Posts Tagged ‘AGRA’


Chicago Council Symposium: The New Way of Aid

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual symposium, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, is underway this morning. Tune in to the livestream here and follow the discussion on Twitter with @globalagdev  #globalag

Musician Bono, governmental leaders, and corporate CEOs discussed the new era of agricultural development. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The development landscape is changing, and private and public leaders each have a vision for how the development landscape should change. Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for the Department for International Development (DFID), said that Africa’s major challenges will be a rapidly growing population, an increasing demand for food products, and climate change. He said that business as usual will not be enough and that the recently announced New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition will not business as usual.

Ellen Kullman, CEO of DuPont, and Strive Masiyiwa, acting Chairman of the Board Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), both stressed the importance of connecting with the smallholder farmer and finding out what their needs are. Masiyiwa said, “If we are going to help the smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, we must listen to them.” Kullman said that everyone describes food security differently, but that there are a few fundamentals: it must be local, the know-how must be local, and it has to be sustainable—in how it gets to market and how it gets to people’s plates.



Climate Conversations – Small seed packets, big policies tackle Horn of Africa drought

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By Alina Paul-Bossuet

Alina Paul-Bossuet is a communications specialist for ICRISAT. This article was originally posted on AlertNet.

The Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in 60 years destroying crops, killing livestock and causing hunger and famine across parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda.

A drought-hit farmer in Malawi stands near his lost maize crop, while the pigeon peas he planted flourish in the background. (Photo credit: ICRISAT)

Governments and humanitarian organizations are responding to the crisis, distributing food as well as agricultural inputs such as seeds.

Given that drought regularly strikes this region – and researchers say climate change will bring more extreme weather – we need to use the current emergency operations to support longer term agricultural recovery and development. In the coming weeks, we must involve the affected farmers and the existing local economy (such as the village shopkeepers, mostly agro-dealers selling seeds) wherever possible to find durable solutions to make communities more resilient when the next drought comes.

This concept is not new. Back in 2000, a UN task force on food security in the Horn of Africa highlighted the need for farmers to adopt drought-tolerant crop varieties. The challenge is to get these seeds to farmers and encourage them to grow these crops on a large scale.



Smallscale Farmers: Partners on the Path Toward Alleviating Hunger and Poverty

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“The fact that farmers go hungry is a big paradigm shift for the people in this room,” Howard G. Buffett told the audience during his keynote address at the opening of the Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa. And it is hard to believe that although small-holder farmers produce most of the food in sub-Saharan Africa, they are also the most at risk for hunger and poverty.

Because of their importance as agricultural producers—and their vulnerability to poverty—Buffett, says that you need an approach to agricultural development that doesn’t dismiss small-scale farmers. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Because of their importance as agricultural producers—and their vulnerability to poverty—Buffett, says that you need an approach to agricultural development that doesn’t dismiss small-scale farmers. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Because of their importance as agricultural producers—and their vulnerability to poverty—Buffett, who is also the President of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, says that you need an approach to agricultural development that doesn’t dismiss small-scale farmers. “Never look at the smallholder as an impediment,” he said, but as an important part of finding ways to alleviating hunger and poverty.

Buffett went on to say that while he believes research and development of drought tolerant maize, genetically engineered crops, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s (AGRA) work on seed breeding through its Programme for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) are important, he also cautions simply depending on technology to help solve hunger.

“Fertilizers don’t do much on depleted soils,” and “hooking farmers on fossil fuel-based fertilizers isn’t going to work,” said Buffett. According to him, what’s needed is a “Brown Revolution” in Africa to help build up the continent’s soil and prevent desertification. His foundation has had great success, he says, promoting the use of cover crops, mulching, and other techniques that help build up organic material in soils.

But, he also noted, that he’s invested $145 million in 70 projects around the world and “hasn’t come close to the success we should have seen.” Simply increasing yields, according to Buffett, won’t help address poverty—farmers need better access to market, better ways of reducing post-harvest loss, better training and education, and better national policies.

Stay tuned for more about the World Food Prize later this week.


Local Seeds to Meet Smallscale Farmers’ Needs

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Madame Coulibaly does something that many seed dealers in Mali and other parts of Africa usually don’t do—she keeps her prices low enough for small, cash-scarce farmers to afford. And instead of packaging seeds in large volumes, Mme. Coulibaly provides  seeds of sorghum, rice, millet, maize, ground nuts, cowpeas, and beans in various size packages, making them easier for farmers to buy and use.

Instead of packaging seeds in large volumes, Mme. Coulibaly provides seeds of sorghum, rice, millet, maize, ground nuts, cowpeas, and beans in various size packages, making them easier for farmers to buy and use. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Coulibaly explained that before she and her husband began Faso Kaba Seed Company, partly with funding from a grant from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, “people weren’t taking the seed from here (Mali), but taking it from the West.” In other words, there weren’t many places for farmers to buy locally produced and certified seed. That’s changing, however.  In addition to advertising her products on radio and television, Mme. Coulibaly has hired and trained agro-dealers who travel to rural communities to sell seeds directly to farmers.

In addition to “being able to take care of me and my family,” from starting the seed dealership, says Coulibaly, she’s also been able to  expand the business with two seed outlets, hire 6 full-time employees, and have part-time staff that helps package seed. Unfortunately, she says, it hasn’t been easy for her to find or hire women agro-dealers to reach more women farmers because it’s harder for them to travel. But women make up the majority of seed growers, working through cooperatives to provide seed to Faso Kaba.

More importantly, says Coulibaly, “people have told me that since they’ve started buying her seed they don’t have to buy additional food because they’re self-sufficient.”

Watch Mme. Coulibaly describe how her seeds are helping to improve her own livelihood, as well as the livelihoods of the local farmers that use her seeds:


A Sustainable Calling Plan

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Danielle Nierenberg with Mike Quinn, Mobile Transactions General Manager (photo: Bernard Pollack)

Danielle Nierenberg with Mike Quinn, Mobile Transactions General Manager (photo: Bernard Pollack)

In addition to hoes and shovels, more and more farmers in sub-Saharan Africa carry another agricultural “tool”: a cell phone.

Over the last decade, cell-phone use in Africa has increased fivefold, and farmers are using their phones to gain information about everything from markets to weather. For example, farmers can find out prices before they make the long trips from rural areas to urban markets, giving them the option to wait to sell until prices are higher. Agricultural extension agents and development agencies also use mobile phones to communicate with farmers, letting them know about changes in weather that could affect crops.

Farmers and agribusiness agents in Zambia are also using cell phones as bank accounts, to pay for orders, to manage agricultural inputs, to collect and store information about customers, and to build credit. Mobile Transactions, a financial services company for the “unbanked,” allows customers to use their phones like an ATM card, says Mike Quinn, Mobile Transactions General Manager. An estimated 80 percent of Zambians, particularly in rural areas, don’t have bank accounts, making it difficult for them to make financial transactions such as buying seed or fertilizer. But by using Mobile Transactions, farmers are not only able to make purchases and receive payment electronically, they are also building a credit history, which can make getting loans easier.

Mobile Transactions also works with USAID’s PROFIT program to help agribusiness agents make orders for inputs, manage stock flows, and communicate more easily with agribusiness companies and farmers. Perhaps most importantly, the partnership helps agents better understand the farmers they’re working with so that they can provide the tools, inputs, and education each farmer and community needs.

In addition, e-banking and e-commerce systems can help make better use of agricultural subsidies. Mobile Transactions worked with AGRA and CARE to develop an e-voucher system for obtaining conservation farming inputs. Farmers receive a scratch card with funds that they can redeem via their phones to purchase tools or other inputs from local agribusiness agents. Unlike paper vouchers, there’s no delay in moving the money, and farmers can get what they need immediately, such as seed during planting season or fertilizer when it can be used most effectively. And because donors are using Mobile Transactions to distribute the vouchers, they’re acting as a stimulant to the private sector, rather than distorting the market.


Journalism’s Role in Educating Africa About What it Eats

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africaharvestThis is the second in a two-part series of my visit to Africa Harvest in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Daniel Kamanga, the Director of Communications of Africa Harvest, and former journalist, says that journalism in Africa has to overcome many challenges, including a general lack of coverage on agriculture issues—let alone a deeper understanding about who is funding agricultural development in Africa. “No one knows who Bill [Gates] is in Africa,” lamented Kamanga. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the biggest and most influential funders of agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa. (See Filling a Need for African-Based Reporting on Agriculture).

“You can’t have a revolution in Africa if people aren’t briefed,” says Kamanga, referring to the call for a Green Revolution in Africa by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Although agriculture makes up about 98 percent of the economy in Kenya, it’s barely covered in the country’s newspapers. And there are not any agricultural editors at any of the newspapers on the entire continent.

But it’s not just a question of reporters having more knowledge, according to Kamanga. It’s also a matter of compensation. African journalists are typically paid very little compared to journalists in other countries. In Burkina Faso, reporters receive just 160 dollars per month. As a result, many journalists see bribes as a way to supplement their income.

Yet with newspaper and media consolidation, fierce competition for advertisers, and lackluster economic conditions in Africa and all over the world, it’s a trend that might only get worse.


Bringing Inputs to Farmers

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This is the final in a three-part series about our visit to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the projects they’re funding in Africa.

“You can get Coca-Cola at any store in any village in Kenya, but you have to travel 50 to 60 kilometers to get fertilizer,” says James Mutonyi, Country Director for the Agricultural Market Development Trust (AGMARK), which through CNFA has received support from AGRA to help build a system of agro-dealers in Kenya (see our post on AGRA called AGRA Sets the Record Straight)

The “low use” of inputs, says Mutonyi, is the biggest challenge agriculture faces in Africa. Farmers not only don’t have access to improved seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs, but they are, he says, “ignorant” about how to use them. But by investing in existing agro-dealers and helping train new ones, CNFA and AGMARK are hoping to reach more and more farmers. There are currently about 2,000 agro-dealers in Kenya, which they hope to more than double over the next two years. One agro-dealer, according to Mutonyi, serves about 500 farmers and because of large family sizes, the real number of people each dealer reaches can be about 20,000 people.

And, says Mutonyi, they’re “building rural enterprises that will survive beyond donor funding.” By building the private market, CNFA and AGMARK want to make Kenyans less dependent on subsidies for inputs, as well as food aid from the United States and other Western nations. They’re collaborating with the World Food Program and the biggest food millers in Africa to help ensure that African food supplies for drought- and famine-affected regions comes from African producers.

They’re also working on ways to make it easier for both agro-dealers and farmers to gain access to information through electronic platforms, such as cell phones. As a result, farmers can find out prices for both inputs and outputs without leaving the farm.

Mutonyi admits that although they’ve boasted of training hundreds of agro-dealers and farmers, they’re missing an important audience—women. Men are the ones who buy the seeds, but it’s women who are planting them and they’re not getting the information and education they need.

Ultimately, just expanding the agro-dealer program won’t be enough, according to Mutonyi. More technology is needed, he says, “right down to the farmer.” And, he says, AGRA has encouraged them to be more aware of environmental problems that can result from the overuse and misuse of agricultural inputs. “If you want to do anything for the environment,” says Mutonyi, “you need to include agro-dealers” because they’re often the first and only source of information for farmers.