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Whose Revolution?

Whose Green Revolution?

African and Canadian Farm Leaders Say African ‘Green Revolution’ Must Be Led by Farmers
April 2007

Speakers at the public forum included (L to R), Assétou Samaké, from Mali; Dr. Melaku Worede, from Ethiopia;
Ibrahim Ouédraogo, from Cote d’Ivoire, Mamadou Goïta, from Mali

A new “Green Revolution” is under way. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has joined forces with the Rockefeller Foundation to solve Africa’s food supply problems.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a huge undertaking, granting a total of $150 million to various agencies for agriculture this year, several hundred million dollars next year, and exceeding $1 billion in less than a decade.

Among other things, the plan proposes to bring more "improved seeds” and fertilizers to African farmers. USC and our partners welcome the attention to agriculture, but we have many questions:

  • How does the AGRA initiative apply the lessons learned from the last Green Revolution in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s?
  • How does an initiative of this magniude remain accountable to farmers, and place them at the centre of it’s priorities and directions?
  • What will be the role of industry in the initiative? Who stands to benefit most, and who could lose?
  • Are there any successful models that the initiative could learn from?

The answer to that last question is yes, and we have the results to prove it.

For nearly 20 years, USC and our partners have promoted African solutions in sustainable farming and community development. Our Seeds of Survival Program offers a viable, farmer-led approach that has helped thousands of farmers in hundreds of communities.

More than 550 People attendedto learn more about the issue of a new ‘Green Revolution’ in Africa.

Raising the Alarm
Armed with that knowledge, and the support of our African partners, USC and our Canadian partners organized a week-long series of events to help raise awareness about small-scale agriculture, and to create an open dialogue with the Canadian public and policy makers on the larger issue of ‘industrial agriculture’ – an approach currently being promoted by many governments, development agencies and the private sector worldwide.

The week culminated with a public forum at the Ottawa Congress Centre on March 26, where more than 550 people came to hear farm leaders and scientists from Ethiopia, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Canada speak about the continued emphasis on industrial agriculture, and the impact it could have on African farmers.

Malian farm movement leader Mamadou Goita was one of the speakers, and questioned the need to import solutions. “There have been many solutions proposed for Africans,” said Goita, “but we’re always dealing with the consequences, not the actual solutions. Despite the fact that we have such a richness and diversity of solutions ourselves.”

Media Coverage

Listen to a radio broadcast about this issue, from CBC’s The Current
Read an Article on this issue in Maclean’s Magazine

Learning From Past Mistakes
During the first Green Revolution in Asia in the 1960s and ‘70s, productivity and yields increased in some crops, but the damage caused by that model was tremendous, said forum panellist Pat Mooney of ETC Group, a Canada-based research and advocacy group. With farmers growing a handful of export crops and relying heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, there was alarming erosion in biodiversity and soil fertility, said Mooney. "Farmers were left with a handful of varieties compared to what was available before."

That Green Revolution brought a flood of experts, seeds and inputs from outside, says Goita. Farmers lost control of their seeds, and the ability to make their own choices about what they grow.

USC was able to speak 1-on-1 with many who attended the forum

Biodiversity is the Key
Renowned geneticist Melaku Worede, one of the founders of USC’s Seeds of Survival Program, spoke about supporting farmers’ own solutions. “There’s so much potential with seeds in Africa that is not being explored. It’s being undermined by outside solutions.”

Rather than the industrial agriculture model, we should support more holistic approaches to agriculture, said Dr. Worede. “Farmer-led programs tend to look at more than just yields. They’re about raising productivity without losing biodiversity.”

Diversity is the foundation for all agricultural systems, and when farmers preserve biodiversity, they are helping preserve the planet’s food supply and genetic wealth.

Growing Awareness
Events like the public forum are important in engaging Canadians on sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty. These critical issues affect not just farmers but every person on our planet.

Two Members of Parliament – Paul Dewar (NDP-Ottawa Centre) and Mark Eyking (L-Sydney-Victoria) – took the opportunity to hear the arguments put forward

That’s why USC and its partners are talking to the media, Canada’s policy makers, and spreading the word within the NGO community.

We’ve opened a dialogue with the agencies that are driving this new Green Revolution.

Dialogue and Vigilance
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contacted the forum organizers to discuss our position on industrial agriculture. We were encouraged by their openness to listen to farm leaders and their concerns, and their affirmation that small-scale farmers must be placed at the centre of any initiative that is meant to help them.

It remains to be seen how the agencies involved will proceed with their plans, but it’s clear that USC and our partners must maintain and strengthen our relationship with them to continue that dialogue – both in Canada and directly through the farm groups that develop links with them in the future.

Most of all, through our Seeds of Survival (SoS) Program, USC will continue to promote a farmer-centred approach to agriculture and livelihoods. SoS helps farmers make their own choices about what they grow, how they grow it and for whom. By controlling their seed supply and food production, they can secure their food supply and income, promote biodiversity, and reduce dependance on external assistance. For USC, that’s a true green revolution.

USC Canada is part of a network of NGOs working together to organize this campaign and events like the public forum. Our partners include the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), ETC Group, Inter Pares, National Farmers Union, and Partnership Africa Canada.

USC Canada acknowledges the generous support and assistance of the following organizations in promoting the public forum held on March 26th
CKCU-FM Radio 93.1
The National Union of Public and General Employees
OPIRG-University of Ottawa