Kofi Annan is a respected personality.So when he decided to chair the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), it was expected to draw the attention of the African leadership to bring back the focus on agriculture and food security. Sitting far away in India, the original seat of Green Revolution, I watched with interest the pathway AGRA was taking to ensure food security for all.
Green Revolution has become synonymous with food production. The moment you say there is a need to increase production, the chances are that two of the three people you meet would point to Green Revolution as the way forward. Nothing wrong, you would say. In a way I agree. In my understanding, Green Revolution is only indicative of the importance that needs to be accorded to agriculture, but it should not entail going the same route that India had followed.
Indian agriculture is in terrible crisis, a direct fallout of the Green Revolution technology and the accompanying policies. Over 200,000 farmers have taken their own lives, often drinking the pesticides they had brought for killing insects. Another 40 per cent of the Indian farmers (of the 600 million farming population) want to quit agriculture if given a choice. Productivity is on the decline, environment has been contaminated by chemicals, insect equilibrium has been distorted, water table has gone down drastically, organic matter in soils has disappeared, and farm incomes have dropped. In short, the natural resource base has been destroyed beyond recognition. The only gainers are the companies supplying chemical inputs and machines. Their profits continue to soar.
I don't think African leaders would like to bring in an unforeseen disaster in the name of food security. But I guess they are so indebted to the international financial institutions that even if they feel that all is not well, they have little choice but to accept the approach being suggested.
Take a look at the recommendations of the 'concrete outcomes' emerging from the latest meeting of the African Green Revolution Forum that ended at Accra/Ghana in the first week of September. While it may appear to be all pious intention, but to a discerning eye it become obvious that the real motive is to push unwanted technology and finance/capital to Africa. This will sustain the economies of US/Europe already reeling under recession. In a way, AGRA is basically intended to bailout the multinational companies dealing with seed/technology and agribusiness.
In a press release (Sept 7, 2010), the organisers said: the moderators of breakout panel sessions published a series of concrete outcomes, including:
· Empowerment of women throughout the agricultural value chain by accelerating access to improved technology, finance and markets
· Support for an Impact Investment Fund for African Agriculture to scale up access to finance by farmers and agribusinesses
· Increased investment for science, technology and research for food nutrition security
· Accelerated access to improved seed by promoting the entire value chain, including support for plant breeding, seed companies and seed distribution systems
· Improved fertilizer supply systems and more efficient fertilizer value chains
· More inclusive business models linking agri-business, commercial farms and smallholder farmers
· The need for better management of Africa’s water and natural resources
· Acknowledgement that mixed crop livestock systems are the backbone for Africa’s agriculture
While all this may appear fine, I think even in India there was no need for a Green Revolution. My argument is that when India imported the dwarf high-yielding wheat varieties from CIMMYT/Mexico, it knew that varieties alone would not be able to deliver. What came as a package were two important planks of a policy initiative that I call it as 'famine-avoidance' strategies. To ensure that farmers get an incentive to continue farming the same crop, the government set up a mechanism to provide assured prices which became better known as procurement prices. At the same time, it set up a Food Corporation of India (FCI) to mop up the surplus grain that flows into the markets.
Without these two planks, there would have been no Green Revolution.
Just think. If these two strategies were in place prior to the introduction of Green Revolution technology, farmers would have got the necessary support to increase crop production. Crop production did not pick up prior to Green revolution period because there was no assured prices and no assured market.
What is not being realised that the production of wheat and rice (the two most important staples) went up not only because of the high-yielding varieties but because the policy makers had put together the two-planks of the 'famine-avoidance' strategy. Assured prices through the instrument of Minimum Support Price (MSP) became an attraction for the farmer who would normally be squeezed out by the trade at the time of the harvest. At the same time, the government set up a procurement system which ensured that whatever flows into the mandis (and is not purchased by the private trade) would be bought by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and other government agencies.
This means that farmers got an assured price and an assured market. They knew that their efforts would not go abegging. And no wonder, production of mainly four crops -- wheat, rice, sugarcane and cotton -- has gone up. These are the only four crops where the market is assured, whether through the FCI purchase or by the sugar companies etc., and production of these crops has been on the rise.
Africa actually needs to put these two food security planks into place. It has to be backed by a sustainable farming system (among some of the wonderful initiatives are: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47528), which have been demonstrated in several parts of Africa, and provide an assured price and an assured market. Farmers would do the rest. Otherwise, Africa is likely to be destroyed beyond recognition with the kind of 2nd Green Revolution that is being pushed aggressively, and you know by whom.
Kofi Annan is a wise man. I am sure he will have the courage to stand up, and demonstrate that Africa has a viable and sustainable future. Africa needs SAGRA -- Sustainable Agriculture for Africa, and not AGRA.