Agrarian reforms and the African Green Revolution

Publication Date03 October 2012
AuthorOluwatoyin Dare Kolawole
SubjectPublic policy & environmental management,Environmental technology & innovation
Agrarian reforms and the
African Green Revolution
Oluwatoyin Dare Kolawole
Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, Maun, Botswana
Purpose – Agricultural intensification is central to the Green Revolution (GR) programme. This
initiative, which dates back to the early 1940s, revolves around the development of high-yielding and
disease-resistant seed varieties that aims at bringing about efficient and secure food production.
The purpose of this paper is to present a brief genesis and thrust of the GR. Focusing on Nigeria as
a typical African case, the discourse addresses the political economy of the Nigerian agriculture,
outlines the features of the Nigerian GR and highlights some crucial issues debated during the 2008
Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS) conference for a uniquely African GR as a pro-poor development
Design/methodology/approach – Using a critical discourse analysis and case study design, the
paper analyses the political and bureaucratic lapses associated with the introduction and
implementation of the reform.
Findings – Although wary of some of the socio-political and environmental issues surrounding the
production of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and high external inputs (HEIs) in the push
for a new African GR, the paper reports the proceedings of the Salzbu rg conference as a likely
platform for the formulation of new pro-poor p olicies in the context of the African GR. If sincerely and
properly implemented, the paper argues that an African-oriented GR framework is conceived as a
possible policy window to address the challenges of the continent’s poor majority.
Social implications – The policy issues raised in the paper would serve as a pool of information
from which policy conceptualisation, formulation and implementation could be derived for the good of
the African agrarian economies and poor majority.
Originality/value – Highlighted issues on the debates on a “uniquely” African GR during the SGS
conference provide original insights to the implementation of agrarian reforms in Africa. The paper is
valuable to policy makers and other stakeholders in re-shaping the agricultural sector in the continent.
Keywords Nigeria, Agriculture, Agricultural safety, Food crops, Green Revolution,
Agrarian reforms, Food security, Political economy, Policy, Genetically modified organisms,
Paper type General review
Green Revolution[1] (GR) is an agrarian reform strategy with a long- standing history
(see, for instance, AgB ioWorld, 2011). Although the idea was first mooted in 1941 by
Henry Wallace who was then the Vice President of the USA, the term GR was first used
by William Gaud in 1968, who at the time, was Director of the US Agency for
International Development (Wikipedia, 2011). Thinking on how to aid the Mexicans,
Wallace had casually suggested to Raymond Fosdick, the President of The Rockefeller
Foundation at the time: “Increase the yield per acre of corn and beans in Mexico,
and you would do more for the country and its people than by any other means”
(The Rockefeller Foundation, 2006, pp. 2-4). Consequently, having received the
approval of the Foundation and that of the Mexican government, Fosdick commenced a
research and development operation during which the Oficina de Estudios Especiales
was created within the Mexican Department of Agriculture. Nor man Borlaug was a
leading member of the team of agricultural scientists that pioneered the initiative
conceived as philanthropic. The thrust of the entire plan was agricultural
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
WorldJour nal of Science, Technology
and Sustainable Development
Vol. 9 No.4, 2012
pp. 301-316
rEmeraldGroup Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/20425941211271504
The African
Green Revolution
intensification through the development of high-yielding and disease-resistant se ed
varieties. This was with a view to achieving high efficiency in food production most
especially in the developing world. By 1957, what looked like a revolution had spread
like a wildfire to Asia (The Rockefeller Foundation, 2006, pp. 2-4).
If the GR had a chance in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as it did in Asia, many factors
may have sabotaged it. Ironically, most countries in the SSA region were able to feed
themselves at the time of independence in the early 1960s (Djurfeldt et al., 2005, p. 2).
However, in spite of its diverse agro-ecological systems and rich crop varieties,
“[s]ub-Saharan Africa, with 16 of the 18 most undernourished countrie s in the world,
[now] remains the only region where per-capita food production continues to worsen
year by year” (The Rockefeller Foundation, 2006, p. 1). The reasons are not far-fetched.
Apart from the fact that most SSA agriculture are rain fed, poo r infrastructure, lack of
access to farming inputs, inefficient agricultural extension delivery system,
fragmented land holding, droughts, etc. are a major cause of low productivity
`-vis the demand for more food by the teeming populatio n. Thus, the current
global food crisis has further put pressure on the food demand of the sub-region. At
the moment, relevant international development agencies and international
non-governmental organisations are beginning to devise strategies to bring about a
new GR in SSA. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Kofi Annan’s Alliance
for a Green Revolution in Africa are playing a leading role in this respect.
Nonetheless, this paper partly intends to address the Nigerian GR (a good case in
Africa) as one of the series of agrarian reforms in the country since inde pendence in
1960. Contrary to the claim of The Rockefeller Foundation that the first GR was not
universal and that it stopped in Africa (The Rockefeller Foundation, 2006, p. 1), SSA
has, in one form or the other, had its share of the process although without much
success. In Nigeria, for instance, interventionists policies aimed at agricultural
intensification had always been in place during and after independence. Thus, the
Nigerian GR “is a continuing process” (Akande, 2005, pp. 161-2). Over the years,
policy issues have been woven around the importance of the agricultural sector in the
Nigerian economy: provision of food and meat; employment; foreign exchange
earnings; provision of industrial raw materials; and income generation for farmers
and farm workers. With a population of about 150 million people, well over
70.0 per cent of the Nigerian population solely depends on ag riculture. Unfortunately,
this sector has been besieged by myriads of problems ranging from socio-political,
economic and environmental. Akande (2005, pp. 165-6) puts the bleak situation during
the first decade of independence thus:
[y] the agricultural sector was characterised by little growth of output per capita, low
productivity, pervasive illiteracy, static and poorly developed institutions, restrictive markets
and unprogressive policy stance [y] The Green Revolution efforts at this period were not
dispensed to make knowledge, inputs and marketing opportunities available to staple
crop producers but to enhance the productive capacity of export crop producers. The policy
makers did not see the apparent discriminating practice as having any long-term
repercussions on the ability of the nation to feed itself [y].
The observation above is a pointer to the lop-sidedness of the Nigerian agricultural
sector. At the moment, Nigeria is ranked among the poorest countries in the world,
with per annual capita income hardly reaching $1,190 as compared to $1,500 of the
1960s and 1970s (see World Bank, 2009a). Malnutrition has, thus, become a serious
problem as 43.0 per cent of children under five years have stunted g rowth. Current

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