- Funding for agricultural research, education and extension through official development assistance has stagnated in the past 10 years, at 14 per cent of agricultural aid in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2017.
- Most funders and governments still favour ‘green revolution’ approaches, in the belief that industrial agriculture is the only way to sufficient food.
- Although Africa’s agri-development landscape is extremely complex and priorities highly divergent, there is a need for donors to rethink their financing strategies.
A report by Biovision International, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (Ipes-Food) and the United Kingdom-based Institute of Development Studies, shows only a small fraction of agricultural research funding to Sub-Saharan Africa is spent on agroecology and other sustainable approaches.
“Money Flows: what is holding back investment in agroecological research for Africa?”, which has analysed the all-important financial flows in food system research that go to sub-Saharan Africa, shows that money flows in Africa’s agricultural development sector are mainly reinforcing damaging industrial models.
Funding for agricultural research, education and extension through official development assistance has stagnated in the past 10 years, at 14 per cent of agricultural aid in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2017. Most funders and governments still favour ‘green revolution’ approaches, in the belief that industrial agriculture is the only way to sufficient food.
Although Africa’s agri-development landscape is extremely complex and priorities highly divergent, there is a need for donors to rethink their financing strategies. Despite the merits of agroecological approaches in transforming farming systems, only a handful of donors recognise it as a means of building sustainable food systems.
Despite commitments in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme to invest more than one per cent of agricultural GDP in research, investments in agricultural research by governments in Sub-Saharan Africa have fallen significantly with the overall investment ratio dropping below 0.5 per cent in 2010-2014. Agricultural funding has generally been de-prioritised in favour of other development issues, including health, education and national security.
Kenya and Ethiopia attract significant bilateral and multilateral agricultural aid, but the resources for agricultural research are mainly used for industrial agriculture with limited resources going to agroecology. More than 70 per cent of Kenyan research institutes’ projects focused on industrial agriculture, with only 13 per cent being agroecological. Another 13 per cent of funding is used to replace synthetic inputs with organic alternatives.
Top donors for Kenya are the United States, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Union, Germany, the World Bank’s International Development Association and Japan. At $274 million (Sh27 billion) a year, Kenya’s investment in public agricultural research is the third-highest in Africa.
The “Money Flows” report also shines a light on Switzerland, a major bilateral donor, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the biggest philanthropic investor in agri-development. The findings paint an interesting picture. Some 85 per cent of the projects funded by the Gates Foundation support industrial agriculture and/or targeted approaches such as improved pesticide practices. Only three per cent of Gates Foundation projects were agroecological.
By contrast, 51 per cent of Swiss-funded AgR4D projects had agroecological components, and most of these (41 per cent) also included aspects of socioeconomic and political change like decent working conditions and gender equality. Just 13 per cent of Swiss aid focused only on industrial agriculture. A fraction of UK and Belgian development aid, and minimal US agricultural research funding, also goes to agroecology.
But the tide is changing. There is a growing interest in agroecology by bilateral and multilateral donors — France, Germany, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Donors must encourage long-term, pooled funding models that encourage research institutes to implement agroecological projects, ensure projects are inclusive and co-designed with farmers and communities, and increase funding to African organisations and enhance transparency.
Donors also need to address the issue of unequal power relations in the agricultural sector. This can be done by building strong, long-lasting partnerships and supporting bottom-up alliances with the involvement of farmer groups and researchers.
The primary focus must be on smallholder farmers contributing to a safer and healthier world who support agroecological approaches. Let us turn our back on the vested interests obsessed with the technological fixes damaging soils and livelihoods and creating a dependency on the world’s biggest agri-businesses.
African countries need to reform their farming systems and put more money into agroecological approaches and implement sustained actions to effectively deal with the negative impacts of climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
They must be responsive to the needs of the millions of smallholder farmers who count on them to make the right decisions.
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