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Publication | 10 June 2020

Money Flows: What is holding back investment in agroecological research for Africa?

Global Food and Nutrition Security

In 2016, IPES-Food set out to understand why food systems were so resistant to change. The resulting report, From Uniformity to Diversity, found that one key imperative was hardwired into every aspect of the food system – to produce large volumes of cheap, uniform, calorie-rich and nutrient-poor commodities for global markets. In other words, the prevailing logic was an industrial one, and it was everywhere: from trade policies to agricultural subsidies, from market structures to research and educational priorities, from how we talk about food systems to how we measure them.

IPES-Food identified eight key factors locking industrial food systems in place. The most important of these was the concentration of power. To put it simply, industrial food systems allow unprecedented value to accrue to a handful of actors. This economic power translates into the power to shape food systems, through the marketing campaigns that influence people’s diets, through the lobbying campaigns that mould the thinking of policymakers and through the financial flows — public and private — that drive research and innovation. Agroecology, at the other end of the spectrum, is locked out by the same mechanisms that lock industrial food systems in.

This report, co-developed by Biovision, IPES-Food and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), zooms in on the all-important financial flows in food systems, with a view to understanding more about how the industrial model is perpetuated and where the opportunities lie for sparking agroecological transition. The analysis deploys Biovision’s knowledge of the African context and its cutting-edge tools for tracking money flows while picking up where IPES-Food left off in 2016 and building on IDS’ long-established traditions of power and political economy analysis.

The report shines a light on some of the most contentious flows of all. From the Green Revolution onwards, international development agencies, governments, philanthropic organisations and research institutes have invested heavily in agricultural development in the Global South. In particular, millions of dollars have been channelled into crop breeding programmes. Through agricultural research and development flows, imperatives are transmitted between public and private actors and between different regions of the world. In other words, there may be no better way to witness power at play in food systems than through these money flows.