London: Far from helping alleviate poverty, the so called ‘green revolutions’ aimed at increasing and modernising agricultural production could be making things worse for the poorest in African nations, suggests new research.
In the 1960s and 70s policies supporting new seeds for marketable crops, sold at guaranteed prices, helped many farmers and transformed economies in Asian countries. These became known as ‘green revolutions’.
The new wave of green revolution policies in sub-Saharan Africa is supported by multinational companies and western donors, and is impacting the lives of tens, even hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers, said the study’s lead author Neil Dawson from the University of East Anglia in England.
The study revealed that only a relatively wealthy minority have been able to keep to enforced modernisation because the poorest farmers cannot afford the risk of taking out credit for the approved inputs, such as seeds and fertilisers.
Their fears of harvesting nothing from new crops and the potential for the government to seize and reallocate their land means many choose to sell up instead, the study said.
“Similar results are emerging from other experiments in Africa. Agricultural development certainly has the potential to help these people, but instead these policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants,” Dawson said.
“Many of these policies have been hailed as transformative development successes, yet that success is often claimed on the basis of weak evidence through inadequate impact assessments. And conditions facing African countries today are very different from those past successes in Asia some 40 years ago,” Dawson noted.
Such policies may increase aggregate production of exportable crops, yet for many of the poorest smallholders they strip them of their main productive resource, land, Dawson explained.
The research looked in-depth at Rwanda’s agricultural policies and the changes impacting the well being of rural inhabitants in eight villages in the country’s mountainous west.
The study, published in the journal World Development, detailed how these imposed changes disrupt subsistence practices, exacerbate poverty, impair local systems of trade and knowledge, and threaten land ownership.
“It is startling that the impacts of policies with such far-reaching impacts for such poor people are, in general, so inadequately assessed,” Dawson stressed.