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African Green Revolution Forum 2013: Good examples and policies within a bad model

About 200 business people, representatives of governments, development agencies, NGO’s and three (!?) representatives of farmers’ organizations  were gathered in Maputo, Mozambique September 4-6th  for the African Green Revolution Forum 2013.

The overall theme for the forum was ‘scaling up and financing inclusive agribusiness through transformative public-private partnerships’.  
 
The three days of the forum were filled with interesting round tables, group discussions and presentations of case studies.
 
 
Some of the issues for these sessions were:
 
  • What new forms of public and private investments could be generated to transform the productivity and sustainability of smallscale farmers for the next decade?
  • Transforming Africa’s agriculture through inclusive and innovative partnerships.
  • Inclusive business models that promote value and effective market access by small-scale farmers.
  • Innovative financing models for stimulating growth.
There were a lot to learn from the sessions and case studies. You will find useful material at http://www.agrf.com and http://www.agra.org 

The role of farmers’ organizations
Many of the speakers underlined the importance of strong farmers’ organizations.  The main message from one of the group discussions was very clear:  the most important for improving agriculture in Africa is to strengthen the organizations of smallscale farmers and their cooperatives.
The smallscale farmers were in the focus for the whole Forum.  If someone had counted how many time small scale farmers had been mentioned at the first African Green Revolution Conference in 2006 and at this conference seven years later, the percentage of increase had been in the thousands.
But, the national farmers’ organization in Mozambique, UNAC, which organize the small-scale farmers in the country where the conference took place, had not been invited to take part. Only three representatives from farmer organizations took part in the conference as far as I found out; from East African Farmers Federation (EAFF), Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) and the National Association of Small-scale Farmers in Malawi (NASFAM).  

What kind of agriculture?
Despite all the good presentations and case studies, the Forum failed to address the most important issue for African agriculture: what kind of agriculture should be promoted; agriculture based on monocultures with high levels of chemical inputs, patented seeds and GMO’s or a diversified and sustainable agriculture based on local resources – an agroecological agriculture? See more on Agricultural Transition website.
The lack of such discussions is not a mistake. The role of the Forum is to promote and push forward a green revolution in Africa based on chemical inputs, improved seeds and irrigation. No questions are raised about this model, and no examples of successful organic or agroecological farming have been presented at these African Green Revolution conferences and fora as far as I know – and I have attended all of them since it started in Oslo, Norway in 2006. 
There has, however, been a shift in the talks at these conferences. A few years ago the three most important issues to improve African agriculture were: more chemical fertilizer, more chemical fertilizer and more chemical fertilizer. Now it’s not often mentioned.  As one participant put it: “There is no need to talk about pushing more fertilizer.  Everyone knows that’s what we mean is the most important when we talk about increasing the agricultural production in Africa.”  The goal from the African Fertilizer Summit in 2006 to increase the use of fertilizer to at least 50 kg/ha  in 2015 – from the current 8-10 kg/ha is in reality a part of the platform.

Strong influence from Yara
The Forum in Maputo was the third African Green Revolution Forum held in Africa. The first was in Ghana in 2010, the second was in Tanzania in 2012. But it all started far from Africa. In the 1990s the Rockefeller Foundation ”increasingly looked for ways to cultivate a Green Revolution for Africa.” (Food &Prosperity  - Balancing Technology and Community in Agriculture. The Rockefeller Foundation. 2013 – launched at the forum in Maputo).
In 2006 the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was founded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The same year the first African Green Revolution Conference took place in Oslo, Norway, organized by Yara, the Norwegian fertilizer company which now is the largest fertilizer company in the world.  The Conference was held in Oslo each year until 2009, and was popular just call it “the Yara Conference” despite the official name. 

Many people questioned why conferences on African agriculture were held in Oslo, not in Africa, and on the fact that Yara organized them. So in 2010 they were moved to Africa and called Forum instead of Conference, and were co-organized by Yara and AGRA . 
Yara still has a huge influence on the Forum. The CEO of Yara is the co-chair of the African Green Revolution Forum together with the president of AGRA, and other representatives from the company play an important role in the forum. The Yara Prize ceremony is also taking place during the forum. In addition, a former vice-president of Yara is the CEO for Grow Africa  – an initiative of the World Economic Forum and multinational companies working with agriculture. Through this initiative companies and institutions have already promised to invest 5 billion USD in African Agriculture in the coming years!

The way forward
The next African Green Revolution Forum will take place in Addis Ababa in September 2014 but the forum will no longer only be a conference once a year. Working groups and internet debates will now be established. Also people who disagree with the concept of a green revolution for Africa should try to engage in these discussions and come to the Forum next year. There are many nice and well-meaning people taking part in the Forum, a lot of experiences to learn from, several people and companies with access to money for agriculture and a variety of discussions were other voices are needed. Some of the people and companies attending these conferences want to play in the same team as us who work for agroecological agriculture and for more power to the peasants, some don’t see any contradiction between what they do and what we do, and some will be our enemies. We should all engage in open dialogues!

by Aksel Naerstad
*Senior policy adviser in the Development Fund, Norway
International co-coordinator of the More and Better Network 
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