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February 12, 2012

‘Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is a major assault on seed sovereignty’

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa aims to revolutionize farming in Africa by various interventions including supporting research, farmer seed and fertilizer access and in various other ways.

Based in Kenya and chaired by Ghanaian former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the organization is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That automatically gave it deep pockets and prestige, making the organization an important agenda setter in African agriculture. But those who are opposed to ‘green revolution’ thinking look at the organization not as a welcome help to Africa’s agricultural challenges, but instead as a new threat.

Indian activist Vandana Shiva is a strong critic of green revolution effects in her country. She is one of the most prominent voices to warn African countries against repeating what she feels are the dangers of the technological efforts that raised agricultural yields in Asia, but at a human and environmental cost that some argue is unacceptable.

Shiva and like-minded people worry that there is a vast conspiracy afoot for giant, mostly American agribusiness companies to control the world’s seed supply. They argue that this profit-driven drive puts the world’s majority poor farmers in grave risk of being beholden and indebted to these companies.     

“If farmers do not have their own seeds or access to open pollinated varieties that
they can save, improve and exchange, they have no seed sovereignty – and consequently no food sovereignty,” Shiva writes in her latest contribution on the subject. “Seed sovereignty includes the farmer's rights to save, breed and exchange seeds, to have access to diverse open source seeds which can be saved - and which are not patented, genetically modified, owned or controlled by emerging seed giants. It is based on reclaiming seeds and biodiversity as commons and public good.”

Shiva then goes on to give examples of how unsustainable farmer seed and inputs debt to seed companies have led to thousands of suicides in India. She writes about the loss of biodiversity from the introduction of GM seed, the cynicism of the major seed companies in advancing their interests and several other themes that are fairly common in anti-green revolution arguments.

Although agriculture in Africa is not the main thrust of her article on the Al Jazeera website, AGRA does get a mention as an example for Shiva of the corporate thrust to control the global food chain right from the source, the seed.

Shiva writes,”The GMO seeds Monsanto is offering are failing. This is not “improvement" of genetic resources, but degradation. This is not innovation but piracy
For example, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) - being pushed by the Gates Foundation - is a major assault on Africa's seed sovereignty.”

The extensively argued article by Vandana Shiva is The seed emergency: The threat to food and democracy.

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