Gates and Rockefeller Foundations to fund African Green Revolution

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation are launching a new program Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) designed to fund a new Green Revolution for Africa.  Seperately, but with similar goals, George Soros is donating $50 million to pay for fertilizers, seeds, classrooms in Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium Promise project.The original Green Revolution helped greatly increase farm yields in Asia and Latin America., but in never succeeded in Africa. The Green Revolution’s increase in crop yields greatly increased human wellbeing, but also had major negative environmental impacts and often failed to benefit poorer farmers.

Hopefully this Green Revolution will follow the advice of the former president of the Rockefeller Foundation, the applied ecologist Gordon Conway. His 1997 book The Doubly Green Revolution: Food for All in the 21st Century argued that a new increase in crop yields are needed, but unlike the first revolution this new revolution must work with rather than against local ecosystems (see previous posts on low input agriculture, Ecological synergisms in agriculture, and benefits of multifunctional agriculture).

On the Rockefeller Foundation website the foundations state that the first program that AGRA will support the Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) that will work to increase the availability and variety of high yielding crop seeds. These activities sounds reasonable, but there is currently no agro-ecological aspect to the program. Specifically they propose to:

Develop improved varieties of African crops
African agricultural environments are highly diverse with significant differences in local pests, diseases, rainfall patterns, soil properties and the desired attributes demanded by local small farm communities. PASS will fund around 40 national breeding programs a year that will use local participatory crop breeding to address these barriers and providemore robust, higher-yielding crops for small farmers. PASS will invest $43 million with a five-year goal of developing 100 new and improved crop varieties suitable for the ecologically varied agricultural environments in Africa.

Train new generation of African crop scientists
Accelerating a new Green Revolution for Africa is a multi-layered challenge. While it starts with improved crop varieties at the most fundamental level, it also requires the development of new generations of trained African agricultural scientists. That is why PASS will invest $20 million to provide graduate level training in African universities forthe next generation of African crop breeders and agricultural scientists upon which the seed system depends for growth and productivity.

Ensure improved seeds reach smallholder farmers
Africa has the lowest levels of improved seed utilization of any region in the world, mostly because such seeds are not physically or financially available to the majorityfarmers. The poor state of rural transportation infrastructure, a lack of effective points ofseed delivery to small farmers, and inadequate access to financial services all contributeto low utilization and inadequate agricultural productivity. PASS will invest $24 million to ensure that improved crop varieties are produced and distributed through private and public channels (including seed companies, public community seed systems and publiextension) so farmers can adopt these varieties.

Develop a network of African agro-dealers
Another challenge particular to Africa is the lack of a robust market for bringing new products to farmers. PASS hopes to address this by providing training, capital and credit to establish at least 10,000 small agro-dealers [village retailers who sell seeds, fertilizer and farm tools] who can serve as conduits of seeds, fertilizers, chemicals and knowledge to smallholder farmers, and in doing so help increase their productivity and incomes. This will be a $37 million investment.

Monitor, evaluate and manage
A new organization, based in Nairobi, Kenya will be created to ensure learning takes place and projects are well managed. The organization will conduct monitoring and evaluation of PASS projects, oversee sub-granting and implementation of all PASS activities and carry out financial management activities. A total of $26 million will be allocated for these activities.

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