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October 02, 2012

AGRA meeting in Tanzania - farming at the talking level

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has just had its latest meeting in Tanzania.

Naturally, there have been many reports of what a smashing success it was. Easily the biggest success of the meeting was how effectively the organizers ensured that there was media which would simply regurgitate what they wanted to get across, rather than raise any of the issues about AGRA that many people involved in agriculture across Africa are concerned about.

This is not at all hard to do, unfortunately. The deep pockets of principal AGRA funder, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, mean that there are many media organizations who are happy, even eager to be megaphones for the whole effort. Much of that media finds it hard to ponder a critical, questioning approach to an ‘African-led’ effort with the good marketing sense to hire former UN secretary general Kofi Annan as its main spokesperson.

So the media was compliant, fully in the bag from beginning to end. They were there not so much to ‘report,’ but to simply broadcast what they were told, to act as a megaphone for AGRA. The stories about the meeting from media as scattered as those in Ghana, Rwanda and Tanzania itself were astonishing in their same-ness.

So congratulations are in order to AGRA for its strong public relations drive. Likewise, shame are in order for the media for failing to do basic journalism, and instead willingly allowing themselves to be propaganda tools in the pockets of the Gates Foundation and AGRA.

If anything, the gushing, unquestioning and un-analytical reportage that Gates Foundation and AGRA mandarins might be very pleased about also makes them appear as being afraid to confront the issues that make them controversial. It is a little bit like politicians not quite confident of their authority and popularity, who then purchase fawning media coverage. Very often the fawning is so overdone that the image achieved is ultimately the opposed of that intended.

But perhaps this is to be overly, unfairly cynical about AGRA’s heavy use of public relations by hired, sponsored or otherwise compromised media. Let’s hear what one report said were the accomplishments of the meeting in Arusha:

* Encourage private sector lending to agriculture, especially small scale players.

* Remove trade barriers

* Address the bottlenecks that inhibit regional markets from working effectively

* Legislatures must enact legislation that encourages private sector investment

There you have it- the much hyped African Green Revolution Forum had absolutely nothing new to say about agricultural development in Africa! It was merely farming by talking, a pest that has long plagued Africa.

African Agriculture

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