Harnessing Innovation for African Agriculture and Food Systems

ID-100207879In November 2013, the African Union Commission (AUC) and Kofi Annan Foundation, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, convened a group of senior African leaders and experts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss actions that could be taken to “sustain the momentum of the many positive transformations taking place in African agriculture and food systems”. A Chairs’ Summary of the high-level dialogue, “Harnessing Innovation for African Agriculture and Food Systems:  Meeting the Challenges and Designing for the 21st Century,” was recently released. The report details the discussions of the meeting, looking at some of the past successes, future challenges and opportunities for action.

The meeting, held in support of the 2014 Year of Agriculture and Food Security in Africa and the 10th anniversary of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), noted the recent change in language used to describe African agriculture, turning to one of potential and transformation. Agriculture and farming businesses can not only play a significant role in the food security of Africans and others in the world but can be a drivers of development, poverty reduction, growth in infrastructure and address social issues such as gender inequality and youth unemployment.

Significant forces of change were identified as smallholder farmers and the private sector, while greater coordination within and beyond the continent, and between sectors, and “scaling, amplifying and transferring” of successes in a way that reflects regional differences were seen to be key to the transformation of the sector.

Some of the challenges Africa faces were, in this meeting, seen also as opportunities. For example, rapid urbanisation and shifting diets mean increased demand for food, and some 60% of the continent’s food needs arise from people in urban centres, but this is also an opportunity to build better urban to rural links and food supply chains, benefiting those in towns and cities but bringing much needed investment capital to rural areas.

Several countries are already seeing significant growth in the agricultural sector, driving reductions in hunger. While engagement of the private sector is seen as a key part of this growth, visionary and determined leadership is driving this process, and good governance and a strong enabling environment developed through the public sector were identified as being needed to “resolve bottlenecks, maintain momentum and optimise for the greatest benefit to all layers in the economy and society”. Governments’ actions to aid the development and transformation of the agricultural sector include incentivising investment, providing regulation, coordinating across sectors and providing safety nets for the most vulnerable. [Read more…]

Realising Africa’s potential

This is Africa infographicAfrica is sometimes thought of as the last frontier to undergo an agricultural revolution. In a new edition of This is Africa produced in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation, entitled Agriculture. Realising Africa’s Potential, contributors such as Jane Karuku, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation and Dr Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s agriculture minister discuss interventions and innovations that have the potential to transform the African agricultural sector.

Calestous Juma has argued that, “Neglect of agriculture has been a defining feature of Africa’s economic policy over the last four decades.” But the situation is changing and there exists a lot of potential for African agriculture to develop, as indicated by the magazine’s infographic. There is renewed interest in agriculture by both the public and private sectors, in part because of the proven impact agriculture can have on poverty and hunger. The World Bank calculates that investments in agricultural growth are twice as effective at reducing poverty as investments in any other sector.

Currently lacking are investments in research and development relevant to the continent, in infrastructure and in education. In the opening article, authors discuss five key areas where innovations can spur significant progress:

  • Crop management, such as improved varieties and management techniques like the rice nucleus model pioneered by Olam Nigeria.
  • Confronting catastrophes, such as the West Africa Seed Programme, which provides farmers with access to seeds bred to be more resilient under extreme weather conditions, or Oxfam and the World Food Programme’s R4 Rural Resilience Initiative in Senegal and Ethiopia, which helps rural communities to improve their management of climate-related risks to crops and livestock.
  • Mobilising solutions from a tech revolution, such as mobile phones, which are now used to access financial services, insurance and market and technical information.
  • Market movements, such as the Dutch Agricultural Development & Trading Company’s Autonomous Mobile Processing Unit (Ampu), which is a cassava processor that can be transported from place to place. Farmers whose fresh cassava crop could rot in one day can now process their harvest into cassava cake which can last up to 6 months, allowing them to wait to sell until prices are high.
  • Going to scale. Innovations alone will not be enough. They must be combined and scaled, which will require political buy-in.

This edition looks at several innovations in more depth, most notably local agricultural processing, commodity exchanges and financial products designed for the agricultural sector. As many of the authors point out though more must be done to reach smallholder farmers and to increase the reach of existing and new innovations.