The Bill and Gates Foundation has joined forces with the Rockefeller Foundation to launch a new “Green Revolution’ in Africa. The $ US 150 million initiative intends to spur agricultural productivity in Africa by bringing more chemical fertilizers, pesticides and improved seeds to farmers.
Studies by Hans Gregersen (University of Minnesota) and Bob Evenson (Yale University) show that Africa has had little impact from the Green Revolution. In Asia for example, improved varieties were responsible for 88 per cent of the yield increases; in Latin America, 66; in the Middle East, 69; and only 28 per cent in Sub Saharan Africa.
Muvengei Steven, a small holder farmer based in Ikutha division of Kenya’s Eastern Province welcomes this initiative. He however does not see how this will work in his region. To get seeds, he has to send a local bus driver to the nearest major town center, Kitui. Since the road is dilapidated, the bus only makes one trip, a journey that lasts almost the whole day since the bus, the only one on the route, has to convey the sick to the hospital and carry major items to be stocked in the shops in Ikutha town.
If he buys his improved seeds from the shops in Ikutha market, it goes at double the price considering the hussles it takes to fetch it. Only last year, he planted the certified seeds but due to lack of enough rainfall, most of the seeds never germinated. Those that did wilted.
As agro-preneurs set out to make Africa green, there is need to consider the structural circumstances on the ground such as water scarcity. With availability of water for irrigation purposes, low resourse farmers in semi arid areas will be able to buy improved seeds which are “more expensive” than their farm saved seeds, without fear of loss.
Another factor that should be considered is extension services. It is one thing to deliver seeds, fertilizer and pesticides to farmers but without educating them on stewardship of the same. The impact will not be felt.
Transport costs are also a major problem. Africa’s road density now is less than India’s was at the start of the Green Revolution. On the Mombasa – Kampala road, trucks go through innumerable checkpoints and potholes. To move one ton of fertilizer 1000Kms costs about US$15 in the US; about $30 in India but US$100 in Africa. To move one ton of maize from Iowa to Mombasa, a distance of 13,600Kms costs US$50. To move the same amount of maize from Mombasa to Kampala (900Kms) costs US$100. Clearly, something needs to be done on Africa’s transport infrastructure.
For the Green Revolution to be successful in Africa, processing of agricultural goods at cottage level will have to be enhanced, energy made accessible, proper market infrastructure and institutional development to facilitate replication of successful farming models put in place and private ventures given incentives to be involved in agricultural productivity.
Currently however, the Green Revolution agro-preneurs have a daunting task to swim against the current of anti-technology revolutionaries who will go at great lengths, even if it means starving entire populations, to ensure that the earth remains pristine.
Pat Mooney, for instance, Executive Director of the Ottawa based ETC Group, though he acknowledges the increase in yields in Asia as a result of the Green Revolution, also holds that “the damage caused by that model is clear today …we’ve seen alarming erosion in biodiversity and soil fertility.”
According to Malian farm movement leader Mamadou Goita, “This green revolution will bring a flood of experts, seeds and input from outside. We will lose control of our seeds, ability to make our own choices on what we grow and for whom. The result will be more hunger and poverty in our communities.”
While it is true that any new technology and innovation needs to be watched, the use of improved seeds, pesticides and fertilizer could be the main factor that will turn an impoverished continent into one that can be self sustaining. Africa should guard against running errands for groups out to stifle productivity on the continent.
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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