Launched in 2006 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation upon an initiative by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is an Africa-based and -led organization that seeks to transform African agriculture from a subsistence model to strong businesses that improve the livelihoods of the continent’s farming households. It works within the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP), Africa’s policy framework for agricultural transformation, wealth creation, food security and nutrition, economic growth and prosperity.[1]

Actors from different organizations and backgrounds have analyzed the outcome of AGRA’s action, however this piece of article focuses on a study by Tufts University (Boston USA)[2]. Researchers have assessed whether the Green Revolution programs are significantly raising productivity. They used national-level data from the 13 AGRA main target countries on production, yield, and area harvested for most of the region’s important food crops.  They also examined data on poverty and hunger to determine whether the incomes of small scale food producers did in fact significantly improve, as well as the state of hunger across the region. Furthermore, four case studies were commissioned to research AGRA’s impact in Mali, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia to get more nuanced analysis for single countries to show how AGRA is influencing policies, practices, and productivity.[3] Tufts researchers found little evidence of significant increases in productivity, income, or food security for people in the 13 AGRA main target countries. The main findings are:

– Little evidence of significant increases in the incomes or food security of small-scale food producers. On the contrary, in countries in which AGRA operates, there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of people suffering hunger, a condition affecting 130 million people in the 13 AGRA focus countries;

– Little evidence that productivity has increased by any significant amount. For staple crops as a whole, yields only rose by 18 percent on average in AGRA countries in twelve years compared to 17 percent in the same period before AGRA. This is an average annual growth rate of 1.5 percent which is similar to the time before AGRA. Moreover, the productivity growth declined in eight out of 13 AGRA countries, in three countries, the figures have even shifted from positive to negative under AGRA. This is casting doubt about AGRA as a factor for productivity growth. Even maize, heavily promoted by Green Revolution programs, showed just 29 percent yield growth, well short of AGRA’s goal of 100 percent;

– Minimal reduction in rural poverty or hunger even where production of staple food increased, such as in Zambia, where maize production increased by more than 150 percent, mainly due to farmland increase. Small-scale food producers did not adequately benefit: poverty and hunger remained staggeringly high;

– Further erosion of food security and nutrition for poor small-scale food producers where Green Revolution incentives for priority crops drove land use towards maize and away from more nutritious and climate-resilient traditional crops like millet and sorghum. While seeds for traditional crops were formerly easy and cheap to get hold of via farmers’ exchange, the farmers now have to pay for seeds of “priority crops”;

– Strong evidence of negative environmental impacts, including acidification of soils under monoculture cultivation with fossil fuel based synthetic fertilizers. Production increases have come from farmers bringing new land under cultivation. Both aspects negatively affect climate change mitigation and adaptation.

A more in-depth analysis in the four case countries (Mali, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia), plus a paper study from Rwanda, provide more indications of how the AGRA approach not only fails to achieve the desired effects, but also worsens the situation of small-scale food producers.

Examples from Tanzania show how the market dependency of AGRA’s approach challenged small-scale food producers to settle the input cost debt when maize prices were too low after harvest. In some cases, they even had to sell their livestock. In a project, farmers are only allowed to participate in AGRA projects under the condition that they do not practice mixed cropping. Each crop needs to be cultivated in a separate field, which increases production costs and reduces crop diversity.

Projects in Zambia also led to the indebtedness of participating small-scale food producers. Some explained that after the first harvest, they were already unable to repay loans for fertilizer and seeds. It also shows that AGRA does not give small-scale food producers freedom of choice regarding what to grow. In Rwanda, small-scale food producers were fined if they did not plant maize and other approved program crops. Farmers were forced to use synthetic fertilizers, which were heavily subsidized. In projects in Kenya, farmers cannot choose the kind of maize seed they get, nor which fertilizers or pesticides. According to interviews with farmers from AGRA projects, project leaders assumed that agro-dealers would make the best decisions for the farmers. This endangers the rights of small-scale food producers to self-determination and food sovereignty.

The report demonstrated that AGRA’s Green Revolution model is failing. Furthermore, it is clear that the approach of AGRA moves small-scale food producers away from the cultivation of traditional food towards the cultivation of a specific crop, which has led to a decline in nutritious and climate resilient crops and a drop in low-cost, low-risk, and well-functioning farmers’ seed exchange systems. AGRA keeps on promoting the one-dimensional, input-intensive and resource-intensive agricultural system and global supply chains that already made many small scale food producers dependent on external supplies of hybrid seed (instead of breeding and multiplying their own).

AGRA responded to the report stating that it had unfounded allegations.[4] But it should be noted that in May 2021; a few months after the publication of the report and reaction of AGRA, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), the continent’s largest network of civil society organizations wrote to AGRA donors asking for evidence of the program’s positive impacts but received few replies and no evidence. According to AFSA, AGRA has unequivocally failed in its mission to increase productivity and incomes and reduce food insecurity, and has in fact harmed broader efforts to support African farmers. In August 2021, in an open letter, 35 members of AFSA called on donors to cease funding AGRA and other Green Revolution programs.[5] It remains to be seen how AGRA will respond the people’s inquisition of how it is taking Africa to the promised land of food security.


Odile Ntakirutimana


Video: Financing Agroecology:



[3] False Promises:The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)