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…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Chicago Council’s Grow Markets, Fight Hunger Report Featured, Global Food for Thought

FAO food price index drops again in March driven by sugar’s sharp slide, FAO

Deforestation is messing with our weather — and our food, EurekAlert

Agriculture and Agrometeorological Services, PAEPARD

Yesterday’s bread against food waste, Plantwise

“Why Wait Until the Next Food Crisis?” Improving Food Reserves Strategies in East Africa, ACORD

Why we should be worried by the World Bank shoveling $36bn to ‘financial intermediaries’, From Poverty to Power

Feeding the World – Without GMOs, EWG

We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it, The Guardian [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report, IFPRI

Agriculture: Increase water harvesting in Africa, Nature

Middle Income Countries Play Key Role in Eliminating Hunger and Malnutrition, IFPRI

Agriculture bears major brunt of disaster impacts, new report says, FAO

Uganda’s plans for super bananas spark heated debate, Yahoo News

Contract farming and out-grower schemes, Action Aid

Political brief on the Principles on Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Foodsystems, TNI

The Path to Poverty: AGRA, small-scale farmers and seed and soil fertility in Tanzania, African Centre for Biosafety

Cropping Africa’s wet savannas would bring high environmental costs, Princeton University

The great land giveaway in Mozambique, Triple Crisis

Peak food? Can food tech supercharge crop yields and address global food security?, Genetic Literacy Project

Farming methods must sustain soil and be climate-smart, Daily Monitor [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

WHO to basically everybody: Stop eating so much sugar, The Washington Post

Five Lessons from the Frontlines of Africa’s Green Revolution, Ventures

Grow Markets, Fight Hunger: A Food Security Framework for US-Africa Trade Relations, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

EU State of the Environment Report, European Environment Agency

Ugandan farmers take on palm oil giants over land grab claims, The Guardian

Better genes for better (more adaptable) beans, EurekAlert

How to reduce losses on the way to the market, Daily Monitor

Climate change and compassion: the missing link?, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Can Public-Private Partnerships Actually Benefit the Poor?, PAEPARD [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…]

Boom and Bust: the future of our food producing ecosystems

ID-100219796A recent paper, No Dominion over Nature, authored by UK ecologists, Professors Mark Huxham, Sue Hartley, Jules Pretty and Paul Tett, describes how current approaches to food production are damaging the long term health of ecosystems, hampering their ability to provide ecosystem services and leaving them vulnerable to collapse. Focusing on continual (and unsustainable) increases in agricultural productivity, for example through intensive monocultures, will inevitably lead to a “boom and bust” cycle.

The “dominant narrative” in meeting the ever increasing demand for food (some estimate we need to increase food production by 100% by 2050 to meet this demand) is to intensify agricultural production, an approach, such as the Green Revolution, that has so far allowed food production to keep pace with population growth. Such a pathway, as authors argue, is causing ecosystem deterioration, eroding the ecosystem services we rely upon such as pollination, climate regulation and water purification. Intensification comes at an economic and ecological cost – ever increasing synthetic input amounts are costly, too costly for some, while they have serious impacts on the environment.

An alternative is low input agriculture such as organic farming, which may not produce the yields to meet future demand without expansion of farming area and similarly poses a threat to the environment with agricultural expansion being a major factor in the conversion of natural habitats, deforestation and biodiversity loss. In particular the report talks about the debate between those arguing for intensification and those for low-input farming, most often framed as an argument between economists and environmentalists, or ostriches and romantics as Paul Collier terms them. Ostriches in that proponents may have their head in the sand ignoring looming environmental and climate crises, romantics in that their advocacy of environmentally friendly approaches such as organic may seem appealing but could have negative impacts, for example increasing the cost of food to account for environmental externalities, which could exacerbate hunger.

The authors reject both approaches suggesting instead “a focus on maintaining ecosystem health through the management of terrestrial and aquatic environments as multifunctional mosaics”. In a sense combining intensive agriculture with neighbouring land that provides ecosystem services in a way that maximises ecosystem resilience. In particular the concepts of bioproductivity, “the ability of ecosystems to capture energy in organic form”, an ability which forms the basis of food production, and thresholds or planetary boundaries are discussed as key management guidelines. Ecosystems should be seen as “functional self-regulating systems” and should be managed to ensure a continual and adequate supply of ecosystem services. [Read more…]