Chains, loops, pillars and bridges – building resilience into agricultural systems.

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

UN Photo Logan Abassi

Credit: UN/Logan Abassi

As meteorologists report that the El Niño Southern Oscillation is ending and a La Niña may be developing, spare a thought for smallholder farmers. Erratic rainfall, short growing seasons, prolonged droughts and flooding mean that crop yields suffer, and so do the livelihoods of those who rely on farming as their main source of income. And because agriculture does not only provide food, but also provides important environmental services, employment, and economic opportunities for local communities, it is not just the farmers and their families who feel the effects of the unpredictable weather that is becoming increasingly common all around the world. With increasingly global food systems, we will all suffer the consequences.

Despite the volatile weather, the food must grow on. Globally the growing population demands more, and more varied, food, to be grown with ever scarcer resources. However, current agricultural techniques have a voracious appetite for resources, consuming about 70% of all freshwater and using ever more land. But there are other viable ways of farming that are less resource intensive. In the recent submission to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 44), A4I advocated for the practices of Sustainable Intensification (SI) for agriculture. SI integrates innovations in ecology, genetics and socio-economics to help build environmentally sustainable, productive and resilient ways to produce more food with less, ensuring that the natural resources on which agriculture depends are maintained and even improved for future generations – also take a look at the A4I SI database where there are explanations and more than 80 case studies to highlight some of the best practices of SI. [Read more…]

Farming in a tough environment: A visit to Rwanda

By Gordon Conway

landscape Rwanda (9)Visiting farms in Rwanda is an exercise in mountaineering, scrambling sometimes on all fours over great volcanic boulders. But the effort is worth it. As we saw on our visit there in February, farmers in Rwanda are beginning to do well.

The statistics tell a good story. GDP has rebounded with an average annual growth of 7-8% since 2000 and average annual agricultural growth rates reached 5.7% between 2001 and 2012. And you can see the effects on the ground, partly the consequences of a good partnership between NGOs, the private sector and the government. The new minister of agriculture Dr Gerardine Mukeshimana, who gained her PhD in bean genetics from Michigan State University is a good example of President Kagame’s policy of appointing technically qualified ministers. She works on developing new policies while one of her predecessors Dr Daphrose Gahakwa is DDG of the Rwanda Agricultural Board that oversees research, extension and other implementing agencies.

Technoserve STRYDE schadrack with tree tomatoes

Schadrack, a farmer on TechnoServe’s STRYDE programme, with his tree tomatoes

Farm plots across the country have an average size of 0.6 hectares and tend to be fragmented over several locations. As a result, many households actually farm as little as 0.4 hectares. Farmers use the flat land to grow crops to sell at local markets, and the steeper, more difficult to farm slopes for growing food for household consumption. An increasing population density is putting additional pressure on the scarce land, encouraging people to move on to ever steeper slopes. The mountainous landscape presents significant challenges to farmers. Farming is not only physically more demanding and tiring but the shallow soils found on steep slopes are also prone to erosion and landslides. [Read more…]

Supplying the demand: growing food for growing cities.

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

Haiti earthquake: one year later

Credit, FAO

On April 26th 2016 The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released their new report, Growing Food for Growing Cities: Transforming food systems in an urbanizing world, as part of their Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, DC. According to UN figures, two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050, and this report looks at how such rapid urbanisation is changing the structure and functionality of the entire global food system, from the source of inputs to the farm and on to the consumer.

With urbanisation and the accompanying expansion of urban middle classes comes a shift in dietary expectations and demands. Traditional staple diets such as cereals, roots and pulses are increasingly supplemented with a wide variety of higher-value foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, or meat and dairy products. For example, in some African countries including Uganda and Tanzania up to 66% of urban household food expenditure is on foods other than staple grains.

Value chains have potential

valuechain, global panel

Chicago Council, 2016

According to the report, if agricultural and supply chains are to accommodate the growing demands of the cities, they will need to “lengthen geographically, increasing the potential to reach farmers in more and more distant areas.” No longer is ‘farm to fork’ a simple process that serves local populations; increasingly it is a complex and far-reaching chain, involving many actors that might cross borders and even continents. [Read more…]

Leaving no one behind: financial inclusion for rural people

By Alice Marks 

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Women in agriculture: A female farmer (left) and agrodealer (right).

As delegates return from last week’s Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) event in South Africa, the notion that we must “leave no one behind” will be at the forefront of the minds of all of those who attended. This commitment was not only the theme of GCARD3, but it is also a key message in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris agreement. It hopes that everyone, all over the world, can be included on the development agenda, so that each individual can achieve the rights described by the SDGs.

For the agri-food research discussed at GCARD3, an important ingredient for this will be ensuring that farmers, many of whom are women, are able to participate in the processes from which they will benefit, such as research and innovation. For example, participatory research asks farmers what their needs are, and helps to make their ideas a reality – you can find case studies here. Another important ingredient will be using interventions that turn research into impact that is scalable, as well as ensuring there is efficient evaluation to help learn from good and bad experiences and improve interventions in the future.

Young people: risk and opportunity

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Young people from the Aven cooperative who received support Technoserve

Young people in rural areas are a group that is at particular risk of being left out and left behind. Indeed, 60% of unemployed people in Africa are between the ages of 15 and 24. However, because agriculture and agricultural value chains are such important drivers of the economy in developing countries, the sector has the potential to provide many opportunities for employment, better more stable incomes, and potentially more sustainable livelihoods. [Read more…]

Young, energetic and visionary – Welcome to the country of a thousand hills and a million smiles

By Katrin Glatzel

DSC_0198I have just returned from Rwanda. Now back in London, sitting in my office, I still feel captured by the energy and enthusiasm that emanated from all those young people we met during our visit. Rwanda, a small, land-locked country in Eastern Africa not bigger than Belgium or Switzerland, has a population of roughly 11million (in 2014), with the majority younger than 19 years old and 72% living in rural areas. With 460 people per km² Rwanda is twice as densely populated as Switzerland, and nearly as mountainous! Rwanda has the aftermath of the genocide to overcome, but it is remarkable seeing young people in particular seize opportunities for themselves and their communities. They are helping the country get on its feet again, by contributing to its economic growth and prosperity.

A Tuesday morning in February in Rwanda 

As we get into our car and make our way through the morning rush hour traffic in Kigali heading north, what strikes me is not only how tidy and organised the city is, but also the number of young people, men and women, going about their work and daily business.

The drive takes us through windy roads and stunning landscapes. 100km and 2.5 hours later we arrive at Musanze District near the borders of Uganda and the DRC, where we are spending the day with TechnoServe to learn more about their STRYDE program (Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise). Through STRYDE TechnoServe supports young people in rural areas to get their business ideas off the ground and become successful entrepreneurs. The programme provides training on business management skills, financial literacy and personal development for a period of three months; upon completion of the training, TechnoServe supports the STRYDE graduates to develop sound business plans and facilitates access to loans, through for example the BDF. [Read more…]

Four ways digital technology is transforming farming in Africa

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Photo by phanlop88

Digital technology is likely to continue to be a major driver of development and industry in Africa. The capabilities of local entrepreneurs, start-ups and businesses to provide services such as technical assistance and finance are growing significantly due to greater access to mobile and internet technology. As such digital solutions are likely to make a huge contribution to addressing local concerns, connecting people in remote areas and to reaching greater numbers of people than more traditional development initiatives. Such technologies are already transforming the way in which smallholder farmers work and interact. Here we discuss five ways in which digital technology can play a part in transforming agriculture in Africa.

  • Extension services

Accessing information on farming practices, crop diseases, pest control and land management can be made easier for rural farmers through mobile technology. At present there is a large gap between extension services provided and farmers being reached. In Kenya, for example, over 5 million smallholder farmers rely on just 5,500 agricultural extension workers so many are not getting the advice and information they need. Provision of phone-based agricultural information, advice and support to smallholder farmers can bridge this gap by utilising Africa’s exiting mobile network (currently the second biggest mobile market in the world). The form of the service can differ between organisations, some relying on coordinating agents within local communities to provide advice via their phone, some being purely an information service providing farmers with text messages containing advice relating to farming activities occurring at that time. Esoko, which provides a variety of agriculturally-related apps, has created several platforms for providing technical assistance, including personalised alerts with market, weather and agronomic information; knowledge-sharing to deliver extension advice to extension agents though audio, video, instruction manuals and information libraries; and bulk messaging to send data on best practice, campaigns and new products to all farmers. [Read more…]

Foresight Africa 2016: Africa’s priorities for the year ahead

foresightafrica_2016promo_16x9In a recent post we discussed some of the priorities for global development research. The Foresight Africa report, by the Brookings Institution‘s Africa Growth Initiative, has been assessing and laying out Africa’s top priorities for the year ahead since 2011. The Foresight Africa project is a series of reports, commentaries and events that aim to help policymakers and Africa watchers stay ahead of the trends and developments impacting the continent. The new Foresight Africa report, is a collection of issue briefs, viewpoints, and infographics on the major issues for Africa in 2016.

In 2016, African countries will have to react to many changes and challenges coming from outside the continent such as shifting dynamics in the global economy; potential adverse effects of China’s and other emerging economies’ economic slowdown; and decreasing commodity prices, all of which will require mitigation and policy reform. Within its borders, Africa also faces many challenges, for example in trying to maintain its trade competitiveness, tackle youth unemployment, deal with rapid urbanisation, security threats and reduce barriers to human development. The Foresight Africa report believes that “if managed prudently with timely action from African policymakers in 2016, the continent could equally recover from external and internal shocks, accelerate regional growth, and further expand the benefits of growth to the more than one billion people living throughout Africa”.

The study identifies six priorities for 2016 that will help continue Africa’s current economic growth:

  1. Managing economic shocks (including the economic slowdown in China, declines in commodity prices, the US Federal Reserve interest rate hikes)
  2. Sustaining domestic growth: revitalize the region’s industrial development and focus on job creation
  3. Supporting human development
  4. Capitalizing on urbanization. As the second fastest urbanizing region in the world, Africa needs strong infrastructure and planning policies
  5. Maintaining governance gains: the regional governance puzzle and the complex institutional changes
  6. Expanding African trade: creating a comparative advantage and strengthening regional partnerships

Critically the report not only lays out priorities for African governments and policy makers, it provides different viewpoints on the best way to develop policy to cope with oncoming shocks and stresses and further development. For example, Njuguna S. Ndung’u, Associate Professor of Economics, at the University of Nairobi, discusses how African economies should build resilience to manage external shocks in 2016. Instead of cutting long-term development budgets in times of crisis, buffers at four levels need to be created ahead of coming shocks: foreign exchange reserves, strategic food reserves, oil reserves for oil-importing countries, and, in countries dependent on commodity prices, a fund for smoothing out commodity prices during times of extreme variability.

The report also discusses the Sustainable Development Goals, noting the common criticism that in trying to do everything the SDGs have become too large, too messy and too ambitious. But it is noted that due to Africa’s involvement in the development of the SDGs they are much better suited to the continents aspirations than the Millennium Development Goals were. An important focus of the both the SDGs and the Foresight Africa report is the need for jobs, which pay a living wage. In Africa only one in five workers find employment in the wage economy. The SDGs in Goal 9.2 sets as an objective: “By 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed countries.” Here the link between industry and jobs in made and the need for industrial development in Africa. [Read more…]