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June 18, 2012

African media's frequent failure to pose the tough questions to AGRA

‘We are set to double income of African smallholder farmers.’

That is the bold claim that makes up the heading of an article in the March 12 edition of The Vanguard (Nigeria) newspaper following a ‘phone chat’ with Joseph DeVries, executive director of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Among other things, DeVries talks about AGRA’s Programme in Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) to increase the delivery of seeds to farmers in the countries in which Africa operates, although it typically, lazily, falsely refers to ‘Africa’ as if every corner of this huge continent of more than 50 countries is going to be reached by the project.

Whether it is the failure of reporters to do their job by asking for more precise information about which necessarily tiny parts of ‘Africa’ programmes like this specifically mean, or the desire of promoters of such projects to make them seem much grander than could possibly be, the loose use of ‘Africa’ is disconcerting and deeply misleading about the reach of such programmes.

We are told that a recent $56 million grant to PASS ‘will dramatically increase Africa’s capacity to breed, produce and disseminate quality seed of staple food crops such as maize, rice, cassava, beans, sorghum, millet and other staples. The programme is educating a new generation of plant breeders and seed specialists, improving extension services to share information about new alternatives, expanding seed production
facilities, and strengthening agro-dealer networks.’

These are all obviously positive things to do, although the interviewer neglects to get into whether all these wonderful things are to be accomplished by capacity building African institutions throughout the chain from seed production to delivery to the farmers, or whether it is mainly to simply set up local distribution chains for foreign seed suppliers. Ostensibly there is no difference, but in reality one has the potential to really strengthen local agriculture in the participating countries, while the other may mainly deliver millions more people involved in farming in Africa to the doors of corporates in the USA and Europe.

This gets to the crux of why not everybody sees AGRA as an ‘innocent’ philanthropic initiative, but instead as a stealth strategy for foreign agribusiness to control Africa’s seed supply.

Without at least posing questions related to this issue to DeVries, the Vanguard’s article comes off as merely another of the propaganda pieces for AGRA that much of the media all across Africa disturbingly distribute. It is free public relations on behalf of AGRA rather than real journalism by these publications for their readers.

Embarrassingly silly, softball, kindergarten questions like the Vanguard's 'Will this programme bring hunger to an end in Africa?' do not even particularly do any favors for AGRA itself, even though it may be delighted to only be asked the kind of things it can easily fend off with stock public relations mumbo jumbo phrases.

African Agriculture

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