26 August 2009

Africa: The Continent's Alliance for a Green Revolution a Hoax


Kampala — THE term "Green Revolution" was coined in 1968 by then director of the United States Agency for International Development. He coined it to describe the so-called success in India and South East Asia, of an agriculture model that increased crop production in wheat, maize and rice.

The model comprised a package of inorganic fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides, laboratory development, hybrid seeds, mechanisation and extensive irrigation projects.

This Asian Green Revolution is celebrated by its proponents as having brought sufficient and affordable food to the poor. What with the total food available per person in the world rising by 11% and the estimated number of hungry people falling from 942 million to 786 million, a 16% drop?

However, if China, where the number of hungry people dropped from 406 million to 189 million is eliminated from the equation, the number of hungry people in the rest of the world actually increased by more than 11% from 536 million to 597 million. In South Asia, there was 9% more food per person by 1990, but there were also 9% more hungry people.

The success, the chest-thumping Rockefeller Foundation, was and is still celebrating, therefore, was not theirs because there were two revolutions taking place at the same time, the successful one being the Chinese.

Despite the claims of increased food production, widespread hunger still persists in countries such as India that have food surplus for significant export.

With the Green Revolution people have argued, lamely, that increase in population will not increase the number of hungry people in the world.

Let us face it, the expensive package of inorganic fertilisers, improved seeds and pesticides favoured a minority of economically privileged farmers. However, it dispossessed the majority small-holder farmers who had acquired loans to keep in step with the revolution, but had to sell off their land to repay their loans. The farmers were rendered destitute in the end. Those with too much pride to beg opted for suicide, as reported in The New York Times in October 2006, and those without, migrated to towns to live on streets.

In September, 2006, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations teamed up to form the "Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa" (AGRA). After forming the alliance they declared it was Africa's turn to benefit from the Green Revolution.

However, todate Africa has not benefited from the Green Revolution alliance.

First and foremost, it is a well known fact that Bill Gates has substantial private investments in genetic engineering. Together with powerful transnational corporations such as YARA Foundation; MONSANTO Corporation; SYNGENTA; their antennae have picked the signals that organic products rule in the developed North.

They are now desperately attempting to shift their markets to the weak economies in the South such as Africa. Even the blind can see the well-calculated move to take control of and make profit from every step of the African small holder production process.

Secondly, organic agricultural produce is attracting premium prices and can lead to tremendous transformation in the economies of African countries.

The International Trade Centre has projected that by 2010 the organic agriculture market could reach $46 billion in Europe, $45b in the US and $11b in Japan.

Africa, with her soils largely uncontaminated by chemicals, is poised to reap big and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa do not want that to happen.

Another target of the proponents of AGRA is the African safety net of an abundance of crop varieties and the wisdom to intercrop several varieties on one piece of land so that an attack of pests and diseases will not wipe out an entire harvest.

With the mono-culture type of farming and Africa's multitude of crop varieties narrowed down to a few developed in the lab, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is exposing poor people to the possibility of 100% crop failure in a single season in the event of an attack of pests and diseases.

It happened in the US in the 1970s when leaf blight ( a bacterial disease) caused a 15% loss of the high yielding corn hybrids.

That is of course, not to mention the repeated attack of diseases like fusarium oxysporum and yellow sigatoka on banana plantations in Costa Rica.

Furthermore, the Green Revolution packages require heavy irrigation, yet there are already reports of declining water levels in Lake Victoria thanks to climate change. Digging boreholes to access water for irrigation will definitely exacerbate the draw down irreversibly.

AGRA's strategy called "There Is no Alternative" might be well-meaning, but erroneously conceived. Food sovereignty is the more prudent strategy and not corporate dependency.

The writer is the executive director of Support for Women inâ-àAgriculture and the Environment

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