Laying the groundwork for the commercialization of African agriculture

A new paper from the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) investigates the role of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in Africa’s seed systems.

It considers AGRA’s broad philosophy and structure, focusing on AGRA’s own views or those of its consultants, before turning to a more detailed consideration of its specific work in its seed and soil health programmes. These programmes are inseparable because seed and soil fertility technologies are interlinked. Seed and fertiliser are the fundamental technological interventions on which AGRA’s strategies hang.

The conclusions of the paper include the following: AGRA is undoubtedly laying the groundwork for the commercialisation of African agriculture and its selective integration into global circuits of accumulation. Benefits will be unevenly spread and we should expect accelerated divergences in farmer interests. This will lead to greater class differentiation and a deepening commodification of African agriculture.

Furthermore, the paper concludes that the shadow of the seed and agrichemical multinationals, and equity funds lie just behind the scenes of AGRA’s show. This is because building new markets and market infrastructure for commercial seed in Africa, as AGRA is doing, potentially opens the door for future occupation by multinationals.

We reproduce below the key findings of the paper. The full paper can be found at:

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching

Third World Network

131 Jalan Macalister

10400 Penang



Excerpt from: Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA): Laying the Groundwork for the Commercialisation of African Agriculture. Agriculture, Energy and Livelihood Series. African Centre for Biosafety, South Africa. September 2012.

Key findings

We have found a fairly complex array of solutions being proposed by AGRA.

On the face of it, it would appear as if AGRA recognises the limits of trying to replicate the Green Revolution as it unfolded in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s in Latin America, where social and ecological conditions are markedly different. In this regard, AGRA appears to be proposing an approach to the introduction of new technologies based on the Green Revolution model that aims to work around some of these limits. In this regard, it emphasises the importance of local adaptation and the blending of different technological approaches according to context. For example, AGRA appears to be promoting work with resource-poor smallholder farmers and participatory plant breeding and selection.

However, AGRA considers hybrid seed, biotechnology (including genetic modification), synthetic fertilisers, irrigation, credit provision and general commercialisation of agricultural production as long-term goals to strive towards.

What AGRA has done is to set itself the immediate task of putting in place the building blocks to move towards the wider scale adoption of these Green Revolution technologies without trying to impose them all at once or immediately in a context where they will not be satisfactorily supported or taken up.

In this regard, an important focus of AGRA’s project is to work on building both institutional
and regulatory systems that can support the introduction of these technologies. Working with individuals and organisations with a long history of agricultural development work in Africa, such as USAID and the Citizen’s Network for Foreign Affairs (CNFA) – organisations whose key focus historically has been on the expansion of US agribusiness, AGRA has identified specific countries and areas within countries where this work can proceed most effectively.

From a seed point of view, at the top of the policy agenda is the harmonisation of laws and policies to allow for the cross-border flow of technology, regulated as far as possible by private capital but with government support as required, and the securing of intellectual property (IP).

AGRA’s emphasis on the profit motive as the driving force of economic development, and its long-term orientation towards the rolling out of Green Revolution technologies based on biotechnology, synthetic fertilisers and debt-driven commercialisation place it on a potential collision course
with the agroecological approaches being endorsed by farmer-based sovereignty movements. The directions in which these contradictions might proceed are very much dependent on the strategies and actions taken by farmers and their independent associations and movements in Africa, both in response to AGRA, and in developing their own programmes and practices.