As demand for food grows, we need to ensure the way we produce it remains as environmentally sound as possible. Farmers can now be guided by technology, to use earth’s resources like land and water in the most efficient way. It can also help them apply vital inputs like crop protection and fertilizer in the right amounts. This is called precision agriculture, and here 10 ways Farming First supporters are putting it to good use. Continue reading
Awino Nyamolo from TechnoServe tells Farming First about how to harness the power of young people for Africa’s food future.
Growing up in Mbeya, Tanzania, Samson Makenda loved tomatoes, and when he took over a small plot of land as a young man, he thought he could make a living with the crop. He started growing tomatoes the way his neighbors always had, watering the plants by hand, and using the same seeds and fertilizers they did. But in the crowded local market, he struggled to sell what he harvested, earning just $40 per month.
Creating better economic opportunities for young people like Samson is of vital importance to Africa’s economies. Fewer than one-third of young people in Sub-Saharan Africa have a stable, wage-paying job, and the region will add 11 million new people to its workforce this year. Agriculture can play an important role in creating these opportunities, but only if young people are able to innovate, adopt new technologies, and test new models. To do that, they must be able to identify business opportunities, have confidence in themselves and their ideas, and access the finance and connections they need to put these ideas into practice.
The Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise (STRYDE) program, a partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and nonprofit organization TechnoServe, is helping to create those conditions. Through a combination of training on personal effectiveness, planning, and basic business skills, as well as tailored aftercare to provide young people with networks and practical skills, STRYDE is empowering thousands of young people across rural East Africa to find better economic opportunities.
Seeing the farm as a business
Many young people fail to recognize the business opportunities that surround them and are within reach, and to address this obstacle, the STRYDE program provides training to help rural youth see their family farms and other assets as a potential source of livelihood.
That lesson was transformational for Ndinagwe Mboya, another young person from Mbeya. Her family used to incubate chicken eggs for others, but the business was not particularly successful. After going through the STRYDE program, Ndinagwe came to recognize that there was an opportunity to build upon her family’s experience, however, and create something more successful. With $165 of seed funding she won through STRYDE’s business plan competition, she purchased eggs and started a business of raising chickens on her own.
“Before STRYDE nobody sought my advice on anything, not even my family. But today I am the go-to-person on matters poultry and incubation,” she said. With her earnings, Ndinagwe helps to pay her siblings’ school fees and is saving to attend university.
A toolbox for change
While young people are often familiar with new ideas and technologies, they face obstacles to adopting them. To take new ideas and make them a reality, as Ndinagwe did, young entrepreneurs need a toolbox for change: confidence, connections, and skills. The STRYDE curriculum includes a section on personal effectiveness, which helps young people to chart their personal strengths and weaknesses, create a plan for their future, and practice interpersonal communication, generating confidence.
Mentorship and aftercare can help entrepreneurs to develop specialized agricultural skills and make important connections. Many ideas also require an investment—like Ndinagwe’s cash grant—to implement, so access to finance is an important factor.
After Samson graduated from the STRYDE program, he began to look around for opportunities to improve his tomato farm. He had noticed that someone had built a greenhouse in the region, and he began to study whether such a facility could help make his business more profitable. Many young people are constrained by a lack of land for farming, so greenhouses and vertical gardens can improve production. As Samson discovered, growing his tomatoes in controlled conditions could also help differentiate them from the other growers.
Samson went to work putting his plan into action. Even a low-cost greenhouse cost more money to build than he could finance himself, so he identified a successful local businessman who could become his partner in the venture. Samson was able to convince him to invest in the project, and together they built the greenhouse and implemented other technical improvements, like drip irrigation, the use of hybrid seeds, and a careful application of organic and chemical fertilizers. Samson’s tomato plants are more productive now, and the fruit has fewer defects and blemishes, so he is able to sell it easily to local markets, restaurants and hotels at premium prices. Now, he earns up to $300 per month.
“For people around here, this is new tech for them, so they want these tomatoes,” says Samson. He has diversified his earnings by launching a crop nursery business, as well.
Samson and Ndinagwe are just two of more than 48,000 young people benefiting from the STRYDE program. The program has shown that simple changes in how young people think about the opportunities around them and how to adopt innovation can make a big difference, and the average participant has seen their income increase by 133 percent.
But with Africa’s growing youth workforce, more work remains to be done. The STRYDE program has worked to build the capacity of vocational training centers, schools, prisons, and other institutions across East Africa to deliver the curriculum. Local partners like these will be critical in ensuring that more young people can recognize and seize opportunities for a better living.
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:
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.
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.
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)
The Agro-Forestry Village Programme is an integrated approach to rural development that is creating a full range of socio-economic benefits, including the promotion of job-creation, improved farming practices, expanded markets, and enhanced social facilities and services.
TechnoServe selected five geographic areas based on suitability for plantation forestry and mixed grain and livestock farming, as determined by local and national governments, and based on existing investment plans of forestry companies.
Moreover, TechnoServe is working to change land-use patterns from slash and burn farming practices to sustainable plantation forests. With this emphasis, new plantations are being established on degraded, abandoned farmlands and companies are increasingly moving toward assisting communities to develop more sustainable agriculture practices and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Agro-Forestry Village Project aims to break the cycle of poverty for about 60,000 workers, farmers and their family members.
The Agro-Forestry Village Programme objective is to create 5,600 new jobs in the forestry, poultry and grain sectors and transform 10,800 subsistence family farms into commercial maize/soy/oilseed and/or poultry broiler farms.
The programme aims to provide a broad range of world-class technical assistance and capacity building to the forestry industry, such as protected area management, fire management, watershed management, non-timber forest products, natural resource-based eco-tourism, and carbon credits.
Specific objectives and “success factors” of the project include training district and provincial officials on land use planning, industry competitiveness, enabling environment issues and investment promotion and support.
The project aims to facilitate public-private partnerships at the district and provincial levels, such as fire prevention and control, watershed management and bio-security.
In terms of scale of implementation and affect on the ground, results-to-date show that:
- TechnoServe has been instrumental in increasing the number of plantation forestry companies in Mozambique from one to seven.
- Five of the nine plantation forestry companies operating in Mozambique have negotiated technical assistance agreements with TechnoServe. Activities under these agreements range from agriculture extension services – including the design of outgrower models and establishment of demonstration plots – to improved technology adoption, provision of market linkages to potential buyers of agricultural products, and assistance with the land consultation process.
- TechnoServe’s engagement in the sector on the issue of land access has accelerated the rate of planting and job creation in the industry, increasing total employment from 2,814 to 5,262 and resulting in the preservation of 17,500 hectares of native forestry.
Food processing is an important driver of jobs and incomes in many African countries and can also provide access to greater diversity of affordable, high quality and nutritious foods. By improving the capacity of local food processors across sub-Saharan Africa to produce and market healthy food products, while simultaneously improving smallholder farmers’ access to markets, food security for both producers and consumers can be strengthened.
The African Alliance for Improved Food Processing (AAIFP) is an innovative approach to build the capabilities of local food processors in Africa. Through knowledge and technology transfer, the aim is to build capacity to develop sustainable and competitive local processors within food sector value chains, to improve the supply of high-quality, nutritious food and to increase demand for the crops of small farmers who supply these businesses. This in turn spurs economic growth in rural areas that had little to no previous cash economy.
The Alliance is built upon a partnership with General Mills, one of the world’s leading food companies and their newly formed initiative, Partners in Food Solutions, and TechnoServe, and the initiative is funded by USAID.
Volunteer employees of General Mills, and in the future other global food companies, contribute their time and knowledge and with their support, TechnoServe provides on the ground technical and business capacity-building to food processors selling products in local and regional markets. These African processors buy raw materials from local farmers, create jobs and generate benefits for whole communities.
Since 2008, General Mills has been providing assistance to processors and two years later, in 2010, TechnoServe and General Mills joined forces to assist food processors in Tanzania. The partnership has identified potential further opportunities to extend their work to Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia and Malawi.
The results are already visible. In Tanzania, a processor’s products recently received the highest Tanzania food quality certification available. This not only increases their own profits, but also provides access to safer and more nutritious food for Tanzanians. By the end of 2012, the AAIFP hope to assist up to 35 processors to meet national food standards, and in turn help to increase the affordability of nutritious food products available to African consumers.
Cocoa beans from the Criollo tree, native to Nicaragua, are prized by gourmet chocolate makers for their exceptional aroma, flavor and quality. Fine cocoa typically commands a price anywhere from two to five times higher than conventional cocoa. Yet Nicaragua exports fewer than 1,000 tons of cocoa a year, almost none of it fine cocoa.
In 2006, TechnoServe began assisting 80 small-scale farmers to capitalize on the business opportunity presented by Criollo cocoa. These farmers have planted about 100,000 native cocoa trees and resumed production on cocoa trees that had been abandoned. Chocolate makers such as Domori and Ritter Sport have already expressed interest in the high-quality cocoa.
By 2013, TechnoServe expects farmers in the program to export about 70 tons, or $200,000 worth of cocoa. The long-term vision is to help as many as 25,000 farmers participate in the industry. And by planting or preserving more than 300 acres of trees, the program is helping to preserve Nicaragua’s rich biodiversity.