The African Centre for Biodiversity
PO Box 29170, Melville 2109 South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)11 486 1156

Dear friends and colleagues

It is our pleasure to share with you our recent report titled ĎA Green Revolution dead-end in Malawi: Case studies on AGRAís pigeon pea project and Malawi Agro-dealer Strengthening Programme (MASP)í, which is a continuation of the ACBís work in Malawi. The report found that AGRAís sponsored pigeon pea project was a dismal failure and the agrodealer project had some major and fundamental weaknesses.

In regard to the pigeon pea project managed by NASFAM, the report found that farmers were merely passive recipients of pigeon pea varieties introduced into areas where pigeon pea was not historically grown or consumed. This meant there was no local market or consumption, and success of the project relied on securing output markets. NASFAM purchased outputs for the duration of the project. However, this was dependent on the continuation of funding which disappeared at the end of the project. The projectís lifespan of three years was insufficient time for farmers to see the full soil fertility benefits of grain-legume rotations. The project did not involve farmers in seed production, and they received seed from outside. As a result of these issues, the extent of pigeon pea use dropped off sharply once funding dried up.

The project indicates a number of weaknesses with AGRAís Green Revolution and top down approach. First, there was no attempt to investigate legume varieties with a history of local use. There was also no participatory engagement with farmers to revive or increase use of those legumes as part of the project. Rather, the top-down project was focussed primarily on trying to increase the uptake of improved crops and varieties already developed in the formal system. Second, an opportunity was lost to capitalise on the benefits of grain-legume integration on soil fertility because the project was too short lived for farmers to see these benefits fully, and because grain-legume integration was introduced in isolation from other agro-ecological soil fertility techniques. Although it was introduced under the umbrella of Conservation Agriculture (CA), there was no support for the other components of CA (minimum till, permanent ground cover) or wider agro-ecological production techniques such as use of compost and manure. Finally, the project was dependent on profitable output markets but in reality these did not exist without ongoing subsidy.

The MASP agro-dealer project is a longer term approach adopted by AGRA and more generally by African governments who have embraced modernisation and the Green Revolution approach as the path forward. Agro-dealers are presented as an alternative to public sector extension which has been denuded in the face of structural adjustment and neoliberal policies over the past 25-30 years. Instead of using available resources to rebuild public sector extension, the agro-dealer approach looks for ways to make the provision of inputs profitable so that private enterprises will occupy this space. Not only are the inputs themselves subsidised through the farm input subsidy programmes (FISPs), but the mechanism for delivery itself is opened to the private sector. However, this has also failed. First, agro-dealers only do demo plots for as long as these activities are subsidised through programmes like the MASP or by seed corporations who are seeking markets for their products. The claim is that ag ro-dealers dispense extension advice. But this advice is restricted to informing farmers of the benefits of proprietary Green Revolution technologies owned by the large corporations. It is not true advice based on a participatory assessment of context-specific farming conditions and then identification of the most appropriate technologies for those conditions. Rather it is technology driven, with technical solutions predetermined and then brought to farmers who must adapt their practices to fit these externally introduced technologies. The agro-dealers are conduits for corporate-owned Green Revolution technologies. Even in these terms, small agro-dealers supported by the programme have struggled to maintain themselves after the end of the subsidised programme. They have to compete against corporate outlets, confront challenges with seasonality of demand, difficulties in securing supplies and low demand when the products they are selling are not subsidised, either through FISP or pro grammes such as MASP. The agro-dealer model is a poor replacement for public sector extension despite the huge amount of resources being pumped into establishing and maintaining agro-dealers. Development aid, philanthropic and public sector resources could be better used to rebuild public sector extension, in interaction with extension based in farmer associations.

Please read the report.

Kind regards

ACB team