Agroecology receiving minimal funding in Africa, threatens sustainable agri-industry

AFRICA – Money flows in agricultural development are still reinforcing damaging industrial models in Africa, according to a new report by Biovision, IPES-Food and the UK-based Institute of Development Studies.

New data shows that only a fraction of agricultural research funding in Africa is being used to transform food and farming systems with Industrial agriculture receiving the bulk of the funding from the world’s major donors.

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The Money Flows report looks at investments in sub-Saharan Africa with a focus on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the biggest philanthropic investor in agri-development; Switzerland, a major bilateral donor and Kenya, one of Africa’s leading recipients and implementers of agricultural research for development.

Industrial agriculture is defined as the large-scale, intensive production of crops and livestock, often involving the use of synthetic chemical fertilisers on crops and pesticides.

Agroecology on the other hand is an agricultural method that builds on sustainable and resilient food systems and a holistic approach that considers social issues and political contexts.

According to the report only 3 per cent of Gates Foundation projects in Africa support sustainable, regenerative approaches or ‘agroecology’ as many as 85 per cent of projects funded by the Foundation, are limited to developing industrial agriculture.

In the Kenyan scenario, only 13 per cent of projects are linked to agroecology, with a further 13 per cent of projects focusing on the substitution of synthetic inputs.

Switzerland is in this regard ahead of the game with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), like its German and French counterparts and the FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization), has officially recognized agroecology as a key method for establishing sustainable food systems.

The study shows that 51 per cent of projects financed by Swiss development funds contain elements of agroecology, and 41 per cent also support systemic components like fair working conditions and gender equality.

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“Most governments, both in developing and developed countries still favour ‘green revolution’ approaches, with the belief that industrial agriculture is the only way to produce sufficient food. But these approaches have failed,” says Biovision president Hans Herren. 

“Yes, the ‘green revolution’ produced more food, but at what costs? and compared with what? We now know that the best option for sustainable agriculture and healthy diets is agroecology, because it is not only as productive, but its benefits extend way beyond.”

Herren added, “With the compound challenges of climate change, pressure on land and water, food-induced health problems and pandemics such as COVID, we need change now. And this starts with money flowing into agroecology.”

Olivia Yambi, the co-chair of IPES-Food, said, “We need to change funding flows and unequal power relations. It’s clear that in Africa as elsewhere, vested interests are propping up agricultural practices based on an obsession with technological fixes that is damaging soils and livelihoods and creating a dependency on the world’s biggest agribusinesses. Agroecology offers a way out of that vicious cycle.”

Approximately 30 per cent of farms around the world are estimated to have redesigned their production systems around agroecological principles, the report says. 

The report finds that support for agroecology is now growing across the agri-development community particularly in light of climate change, but this hasn’t yet translated into a meaningful shift in funding flows. 

The authors of the report argue that change can’t come soon enough.

“What needs to happen is for investments in AgR4D to target agroecology because the industrial agriculture and food model has shown its many weaknesses and failures to assure food and nutritional security in a positive social and environmental context,” said Hans Herren.

Kenya is one of Africa’s leading recipients and implementers of agricultural research for development (AgR4D). The country ranks third in sub-Saharan Africa in spending on agricultural research after Nigeria and South Africa, reports The Standard Media.

To accelerate shift, the report calls on donors to shift towards long-term, pooled funding models; require projects to be co-designed with farmers and communities; increase the share of funding going to African organisations; and increase transparency in how their projects are funded, monitored and measured for impact.

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