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AGRA Plans to Invest $500 Million in African Seed Companies

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa plans to invest $500 million over five years to help agricultural companies and governments on the continent produce seeds.

The organization, founded in 2006 through a partnership between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has already invested $100 million in seed companies since 2006, said Joseph DeVries, its chief of agricultural transformation. AGRA will start using the additional funds in January, he said.

“We help them as angel investors during the first years,” he said in an interview Wednesday in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “Our investments are in the range of $150,000. We work closely with entrepreneurs who want to develop seed enterprises, getting the technical resources from our team.”

The companies that the organization has helped produced 125,000 metric tons of seeds in 2015 across 18 nations and include Maslaha Seed in Nigeria, Meru Agro-Tours & Consultants Co. in Tanzania, Dryland Seed Ltd. in Kenya and Naseco Seeds in Uganda.

Yields Double

With the new seeds, yields for corn, a staple food in many sub-Saharan African countries, have doubled to 3 tons per acre, AGRA said.

While World Bank data show agricultural production on the continent expanded 4.2 percent in 2014, up from an average of 2.3 percent a year in the 1980s, that’s still shy of a 6 percent annual growth target set by African leaders in 2003. Average crop yields in Africa remain less than half of the global average. In the case of corn, productivity gains have been marginal, lagging behind other continents.

The Pioneer unit of DuPont Co., the biggest supplier of hybrid corn seeds in Africa, hopes to expand its partnership with governments on the continent and aid groups to Tanzania after setting up programs for farmers to use its seed in Ethiopia and Zambia, it said last month.

“We are growing into professionalizing agriculture by providing fertilizer, storage facilities and markets,” DeVries said. “We expect the 11 of the countries we are working in to be food-secure in the next 10 years. It is not rocket science -- you grow a new variety of grain, put it in a bag and sell it.”

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