African-led and Africa-based, AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) is an independent organization tackling the world's most pressing need - to be food secure - by making sure smallholder farmers are productive and profitable. From seeds to soils to market access to innovative finance and policy, we work with partners to scale-up innovations that have the potential to transform Africa's agricultural sector and thereby generate economic growth.
AGRA was established in 2006 to catalyze a uniquely African Green Revolution based on smallholder farmers so that Africa would be food self-sufficient and food secure. It was AGRA's chair, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who first called for a uniquely African Green Revolution. The role of agriculture, in particular smallholder farmers, was increasingly on development agendas as a key solution to hunger and poverty in Africa. African governments had already committed to allocate at least 10 percent of national budget resources to agricultural sectors in order to realize six percent annual growth in food production by 2015.
AGRA invests in conventional, farmer-driven breeding as a way to give farmers access to high-quality seed at prices they can afford. The big problem for farmers in Africa is access to reliable seed. Currently, only about one quarter of Africa's smallholder farmers have access to good seeds, compared to, for instance, 80 percent of farmers in China. New varieties are needed because many of the seeds farmers use today are inherently low-yielding and vulnerable to crop diseases and pests.
AGRA supports nearly 100 projects across sub-Saharan Africa in areas important to help farmers become more productive and profitable; areas such as seeds, soils, markets, credit and favorable government policies. Projects include developing better seed to address climate fluctuations, soil fertility techniques, establishing better storage systems, opening access to credit and addressing specific legislation in individual countries that may put the smallholder at a disadvantage.
AGRA is an independent, Africa-based and African-led organization. AGRA is advised by a Board of Directors, chaired by Mr. Kofi A. Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and comprised of African leaders, scientists and renowned persons from public life and business, as well as international experts in agriculture and economic development.
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Aren't you just an extension of big international philanthropies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation?
AGRA is an independent organization with its own board and governance structure. Our funding comes from a large number of international donors, but our base, approach and leadership are uniquely African.
Africa's soils are significantly depleted and this exacerbates current levels of chronic food insecurity. Some application of fertilizers combined with soil fertility management is imperative to help farmers increase their yields and feed themselves and their families. Compared to farmers in developed countries Africa's farmers use a fraction of the fertilizer needed to replenish soils. Example: Microdosing
Africa's soils are significantly depleted and this exacerbates current levels of chronic food insecurity. Some application of fertilizers combined with soil fertility management is imperative to help farmers increase their yields and feed themselves and their families. Compared to farmers in developed countries Africa's farmers use a fraction of fertilizer needed to replenish soils. Example: Microdosing
AGRA's role is to catalyze the transformation of agriculture in Africa - to mobilize the many partners from government, the private sector and civil society necessary put in place the systems and policies that will allow smallholders be productive and profitable. Given that 70% of Africa's population is engaged in smallholder agriculture, if we make sure this group is able to engage profitably in farming, it will sustain itself.
African farmers benefit from every project that AGRA supports. This must be clearly demonstrated before AGRA will back any project. Example: A good indicator that we are responding to farmer needs is the high demand for seed, an area in which AGRA makes significant investment.
Does making agriculture more profitable mean turning existing farms into large scale commercial operations?
Farms do not have to be large to be profitable. In Africa, we are starting with an agriculture sector that is made up mainly of smallholder farmers. We need to make sure that these people, who do not have job opportunities elsewhere, can make a living off their farms. And of course producing more will allow Africa to feed itself.
How is an African Green Revolution different from the 20th Century Green Revolutions in Asia and Latin America?
Conditions in Africa are significantly different from those that prevailed in Asia and Latin America, making simple transfers of those experiences impossible.
We have learned a lot of lessons from how farming was transformed in those regions such as the need to make sure that the African experience is more environmentally sensitive. For example, African soils are poorer and more degraded than were Asia's, requiring more complex systems of natural resources management to restore and sustain them.
An African Green Revolution also needs to conserve and promote the diversity of African crops, cropping systems and livestock for future generations and take into account the fact that most of the smallholder farmers are women and therefore their access to land, appropriate technologies, and affordable finance is critical.
With roughly 80% of the food Africans consume grown by smallholder farmers and with two out of every three Africans involved in farming, this group is key to Africa's food security and is arguably the foundation of Africa's development.
Farming is the mainstay of most African economies and family incomes. Yet, the majority of Africans, even smallholder farmers, are net purchasers of food. AGRA is focused on sharing critical knowledge and catalyzing efforts that can help these smallholder farmers - most of whom are women - build a food secure and prosperous Africa.
With improved access to knowledge, better tools and techniques that are otherwise available to farmers in other regions, African farmers are improving their incomes and lives.
Given that land is an income source, land tenure is both a right and a stimulus for smallholder farmers to invest in technologies, as it provides added assurance that farmers will benefit from their labour.
We advocate for policies that secure farmers'-especially women farmers'-rights to land. We work with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on advocacy issues to promote equitable access to land.
Our grantees work closely with farmers every day in the field while developing, testing, collecting and conserving improved crop varieties, and learning from farmers' knowledge. Our partners and grantees include farmers' organizations, women's organizations and NGOs.
We work with farmers on participatory crop breeding, through the practice of integrated soil fertility management, and through daily contact with agro-dealers who supply farmers in remote areas with affordable farm inputs such as improved seeds and appropriate fertilizers.
AGRA works collaboratively with many national governments. In particular, through its breadbasket approach, AGRA is working with the governments of Ghana, Tanzania, Mali and Mozambique on investment plans to stimulate growth in the breadbasket regions of these countries.
AGRA also works with governments in support of favourable policies, institutions and regulatory frameworks in key countries that are sensitive to the needs of smallholder farmers. When farmers' needs are aligned with national regulatory imperatives there will be long-term success.
An area with high agricultural potential, due to relatively good soil, adequate rains, basic infrastructure and large numbers of smallholder farmers. In breadbasket areas, increased access to improved seeds, soil and water management has the potential to significantly and sustainably increase smallholder farmers' production of key staple food crops.
Improved seeds and fertilizers, subsidized by governments and delivered through the private sector, will ensure that these inputs are available to farmers. These are ‘smart subsidies'. Without such support, many smallholder farmers are unable to grow enough food to feed themselves and their families, and instead are left hungry, sick and dependent on food aid or food imports.
Western governments support their industrial-scale farmers, yet African governments are only beginning to support smallholder farmers who work with virtually no help of any kind.
Private sector involvement is critical so we can develop small- and medium-sized African companies to provide smallholder farmers with the inputs they need. For example, we support new African seed companies and agro-dealer networks to provide farmers with affordable, appropriate farm inputs. We support farmer-run start-up companies that add value to crops through food processing. And we work with banks to provide millions of small-scale farmers access to affordable financing.
Lack of access to credit for Africa's smallholder farmers, input suppliers, farmer cooperatives or agro-processors is a major obstacle to increasing productivity in sub-Saharan Africa. We are working with financial institutions to make low-interest loans available to key agro-dealers, fertilizer wholesalers and seed companies-and to make financing available for warehouse receipt systems, farmer groups, and agro-processing facilities.
For example, in Kenya, we partnered with Equity Bank, IFAD and the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture to create a loan facility of US $50 million that was backed by a US $5 million cash guarantee fund. As a result, affordable credit was made available to 2.5 million farmers and 15,000 agricultural value chain operators such as rural input shops, fertilizer and seed wholesalers and importers, grain traders and food processors.
Many of our grantees work directly with CSOs; they are important voices for the farmer. We do consult with civil society organizations, and their input does inform our approach.
Successful farming depends on a healthy environment - rich soils, adequate water, and biodiversity. We work to advance Africa's food security while also protecting its unique local environments and ultimately people's livelihoods.
By focusing on sustainable development practices, we reduce environmental degradation and conserve biodiversity. Rebuilding soil health and enabling Africa's smallholder farmers to grow more on less land should reduce the pressure to clear and cultivate forests and savannahs, thus helping to conserve the environment and biodiversity.
Our sustainable agricultural practices include improving soil health through integrated soil fertility management, using combinations of fertilizers, organic inputs and techniques that are appropriate for local conditions and resources, including zero-tillage. We guard against potential overuse of fertilizer that could harm the environment by advocating the use of ecological approaches to soil and crop management. Our current seed systems and soil health programs include water management components.
We work together with partners to determine the kinds of environmental safeguards countries will need to put in place as agricultural production increases.
Africa's varied ecology and great crop diversity across regions and cultures requires a farmer-participatory approach to breeding many different locally adapted crop varieties. New varieties are needed because many of the seeds farmers use today are inherently low-yielding and vulnerable to crop diseases and pests. The participatory process first focuses on understanding what is beneficial to smallholder farmers and suited to the environment.
In addition to supporting the development of high-yielding hybrids, we support the development of open-pollinated varieties to further diversify options for farmers. We also advocate the rights of farmers to conserve and utilize their own seeds.
Intellectual property rights (IPR) are defined by national laws and the interpretation of IPR and treaties is the job of public servants and policymakers. We work within the context of national laws to ensure that African farmers, too, have access to modern agricultural technology. To promote the use of conventional methods to develop improved crop varieties, we fund plant breeders working in national research institutes.
We believe that it is critical for global trade regimes to offer fairer and expanded access to markets for African farmers. Expanding intra-regional trade within Africa is also important for expanding market and economic opportunities for African farmers. Intra-regional trade is hindered by high tariffs and other barriers within Africa itself. We work with regional economic communities in Africa to remove barriers to intra-regional trade.
We are continually monitoring progress and providing feedback to ensure that our programs are able to achieve their objectives. This system provides a basis for programs' adjustment, as the organization learns from its achievements and constraints. We also assess the impact of our activities and evaluate the quality of our partnerships and alliances.