Stories tagged: gordon conway

What Role for Smallholders in Agribusiness Development?

Over the past two weeks, Farming First participated in a series of roundtable discussions hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development inside the UK Parliament.

The sessions focused on exploring the potential role and opportunities for smallholder farmers in future agribusiness development and how they can be supported by other actors such as governments, donors, the private sector and non-governmental organisations. The sessions were also attended by a number of Farming First supporter organisations, including TechnoServe, Farm Africa, Self Help Africa and Agriculture for Impact.

Consensus on the Basics

In both sessions, it was striking to hear how much consensus there seemed to be on the basic forms of support which smallholders needed to participate in the agricultural value chain. Many of the panel speakers discussed some combination of four items:

  • Credit, to buy farm supplies and invest in value-addition activities
  • Training, not only in the form of agronomic extension but also entrepreneurship skills and support in forming farmer cooperatives
  • Inputs, such as improved seeds and fertilizers, both to boost productivity and also to improve resilience
  • Market services, such as real-time pricing and weather information, micro-insurance, storage, transport and commodity exchanges

Sir Gordon Conway of Agriculture for Impact calls this basic list “a modest proposal for feeding Africa” because these are all already well-known needs. What sparked more discussion in the sessions, however, was on how and by whom these basics could be delivered most efficiently and sustainably, and at scale.

The Difficulty is in the Delivery

Creating the right policy environment within which all of these basics can be provided is key. These institutional and legal frameworks guide how markets function and how they are monitored.

The need for more secure land tenure was mentioned frequently as an area requiring more support. It is estimated that most developing countries only have 10 per cent of land parcels documented, which does not incentivise smallholders to make long-term investments on their land (e.g. irrigation) and makes it difficult to use their land as collateral for taking out loans.

Government support is also important. Ray Jordan of Gorta-Self Help Africa talked about how the Ethiopian government had prioritised agriculture to drive broader, pro-poor growth through its Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA). The ATA is investing in agricultural research, extension and rural infrastructure, among other rural public goods while serving as a catalyst for bringing other actors together across the value chain.

Watch the Farming First TV interview with the ATA’s Chief Executive, Dr. Khalid Bomba:

Mr Jordan also suggested that this government support, alongside the work of development organisations like his, were helping to overcome the aversion to risk which many smallholders understandably share. Through “model farm” initiatives, farmers can see for themselves the benefits of new technologies and practices, as well as asking questions to their peers.

Jean-Pierre Halkin, Head of Unit Rural Development, Food & Nutrition Security at the European Commission, reinforced this view from a donor’s perspective. He also added that power relationships within these supply chains needed to monitored carefully to ensure smallholders benefitted equitably from the rewards arising from any risks taken.

Scale, scale, scale

Helen Edmundson, Private Sector Development Adviser at the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), observed that net investments of $83 billion a year must be made in agriculture in developing countries in order to meet expected food demand by the year 2050.

Simon Winter, Senior Vice President of TechnoServe, also highlighted that 85 per cent of the expected increase in crop production from 2015 to 2050 is expected to come from developing regions, led by Africa and Asia. This was because yield gaps were still high (50-75 per cent in many cases) compared to developed world regions. Making improvements to yield and cropping intensity (versus increasing the amount of land under cultivation) represents the largest potential for meeting increasing future demand, as the Farming First graph below also illustrates:

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In Africa, rapid demographic shifts are also redefining the marketplaces into which smallholders can sell. In 2000, the total population on the continent was around one billion people, yet by 2030 it is expected to swell by more than 50 per cent to 1.5 billion. At the same time, the continent is urbanising quickly, with the urban share of the population increasing from less than one-third to more than 50 per cent over the same period.

Thus, these growing urban food markets within Africa itself (versus export crops or commodities) are expected to represent almost nine-tenths (88%) of total future income potential for smallholders, according to research compiled by Steve Wiggins at the Overseas Development Institute.

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As an example of this, Sylvia Banda, a Zambian entrepreneur, spoke at a session about her food processing and marketing venture called Sylva Food Solutions, which helps create local markets for indigenous foods grown by smallholders. While her business is thriving (and even expanding into neighbouring Mozambique and Tanzania), she says she still faces everyday difficulties – from high interest rates for credit to difficulties in sourcing proper processing technologies and even packaging materials.

Looking Ahead

These roundtable sessions made it clear that there is no one single solution for connecting smallholders to agribusiness development. Rather, interventions need to be context-specific; the benefits to smallholders need to be clear; and the non-market interventions of other actors need to be structured in such a way that they build and strengthen equitable, resilient and productive value chains for the future.

 Featured image photo credit: Agriculture for Impact (c)

Sir Gordon Conway: Supporting the Soil that Supports African People

When building food security and economic growth in Africa, the ground beneath your feet plays a crucial role. Modern studies, using remote sensing, show that 65 per cent of arable land in Africa is degraded, meaning it has an impaired ability to nurture plant life, including crops. This results in low yields and higher crop failure, which in turn have a direct impact on the health and economic growth of the populations dependent on that land. Across the region an estimated 180 million people  are affected by the social and economic costs of degraded land.
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Feeding the World 2014: A Menu of Solutions for Solving Hunger

“Without a proper food economy, you cannot have health. You cannot have education. You cannot have poverty reduction”. These comments from The Economist’s Deputy Editor Emma Duncan opened the 2014 Feeding the World Summit held in London last week, of which Farming First has now been a partner for three consecutive years. The day long discussion between policymakers, businesses, farmers and leading NGOs debated priority areas and solutions for the looming global challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050.

In his opening remarks, Paulus Verschuren, Special Envoy for Food and Nutrition Security of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, outlined the challenge as “2-4-1”: two challenges (food AND nutrition security), four players (business, government, civil society and knowledge institutions) and one agenda (a united approach to solve hunger). “There is no shortage on global commitment,” he commented. “So what is holding us back?”

The level of commitment from the four players was praised by many of the speakers, in particular, that of governments. “Hunger and nutrition has been on the agenda of every global meet since 2008” commented Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Program. “As Norman Borlaug once said, commitment from governments (to food security) is as important, if not more important than the technology”. “Governments have finally woken up”, added the US State Department’s Jonathan Shrier; a point reinforced by UK Parliament’s Lynne Featherstone, who stated that the UK Department for International Development has doubled its resources for tackling undernutrition since 2008, investing in partnerships such as the CGIAR Consortium of international agricultural research centres.

Yet Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) posed a provocative question. “When 40% of food never reaches the table, do we really need to produce more food?” Dr. Nwanze highlighted the issue of post harvest loss in developing countries, due to the lack of infrastructure that allows smallholder farmers to effectively store and transport their produce to market before it spoils. He commented that every developed economy was once rural, and that smallholder farmers must be supported to become more productive, through investment in roads and storage facilities as well as through improved access to energy and finance. Provided good governance structures and associations are put in place for smallholder farmers, Dr. Nwanze emphasised that the solutions lie with them.

In a dedicated panel discussion “An Action Plan for Smallholder Farmers”, the opportunity for investing in female farmers was made clear by the panel. Rose Akaki, a smallholder farmer from Uganda stated: “About 80% of farmers in Uganda are women, producing 60% of the food. But they only own around 1% of the land”. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of Farming First Supporter FANRPAN noted that women choose to grow nutritionally dense crops to feed their children, as there is nothing more fulfilling for a mother than a healthy, thriving child. According to FAO, the nutrition and health improvements for children that a US$10 increase in women’s income would require a US$110 increase in male income.

Several businesses outlined the investments they have made in tackling the barriers to successful, sustainable farming in the developing world. Terje Morten Tollefse, Senior Vice President of fertilizer company Yara highlighted the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania project, which is connecting farmers to markets and inputs. “Inputs don’t go all the way along the last mile to the smallholder,” he commented. “It makes sense for us to create a market that we can compete in and deliver the inputs – but we depend on the farmer becoming successful and being profitable therefore sustainable.”

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda however, highlighted the opportunity the private sector has not just to invest in the poorest farmers, but to help small, established agribusinesses grow. “(Private sector investment) will be more credible if people can see their own peers running big businesses, with access to credit and the ability to grow.” She commented that big business should not just stay big, but trickle down and lift up smaller businesses.

Opening the panel session “Tackling Malnutrition Now”, David Nabarro, the UN Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition stated, “nutrition is a smart investment; in terms of economic benefits, school attendance and women’s empowerment.” Esin Mete, President of the International Fertilizer Industry Association explained the unexpected role that fertilizer can play in the fight against micronutrient deficiency and its related diseases. Fertilizers fortified with zinc in Turkey, she commented, led to the eradication of zinc deficiency in local populations, as they consumed the crops grown in nutrient-rich soils.

Sir Gordon Conway of Agriculture for Impact, speaking as part of the “Technology for Food Security” panel, set out a concept for sustainable intensification of agriculture that grows more food with fewer resources. The approach is threefold. The first, the agro-ecological approach, is based on the application of ecological principles and practices. Sir Gordon cited planting Faidherbia trees, which shed their leaves in the wet season, and provide a natural nutrient source to crops planted underneath as an example of this. The second, the genetic approach, applies the tools of modern cellular and molecular biology. For example, Orange Flesh Sweet Potato, bred to be rich in vitamin A, high-yielding and drought resistant, doubled vitamin A intake by women and children in 24,000 Ugandan and Mozambican households. The final approach, socio-economic, utilising social, economic and institutional interventions, for example, farmer associations. “Farmers need the power to bargain for better prices, to reduce waste. We need to find out which associations are sustainable in which place,” commented Sir Gordon.

Participants agreed that the solutions for feeding the world have already been identified; it is a case of acting on the multiple challenges with a unified approach. “This is a global challenge with a local solution requiring sustained public will across every level,” commented Ertharin Cousin of WFP. “There is no one size fits all solution, but a menu of solutions.”

For full and exclusive interviews featuring panel members, stay tuned on Farming First’s You Tube channel . 


Sir Gordon Conway: 11 Innovations for African Smallholder Agriculture

Our guest author, Sir Gordon Conway from Agriculture for Impact, discusses his new report, which calls for more multidisciplinary, collaborative research at a range of scales for African agriculture. The report is being launched today at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

In my latest report, “Innovation for Sustainable Intensification in Africa”, my co-authors and I call for a new wave of ingenuity, creativity and innovation to address the interlinked challenges which the African agricultural sector faces.

On one side, the population is expected to double by 2050, while over 200 million Africans already go hungry and average yields remain the world’s lowest.  On the other side, poor market access, soil degradation and the impacts of climate change (among others) add extra pressure to farmers’ productivity and livelihoods.

In short, we must help African smallholder farmers produce more with less impact on the environment while also improving agriculture’s sustainability.

Multiple benefits

Finding innovations which deliver on these multiple benefits is possible, and here are 11 such innovations showing promise for African smallholder farmers:

  1. StrigAway Imazapyr Resistant (IR) maize: Yields are 38-82% higher than traditional maize varieties, while growth of the Striga weed is effectively controlled and labour requirements reduced.
  2.  Conservation agriculture: A series of 286 interventions in 57 developing countries saw an average increase in crop yield of 79% along with better and more productive soil structure.  An average total of 0.35 tons of carbon (per hectare per year) can potentially be sequestered and water use efficiency gains are seen in rainfed areas.
  3.  Microdosing: Field trials in Zimbabwe showed a 30-50% increase in grain yields.  In West Africa, similar trials increased millet and sorghum yields by 44-120%. Precise and targeted use of fertiliser increased nutrient use efficiency and aids in drought tolerance.
  4.  Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes: The Tainung variety in Kenya yields three times more than traditional varieties, is drought tolerant and quicker to mature.  A small portion (125g) provides children with over twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A.  In field trials in Uganda and Mozambique, vitamin A intake by women and children doubled.
  5.  Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA): The aim is to increase yields by 20-35% under moderate drought compared to conventional varieties and to increase yields 12-24% in high drought conditions while building in resistance to pests such as stem borers.
  6.  Kenya Maize Development Programme: From 2002-2010 maize yields quadrupled from 720kg to 2880kg per 0.4 hectares, and annual household incomes increased by $533 or $1.46 per day. The programme provided farmers with practical, on-farm training on improved varieties of seed and fertilizer, conservation tillage and other sustainable natural resources management practices.
  7. Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage: Yields are unaffected, yet post-harvest losses are significantly reduced. Harvests can be stored up to a year, and farmers can sell their cowpeas when prices are up to four times higher.
  8.  Zaï systems: In Burkina Faso, grain yield increased by 120%, equivalent to around 80,000 tons of extra grain per year, with the added benefit of improving infiltration in the soil, limiting water run-off, enhancing drought tolerance and protecting seeds and soil from erosion.
  9.  Farmer Field Schools: In Kenya, crop production increased 80% as a result of participation in these schools, and participants increased their incomes by 61%. In Tanzania, agricultural incomes of participants increased by over 100%.  These schools can be beneficial to typically marginalised groups, and better knowledge also contributes to sustainable agricultural practices generally.
  10. Ethiopia Commodity Exchange: Since starting in 2008 the value of trade has risen from 2.7 billion birr (approximately $143 million) to 20 billion birr ($1.05 billion). Market prices are transparent, quality grades are standardised and contracts are enforced.
  11. Faidherbia: These trees have the curious habit of shedding their leaves during the rainy season, providing nutrients to crops underneath. Maize under Faidherbia albida yielded an average of five tons per hectare compared to two tons per hectare without.  The trees are also a potential source of fodder and firewood and help retain soil cover for enhanced fertility and protection from erosion. Nutrient levels were 42%, 25% and 31% higher with Faidherbia canopies than without for total nitrogen, potassium, and organic carbon respectively.

Editor’s Note:

All citations for the statistics above can be found directly in the report, “Innovation for Sustainable Intensification in Africa”.