Entrepreneurship in African Agriculture: Sylva Food Solutions, Zambia.

By Stephanie Brittain

I recently attended an All Party Parliamentarian Group (APPG) meeting on ‘Sourcing from Smallholders’. This was the second in a series of round-table discussions to gather evidence for the APPG on Agriculture and Food Development’s inquiry into smallholder agribusiness development. One of the African entrepreneurs that spoke about her experiences of supporting smallholder farmers is Sylvia Banda, Managing Director of Sylva Food Solutions in Zambia.

Almost two-thirds of Zambia’s 14.5 million people live in rural areas, where most are engaged in smallholder subsistence farming. However, much of the food they produce is wasted due to a lack of markets for their produce and inadequate knowledge of effective food preservation techniques. The low demand for local farm produce is also driven by negative perceptions of locally-grown food. Sylvia has helped to change this perception by working with women smallholder farmers to teach post-harvest techniques, food processing, marketing skills and nutrition.

Taking root

_66027737_sylva22Sylvia started her entrepreneurial journey in 1986, whilst still employed as a Catering Officer in the Ministry of Education.

“Being  the only employee and with no start-up capital, I had to ‘borrow’ the basic materials such as cooking oil, chicken, salt and vegetables from my own kitchen at home. I had so much to arrange that I didn’t have the time or the money to buy furniture. So, on the first day my customers ate standing up! I realised that I had forgotten to buy the tables and chairs. Quickly, I told them that they were having a standing buffet! ” she recalls.

Despite this, her restaurant was a great success. Years later, however, Sylvia was frustrated at seeing how imported food is preferred by the majority, particularly in urban areas.

“Imported food has less nutritional value and is more expensive than local food. This, combined with the poverty of smallholder farmers struggling to sell their crops locally, led me to shift my focus”.

She now works to empower local farmers and promote local food for poverty alleviation. [Read more…]

The Budongo Forest Landscape: Sugarcane, food security and household wealth

IMG_1498The Budongo Forest Landscape, in western Uganda, has, in the recent past, seen a marked change in the land cover, predominantly from forest to sugarcane. The expansion of sugarcane has resulted in large areas of forest and bushland being converted to agriculture in the last 10 to 15 years, decreasing connectivity between forest patches. Kinyara Sugar Works Ltd (KSWL), established in the 1960s and rehabilitated in the 1980s, has grown rapidly in the past couple of decades – sugarcane fields now covering some 28,500ha. Until now their growth strategy appears to have been expansion at all costs, largely through the development of their outgrowers scheme. Today there are about 6,000 outgrowers who provide 60% of the company’s capacity. At present they are no longer taking on new outgrowers, due to capacity having been reached at the mill and their future growth plans focus far more on intensification and outgrower training than on expansion.

Putting aside the impacts of forest loss in the landscape, the establishment and growth of Kinyara Sugar Works Ltd has had a significant impact on the people of the area, both beneficial and disadvantageous, and it is difficult to draw conclusions as to whether, amongst outgrowers or the population as a whole, this cash crop has had a positive or negative influence.

The impact of cash crops, in general, on food security and wealth is a topic much debated in the field of agricultural development. Uganda’s Vision 2040 sets out the country’s ambitions for future development, aiming to become an upper middle income country by 2037, and the rates of growth and key activities needed to achieve this, namely a constant GDP growth rate of 8.2% per year (between 2010 and 2013 GDP growth averaged 5.5% per year). The fear is that in pursuing such rapid economic growth, including promoting high value crops, the poorest and most marginalised people will suffer, unable to participate in a formal market-oriented economy. Yet cash crops are often promoted by government as a mechanism for smallholder farmers to increase their incomes and, as a result, improve food security. Although evidence in support of these views is limited, a study of cacao and oil palm farmers in the Ashanti region of Ghana found that food availability, food access and utilisation had a negative relationship with the intensity of cash crop farming, thought to be a result of cash crops driving up food prices and competing with subsistence agriculture for land. Another investigation found the relationship between cash crops and household food security to be dependent on many factors including the type of crop, its uses and the market and policy conditions. In essence if well-planned and implemented, smallholder farmers can benefit from the additional income cash crops can bring. Whether this income would then be spent on a diverse range of nutritious foods, and whether such foods would be easy to attain is another matter.

There are cases where cash crops have boosted incomes and provided employment for, if not all then certainly some, farmers. And cash cropping can also raise the productivity of food crops, making inputs, credit and training more accessible. Further, if successful, cash crop schemes can have spillover effects for individuals in the area that are not directly involved in cash crop production, as seen in one case study in Zimbabwe. Because the evidence is so mixed, the only conclusion we can come to is that better evidence is needed to more fully understand the relationship between cash crop production and household food security and incomes, in particular under what circumstances cash crops can improve social outcomes. [Read more…]

Key Agricultural Development Debates

ID-100214047In conjunction with World Food Day last week, the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and Institute of Development Studies (IDS) launched a series of seven papers investigating the key agricultural development debates surrounding sub-Saharan Africa.

For many years the importance of agricultural development for poverty and hunger eradication was a key issue to be argued, debated and championed but more recently this message has been largely accepted with agriculture becoming a central theme on African and international development agendas. As World Food Day showed there is general agreement that smallholder and family farms play a critical role in providing food security, livelihoods, environmental protection and rural development.

Although investing in agricultural development, and smallholders specifically, is widely believed to help tackle poverty and hunger, the way of going about this is much contested, and debates over the right policies, technologies and investments are ongoing. It is these debates that these seven papers, the first of twelve, have explored, in particular looking at how such debates have changed since 2001 and the release of an issue of Development Policy Review entitled “Rethinking rural development“. This issue suggested that the role of agriculture in driving development and economic growth was diminishing with more people leaving the sector to pursue other jobs.

Today agriculture is largely seen as both critical to a country’s economic transition and, because the sector employs millions of people and families, as a route to improving the livelihoods of people around the world. Perhaps this is because the way agriculture is viewed has changed – within agricultural development spheres discourse is as often as not full of ideas such as market development, value chains, public-private partnership and enterprise. Agriculture in developing countries is being viewed as a business with risks but also with many opportunities. Recent rises in food prices, liberalisation of markets, the rise of regional trade and economic partnerships in Africa, and new African institutions such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) have opened the door for agriculture-led development and private investment.

Whether these developments will ultimately be good or bad for African development divides opinion. Do market-led approaches marginalise subsistence farmers, increasing their vulnerability to poverty? Will small-scale farmers ultimately have to leave farming as commercial farms capitalise on market opportunities? How much control over the development of farms and agriculture should individual farmers have? The seven papers presented aim to ignite debate on how African agriculture is changing and shed light on the way forward. The topics of these papers ranges from the changing African economic, political and social landscapes and its impact on food systems; the types of investment most appropriate for smallholder farmers, given their heterogeneity; economic diversification and the link between urban and rural economies; the potential of input subsidy programmes; and the role of ICTs.

Here we suggest some key agricultural debates currently taking place but we’d love to hear from you as to what you think the most important debates are in African agricultural development, and how you think resolution can be found. [Read more…]

Scaling up- scaling up: food security, smallholder farmers & markets

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Click here to download the Leaping & Learning Report

October 16th 2014 is World Food Day, and in line with this years International Year of Family Farming, the theme of this World Food Day is “Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth” aiming to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers. Across Africa, smallholders account for 80% of Africa’s farmland and produce 80% of the food in Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. However due to a lack of suitable infrastructure, access to inputs, technology and storage, the majority of smallholders farmers are not well connected to markets.

After a warm welcome and opening remarks from our very own Katrin Glatzel, and introductions from H.E. Ambassador Neil Briscoe, the UK Permanent Representative to the Rome-based Agencies the panellists shared some of their experiences, successes and challenges from their diverse fields of work.

We heard first from Sharada Keats from the Overseas Development Institute as she provided a comprehensive overview of the key findings and recommendations of the 2013 Leaping & Learning report, sharing that there is no silver bullet for scaling up. Attempts to scale up often do not reach the poorest and most vulnerable and social safety nets must be put in place to ensure that those most in need are adequately supported during the uptake of the project. Thom Sprenger from HarvestPlus supported that reaching the farmers and consumers most affected by micronutrient deficiencies  is a barrier to scaling up and that there is a need to mitigate risks associated with the adoption of a new crop – through credit, insurance, input incentives, and market connections. [Read more…]

Constraints to smallholder commercialisation

ID-100136355In the wake of the 2008 food price crisis, which exacerbated food insecurity and increased smallholder farmers’ vulnerability to shocks and stresses, recognition of the barriers smallholders face in becoming more productive and developing their farms as commercial businesses has been growing. In 2010, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation implemented the Multidisciplinary Fund (MDF) project to help develop policies supportive of smallholder commercialisation in Africa, in particular identifying the heterogeneity amongst smallholders in terms of their attitudes to commercialisation.

A new report, Understanding smallholder farmer attitudes to commercialisation – the case of maize in Kenya, by the FAO, focuses on maize producers and rural youth in Kenya by investigating “attitudes, strategies and opportunities related to maize commercialisation” in Meru and Bungoma regions in the country. The report is based on key informant interview, focus group, farmer survey and stakeholder workshop data.

At present farm management is not undertaken with commercial prospects in mind for a variety of reasons – continued reliance on maize production for household consumption and a level of mistrust in markets; production and marketing activities remaining distinct from one another; reactive rather than planned production decision-making processes; poor storage facilities; and low maize quality. That is not to say that there aren’t farmers who do think more commercially but in particular farmers are more likely to require direct payments immediately to meet their household needs rather than selling at times or to traders that might allow them to obtain higher payments for their maize. Net buyers of maize, numbering some 45% of the smallholder farmers surveyed, are found to make more objective business decisions, again likely related to the level of urgent cash needs of poorer households and net buyers of maize. One of the main concerns in finding an outlet to sell maize are the transaction costs and the risks associated with the transaction, most farmers aiming to minimise costs and risks. Those smallholders engaged in more commercial practices, in particular selling maize to more distant traders or modern market channels, were more likely to experience a lack of nearby market opportunities, to specialise in maize, to have access to better price information and to have benefited from government input support programmes.

Given the relatively small amounts of maize sold by most farmers, collective marketing whereby maize is pooled and sold in bulk (and inputs can be bought in bulk) could be beneficial but it was found to be unlikely that net buyers would become net sellers of maize purely through collective marketing. Greater institutional support to partner these collective marketing approaches and a business oriented approach may aid their effectiveness. [Read more…]

DFID’s Agriculture and Growth evidence paper series

ID-10071316The UK Department for International Development has recently released a series of evidence synthesis papers on agriculture and economic growth, which aim to inform decision makers. While they do not represent DFID’s policy position they summarise the evidence underpinning debates related to several topics – agriculture and growth, agriculture and poverty, agriculture and the private sector, agriculture and women, and food prices and poverty.

Agriculture is an important sector for many developing countries both now and for their future development, contributing both to economic growth and reducing rural poverty. From the evidence assessed it appears that agriculture can have a positive effect on the economic growth of a country but this effect is contingent on many context-specific factors such as the current stage of economic development and resource endowments. Strong political commitment and an understanding of the local economy are key to maximising agriculture’s contribution to economic transformation. During early stages of a country’s development evidence shows that increasing agricultural productivity and incomes from farming drive demand for non-farm sectors and wider economic growth. At later stages the commercialisation of agriculture drives demand for agro-processing industries. Throughout this process and for sustained economic growth, countries are likely to have to shift resources from agriculture to other sectors as agriculture’s share in the national economy declines.

Agriculture can have a significant role to play in reducing poverty. Since agriculture is predominantly a rural activity, where the majority of the poor live, agricultural growth can stimulate greater rural labour opportunities. DFID found that poverty reduction from growth in agriculture is on average 2 to 4 times greater than from equivalent growth in other sectors. Again context matters and policies are needed to target poverty reduction alongside agricultural development. For many people in poverty increasing agricultural productivity may be a challenge particularly where the costs of doing so are prohibitive. In such cases agricultural growth which stimulates the rural non-farm economy may be more important for reducing poverty. Evidence suggests agriculture can be one part of a broader solution to tackle poverty and DFID identify several conditions whereby agricultural development can reduce poverty:

  • The domestic market is less well integrated into global trade.
  • A higher proportion of increased income is likely to be spent locally and on locally-produced goods and services.
  • There is an enabling environment and capacity in the local non-farm economy to increase production in response to increased demand.
  • Where small-holders have capability and capacity to either increase either the scale of production or the value of the produce.

[Read more…]

2014 Africa Progress Report

APR2014_coverReleased today, the 2014 Africa Progress Report, Grain, fish, money. Financing Africa’s green and blue revolutions, discusses agriculture, fisheries and finance, outlining reasons for optimism but also some of the priorities and barriers to Africa’s development.

The Africa Progress Panel (APP), chaired by Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel laureate, consists of ten individuals across the public and private sectors who advocate for equitable and sustainable development for Africa. The annual Africa Progress Report, published every year in May, utilises the best research and analysis available on Africa to make viable, policy recommendations for African policy makers, international partners and civil society organisations.

Many African countries have seen significant economic development and transformation in the last few decades and incomes are set to double in the next 22 years. Senegal, for example, has gone from a debt crisis to selling sovereign debt on eurobond markets in ten years. But this economic growth is slow to trickle down to the many rural-dwelling Africans whose livelihoods are still precarious. In west Senegal, ongoing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by commercial fleets from other countries has left fish stocks dwindling, affecting tens of thousands of artisanal fishermen. As the report states this is just one example of the growing divide between the few who can benefit from Africa’s rising economic prosperity and the large number of people chronically poor and hungry.

On the one hand, the report states, the political and economic landscape of Africa is changing: exports and foreign investment are increasing while dependence on aid is declining. Democracy, transparency and accountability are entering into the language of policymakers more and more. But poverty and hunger are still enormous challenges and progress in making economic growth both wide-ranging and sustainable has, so far, fallen short. For Africa, as the report states, “the time has come to set a course towards more inclusive growth and fairer societies.”

In order to translate some of the economic growth to improving people’s wellbeing and livelihoods, Africa’s policymakers must focus on developing the continents farming and fishing industries, those economic sectors employing and supporting the majority of the Africa population. Smallholder farmers receive relatively little support from the government. As the report states, “Agriculture remains the Achilles’ heel of Africa’s development success story.” Subject to conflicting and sometimes damaging development initiatives, African farmers have some of the lowest levels of access to productive resources, markets and technologies in the world. As such agricultural productivity is very low. As has been seen in many developed and emerging economies an agricultural revolution is essential to overall growth and poverty eradication. Africa, as the report goes on to say, needs its own Green Revolution, one designed for the African continent. In particular increasing access to technologies such as drought-resistant varieties and tackling policy and market failures, which prevent farmers from increasing their productivity and incomes. [Read more…]