The bulk of Africa's agricultural funding should be devoted to agroecology - an agricultural practice that builds sustainable and resilient food systems and will transform food and farming systems, experts advise. Only 3% of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation projects the world’s biggest philanthropic investor in agricultural development in Africa support ‘agroecology’ and 85% of projects funded by the Foundation are limited to developing industrial agriculture. 30% of farms around the world are estimated to have redesigned their production systems around agro ecological principles.

Agroecology works with nature combining different plants and animals and uses natural synergies rather than synthetic chemicals to regenerate soils, fertilize crops and fight pests. It also improves farmers’ livelihoods through diverse income streams, resilience to shocks, and short supply chains that retain value in the community meaning it has the potential to reconcile the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability.

However, despite its benefits most funding to Africa's agriculture goes to industrial agriculture - which has failed to assure food and nutritional security in a positive social and environmental context.


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Technological fixes for agriculture in Africa not sustainable

“With the compound challenges of climate change, pressure on land and water, food-induced health problems and pandemics such as COVID, we need change now. And this starts with money flowing into agroecology,” says Biovision president Hans Herren.

“We need to change funding flows and unequal power relations. It’s clear that in Africa as elsewhere, vested interests are propping up agricultural practices based on an obsession with technological fixes that are damaging soils and livelihoods and creating a dependency on the world’s biggest agribusinesses. Agroecology offers a way out of that vicious cycle,” says Olivia Yambi, co-chair of IPES-Food.

A new report finds that support for agroecology is now growing across the agri-development community particularly in light of climate change, but this hasn’t yet translated into a meaningful shift in funding flows.

Funding for Africa agriculture goes to industrial agriculture

The report by Biovision, IPES-Food, and the UK-based Institute of Development Studies reveals that money flows for agricultural development in Africa are to industrial agriculture which has failed to assure food and nutritional security in a positive social and environmental context. Industrial agriculture is defined as the large-scale, intensive production of crops and livestock, often involving the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers on crops and pesticides.

“Most governments, both in developing and developed countries still favor ‘green revolution’ approaches, with the belief that industrial agriculture is the only way to produce sufficient food,” said Herren.

“But these approaches have failed,” warns Herren, winner of the 1995 World Food Prize and 2013 Right Livelihood Award. “They have failed ecosystems, farming communities, and an entire continent,” he said.

As many as 85% of projects funded by the Gates Foundation, the world’s biggest philanthropic investor in agricultural development, are limited to developing industrial agriculture. The report says 13% of projects by Kenyan research institutes are agroecological. Another 13% focus on replacing synthetic inputs with organic alternatives. Some 51% of Swiss-funded projects have agro ecological components, but only a handful are truly systemic.

The Money Flows report looks at investments in sub-Saharan Africa with a focus on Switzerland, a major bilateral donor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the biggest philanthropic investor in agri-development and Kenya, one of Africa’s leading recipients and implementers of agricultural research for development or AgR4D. More than 60% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is smallholder farmers, and about 23 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture, according to the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm.

“What needs to happen is for investments in AgR4D to target agroecology because the industrial agriculture and food model has shown its many weaknesses and failures to assure food and nutritional security in a positive social and environmental context,” said Hans Herren.

Kenya is one of Africa’s leading recipients and implementers of agricultural research for development (AgR4D). The country ranks third in sub-Saharan Africa in spending on agricultural research after Nigeria and South Africa. Around 13% of projects carried out by Kenyan research institutes are ‘agroecological’, with a further 13% of projects focussing on the substitution of synthetic inputs.

To accelerate this shift, the report calls on donors to a shift towards long-term, pooled funding models; require projects to be co-designed with farmers and communities; increase the share of funding going to African organizations; and increase transparency in how their projects are funded, monitored and measured for impact.

The study was carried out by Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development, a not-for-profit organization involved in ecological and sustainable development projects in Africa, in collaboration with the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), an independent, expert panel that works towards the transition to sustainable food systems, and the UK’s Institute for Development Studies.

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