Why Major Funders Continue to Back Africa’s Green Revolution

It’s been a decade since the Gates and Rockefeller foundations cofounded the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and both remain on a funding roll. Rockefeller just committed an additional $50 million and Gates is promising to one-to-one match of other donor support of AGRA programs.

Rockefeller’s $50 million builds upon the foundation’s investments in AGRA of nearly $200 million over the past decade. The Gates Foundation hasn’t gone into much detail as to how much more money it will invest in AGRA on top of the over $430 million it has given so far. Earlier this summer the foundation pledged at least $5 billion toward development programs across Africa over the next five years with at least $1 billion going toward agricultural initiatives.  

Related: Gates Foundation Ups its AGRA Support

Gates’ and Rockefeller’s recent AGRA pledges were announced at the latest African Green Revolution Forum. The forum resulted in more than $30 billion in total commitments including $24 billion over 10 years from the African Development Bank.

So why after a decade, are powerful donors like Gates and Rockefeller continuing to pour big money into Africa’s agricultural sector? Surely progress has been made over the past 10 years right?

Indeed AGRA has made major strides toward improving the lives and livelihoods of the millions of smallholder farmers throughout Africa over the past decade. Smallholder farmers—which comprise around 70 percent of the continent’s population—are now using technologies that are helping them to increase their yields and profits. Also, training and education programs offered by AGRA are working to cultivate the next generation of agricultural leaders in Africa.

Additionally, AGRA has launched a number of programs and projects that have led to the development of better seeds, improved soil fertility, better market information systems, increased access to financial products, and improved storage and transportation systems.

Related: Postharvest Food Losses Are Still a Big Deal. Which is Why Rockefeller is on the Case

So, yes, a good deal of progress has been made. But, with around 1.2 billion people in the world who are hungry and undernourished, much more work needs to be done. Particularly since the number of hungry people around the world is expected to grow to 2 billion by 2050. Not to mention, the heavy lifting needs to continue if AGRA’s “vision” of doubling the incomes of 30 million farm households by the end of this decade is to be realized.

AGRA is getting plenty of powerful help toward realizing that vision, and it’s not just coming from Gates and Rockefeller.

In 2015, The MasterCard Foundation launched its Fund for Rural Prosperity. This $50 million initiative aims to improve the livelihoods of up to 1 million of Africa’s rural poor population, mainly through improving and increasing their access to financial products and services. The foundation is an AGRA partner, focusing in promoting financial inclusion. According to AGRA, it “shares the foundation’s belief that smallholder farmers and local agriculture businesses deserve access to affordable financial services.”

In 2015, AGRA received a $15 million grant from MasterCard’s Fund for Rural Prosperity in support of its work toward increasing access to financial services for over 700,000 smallholder farmers in Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania. The overall goal of the project—which emphasizes women farmers—is to help increase crop yields and improve economic security.  

Related: AGRA and Mercy Corps Win Big Inaugural Give from the MasterCard Foundation

Another big AGRA supporter is the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. No surprise here given Howard Buffett’s love for farming.

According to Buffett, “We have not succeeded in reducing hunger. We’ve not succeeded in increasing productivity in [any] African country the way we need to. So we’re not getting it right.” To help get things right, Buffett made a $500 million investment in Rwanda’s agricultural sector. Those funds are going to support a 10-year plan to help smallholder farmers through a number of projects related to irrigation and agricultural training.

Related: A Test Case in Africa: Howard G. Buffett’s $500 Million Commitment to Rwandan Farmers

In his book, 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World, Buffett writes about Joe DeVries, a man he calls a “modern day hero.” DeVries, who serves as the chief of Agricultural Transformation at AGRA, saw a major gap in seed industry in Africa as governments were failing to conduct enough seed research and development and private markets had no interest in the field. So, DeVries created a private seed industry. Now, millions of farmers are obtaining more productive and resilient seeds.

By DeVries’ numbers, his efforts have helped feed some 25 million people. Those numbers are likely to grow as AGRA has announced that it plans to invest $500 million over the next five years to help agricultural companies as well as governments in Africa produce seeds. DeVries projects that 11 of the countries in which AGRA is currently working to be food secure in the next decade. Which is kind of a big deal. With projections like that, it’s no wonder why the likes of Gates, Rockefeller, Buffett, and MasterCard continue to invest heavily in Africa’s green revolution.