Catalysing a true transformation of agriculture in Africa will not only ensure food security and reduce poverty, but also help to fuel broader economic growth and development across the continent.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) believes transforming agriculture in Africa starts with supporting the millions of smallholder farmers who earn their livelihood from the soil.

This October, AGRA began its seventh year of operation. AGRA?s mission is to trigger a uniquely African Green Revolution, one that transforms agriculture into a highly productive, competitive and sustainable system that assures food security and lifts millions out of poverty.

Realising that agriculture is a driving force behind economic growth and development in Africa, AGRA works with public and private partners to improve long-term productivity and profitability of this vital sector.

About 40% of AGRA?s resources are going toward work in the major breadbasket areas of Ghana, Mali, Mozambique and Tanzania. These countries have shown a strong desire and clear commitment to transforming their agricultural sectors.

Their work in breadbasket areas — which are large, high-potential agro-ecological regions that have good soils, dependable rainfall, basic rural infrastructure — is already bearing fruit, with large numbers of farmers working hard to improve their productivity and profitability.

All four countries have developed detailed Breadbasket Investment Plans aimed at supporting fresh and creative public/private partnerships, and to guide the financial investments made by AGRA and its allies.

In the Northern Region breadbasket area of Ghana, AGRA is partnering with DANIDA to roll out an Agricultural Value Chain Facility (AVCF), which includes funds for strengthening farmer organisations, agro-dealers, and small-to-medium sized agribusinesses that purchase produce from smallholder farmers.

The project is designed to produce 30-50% higher yields of maize, rice, and soybeans, link an estimated 10,000 farmers in 400 farmer-based organisations to established markets, train 100 community artisans to help farmers and communities construct and rehabilitate their communal and household storage and processing facilities, and create some 280 new jobs.

Expected outcomes of the project include: improved capacity of individual farmers and their organisations to scale-up integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) and crop production technologies, leading to increased yields; increased farmer access to needed inputs (improved seeds and fertilisers) and to land preparation services, and improved access to markets.

Last year, AGRA?s Soil Health Programme (SHP) made grants worth US$41-million, surpassing its US$37.7million target for the year by about 9%. Three-quarters of these investments were made in six countries — Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania.

A total of 280,000 farmers benefited during the year from better access to the knowledge, appropriate fertiliser, and improved seeds needed to apply integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) practices which can double crop yields.

Since 2008, when the Soils Programme was first launched and began promoting ISFM, over 900,000 farmers have adopted the new technologies. ISFM technologies include such practices as the application of organic and/or inorganic fertilisers to crops, and rotating cereals with legumes.

In 2012 alone, various ISFM technologies were used on 132,000 hectares of land. Since the inception of AGRA?s Soils Programme, some 600,000 hectares of land have come under ISFM projects. About 3,400 agro-dealers are linked to these projects, and they sold a combined total of nearly 140,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser to the farmers involved.

A major initiative of the programme in 2012 was helping to establish the Africa Fertiliser Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) by a 3-year US$25million grant. AFAP is initially focused on three countries — Ghana, Mozambique and Tanzania — primarily addressing supply-side constraints.

AGRA?s programme for Africa?s Seed System supports the breeding of improved seed and works to ensure that improved crop varieties get to farmers. Today, less than 25% of sub-Saharan Africa?s farmers use high-yielding, locally adapted seed. Poor seeds and depleted soils have kept yields at only one-quarter of the global average.

AGRA has set its sights on achieving three major goals by 2020: Reducing food insecurity by 50% in at least 20 sub-Saharan African countries; doubling the incomes of at least 20 million smallholder farmers across the continent; and moving at least 30 countries onto a sustainable path toward transforming their agricultural sectors.

The Alliance is actively involved in 16 sub-Saharan African countries, five of which are in West Africa with the rest in the eastern and southern regions of the continent.

According to the Africa Human Development Report 2012 (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2012), more than 75% of cereals and almost all root crops come from domestic agriculture and not imports. Farm incomes continue to be crucial to the survival of the 70% of extremely poor populations living in rural areas.

Cereal yields have recorded steady increases in the past 10 years. However, though there are increasing cereal yield trends in most sub-Saharan African countries, these yields remain low compared to other regions of the world.

The average grain yields remained at around one-third to one-half of the world?s average (1.1-1.5 metric tonnes per hectare versus 3.2 metric tonnes per hectare) between 2000 and 2010.

The development and dissemination of new technologies and practices that increase yield potential for a particular area depend on a country?s ability to make needed investments and farmers? skills and willingness to adopt the technologies. ?

Sub-Saharan Africa displays the greatest gaps between potential yields and realised yields for a number of crops, particularly maize and rice.? In this regard, the Alliance, in the past seven years, has put its money where it matters most — improving agricultural yields on the continent and thereby ensuring food security while lifting millions out of extreme poverty.???

However, concerns have been raised by civil society and independent agricultural groups as to AGRA?s support for and possible promotion of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) — particularly in relation to the supply of seeds with ?terminator genes?, which pose an undeniable threat to food (and therefore political) independence for the continent.

There are also worries over the increasing incidence of ?land-grabs? by foreign multinationals and over-promotion and use of artificial/chemical fertiliser — when organic fertiliser is cheaper, safer for the environment and local community, and gives produce that sells at a premium price.??????????????????????????????????????????????????

By Konrad Kodjo Djaisi

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