Stories tagged: food security

Learning From the Private Sector Experience Working With Smallholder Farmers

By Amy Chambers on behalf of Fintrac’s Feed the Future Enabling Environment for Food Security project.

Working with the private sector is key to fostering vibrant agricultural market systems, and  successfully integrating smallholder farmers into these efforts has the potential to pull millions of smallholders out of poverty.

There is an additional key factor in the mix, however. The elusive yet all-encompassing enabling environment — i.e. policies, laws, regulations, and norms that influence behavior in a market system — can derail even the best-laid business plans. By reshaping incentives to the point of hampering initial investment or efforts to scale, enabling environment conditions can create barriers that de-incentivize firms from doing business in a particular market.

To better inform donor support for these actors, we need a stronger understanding of how enabling environment factors influence the decision-making of firms who are either doing or trying to do business in markets inclusive of smallholders. The good news is that the experience and knowledge from the private sector actors either doing or trying to do business in these markets is out there.

Credit: Fintrac

What We Heard From the Private Sector

In August 2018, the Feed the Future Enabling Environment for Food Security project interviewed 25 small- and medium-sized agribusiness companies serving smallholder farmers across Bangladesh, Guatemala, Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya. For each, we endeavored to understand why they invest where they do, the challenges they face in entering and operating in new markets, and what type of support these companies leverage to assist in tackling enabling environment challenges to their investments.

While their stories were unique, the consensus was the same: the enabling environment impacts the structure, speed, and scale of the investment. For one investor, the lack of regulatory protocols for a new technology delayed the investment by more than a year. For another, the complexity of local contract law contributed to shifting focus to other markets. Frequent changes in customs procedures or outright corruption caused others to scale back or reorient their businesses to countries with more stable environments for investment. Typically, the business survives, yet the slower pace of investment or capital flight to safer markets caused by a weak enabling environment limits smallholder farmers’ access to the new technologies and services these businesses provide.

True to the axiom “time is money,” investors expressed little patience for the speed of reforms brought about through industry associations and formal public-private dialogue mechanisms. Though nearly 80 percent of those interviewed participate in these platforms, when faced with a pressing issue, investors favor narrow, action-oriented approaches that quickly bring the issue to relevant policymakers’ attention, such as leveraging informal connections with government officials or independently organizing public seminars or dialogue on specific issues.

What This Means for Donors and Other Development Partners

USAID and other development partners can play a crucial role in building a better enabling environment by identifying key regulatory impediments to investment and facilitating targeted, issue-specific collaboration between the public and private sectors to resolve these issues.

This support includes conducting baseline data studies to provide a starting point for public-private dialogue, assessing gaps in the legal and regulatory framework for new technologies and industries, bringing comparative evidence from other countries to bear on domestic policy discussions, and facilitating productive dialogue by bringing key decision-makers and investors to the table.

For a full discussion of the study’s findings, readers can access the report and summary learning note here.

A version of this post originally appeared on Marketlinks.org. Featured photo credit: Fintrac

OCT262018
Chatham House – Sustainable Food Future

26th – 27th November 2018

London, UK

A growing world population, dwindling agricultural resources and rising concerns about climate change are adding pressure to an already strained global food system. With global hunger on the rise after declining for over a decade, it is clear that countries, companies and individuals must reassess approaches to food production and consumption. In this context, the annual Chatham House Food conference will explore practical solutions to build a more resilient food system and feed the global population sustainably, focusing on the responsibility of key actors in achieving these goals.

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Hashtags: #CHFood

OCT172018
Borlaug Dialogue

17th – 19th October 2018

Iowa, USA

The Norman E. Borlaug Inetrnational Symposium, known informally as the “Borlaug Dialogue,” each year brings together over 1,200 people from more than 65 countries to address cutting-edge issues related to global food security and nutrition. The three-day conference convenes a wide array of scientific experts, policy leaders, business executives and farmers. Through the Borlaug Dialogue, the World Food Prize Foundation helps build alliances in the struggle against world hunger and malnutrition. The theme for 2018 is “Rise to the Challenge”.

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Hashtags: #FoodPrize18

Agroecology in Action: Harnessing the Power of Orphan Crops

Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer of Mars, writes on Farming First about how orphan crops can benefit African farmers and the wider world.

Africa has thus far missed out on having its own ‘green revolution’. One reason for this is that it has no large, homogenous ecosystem, such as India’s Deccan Plateau. Any approach to boost productivity and food security must fit Africa’s myriad, small and distinct ecosystems.

The term agroecology refers to using ecological processes in agriculture, and maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems. Pursuing an agricultural revolution that makes use of African crops that are already adapted, already grown and eaten by local farmers, would therefore be a good place to start.

At the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) our goal is to improve these varieties –  “orphan” in that they have received very little scientific attention – so that they are more nutritious, higher yielding and hardier in the face of weeds, pests and the changing climate that is already altering Africa’s smallholder cropping systems. We do this by working to sequence the genomes of 101 of these important African orphan food crops and making the data publicly available, and training African scientists to make rapid improvements to them, benefitting smallholder farmers and consumers across the continent.

This plan was hatched back in 2011 by myself at Mars, Incorporated, Ibrahim Mayaki at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). It quickly won the backing of the African Heads of State meeting at the African Union Assembly. Today the consortium contains 15 government organisations, scientific and agricultural bodies, universities, companies, regional organisations and NGOs, along with a network of 20 agricultural and horticultural organisations.

The AOCC’s African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA), based at ICRAF in Nairobi, will have trained 84 of its target 250 African plant scientists to work on the genome ‘maps’ by the end of 2018.

This approach could benefit the 600 million who constitute Africa’s rural population, most of whom grow much of their own food.

How does this relate to agroecology?

First, more than a quarter of the chosen species are trees, such as the baobab, the leaves of which contain twice as much calcium as spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges and four times more potassium than a banana. Many of these tree crops are native to their ecosystems and provide other benefits, such as shade, water management and food for wildlife. Our work serves to preserve and improve these species, so they can continue to perform these important natural functions.

Second, many of the crops being sequenced have been in their given regions for a few centuries, are non-invasive and do not harm the local ecosystems. A cornerstone of agroecology is to maintain balance in ecosystems. Protecting and improving native crops will lead to increased diversity on farms, which will contribute to this goal.

Finally, using genetic interventions to make these crops more resilient and adaptable to a changing environment often means farmers need to apply fewer additional inputs to them in order to harvest a bumper crop.

Africa seems unable to get enough of the orphan crops approach. Two members of the 2017 class have started a continuing education program for MS-level scientists in their home country of Ethiopia.  Four graduates from West Africa are collaborating to raise funding for training more than 70 graduate students on breeding of orphan crops. Members of the 2017 class are establishing an African Plant Breeders Association to cover the whole continent.

The benefits of orphan crops

The AfPBA and its lab have some of the best sequencing equipment in the world, certainly the best in Africa. Students – and these students are already among the best plant scientists in their countries – can use the equipment, but graduates also continue to have access to it.

One great benefit of this approach to education is that it is either done locally by AfPBA graduates or in Nairobi. The plant scientists are not taken to Europe or the United States, only to stay and contribute to Africa’s brain drain.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) decided recently to join the consortium. This has led to an ambitious letter of intent between the two organizations. It calls upon the two to work together to assist FAO member countries to develop and implement appropriate policies, regulations and laws that facilitate the genetic improvement of orphan crops; to strengthen institutional and human capacities of FAO member countries activities for research and development, especially in molecular genetics, plant breeding and seed delivery systems, and to advocate for enhanced crop diversification, crop rotations, associations and crop sequencing in a way that orphan crops are integrated and can become part and parcel of sustainable cropping systems.

We believe this could help spread the benefits of orphan crops throughout the planet. Already there has been talk of a Chinese Orphan Crop Consortium and an Indian Orphan Crop Consortium.  

As The Economist’s science editor commented after a visit to our facility last year:

“Bananas, mangoes, pineapples and pawpaws are all tropical fruit that have gone global. If some of Africa’s orphan crops, suitably improved by genetic knowledge, were to follow suit, the benefits to African farmers would be huge.”

This future is within grasp, and can be done by harnessing the power of what nature already has to offer.

 

Agroecology in Action: with Professor Tim Benton

What is agroecology? How can farmers be encouraged to adopt its principles? Professor Tim Benton, Dean of Strategic Research at Leeds University and former UK Global Food Security Champion answers these questions in the second installment of Farming First’s “Agroecology in Action” series, produced ahead of the Second  International Symposium on Agroecology held by the FAO in Rome from 3-5th April 2018.

In scientific terms, “agroecology” refers to the application of ecological principles to agriculture – that is, harnessing nature to support agricultural production. Our planet depends on its ecological resilience, and it is important to find more sustainable methods of growing produce to allow production to be repeated time and time again.

Well known methods include crop rotation – planting a sequence of crops that will naturally improve soil fertility – or enhancing natural enemies to control pests on a farm.

From a science perspective, it is also credible to apply a “mix and match” approach, in which natural methods can work in synergy with more conventional farming methods. Using biology to control pests or rotations to grow fertility allows synthetic inputs to be used in more targeted ways, when, and where, they are most needed.  If you are enhancing natural pest control, pesticides can become a last, rather than first, resort. Continue reading

SDG2.5 in 2 Minutes: Debisi Araba, CIAT Africa

There’s a unique type of grass that when fed to livestock, it not only makes the animals more productive, but it lowers the greenhouse gases they emit. Because this grass was preserved in CIAT’s genebank, scientists have been able to transform the lives of farmers in Latin America, and hope to bring the innovation to Africa as well.

Filmed as part of Farming First’s #SDG2countdown campaign, exploring SDG2.5 on protecting genetic diversity.

Music: Ben Sounds