In the Kilombero District of Morogoro, Tanzania the yields for maize have recently increased for some smallholder farmers from 1.5 tons per hectare to 4.5 tons per hectare; the yields for rice have increased from 2.5 tons per hectare to 6.5 tons per hectare. While Kilombero is but one district in a country of 44 million people it shows what can happen, and happen very quickly, when the right tools are present. Similar production gains are being made in soybeans, beans, groundnuts, cowpeas, and chickpeas that are important sources of incomes and nutritious food in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa.
The African Union has urged all African governments to devote at least 10% of their budgets to agriculture and many countries are responding. In Tanzania’s Five Year Development Plan, adopted in June of 2011, President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete seeks to boost production for “food self-sufficiency and export.” Tanzania has also adopted the National Agriculture Input Voucher System that subsidizes the cost of fertilizer at the grassroots level. 

The hub of the wheel that connects the African Union, the front-line governments, the private sector, the Universities, famer organization, NGO’s, the developed countries seeking to help and all other stakeholders is the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, chaired by Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. At their annual retreat in Kenya last month it became clear just how bold and disciplined their leaders are in “growing Africa out of poverty.” 

According to Dr. Augustine Langyintuo, the Director of Policy at AGRA, "African agriculture is going through a major transformative change because governments are making agriculture a priority, embracing public- private partnerships and are working with farmers' organizations to further economic development." 

The Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) is directed by Dr. Joe DeVries; Dr. Bashir Jama is the director of Soils Health; and Anne Mbaabu is the director of AGRA’s Market Access Program, all under the extraordinary leadership of Dr. Namanga Ngongi.


Last year in Tanzania, again with the help of a change in policy by Tanzania, AGRA supported 11 private-sector seed companies that produced 3,600 MT of certified hybrid seed. These seeds were then distributed through a growing number of independent agro-dealers. The goal of the local agro-dealer is to interface with the local farmer and provide a distribution mechanism for hybrid seeds, inputs, and extension services too. 

The agro-dealers are on the front line, interfacing directly with the local smallholder farmers, selling small bags of seeds and fertilizers that can be transported by hand or on a bicycle. Across Africa, the number of agro-dealers trained in business management by AGRA has increased from 331 in 2007 to 13,859 in 2011.  

After reviewing AGRA’s approach and program last year, Sir Gordon Conway of the Imperial College of London concluded that AGRA’s “innovation lies in the reliance on strengthening locally based institutions and building links among them.” He then continued by saying “It is clear that the strength approach is that it is trying to build a genuinely sustainable development process. It is not a top down development project….It is a facilitating programme that provides grants, loans and guarantees to a range of locally engaged institutions.” 


President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete’s goal is “transforming Tanzania into a middle-income country by 2025.” It is doable. Africa has the capacity to be food secure by 2025 if the seed, soil, market and agro-dealer programs are ramped up, expanded and made available more broadly to smallholder farmers. 


Farming starts with seeds and Africa is still facing a shortage of quality seeds. AGRA’s PASS program is supporting teams of seed breeders throughout Africa to develop locally adapted varieties that are higher yielding and disease resistant. Production yields can quickly be doubled in a year if hybrid seeds and fertilizers in combination with organic inputs are used. When the seeds and fertilizers are combined with basic information on agriculture management production can be redoubled yet again.




It is important to point out that AGRA’s approach on fertilizers is to use it judiciously and enhance its efficiency through integration with farm yard manure and grain legumes (e.g., soybeans) that can improve soil fertility through biological fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. In some areas, the organics include agro-forestry technologies to improve soils and its water holding capacity. Unfortunately fertilizer use by smallholder farmers in Africa is very limited. To improve its supply and create competitive markets, AGRA has established the Africa Fertilizer Agribusiness Partnership along with the African Union and several other development programs.


When irrigation and some mechanization are introduced (along with the hybrid seeds, improved soils and better management practices) the yields in Africa can approach the yields of more developed countries. Irrigation and mechanization will, of course, take longer to introduce but the process has started. The Prime Minister of Kenya has reached out to Israel seeking technical assistance on irrigation.  In many African countries, and Zambia is a good example, there are lakes and rivers but farmers still live from rain to rain because there are so few irrigation systems. There are many simple micro-irrigation techniques that could be helpful if access to financing was improved.


President Jacob Zuma, of South Africa, and President Tarja Nolonen, of Finland, have just released a new UN report on global sustainability entitled: Resilient People, Resilient Planet. They are emphasizing that “we must put science at the centre of sustainability. Science must point the way to more informed and integrated policy-making.” In the report’s chapter on agriculture it goes on to say “Smallholder farmers have enormous untapped potential to increase yields, stimulate rural economies and become export earners instead of net food buyers.…..New ‘green’ biotechnologies can play a valuable role in enabling farmers to adapt to climate change, improve resistance to pests, restore soil fertility and contribute to the diversification of the rural economy.”   


“Green biotechnology” is an interesting new term. Perhaps the UN report, by using this term, can help to educate people on the importance of applying sound science to agriculture in order to feed a world population that is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. 


Africa can lead the world in a new 21st century sustainable green revolution and that revolution has already started.   In September of this year, Tanzania will host the next African Green Revolution Forum to integrate all of the diverse elements needed to continue Africa’s unique brand of a Green Revolution. 


Marshall Matz serves on the Board of the World Food Program—US; the Congressional Hunger Center and the Global Child Nutrition Foundation. He is a partner at OFW Law in Washington, D.C.
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