The Advocacy Network for Africa (ADNA)

Fr. Rocco Puopolo, Xaverian Missionary and Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network in Washington DC shares with us important work in the advocacy work of the Church for Africa.

Numerous faith groups and groups concerned about food security and food sovereignty have been watching the administration’s evolving approach to the global food crisis carefully. AFJN has covered the administration’s actions as well as the shortcomings of the “green revolution” approach for Africa. (You can also read the position statement of the Interfaith Working Group on Food Security here and a faith community sign-on letter on the Casey-Lugar Global Food Security Act).

Obama’s new USAID director, Dr. Rajiv Shah, has an important role in what shape U.S. engagement with food and agriculture in Africa takes. Thus, the Africa adovacy community (known as the Advocacy Network for Africa, or ADNA) compline a letter to Dr. Shah outlining our concerns, including those surrounding pressures to consolidate and industrialize agriculture, the emphasis on foreign and genetically modified seeds, and the trend of foreign companies and governments buying up huge swatchs of land and thus depriving smallholder (mostly women) farmers to their livelihood.

Read the full letter here, or the text is included below.

June 3, 2010

Advocacy Network for Africa
1629 K Street, N.W., Suite 1100
Washington, DC  20006

Dr. Rajiv Shah
U.S. Agency for International Development
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20523


Dear Administrator Shah:

We the undersigned organizations have accumulated decades of development experience in Africa through partnership, research, and in-country work.  We have been deeply concerned by past Executive Branch policies that not only diminished international support for African agriculture, but in many cases thoroughly dismantled effective strategies.  We therefore welcome the announced interest in supporting agriculture.  However, we have deep misgivings concerning the proclaimed advocacy of so-called “green revolution” strategies, the shortcomings and failures of which, in Africa and elsewhere, are well documented.  We look forward to the opportunity for a full discussion of the following urgent concerns, along with a number of proven alternative strategies:

A. Concerns:

1.    Capital intensive agriculture – Major increases in capital investment in food production, a scarce resource in Africa, would replace highly skilled indigenous food producers, an abundant resource across the continent. Investment is needed for public and private food production across the continent, but it should neither replace nor undermine the social capital of skilled farmers and laborers.

2.    Consolidation of land (enclosure) – Land consolidation during the Asian “green revolution” displaced millions to urban areas with no employment opportunities, further exacerbating inequalities.  Most small-scale African food production areas, ranging from 0.5-5.0 hectares, are intensively farmed.  Land consolidation in Africa – already a highly controversial issue, particularly in Southern and East Africa – engenders conflict and worsens unemployment and inequality.

3.    Privatization of the genetic wealth of Africa – The “green revolution” centers on developing and marketing “improved seeds” for food production. These seeds entered the public domain during the “green revolution” in Asia and Latin America in the 1960s. However, in Africa various corporate partners are taking African germ plasm and patenting it, whether the seed is bred by traditional methods or by genetic modification (GMO). This privatization is reinforced by the UPOV Convention, which turns farmers’ rights to breed and exchange into a highly delimited farmers’ privilege.  Privatization of African seeds by global corporations constitutes theft of African wealth and heritage generated over centuries.

4.    Increased yields through improved seeds results in loss of agricultural biodiversity – The approach to increased yields is through monoculture of selected “improved seeds”.  Agricultural monoculture production in the United States has resulted in Americans deriving about 75 percent of their food consumption from 12 plants, and just a few varieties of each. This loss of biodiversity increases food insecurity and endangers human health. The vast biodiversity of plants (estimated at 2000) consumed across the African continent is the very foundation of future food security and should never be destroyed.

5.    Pollution – “Improved seeds” planted across vast stretches of land will require fertilizers and pesticides. The pollution of soil, watersheds, and ground water from industrial agriculture in the U.S. is well documented and will likely occur in Africa as well.

6.    Status of women farmers – Current agricultural programs fail to take into account the predominant role of female farmers in African agriculture. Indeed statistics from Africa Recovery show that African women contribute up to 80 percent in food production. Yet despite their significance, rural women have less access to viable land and, most importantly, have limited access to credit, thus hampering their ability to purchase seeds and fertilizers. Also, because African women are not recognized as a major part of the labor force, they also cannot control household budgets and often suffer from lack of education.

B. Alternative Strategies

1.    There are numerous alternatives to these prescriptions and their attendant pitfalls.  A great deal of research demonstrates that sustainable biodiverse food production by smallholder farmers is the key to food security in the 21st century. To cite two representative studies:

a.    The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) study by 400 specialists over 4 years of study, organized by the United Nations and the World Bank, concluded that “the way to meet challenges lies in putting in place institutional, economic and legal frameworks that combine productivity with the protection and conservation of natural resources like soils, water, forests, and biodiversity while meeting production needs”. The report has been endorsed by 60 countries, not including the U.S.

b.    While Kofi Annan was Secretary-General of the United Nations, he commissioned an “expert panel” to explore the possibility of a green revolution for Africa. The findings concluded that a green revolution is not possible because of the diverse types of farming systems across the continent:  there is “no single magic ‘technological bullet’…for radically improving African agriculture” (“Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture”, Inter-Academy Council. 2003.).

2.    The extent to which a more biodiverse and smallholder farmer focused agriculture is the optimal approach in constructing a sustainable agriculture in Africa is affirmed by the success of organic farming and in the agro-ecological alternatives to the green revolution being advanced in Africa to date. Organic farming case studies, as noted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the United Nations Environment Programme in the report, “Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa,” attest to the effectiveness of these programs, for example:

a.    Sustainable Agriculture Community Development Programme, Kenya:  The program facilitates training programs for farmers in the area of sustainable agriculture. It focuses on production, processing, agro-marketing, savings and credit schemes and works with 4,500 smallholder farmers. The methods employed consist of natural soil fertility management, integrated environmentally friendly weed, pest and disease protection, on-farm soil and water conservation techniques and farm level seed conservation. The farmer groups are trained for three to four years and the results have been promising. To date, food security and production have improved by 50 percent and the incomes of SFOs (Small Holder Farmers Organizations) have increased by 40 percent since the implementation of the program (UNCTAD and UNEP).

b.    Certified Organic Cotton, Uganda: Increased production and use of organic cotton in which soil fertility and pest management are maintained through traditional cultural practices and natural means instead of industrial pesticides has increased farmer yields.  

c.    Aquaculture (International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management), Malawi: The ICLARM integrates pond fish culture into low input farm systems in Malawi. According to UNCTAD and UNEP, “the programme uses a participatory process for farmers and scientists to jointly map resource flows on farms and then to identify the potential for adjustments that would bring synergetic effects. It has worked with some 2,000 individual farmers on both vegetable improvements in home gardens and fish-pond aquaculture”. The report further states that the small areas in which this project has been conducted increased vegetable yields from 2,700 to 4,000 kg/ha. There has also been an increase of fish, which accounts for a 70 percent increase of income for smallholder farmers.

U.S. support for agricultural strategies that are environmentally safe, economically appropriate, and culturally sensitive is welcome; and, again, we look forward to discussing those possibilities with you at your earliest convenience.

Thank you for your time and attention.


Africa Faith and Justice Network
Grassroots International
Food & Water Watch
Food First Institute Association of Concerned Africa Scholars
Foreign Policy In Focus (Emira Woods)
Holy Cross International Justice Office
International Development Exchange
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
PANNA, Pesticide Action Network North America
Priority Africa Network
TransAfrica Forum
United Church of Christ- Justice and Witness Ministries
United States Working Group on the Food Crisis

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