The announcement comes as the first commitment to promises made at the G8 conference convened at Aquila, Italy last year. The talks, which involved representatives from Spain, Canada and South Korea, backed a US plan to establish a $20billion multi-lateral aid fund (Global Agriculture and Food Security Program). Monitored by the World Bank, the fund would aim to help poor farmers in Africa increase productivity and reduce systemic problems of food insecurity.
The project has not only gathered support from governments and institutional organisations (World Bank, UN, USAID), but has also been greatly shaped by its well publicised philanthropic investors. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the former Software CEO has already donated over $300m, and currently stands as the public face of what is becoming one of the largest international policy programs in recent years.
The vehicle for the practical application of this investor capital is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Launched by Kofi Annan at the World Economic Forum on Africa in 2007, the organisation is jointly managed by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations. Its stated goal is to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers by dramatically increasing African food production. This aim would be achieved through an exchange of both technology and finance between stakeholders in the program.
The primary strategies for achieving this expansion in agricultural productivity involve improved seed technology, increasing soil fertility and improving the efficiency of agricultural markets. In delivering these objectives, AGRA argues that commercial partners with the necessary expertise and experience will be essential for success.
With their powerful publicity work and strong relationships with national governments, both the Gates and Rockefeller partners are hoping that they can entice businesses to invest in the continent’s agriculture another time around.
The first Green Revolution, backed by the Rockefeller Foundation again, ran from the late 1960’s until the early 1970’s with the aim of using commercial crops and modern industrial techniques to transform the agricultural sector. This was combined with efforts to ‘liberalise’ the markets. In policy partnership with the IMF, the project sought to eliminate fixed exchange markets, farmers’ subsidies and national trade tariffs. The aim was to make African agriculture ‘compete’ in international markets. The effect was that so-called ‘cash-crop’ production was incredibly unstable, responding too closely to market price falls. Pressures were exacerbated by the influx of cheap foreign food imports from the United States and Europe as a result of their farmers’ subsidy programs (Farm Income Stabilization and Common Agricultural Policy respectively). The first revolution effectively ended in failure, with many nations’ agricultural sectors devastated and with the countries themselves in enormous debt to the IMF for the ‘aid’ they had received.
The next revolution proposed by AGRA purports to be different. It promises to, ‘make food supplies secure by working with smallholder farmers to achieve rapid and sustainable agricultural growth with their staple crops.’ It claims to focus on small-scale farmers and improving their productivity, rather than attempting to convert the continent to large scale commercial production.
However, this revolution also differs from its predecessor in that whilst it has the same institutional and government partners, it also has significant private investment. In delivering returns for its investors, the program appears to move away from international market sales to more thorough investment in African economies. Through ‘strategic partnerships’, AGRA aims to open up seed, fertilizer, food production and other associated markets to its private clients. The group has also not ruled out the need to ‘promote “land mobility” ‘; a euphemism for encouraging farmers to leave the land.
The private clients lined up to invest in agriculture include leaders in the world of chemicals and industry. Both Monsanto and Syngenta, who between them control 30% of world seed markets, have aligned themselves with the project, along with the world’s largest chemical company, DuPont.
Both Monsanto and Syngenta are specialists in GM technologies and in producing patented seed varieties. As the primary strategy of AGRA, these companies will assist in the dissemination of ‘knowledge and awareness’, research and sales of GM seeds in African markets. The Gates Foundation itself has offered US$5.4 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a US institute funded heavily by Monsanto, to promote GM advocacy in African arenas.
In India, the failures of GM variants have already been apparent, and their inefficiency in Western countries appears to be evidenced by their reliance on heavy subsidies. Quite apart from productivity concerns though, GM variants pose another problem for farmers. They herald a departure from independent ownership of crops and land as the seeds which are grown remain the intellectual property of the relevant private company. As such, the land whilst they are grown, together with the final product, become entities ultimately outside the farmers’ control.
Added to this are issues of one-yield seed products, which require the farmer to return to the market each year to purchase more seeds, rather than being able to the sow seed from his previous crop.  The company has a well documented history of intimidating farmers who chose not to use their seeds, and of encouraging agricultural mono-cultures.  
The AGRA project is far from the only one being launched in the continent. Recent years have seen foreign investment in Africa increase at a steady pace, with the food price crisis of 2008 greatly accelerating this. The issue of food security, as AGRA fails to emphasise, is not only one for Africans, but one that affects much of the developed world. Just as political turbulence in the past affected energy prices and the policies of nations seeking to secure their supply, similar patterns are beginning to emerge in relation to food. As states seek to secure their sources of supply, they are increasingly searching for non-market options. As such, the latest wave of investment has largely been characterised by private and foreign governmental partners.
A South Korea company was embroiled in a scandal in early 2009, after their attempt to gain control of half of Madagascar’s agricultural land in a free one hundred year lease. The situation climaxed in a presidential coup which saw the deal revoked. In 2007 investment totaled $30 billion with some 2.5 million hectares being bought or leased by private investors. Since then, investment has risen to $100 billion involving 30 million hectares of agricultural land in around 30 different African countries.
The Tony Blair Foundation, and the former British Prime Minister himself, were integral in securing the opening of the market of Sierra Leone to foreign investment, particularly agribusiness. President Koroma praised the efforts towards, ‘building a legislative framework that provides the right incentives for investors.’ Throughout Africa, organisations and companies have been applying greater pressure on national governments to reform legislation as a necessary precursor for development.
With ‘development’ coming increasingly on the back of private investment, states are encouraged to ensure the legal environments which provide the necessary incentives for these investors. These include lowering tariff barriers, removing restrictions on holding assets offshore, and permitting foreign tenure or ownership of domestic goods and property.
Debates regarding development policies remain contentious, with many arguing that development of African economies, and agriculture specifically, will be impossible without the assistance of private foreign investors. However, ignoring past failures and the current issues regarding the nature of these investments, there remains a significant factor when considering their application.
The previous Green Revolution was criticised by many for its failure to consult with the African populations who were the recipients of its ultimately disastrous policies. This new wave of projects under the label of ‘development’ has also conspicuously avoided consultative measures with African groups. Whether or not the current interests eventually reap rewards for the continent’s poor, their policies will fail to gain consent as long as they fail to refer to those they primarily affect.
Timothy Geitner and Bill Gates to launch agri-fund for the poor
Bill Gates in plea to “Farm Aid” donors
 The Role of Business in Achieving a Green Revolution in Africa
 AGRA Strategy for a Green Revolution in Africa
 Africa’s land and family farms up for grabs
 Strengthening food security
 AGRA, The return of the green revolution
 Africa’s land and family farms up for grabs
 Monsanto’s intellectual property seed policies explained
 Patterns of agricultural privatization
 ‘Mirage’ of GM’s golden promises
 Madagascar leader axes land deal
 Land grab, or development opportunity?
 Tony Blair praises Sierra Leone’s pro-business climate
 Infrastructure private-public partnerships in Africa
Read Full Post »