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The following article was originally published by Nation on September 8, 2022. 

On September 8, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) unveiled the organisation’s new five-year strategy to a friendly crowd at its annual Green Revolution Forum.

The long-awaited plan promises to demonstrate AGRA’s “catalytic power” to “lay the foundation for a sustainable food systems-led inclusive agricultural transformation.”

A more skeptical group of African civil society and faith leaders are looking for more than lofty development jargon. A week earlier, they held a virtual press conference to reiterate long-standing demands that AGRA’s donors cease funding the 17-year-old initiative saying it has failed to catalyse a productivity revolution with its heavily subsidised package of commercial seeds and fertilisers.

Now, with famine looming in East Africa and climate change and high fertiliser prices wreaking havoc with farmers who bought into the Green Revolution’s promises, these community leaders argue it is time to change course with policies that decrease Africa’s dependence on synthetic fertilisers in favour of ecological farming.

Judging by the contents of the new strategy, dressed up in a new logo and branding, they will not get what they wished for. The plan, which maps out work from 2023 to 2027, is largely a continuation of the programs and initiatives they objected to.

“Faith leaders demand not a rebranding of AGRA, but an end to funding for harmful Green Revolution programmes,” warned Gabriel Manyangadze of the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute at the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s press conference.

“AGRA is just putting new labels on the failed policies of the past,” said Anne Maina, who in March urged US Congresspeople to cut US funding for AGRA. “They say ‘This is our time,’ but after 17 years and one billion dollars, we say: AGRA’s time is up! Donors should pull the plug on AGRA.”

I have followed the controversy over AGRA closely since I published my own academic assessment two years ago. I found that 14 years of data showed that despite $1 billion in funding AGRA had produced meagre productivity gains, and only for a few supported crops like maize and rice. Many traditional crops had seen declines, with millet production falling by nearly one-quarter. Incomes from crop sales had not materialised, and rural poverty remained endemic. Worst of all, the number of severely undernourished in AGRA’s 13 focus countries had not fallen by half as donors had promised, it had increased by 31 per cent.

Earlier this year a donor-commissioned evaluation confirmed many of these poor farmer outcomes. Evaluators also found poor monitoring systems to track progress, and they noted that the farmers who benefited were mostly wealthier men, not the smallholder women the programme was most intended to help.

AGRA delayed the release of its new strategy for a year, so there was some hope the shortcomings would be addressed. According to my analysis of the strategy, they were not, at least not in any way that will ensure better farmer outcomes.

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