What is holding back investment in agroecological research for Africa

  • 12th June 2020
  • by secretary
10 June 2020. The ‘Money Flows’ report (157 pages) was published by Biovision, IPES-Food and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). It looks at what’s holding back investment in agroecological research for Africa. 
  • It explores fresh perspectives on why research funding for agroecology matters.
  • The study shows that international research funds for agricultural development only slightly benefit sustainable projects.
  • The study found only a small proportion of funding for research on agriculture in Africa goes to institutions based in Africa.
  • The study shows that 85 per cent of the agricultural development cooperation funds from the powerful Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation flow into industrial food production.
Leached soils, endangered biodiversity, a hotter climate: in the medium term, industrial agriculture will destroy its own basis for food production. Nevertheless, the major donors in international development cooperation continue to support food production based on monocultures, synthetic pesticides and artificial fertilizers.
The situation is not much better for agricultural research institutes in Kenya: only 13 per cent of projects are linked to agroecology, an agricultural method based on sustainable production and a holistic approach that considers social issues and political contexts.
The big promise has not delivered

50 years after the “Green Revolution” in sub-Saharan Africa introduced widespread industrial agriculture, its effects are sobering. Hans R. Herren, World Food Prize winner and President of Biovision, says:

“The industrial approach has failed across the board – for ecosystems, for farming families, for all of sub-Saharan Africa.” Despite all the ecological damage caused, it has not fulfilled its promise of ending hunger. On the contrary: world hunger has been increasing in recent years.

Numerous initiatives and projects around the globe demonstrate that agroecological approaches work in practice (see Beacons of Hope), but they are knowledge-intensive. Agroecology does not deliver uniform, globally applicable remedies; rather, it requires the development of locally adapted solutions. This makes it all the more important to redirect research funding from industrial to agroecological research.

Positive approaches in Swiss development cooperation
Switzerland is, in this regard, ahead of the game: the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), like its German and French counterparts and the FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization), has officially recognized agroecology as a key method for establishing sustainable food systems. The study shows that 51 per cent of projects financed by Swiss development funds contain elements of agroecology, and 41 per cent also support systemic components like fair working conditions and gender equality. The study sees potential for improvement in projects that Switzerland co-finances, of which only a handful include systemic approaches. 
Renowned voices on the Money Flows Report

“People and nature ahead of profits for a small few”. With the multiple challenges of climate change, economic pressure on land and water, nutrition-based health problems and pandemics such as Covid-19, which exacerbate the problem of food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, we need change now. And in order to make it happen, significantly more research funds must flow into agroecology.” Biovision president Hans Herren  Read more…

After COVID-19, greater funding for agroecological innovation could play a vital role. This is a key moment to be releasing a report of this kind. We have been aware for years of the problems with agri-food systems globally and in Africa, and their failure to promote equity and sustainability amidst global challenges such as climate change. We have also been aware of the potential of agroecology to contribute to more resilient food systems. But there has been consistent under-investment in agroecological research and practice. And now, the COVID-19 pandemic has shone an even brighter spotlight on the cracks in our current agri-food systems and the urgent need for alternatives. We need to ‘build back better’ following this crisis, and greater attention to and funding for agroecological innovation could play a vital role.” Melissa Leach, director of IDS and a member of IPES-Food’s expert panel. Read more…

Agroecology tied to SDGs and the Paris Agreement? That’s a virtuous circle! Agroecology is about transforming the food system. And it’s very clear why we need to do that: because of the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture on health, nutrition, the environment, human rights and cultural values. Now, research should logically go into understanding how we can undertake such a transition. That’s why it’s crucial to understand what the research focus is right now (the status quo), and how to better redirect that research into a transformative agenda. And agroecology is transformative. ”  Million Belay of IPES-Food and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). Read more…