“Running to stand still: Small-scale farmers and the Green Revolution in Malawi

ACBThe African Centre for Biosafety
PO Box 29170, Melville 2109 South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)11 486 1156

ReportThe African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has today released its research report based on field work conducted in Malawi, titled “Running to stand still: Small-scale farmers and the Green Revolution in Malawi.” The research, conducted by the ACB in collaboration with the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology and Dr Blessings Chinsinga from the University of Malawi, does not validate the argument that Malawi is a Green Revolution success story. On the contrary, the research highlights the plight of small-scale farmers at the receiving end of the Green Revolution (GR) push in Malawi. Among its findings are that farmers are trapped in a cycle of debt and dependency on costly external inputs with limited long-term benefit, and that the natural resource base is being degraded and eroded despite – or perhaps because of – GR inputs.

According to ACB’s lead researcher, Dr Stephen Greenberg, “our research found that small-scale farmers are using shockingly high levels of synthetic fertilisers at great financial costs to themselves and the public purse. Rising soil infertility is a feature of farming systems reliant on synthetic fertiliser. We found that farmers are increasingly adopting hybrid maize seed, encouraged by government subsidies and the promise of massive yields. However, adoption of these hybrid seeds comes at the cost of abandoning diversity and resilience of local seed varieties, and the ever escalating requirement for synthetic fertilisers. Indeed, our findings show net transfers away from farming households to agribusinesses such as SeedCo, Pannar (recently merged with Pioneer Hi-Bred), Monsanto and Demeter in the commercial seed industry. For fertiliser, the major fertiliser producers and distributors are Farmers World (which also owns Demeter seed), Yara, TansGlobe, Omnia and Rab Processors.”

The research is part of ACB’s multi-year research programme in southern and east Africa to investigate seed and soil fertility practices and challenges facing small-scale farmers in the region. One of the aims of the study is to offer an evidence-based critique of the Green Revolution agenda, with a particular focus on the activities of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an institution that plays a critical coordinating role in expanding the GR agenda on the continent.

The key findings of the report include the following:

The Farmer Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) is an essential element in the expansion of GR technologies in Malawi. The programme has increased effective demand for hybrid maize seed and synthetic fertiliser, and created a guaranteed market for MNCs to profit in. Mostly the grains are limited to relatively minor yield increases, with long term negative consequences on the ecology. The money comes in from public expenditure through subsidies and development aid, and leaves through private channels (seed and fertiliser companies).

When increased input costs are taken into account, farmers adopting GR technologies realise a potential income deficit of K55,954 (US$133.22). Even if the synthetic fertiliser is also shared amongst other crops, overall production of these crops remains low and it is highly unlikely that farmers will realise a net profit by adopting these technologies. The short-term benefit of higher yields masks this net transfer from small-scale farming households to seed and fertiliser agribusinesses.

AGRA-supported seed development, production and distribution programmes cover a fairly wide range of crop types in Malawi, but farmers are still using non-certified seed. The AGRA programme has not had a major impact in the research sites to date, with small quantities of seed being distributed (less than 5kg per participating farming household) and limited returns to farmers. This is mainly due to high prices and various quality factors (including storage, processing, conversion rates of kernels to flour, taste, insect resistance both in the field and in storage, and drought tolerance). The availability of local and uncertified varieties offers farmers a range of options.

Seed recycling is a common practice, with 80% of local maize seed, 73% of cowpea, 64% of beans, 55% of groundnuts and 54% of soybean seed being recycled by respondent households. Hybrid maize is the only seed that was mostly purchased from seed dealers (59%). Yet, farmer-managed seed systems and agro-biodiversity are downplayed, with farmer-managed systems considered to be inferior to profit-generating private activity in seed production and distribution.

There is no practical support from government for the saving or exchange of uncertified seed, while efforts by AGRA and government alike tends towards replacing uncertified seeds with certified varieties. Farmers are not arguing to replace local seed with hybrid or certified seed. The quality of uncertified pigeon pea (100% from a small sample of users), beans (81%), groundnuts (81%), cowpea (77%) and soya (72%) were all assessed as good by the majority of respondents. Seed quality was not a major issue for most farmers, although seed price was, indicating a commercial market.

Independent soil testing conducted by Chitedze Research Station as part of the research reveals soils that are technically infertile, with very low levels of key nutrients and nutrient-holding capacity, despite years of synthetic fertiliser applications. This gives lie to the argument that the addition of synthetic fertiliser is necessary for long-term improvements in soil fertility. Indeed, the opposite is the case.

According to ACB’s Gareth Jones, a researcher involved in the programme,”Green Revolution interventions, of which AGRA is a leading example, are fundamentally premised on the idea that increased costs of certified seed and synthetic fertiliser can be met by increasing yields, which will allow for increased sales that can generate income for input purchase in the next year as well as expansion of farming as a business to the benefit of producers. However, this ‘endless virtuous cycle’ does not appear to have taken root in Malawi as borne out by our research. The vast majority of households appear to be caught in a relationship of dependency on GR inputs, in particular, synthetic fertiliser.”

The study recommends that input subsidies targeted at individuals should be phased out and replaced with public investment in extension, farmer-based R&D and bulk infrastructure such as water and roads with collective benefit. A key part of public investments in R&D and extension can include identifying, prioritising and supporting work around participatory plant breeding, participatory variety selection, farmer-managed seed certification and quality assurance systems, identifying and supporting the development of locally important crops on the basis of decentralised participatory R&D, farmer to farmer exchanges, identifying and expanding means of increasing organic content in the soil, an orientation to nurturing soil life as the basis of soil fertility or soil health programmes, and support agro-ecological methods of soil improvement and water retention. Work on nitrogen fixing trees and food trees could advance soil fertility and food security agendas.

The study also recommends that tobacco cultivation, an anti-social, poisonous crop, which locks farmers into production systems that are not in their long-term interests be replaced by socially and ecologically just alternative crops and production systems.

To download the Summary Report, click here: http://www.acbio.org.za/index.php/publications/seedfood-sovereignty/467-running-to-stand-still-small-scale-farmers-and-the-green-revolution-in-malawi


Dr Stephen Greenberg
African Center for Biosafety

Dr Blessings Chinsinga
Centre for Social Research (CSR) and Department of Political and Administrative Studies (PAS)
University of Malawi
Tel: +265 999 836 680/888 577 842
E-mail: kchinsinga@yahoo.co.uk/bchinsinga@cc.ac.mw

Molly Cheatum
Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology
Mobile: +265 (0) 993655468
E-mail: molly@kusamala.org



Who benefits from GM Crops? 2014: Report by Friends of Earth

by Friends of the Earth International — last modified Apr 24, 2014 03:30 PM

The latest ‘Who benefits from GM crops’ report suggests that an increasing number of states are suspending GM crops.

Read a summary of the report



  • The report reveals that 90 per cent of GM crops are grown in just six countries and by less than one per cent of the world farming population. An analysis of industry figures shows the claimed increase in GM planting in 2013 remains confined to these six countries.
  • The number of countries cultivating genetically modified (GM) crops is in decline, with Poland and Egypt the latest countries to suspend GM crop production.
  • There is also little evidence that new GM varieties are the best way to improve nutrition or increase our capacity to adapt to climate change. Ninety nine per cent of available GM crops on the market have been modified to resist pesticides or produce their own, resulting in spiraling pesticide use.
  • Countries such as Mexico, Kenya, Egypt and Poland have recently suspended cultivation of certain GM crops. Around the world, experts are calling for a shift to agro-ecological farming methods to tackle hunger and malnutrition. These methods have been shown to double yields in Africa and effectively tackle pests.
  • Countries such as the USA, Argentina and Brazil, some of the world’s top producers of GM crops, are seeing an upward trend in the use of chemical pesticides as a result of their long-term adoption of GM crops.
  • In Africa GM crops are grown only in three countries, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan. However, extreme pressure from biotech companies threatens to open up the continent to GM crops. A recent Kenyan decision to ban GM crops came under fire from lobbyists.

Read the full report (pdf)

Read the executive summary in English (pdf)

Taken by storm: responding to the impacts of climate change


Christian Aid has published a new report detailing the devastating effects of climate change on some of the poorest communities around the world.

‘Taken by storm: responding to the impacts of climate change’ reveals the way in which developing countries including the Philippines, Brazil, Malawi and Bolivia are suffering the worst consequences, and underlines the need for world leaders to respond with urgency.

It calls for “decisive action to be taken at every opportunity” to combat the disastrous effects.

“Short-term adaptation is not enough. Structural change must come from binding commitments at a global level, and must happen now,” it says.

The report is introduced by Lord Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and current Chair of Christian Aid. He recalls the flooding that caused chaos in the UK at the beginning of this year, but notes that though it was highly disruptive and shocking for us in the West, “for millions of people around the world, living with this sense of fragility is nothing new”.

“Far from being a vague threat in the distant future, a warming world is very much a present reality,” he warns. “Stronger storm surges, heavier rain, and scarcer resources are part of what countless people across the world live with daily, with far fewer resources to deal with it than we have.

“It is essential for us to remember the specific human faces of those who suffer because of climate instability. Countless communities and families in every affected region of Africa, Latin America and Asia, people with needs and hopes and anxieties like ours, are already forced to cope with circumstances whose difficulty increases daily, and so with the prospect of an extremely bleak future for themselves and their children if nothing changes.”

The report shares stories of some of the individuals who are suffering as a result of what Lord Williams refers to as this “deep injustice”, as a reminder that there are real people suffering, though we are often blind to it in the West.

Marina Acaylan is one of millions who lost their homes in the devastating typhoon that wreaked havoc across the Philippines last year, killing thousands. She used to earn a living by selling homemade rice cakes at the local market, but can no longer do so because the marketplace was also swept away by the storm.

Kenyan farmers Lilian and Alberty Nthiga are finding it increasingly difficult to grow crops due to a lack of rainfall and thus struggle to make ends meet, while Carmen Quispe Dermarca is having to cope with similar difficulties in Bolivia, where the Illimani glacier is melting.

Although people throughout the developing world are continuing to strive to protect their livelihoods, and are finding ways to cope with changing climates, the report notes that “short-term adaptation is only a temporary fix”.

“The long-term solution will only be found when the global community addresses the root causes of climate change, and takes decisive steps to reduce emissions,” it states.

“There is no doubt that climate change is significantly hampering development work, compounding the many struggles faced by people already fighting to free themselves from poverty’s grip.”

Martin Vilela of Agua Sustentable, a charity working in partnership with Christian Aid in Bolivia to help those struggling with water shortages, says: “We can’t constantly be adapting. I think it’s important that the communities find immediate responses to the changes, but we can’t forget that this is a structural problem.

“[A] key area of our work is to show to the global community the reality of the communities…so they can realise that climate change is real and start to take action to find concrete responses at a global level.

“If this is not achieved, many indigenous peoples’ way of life will be destroyed permanently,” he warns.

Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Change Adviser and author of the report Dr Alison Doig has reiterated the importance of immediate action from the world’s leaders.

“People living on the front line of climate change are the canaries in the climate coalmine, but their plight is more than just a warning of what many other parts of the world can expect,” she said.

“These are individuals paying the price for the actions of wealthy nations and people grown rich through continued dependence on polluting fossil fuels.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is to publish its latest report on the impacts of climate change on Monday, which is expected to make clear the need for strong intervention.

“It is vital that politicians hear their voices and heed the warnings of the IPCC and make tackling climate change a priority if we are to pass on a safe planet fit for future generations,” Doig concludes.

“The world must act decisively and urgently to reduce emissions, manage resources and protect the vulnerable. In this way, and only this way, will we have the chance for a future that is sustainable and fair for the poorest people in the world.”

The Impacts of Reforms to the Public Distribution System in India’s Chhattisgarh on Food Security

Author(s) Prasad Krishnamurthy, Vikram Pathania, and Sharad Tandon, Economic Research Report No. ERR-164, United States Department of Agriculture, 34 pp | March 2014

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The Indian State of Chhattisgarh implemented a number of well-publicized reforms to improve distribution of subsidized food grains, many of which have been incorporated into the recently passed National Food Security Act. ERS researchers show that food aid consumption in the State increased in response to these reforms, and that the increase in food aid helped improve food security in the State.

The report can be downloaded here:

Scientists pitch for managing both agriculture & wetlands

Press Trust of India | February 2, 2014

Agriculture and wetlands in India and the rest of the world should be managed in unison to tackle poverty and conserve ecosystems, says a new report.

Agriculture and wetlands in India and the rest of the world should be managed in unison to tackle poverty and conserve ecosystems, says a new report.

Around six per cent of the world’s landmass is classified as either permanent or seasonal wetland. Millions of people directly depend on them for food, water, and other purposes.

Researchers estimate that wetlands are worth around USD 70 billion globally each year.

However, these areas also face a number of threats, the most serious of which is agriculture, the ‘Wetlands and People’ report unveiled today said.

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Download: http://www.iwmi.cgiar.org/Publications/Books/PDF/wetlands-and-people.pdf

“Wetlands and agriculture can and must coexist,” said Matthew McCartney, a hydrologist at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a CGIAR centre, and a contributor to the report.

“We need policies on wetlands that support ecosystems, sustain rich biodiversity, and simultaneously improve the livelihoods of farming communities who depend on wetlands or whose activities directly affect them. We need to find a way to have the best of both worlds,” he said in the report.

Noting that outright protection of wetlands is incompatible with farming and undermines livelihoods, McCartney said: “But there are landscape approaches and agricultural practises that can support and sustain healthy wetlands, and vice versa. Working with local communities will help us find the best solutions.”

As per the report, India has 26 wetland sites of global importance. These include well-known lakes – Loktak in Manipur, Chilika in Odisha and Wular in Kashmir.

It is estimated that in the last century alone 50 per cent of the nation’s wetlands have been lost. A similar situation prevails in Southeast Asia.

In the report, researchers highlighted a number of examples of the value of wetlands to poor, rural communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America. They also outlined ways to manage them sustainably for current and future generations.

IWMI said the debate around conservation of wetlands has been polarised for years, with agriculture implicated as one of the greatest threats to their survival.

It said now there is a growing consensus that a ‘people-centred’ approach that seeks to optimise e benefits for small-holder farmers and reduce poverty, while simultaneously protecting ecosystems, represents the most promising future for long-term conservation of wetlands.

CGIAR (The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) is an international body that funds and co-ordinates research into agricultural crop breeding with the goal of reducing rural poverty and increasing food security.

Mountain Farming is Family Farming: FAO report

The FAO has recently launched a publication highlighting the challenges faced by mountain family farmers. The publication provides case studies from around the world showing how mountain regions and family farmers are affected by population growth, the spread of urban lifestyles and the migration of men and youth to urban areas.  It also looks at the opportunities of improving livelihoods through creating, labeling, and selling quality mountain products derived from organic production.