocations for the seed work
of about US$150m (not only on grants). Therefore the SHP is actually more significant in terms of
resources than the seed programme. SHP has four sub-programmes: extension, research, training
and education, fertiliser supply, and soil health policy. Slightly more than half of grants had gone to
the extension sub-programme (technical support for the adoption of ISFM by farmers) by the end of
2010 (AGRA, 2010:19).
20. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 2012 “Grant: Soil Health Program for Farm Households in Africa” http://www.gatesfoundation.
org/learning/Pages/grantee-agra-soil-health-program-farms-africa.aspx
21. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 2012 “Grant: Soil Health Program for Farm Households in Africa” http://www.gatesfoundation.
org/learning/Pages/grantee-agra-soil-health-program-farms-africa.aspx
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AGRA has battled to realise its goals in the SHP. Its progress report indicates a slow start but no
indications why this was the case. The 2010 goal was to deliver 112,200 tons of fertiliser to small
farmers, but the programme actually only realised 8,000 tons. AGRA also fell short of the 2010
goal of assisting 2.5 million farmers to adopt ISFM techniques, and the programme only realised
assistance to 120,000 farmers.22
9. Responding to AGRA
9.1 Technological pathways
How can food and seed sovereignty movements respond to AGRA’s initiatives? AGRAs interventions
have technical as well as social dimensions, which are interlinked. AGRA tends to separate the
technical and social aspects, or rather sees social benefit flowing from technological process in a one
way stream. It advances a technical response to issues of agriculture and food production in Africa.
According to Sam Moyo, AGRA seeks to contribute to the ‘modernisation’ of African agriculture,
essentially through transfer of technology as the overarching solution to Africa’s agrarian question
(ActionAid, 2009:4). There is an echo of the first Green Revolution, where increasing productivity
through capital inputs (e.g. seed, fertiliser and irrigation) was regarded as an alternative to land
reform (Morvaridi, 2012:244). The Green Revolution was (and is) capital’s response to the combined
challenges of food supply and social upheaval.
Technically, AGRA presents what appears to be a contradictory process. Aspects of its interventions
may find appeal to some, for example, the development of scientific capacity, building farmer
participation in plant breeding and variety selection, local adaptation for specific agroecologies,
enhancing soil fertility, and building distribution networks for inputs to reach more remote small-
scale farmers. While it is our view that there is a role for science and for appropriate technologies,
but if these are separated from direct producer control over their development and use, they are
open to appropriation for sectional benefit. The ways technologies are developed and how they
are channelled into societies can create a ‘path dependence’, reshaping society through technology
in the interests of those who control the process. The technologies and distribution mechanisms
being pursued by AGRA are undoubtedly open to capture by corporate interests to introduce GM
and other technologies designed to ensure private profit; and to open the conduits to flood Africa
with inappropriate technologies that can tie farmers into unsustainable high-input systems, while
simultaneously destroying existing systems. Even if existing systems are weak, at least control over
seed, production and distribution technologies reside with the producers themselves. Creating
dependence on powerful, debt-driven external input providers is a very bad idea.
These are some of the important questions: can the introduction of technology designed to
facilitate the appropriation of private profit also facilitate the introduction of useful new varieties?
In the long run, would these displace existing varieties? Can improved access to manufactured
fertilisers offer farmers greater choice without them necessarily having to buy into the hybrid seed
paradigm?
22. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 2011 “2011 Progress Report: Soil Health Program for Farm Households in Africa”, http://www.
gatesfoundation.org/learning/pages/2011-progress-report-agra-soil-health-program-farms-africa.aspx
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There are some saving graces: people do not merely passively absorb dominant cultural products,
but reinterpret and adapt them for their own use, thereby changing their meaning and the way
they influence social life (de Certeau, 1984). Once practitioners have access to new knowledge and
farmers have a wider choice of technologies for production, it is not always easy for corporations to
determine precisely how these technologies will be used. In this we should not see the corporations
as all-powerful, even while we must be extremely wary of the concentration of power they do have.
9.2 Farmer organisation
A key struggle will be over ownership and control of technologies, and consequently the direction
of their use. Issues of power loom large here. AGRAs work on building farmer associations will
necessarily be a top-down process with farmer associations umbilically linked to AGRA programmes
and products. These kinds of top-down, dependent civil society associations are structured to serve
as conduits for corporate interest, and it is not always easy to work from inside such structures to
create an independent voice and activity for producers. The clear counter to this is to engage on the
basis of independent organisation, which ideally combines farmers with broader constituencies
around food and seed sovereignty. Part of the struggle around technology is to bring scientists
and academics into the sphere of
influence of independent sovereignty
movements, serving the interests of
farmers and food consumers rather
than corporations.
An associated question is the need
for nascent food and seed sovereignty
movements on the continent to more
clearly define their constituencies.
AGRA does emphasise smallholder
producers, which is not such a big deal,
given that the majority of farmers in
Africa can be defined as smallholders.
However, AGRAs focus is on adoption
of Green Revolution technologies and
commercialisation which will inevitably lead to concentration and centralisation. The majority of
Africa’s farmers will not fit into commercial agricultural production, including the integration into
formal supply chains. There is need for a diverse production base, easy access to locally-adapted
genetic resources, and maintenance of biodiversity; as well as to protect access to land and water for
local and household production.
Not all those who distribute seeds can, or will want to, form a company in order to make private
profits from these activities. By far the majority of farmers will need to continue saving and
exchanging seed outside of formal markets as the basis of robust seed systems. How can this base
be supported, deepened and extended without cherry picking’ a small layer and condemning the
rest to become passive consumers of seed, other inputs and, ultimately, food? AGRA does not refer
to or recognise traditional ecological knowledge (Thompson, 2012:348), including seed saving and
exchange, which forms the foundation of Africa’s seed systems.
Are the two agendas of integration of smallholders into commercial value chains and localised
production primarily for local use compatible? If we look at Africa’s main Green Revolution
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‘success’ (South Africa) we can see that a condition of the expansion of commercial agriculture,
and the adoption of Green Revolution technologies, was the concentration of land holdings
and the marginalisation or complete exclusion of smallholder farmers, and a concentration and
centralisation of agricultural marketing systems. We cannot detach the technological basis of South
African commercial agriculture from the accompanying processes of dispossession. They emerged
hand-in-hand with one another.
AGRA and associated corporate initiatives in African agriculture threaten to split nascent food and
seed sovereignty movements and farmer associations, dividing farmers between those who can
participate in initiatives for commercialisation (not only by AGRA, but also by a range of other state
and private sector actors from CAADP to hedge funds) and those who cannot. Movements in Africa
must acknowledge the accelerated processes of class differentiation that capitalist interventions
will necessarily produce amongst farmers. Movements must quickly sharpen their analysis, together
with farmer associations, on their orientation towards commercial farming and core constituencies.
Are movements geared towards being multi-class alliances, and what does this mean in the
context of some farmers being able to take up the opportunities on offer by these well-resourced
interventions, and some not being able to do so? The history of rural movements is the splitting
off of segments of farmers once they have gained access to land or services for themselves. Do
movements condemn this, do they embrace it, or do they accept that their membership will forever
be unstable in conditions of capitalist competition? The answers to such questions will have a
fundamental impact on strategies and ways of engaging with AGRA and similar initiatives across
the continent and globally. So how might smallholder farmers and their organisations respond
to AGRAs initiatives? Let us take these one by one, in the order of improved seed varieties, input
distribution, soil fertility, and financing.
9.3 Improved seed
AGRA is proposing sustained investment in R&D to develop improved seed varieties, in close
collaboration with farmers to breed and select varieties, and with privately contracted small-scale
farmers to bulk up the seed for sale. It proposes to use the freely available genetic base residing in
the IARCs and NARS, but to privatise the results.
This privatisation must be the first point of contention. If public resources are being used as the
genetic base, the products must also remain freely available to the public. AGRA argues that
private ownership of the resulting improved varieties is the only way of crowding in’ private
sector investment. According to AGRA, states do not have enough resources or expertise to do this
themselves, there is no other option. This logic needs to be pushed back. Movements need to think
about ways to bring scientists and public sector R&D institutions closer to independent farmer
associations and movements to work on R&D in the public rather than private interest. Public sector
institutions may be under pressure to engage in PPPs where the benefits ultimately flow to private
companies. However, there are units and individuals within these institutions that can be worked
with to develop a counter strategy for the retention of improved genetic resources in the public
sphere. The immediate task is to explore these possibilities and build practical links, however small,
between public sector R&D and independent farmer movements and associations.
The second point of contention in the arena of improved seed is to demand greater R&D work on
crops outside the core ‘commercial’ crops (maize, cassava) in conjunction with producers. There
are thousands of other crops and varieties that are locally important, even if they do not reach an
economic threshold that is interesting to multinational corporations. These crops have a consumer
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base, and a market, even if it is small. This base cannot be reached using centralised methods of
production and distribution. By drawing on the distributed intelligence” of millions of farmers
through decentralising and democratising the tools of production and distribution, and connecting
supply and demand (rather than imposing standardised products) these markets can be built
(Anderson, 2009). But this will necessarily be outside the control of the corporations that focus on
the small number of big selling ‘hits’ (e.g. GM maize varieties).
Food sovereignty movements should decide whether biotechnology (excluding GM) in the broad
sense, has a possible role to play in improving genetic resources and increasing farmer choice. If
so, then this must be accompanied by a clear orientation towards agroecological production and
opposition to GM technologies, which threaten to obliterate alternatives on introduction. The key
point, as above, is control over the technology and its development. A good rule of thumb is whether
any development process increases the direct control and understanding of producers over a wider
array of technologies, or whether the process results in greater passivity of producers in the face of
technological change. Ultimately, technological development should be rooted in farmers’ practices
in farmer-based breeding, selection and sharing.
9.4 Seed markets/distribution
For seed distribution, AGRA focuses on agro-dealer networks based on private enterprises where
farmers can buy inputs including seed and fertiliser, and where the owners can inform the farmers
of the best choices for their conditions. Almekinders and Louwaars (2002:25) have shown how on-
farm seed saving and exchange with neighbours are very good sources of planting material, but
have weaknesses when it comes to the introduction of new varieties. It is always useful to widen
the genetic pool wherever possible. Informal distribution systems do extend beyond the boundaries
of immediate neighbours, but access may sometimes be an issue as distance increases and there are
distribution delays.
In theory, an ‘agro-dealer’ network can bring new varieties closer to farmers, but such a distribution
system is reliant on cash and some travel is also usually involved. An additional limitation of agro-
dealer networks is their dependence on the sale of the ‘hit’ seeds for them to remain profitable
as enterprises. The result is a reduction in the range of varieties made available and an inevitable
narrowing of seed diversity. The role of seed laws in preventing the sale or distribution of non-
registered varieties, the cost of registration, and outlawing of the use of germplasm already
developed by rights holders works against locally-developed varieties generated by local farmers.
Strengthening seed distribution infrastructure has a place in improving Africa’s seed systems,
although a key issue is how open the network is, and whether it enables the distribution of any seed
or only that seed produced through AGRAs programmes. Further on the ground research is required
to see in practice what role AGRA-supported seed enterprises are playing, how they affect existing
seed production systems, and the undoubtedly differential effects they may have on farmers’ choice
in selecting seed.
23. Bill Gates has an in-principle belief that private ownership of ‘intellectual property’ and the payment of royalties to property
owners is the only path to innovation, stretching back to his early days as a software programmer (see Markoff, 2005).
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We must also note the power context, and that training of the agro-dealers will be done by
Green Revolution boosters, producing an orientation towards promoting AGRAs Green Revolution
technologies. In this way the private sector replaces high quality public sector extension services
which offer a range of choices beyond those profiting private seed and agri-chemical companies.
This mirrors the private sector capture, not only of R&D but also of extension services, where
private companies train public sector extension officers on the details of their products and the
extension officers become de facto agents for those products. The priority here must therefore
be on strengthening of public sector extension services, based on farmer-to-farmer participatory
approaches with extension officers playing a supportive and process facilitation role.
Almekinders and Louwaars’ (2002) discussion of seed systems suggests the most appropriate seed
distribution systems would be rooted in a combination of on-farm seed saving; with exchange
between neighbours, friends and family both within and outside communities. Rather than building
an entirely separate private agro-dealer network, the question is how existing distribution systems
may be strengthened. This might include the promotion of seed fairs and other organised forms of
seed exchange for variety, local saving and exchange for access to locally-adapted planting material;
and on-farm and community seed banks. Distribution systems of this sort are built on farmer
organisation rather than as separate, profit-driven distribution systems.
9.5 Soil fertility
AGRA recognises that organic and agroecological techniques (e.g. use of legumes for nitrogen fixing,
increasing organic content of soil, mulching, conservation agriculture/minimum or no-till) are an
important component of increasing soil fertility. But AGRA argues this is not enough and judicious
supplementary application of synthetic fertilisers is necessary to increase yields sustainably.
We need to consider what the use of synthetic fertilisers entails.
First, synthetic fertilisers emphasise macro-nutrients (N,P, K) and may underestimate micro-
nutrients, with negative ecological effects. The overuse of nitrogen throws off the chemical
balance of the soil and causes over-acidification. Phosphates lead to the accumulation of
poisonous heavy metals in the soil such as uranium and cadmium, resulting over time in the
sterilisation of the soil. Farmers thus become dependent on feeding nutrients into the soil from
season to season and the soil becomes a dead, inert carrier of these external nutrients rather
than a living system that is able to support plants through its natural fertility.
Second, synthetic fertilisers require cash. AGRA’s expectation is that increased yields will generate
sufficient cash to allow producers to buy these inputs. Whether this is borne out in fact must be
investigated, but we know that the results are uneven in other parts of the world where Green
Revolution technologies have been adopted. The result over time is increasing concentration of
resources and an associated widening of the wealth gap. Cash for inputs may be sourced from
micro-financing schemes that open producers to indebtedness should the technology not work
as planned.
Third, synthetic fertilisers necessitate imports because not all raw materials are found in Africa.
This approach increases farmer dependency on external agents who have concentrated resources
and power.
A priority focus might rather be on improving organic soil fertility practices, including supporting
integrated farming systems (livestock and cropping) to generate on-farm resources to improve
fertility. This agroecological practice ultimately requires support and farmer-to-farmer sharing. If
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external mineral inputs are required, the first step might be to look for local ways of producing the
necessary inputs, rather than immediately building dependency on manufactured imports. This
might be done by building domestic, organic fertiliser production units and making investments in
integrated pest and disease management systems, limiting imported materials. This in turn may
require tariff protection, which runs counter to AGRAs philosophy of lowering tariff barriers and
opening African markets.
Pretty et al. (2006), coming from the food sovereignty angle, have reviewed case studies of
agroecological practice in Africa that show an increase in yields compared with previous practices.
These increases are on a scale that matches Green Revolution technologies, but with longer-term
beneficial social and ecological effects. There is an urgent need to do further work on this question
to look at the possibilities of low-external input agriculture in comparison with Green Revolution
agriculture in practice. This must be looked at holistically, not only focusing on yield, but also on
social, financial and ecological sustainability.
9.6 Holistic approach to agricultural production
Agricultural production might better be conceptualised in terms of cycles instead of chains. A chain
is a linear approach where there is a complete disconnection between input supply and outputs.
In contrast, a cycle is a closed system approach where outputs feed back into inputs. Rhetorically
speaking, AGRA recognises aspects of such ecologically sustainable closed cycles in the form of
increasing organic content in the soil using crop residues and legumes for nitrogen fixing. This
links inputs and outputs. But AGRA combines this with aspects of a linear, chain mentality in the
supplementary use of synthetic fertilisers, which it recognises will continue being imported because
of a lack of raw materials in Africa. Such a system is not a closed cycle because inputs constantly
flow from elsewhere and their negative imprints remain behind after outputs have left the
production system.
AGRA entirely fails to recognise cycles in the circulation of seed. In AGRAs view, seed is a once-
off input that must be purchased anew each season. Its emphasis on private ownership of new
varieties via patents23 ignores centuries of collective improvements of genetic resources by farmers
on the land. It also breaks the natural cycle of on-farm saving and exchange that connects seed
outputs with inputs. Thus on the one end of the chain, seed companies provide inputs, and on the
other end agricultural products emerge with no further connection to agricultural production.
Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA): Laying the Ground for the Commercialisation of African Agriculture 34
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Figures 7a&b: Simple representation of closed nutrient cycles vs. linear input-output systems
Technology is important, but must be developed in conjunction with secure access to natural
resources, water, production infrastructure and appropriate technical support. This requires a
“holistic supply response strategy” (ActionAid, 2009:18). AGRA does not touch on these broader
issues of imbalances in access to natural and other resources, preferring to treat agriculture as a
stand-alone technical system. In contrast, the connection between land access and agricultural
production is very tight in the understanding of most independent farmer associations and
movements on the continent.
Current thinking in AGRA does seem to be shifting in the direction of integrated cropping and
livestock systems. This is a key component of agroecological production, pointing to mixed farming
rather than specialised monocropping. Integrated farming systems, with agroecological techniques,
increase the availability of sources for on-farm fertiliser production (manure, cover crops, crop
rotation etc) that can result in increased yields without reliance on synthetic fertilisers. The quality
of livestock feed has a direct impact on nutrient content of manure, thus affecting both livestock
and plant production (Alley & Vanlauwe, 2009:30). The possibility of AGRA embracing mixed
cropping may produce contradictions in its own logic, since GM based agriculture is suited for large-
scale monocropped farms.
External Inputs
(seed, fertiliser) Production
Waste
Agricultural
Outputs
Soil Depletion,
water pollution
Production
Residues
(crop remains,
seed, manure)
Agricultural
Outputs
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9.7 Finance and credit
Access to finance is important for farmers to increase production, especially if they are producing
commercially. Different types of financing are required: working capital to cover the gap between
production costs and receipt of income; production credit for expansion; and reserves to hedge
against adverse weather and economic conditions. However, it should be recognised that the
provision of financing can result in rapid indebtedness of farmers, especially where not all elements
of a high-output system are in place to ensure adequate income to pay off debts. It is a risky strategy
for most farmers to enter into debt unless they are going to engage in sustained commercial
production with clearly identified markets, and even pre-existing contracts for their products.
Despite AGRAs claims to be targeting the poorest of Africa’s farmers, a commercial financing
strategy will always only target a small elite.
AGRA is offering financing in the form of grants, loans and equity. Grants for production and capital
expansion at least do not tie farmers into debt. Loans are far riskier for farmers. Loans are extractive,
with financiers taking a portion of the surplus for themselves. Africa’s experience with World Bank
loans and subsequent structural adjustment, and continuing repayment of loans more than 30
years after they were originally made should give great pause for thought about accepting loans
at the individual farmer level. Equity does provide an injection of capital but at the cost of loss
of ownership to external agents. When these are hedge funds, the investor’s interest is in short-
term gains rather than long-term commitment to building infrastructure and resources, or the
equitable distribution of these resources. Equity investments can also result in foreign ownership
of enterprises. If we consider the way multinational biotechnology and seed companies have
consolidated ownership in the global commercial seed sector over the past two decades, there is
reason to be extremely cautious about opening the doors to foreign investment that makes it much
easier for multinationals to snap up successful seed enterprises when the timing suits them. With
Monsanto lurking in the wings, and equity funds investing in seed enterprises, this is not an unlikely
scenario for the future. The logic is to build markets, allowing local entrepreneurs to take the risk,
and then buy them up once they prove to be successful. It has the potential to be a strategy for
recolonisation.
10. Conclusion
AGRA is undoubtedly laying the groundwork for the commercialisation of African agriculture
and its selective integration into global circuits of accumulation. Benefits will be unevenly spread
and we should expect accelerated divergences in farmer interests. This will lead to greater class
differentiation and a deepening commodification of African agriculture (subordinating agricultural
products to the imperatives of exchange for the realisation of surplus value, rather than as use
values in their own right).
The shadow of Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and other seed and agrichemical multinationals,
and equity funds lie just behind the scenes of AGRAs show. Building new markets and market
infrastructure for commercial seed in Africa opens the door for future occupation by multinationals,
as they have done with all the major seed companies in South Africa over the past decade and a half
(Sensako, Carnia and now Pannar). The focus on private company development (seed companies,
agro-dealers) for the production and dissemination of proprietary (and even public sector) seed is
a precursor to potential acquisition at a later stage. Dupont-Pioneer has been in a decades-long
relationship with Pannar to the benefit of both, until Dupont decided it was strategically the right
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time to take over. Small enterprises are a breeding ground for the potential extension of circuits of
accumulation. Capitalism is known for ongoing absorption of ‘organically’ developed innovation,
initiative and profitability by larger entities. AGRA and other capitalist interests have identified a
profitable (‘bankable’) investment opportunity in smallholder agriculture in Africa, linked to Green
Revolution technologies. They are now acting on that.
Food and seed sovereignty movements and small-scale farmer associations need not, however, be
passive bystanders or recipients of the results of these strategies. There is room to contest and even
engage, and in doing so to strengthen their own principles and clarity of purpose; possibly to look
beyond a profit-driven, competitive economic system towards an economic and social system based
on co-operation and mutuality.
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Appendix 1: Gates Foundation sponsorship of agricultural R&D with a GM component and an
African focus
Grant recipient Project Amount GM research
African Agricultural
Technology
Foundation (AATF)
Water Efficient Maize for Africa
(WEMA) – drought tolerance US$37.8m Monsanto subcontracted to carry out GM
research
International
Maize and Wheat
Improvement Centre
(CIMMYT)
Improved Maize for African
Soils (IMAS) – nitrogen efficient
maize adapted to nitrogen-
deficient soils
US$17.3m Pioneer subcontracted to carry out GM
research
Cornell University Durable Rust Resistance in
Wheat (DRRW) – East Africa US$51.8m Includes GM research component
Donald Danforth Plant
Science Centre BioCassava Plus – enhanced
levels of beta-carotene, iron
and protein
US$5.2m Includes GM research component. The
Danforth Centre is Monsanto’s ‘in-house’
research foundation
International Food
Policy Research
Institute (IFPRI)
HarvestPlus II and HarvestPlus
Bridge – biofortified staple
crops (developing countries as
a whole)
US$53.9m Includes GM research component
International Institute
of Tropical Agriculture
(IITA)
Cassava Brown Streak Disease
Resistance – national research
institutes in Uganda and
Tanzania
US$2.4m Includes GM research component
Mikocheni Agricultural
Research Institute Cassava Diagnostics Research
Program – mosaic and brown
streak diseases - eastern and
southern African research
institutions
US$1.2m Includes GM research component
National Science
Foundation Basic Research to Enable
Agricultural Development –
SSA
US$24m Includes GM research component
Regents of the
University of
California, Davis
Generation of Wheat Resistant
to Multiple Rust Diseases using
RNAi (developing countries as
a whole)
US$0.3m Includes GM research component
International Potato
Centre Sweet potato Action for
Security and Health in Africa
(SASHA) – weevil resistance
and increased levels of Vitamin
A
US$21.3m Includes GM research component
Source: Gates Foundation, 2011
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Appendix 2: AGRA SEPA grants by country and crop type, 2007-2011
Region/ country Crop type # projects value
(US$’000) #
projects value
(US$’000) # projects value
(US$’000)
Private seed companies Public seed
distribution Total
East Africa Total 22 3,856 15 2,713 37 6,569
Tanzania Total 11 2,001 2 388 13 2,389
Maize 9 1,634 - - 9 1,634
Cassava - - 2 388 2 388
Soybean 1 170 - - 1 170
Pigeon pea 1 197 - - 1 197
Uganda Total 2 359 6 1,208 8 1,567
Maize 2 359 1 154 3 513
Cassava - - 1 173 1 173
Groundnut - - 1 152 1 152
Beans - - 1 156 1 156
Banana - - 1 263 1 263
Seed
certification - - 1 310 1 310
Ethiopia Total 4 711 2 343 6 1,054
Maize 4 711 2 343 6 1,054
Kenya Total 2 313 4 672 6 985
Cassava - - 2 356 2 356
Maize 1 150 - - 1 150
Groundnut 1 163 - - 1 163
Beans - - 1 164 1 164
Sweet potato - - 1 152 1 152
Rwanda Total 3 472 1 102 4 574
Maize 2 350 1 102 3 452
Beans 1 122 - - 1 122
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Region/ country Crop type # projects value
(US$’000) #
projects value
(US$’000) # projects value
(US$’000)
Private seed companies Public seed
distribution Total
West Africa Total 26 3,639 4 422 30 4,061
Ghana Total 10 1,478 - - 10 1,478
Maize 8 1,198 - - 8 1,198
Groundnut 1 150 - - 1 150
Cassava 1 130 - - 1 130
Nigeria Total 5 770 1 150 6 920
Maize 4 620 1 150 5 770
Sesame 1 150 - - 1 150
Mali Total 3 498 1 126 4 624
Maize 2 348 - - 2 348
Groundnut 1 150 - - 1 150
Sorghum - - 1 126 1 126
Niger Total 3 392 - - 3 392
Millet 2 262 - - 2 262
Rice 1 130 - - 1 130
Burkina Faso Total 2 281 - - 2 281
Maize 2 281 - - 2 281
Sierra Leone Total 2 150 1 76 3 226
Maize 1 75 - - 1 75
Groundnut 1 75 - - 1 75
Rice - - 1 76 1 76
Liberia Total 1 70 1 70 2 140
Maize - - 1 70 1 70
Rice 1 70 - - 1 70
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Region/ country Crop type # projects value
(US$’000) #
projects value
(US$’000) # projects value
(US$’000)
Private seed companies Public seed
distribution Total
Southern Africa Total 13 2,120 4 734 17 2,854
Mozambique Total 6 984 1 227 6 1,211
Maize 6 984 - - 6 984
Cassava - - 1 227 1 227
Zambia Total 3 535 2 200 6 735
Maize 2 377 1 200 3 577
Cow pea 1 158 - - 1 158
Malawi Total 4 601 1 307 5 908
Maize 3 451 - - 3 451
Soybean 1 150 - - 1 150
Cassava - - 1 137 1 137
Groundnut - - 1 170 1 170
Source: AGRA
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Appendix 3: AGRA SEPA grants by crop type
Crop type Region # projects value (US$) # projects value (US$) # projects value (US$)
Private seed
companies Public seed
distribution Total
Maize Total 46 7,538 7 1,019 53 8,557
West Africa 17 2,522 2 220 19 2,742
East Africa 18 3,204 4 599 22 3,803
Southern
Africa 11 1,812 1 200 12 2,012
Cassava Total 1 130 7 1,281 8 1,411
West Africa 1 130 - - 1 130
East Africa - - 5 917 5 917
Southern
Africa - - 2 364 2 364
Groundnut Total 4 538 2 322 6 860
West Africa 3 375 - - 3 375
East Africa 1 163 1 152 2 315
Southern
Africa - - 1 170 1 170
Other Total 10 1,409 7 1,247 17 2,656
West Africa 5 612 2 202 7 814
East Africa 3 489 5 1,045 8 1,534
Southern
Africa 2 308 - - 2 308
Source: AGRA
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