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In response to AGRA’s brief official response to the study, “False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA),” IATP rejects the attack on senior advisor Timothy A. Wise’s research and publishes below his detailed response. “Tim is a thorough and conscientious researcher who has published dozens of important studies taking a critical look at business as usual approaches to agriculture,” said Interim Co-Executive Director Karen Hansen-Kuhn. “In this paper, as in those others, he uses sound methodologies and talks to the people most affected by solutions dreamed up elsewhere. This paper adds to the overwhelming evidence for agroecological approaches to food production and rural livelihoods. AGRA, and the donor community, should take a deep breath and learn from that analysis rather than attack the messenger.”

Response by Timothy A. Wise, Senior Advisor, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and Research Fellow at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute

As the lead researcher for the report, “False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA),” I would like to clarify several points regarding AGRA’s brief official response to the study. That statement, and subsequent comments in the media by AGRA’s Andrew Cox, fail to respond to the content of the report, which found little evidence that AGRA and related Green Revolution initiatives were significantly improving productivity, incomes or food security. I would ask AGRA to offer evidence that our findings are incorrect. Anecdotal statements about individual farmers benefiting is not an adequate response. AGRA should present its own evidence of the number of smallholder beneficiaries reached, directly and indirectly, and the impact of AGRA's interventions on crop productivity, incomes and food security.

I would also correct the record regarding AGRA’s characterizations of the research and the report:

  1. AGRA in its statement singled me out for criticism, stating that “Mr. Wise has a history of writing unfounded allegations and uncorroborated reports about AGRA and its work.” I stand by the research and reject the charge that I or the other researchers were biased in our approach. The methodology is explained clearly in the report and in my background paper. We used national-level data for AGRA countries because AGRA refused to provide data on its beneficiaries. AGRA’s goal of reaching 30 million smallholder households means that their target audience represents the vast majority of farming households in their focus countries. Progress would be reflected in national-level data. The data itself is from FAO and the World Bank.
  2. The allegation that I did not contact AGRA during this research is false. I contacted AGRA repeatedly when I began the work. I received an initial commitment from Communications Director Waiganjo Njoroge to provide AGRA’s own data on progress. His last communication on February 18, 2020 said, “I aim to share the information with you by end of the week.” The data never came, and AGRA stopped responding to my requests. (Documentation of that correspondence is available on request.)
  3. I am appalled that AGRA, in its response, ignored the range of groups that published this study, inaccurately attributing it to one (INKOTA). In the process, AGRA ignored the five African organizations that participated in the research.
  4. My role was to contribute background research and collaborate in adapting that research accurately for the “False Promises” report. In that role I did not carry out in-country case study research, as AGRA seems to assume. Those African organizations carried out the case study research in Kenya, Mali, Zambia and Tanzania.

African farmers deserve a substantive response from AGRA to the findings in the report. So do U.S. taxpayers, whose taxes have provided an estimated $90 million for AGRA since 2006. The statement by AGRA’s Andrew Cox that the organization is increasing its investment in public relations suggests that AGRA is more interested in burnishing its image than it is in effectively helping smallholder farmers in Africa.

The key outstanding questions are:

  1. How many farmers have benefited directly from AGRA’s interventions? The stated goal is 9 million. How many have benefited indirectly? The goal is 21 million.
  2. The stated goal is to double productivity and incomes for these farmers while cutting food insecurity in half by 2020.
    1. What evidence is there that productivity has increased?
    2. What evidence shows that such productivity increases have increased farmer incomes significantly?
    3. What evidence is there that food insecurity has been reduced?
  3. When asked if AGRA had stepped back from its goals, since they had been removed from the organization’s website (see page taken down in June), AGRA’s Andrew Cox indicated that AGRA’s thinking on farmer incomes has “moved to being more context specific and related to what we can influence directly.” What are AGRA’s goals now for improving productivity, incomes and food security, and for how many farmers?
  4. Can AGRA provide the public with evaluations that have been done of the group’s interventions? The 2019 Annual Report, to which Cox and the Gates Foundation referred people, contains no comprehensive information on impacts on productivity, incomes or food security.
  5. Cox stresses that the intended beneficiaries are women. What evidence is there that they are the ones benefiting? Our research suggests the beneficiaries are overwhelmingly male farmers who are already well-established commercial farmers.