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Green revolution in Africa, what is the reality?

The African Green Revolution Forum took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia September 1-4th.
Aksel Naerstad, International co-coordinator of the More and Better Network, was one of the about 1000 participants. A lot has changed - he says - since the first African Green Revolution Conference in Oslo in 2006, organized by the world largest fertilizer company,Yara. A key question is: are the changes only rhetoric or also in reality?”
Green revolution in Africa – what is the reality?
The big push for a green revolution in Africa started in 2006. That year the heads of states in Africa, international companies and representatives from different institutions  met in Abuja, in Nigeria, for the Africa  Fertilizer Summit where they agreed on a goal to increase the use of chemical fertilizer in Africa with at least 500% by 2015. The same year the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was established by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while the first African Green Revolution Conference took place in Oslo, Norway, organized by Yara, the world largest fertilizer company. The Conference took place in Oslo in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In 2010 it was moved to Africa, organized by AGRA, Yara and others  and renamed ‘forum’ instead of ‘conference’. 
My impression from the fist Conferences in Oslo is that the organizers thought that three things were important to improve agriculture and food production in Africa: more fertilizer, more fertilizer and more fertilizer. I cannot remember that small scale farmers and women were mentioned very much. Now, eight years later, the Forum really focus on small scale farmers and women, and chemical fertilizers are not mentioned so often.  

The African Green Revolution Forum  2014  stated that it “seeks to deliver the objective of the AU Year of Agriculture and Food Security namely broad-based and inclusive consultations, and dialogue among Parliamentarians, women groups, youth groups, farmers organisations, CSOs, private sector on agriculture and food and nutrition security.”

AGRA states that its mission is “to fulfill the vision that Africa can feed itself and the world. Investing in agriculture through stronger partnerships is the surest path to reducing poverty and hunger in Africa.” 
The need for agriculture to be really sustainable on long term was a key point in most of the speeches and written material presented at the African Green Revolution Forum  2014. Intercropping, efficient use of water, use of organic fertilizer or a mix of organic and chemical were key points for many of the speakers. And small scale farmers and women were really highlighted all the time. There were also more representatives from farmers organizations at this Conference than in previous editions, although the majority of the participants were still representatives from institutions and companies.
Which way forward?
The green revolution in Asia in the 1960ies increased the production of rice and grains, but now 50 years later we also see that it leads to: depletion of soil, erosion of biodiversity, overuse of water, widening of social differences and economic disaster for many farmers. 200 000 farmers in India have committed suicide.  And the green revolution did not eradicate hunger. There are still about 200 million people in India suffering from hunger. 

The initiatives for the green revolution in Africa started without recognizing the disastrous effects of the first green revolution. On the contrary, it followed in its footsteps. A lot has changed, but has it changed in reality or is it just rhetoric?  There is a need for reports and investigations on what is happening on the ground and  what is AGRA supporting and promoting. I encourage everybody to contribute. 

Aksel Naerstad
International co-organizer of the More and Better Network