Green agriculture: interests, politics and narratives at Rio+20

The FAO’s 2011 State of the World food security report shows that since 2006, the world has witnessed an increase in food insecurity. According to the report, one billion people worldwide – mainly Africans – are food-insecure.  This worrying state of food insecurity emerges alongside the L’Aquila initiative, in which the G8 pledged US$20 billion to support improved seeds and soil fertility technologies for a green revolution in Africa and other areas.

But how do you explain the fact that in this era, some traditionally food-secure African countries such as Kenya have become more food importers than producers? While the success of the L’Aquila initiative is unclear and contested, on 19 May 2012 the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was born – again, to the credit of the G8. The initiative aims to direct private capital towards new technologies in the realm of green African agriculture and with the hope that this would feed about 50 million hungry Africans. The approach is supported in the World Economic Forum’s ‘new vision for African agriculture’, that emphasises market investment in smallholder agriculture as a means of achieving economic growth.

International efforts must also grapple with the issue of climate change, which demands a 70% increase in food production by 2050 to feed the expected world population of 9 billion people.

So can green agriculture fix this situation? In Rio, some pertinent questions on green-driven food security agenda need to be answered for Africa:

  • What does it entail and how does it differ from what we already know?
  • Who and what drives the mainstream narrative of the agenda, and how does it reflect the aspirations of the hungry?
  • What is the risk for powerful interests in the agrifood supply chain in the context of rising concerns about global land and water grabbing, climate change and population growth?
  • How does a green-driven food security agenda intersect with the agrifood policy narratives of African countries, for example that of agricultural mechanization for economic growth?
  • How does it engage the real underlying causes of food insecurity in Africa?

The task of unmasking such agricultural policies, to tell the untold story in policy-making, is part of the research agenda of the Future Agricultures Consortium. These inquiries question, in advance, the mainstream assumptions likely to dominate the architecture of green agriculture. If clarified, they may help to save the one billion hungry mouths from false hopes – hearing the same thing from the same people time and again.