Nelly Bassily | December 24, 2007
A new initiative has begun to connect small-scale farmers in East Africa with agricultural inputs such as seeds, tools, and fertilizer. The project aims to revive small-scale farming and agricultural markets that have been limited by the scarcity and high cost of these basic farm supplies.The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA, has already awarded grants totaling 13 million US dollars, or 9 million Euros, to establish networks of rural agro-dealers in Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya. This project is just one of many initiatives planned and undertaken by AGRA, which was started in 2006 by two American foundations – the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its stated goal is to help small-scale farmers increase their yields and thereby “lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.”
AGRA is also investing millions of dollars on research stations in 13 African countries, in an effort to adapt seed varieties from Africa and other parts of the world. Dr. Roy Steiner is a Senior Program Officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He says these new varieties will be bred for resistance to drought, pests, and disease, as well as better yield and improved nutrition.
The agro-dealer initiative is intended to make it easier for farmers to access these adapted seed varieties, in addition to other inputs. The strategy is to provide local small entrepreneurs with training, capital, and credit, thus quickly improving their ability to reach farmers with appropriate products. AGRA estimates that farmers in East Africa currently travel up to 100 kilometres to reach agricultural supplies. Up to 1.6 million farming families in the three project countries will benefit from improved access through the agro-dealer initiative.
The AGRA plan will significantly increase the number of agricultural dealers selling to small-scale farmers. It intends to train and support 600 dealers in Malawi, 840 dealers in Tanzania, and 240 dealers in Western Kenya.
Dr. A. Namanga Ngongi is the President of AGRA and a former Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations’ World Food Program. He says the agro-dealer initiative should halve the average distance that farmers travel to reach supplies. Input prices are also expected to drop. The project’s ultimate goal is to increase the income of small-scale farmers by about 30 per cent.
A number of African and international organizations are closely observing AGRA’s work. Although AGRA has stated that it seeks to support Africans in solving African problems, critics remain concerned that a “green revolution” may impose Western agricultural practices and discount the traditional knowledge and skills of local farmers.
GRAIN is an international NGO that believes Western intervention could lead to a loss of traditional crops or displace traditional seed distribution systems. In a statement released this month, GRAIN raised questions about the agro-dealer program. The organization fears that by helping agricultural suppliers reach more farmers, AGRA may also make farmers more dependent on non-indigenous seeds or chemical inputs produced by large international companies.