Experts Reiterate the Need to Address Food Loss and Waste for a Sustainable Food and Land Use System in Kenya

By Jeremiah Rogito, Program Officer, FOLU, AGRA

The control of food loss and waste is critical in addressing many of Africa’s food shortage issues, which have left over 200 million people suffering from hunger and malnutrition. This is according to food system experts, who met in a workshop last month to validate a study on the contextual issues surrounding food loss and waste (FLW) in Kenya. The workshop was organized by the World Resource Institute (WRI) through the Food and Land Use (FOLU) coalition. 

The participants recognized that at least 37% of the food produced in sub-Saharan Africa is either lost or wasted, making FLW an integral agenda in the ongoing conversation on food systems transformation. It was agreed that FLW impacts food security and nutrition, the earnings of food producers and traders, and the sustainability of food systems through the wastage of scarce natural resources and farming inputs.

Yet despite this relevance, the participants noted the inadequacy of FLW data and knowledge (critical points of loss, magnitude, and underlying causes and drivers) in driving policy development, decision-making processes, and priority actions towards tackling the problem. They said that available estimates are based on an FAO study carried out in 2011, whose outcome does not fully correspond to newer definitions, metrics, measurement protocols and standards. 

“With the various challenges around production, including climate change, high cost of inputs, degraded soils, and failed rains, among others, we cannot afford to lose or waste any food. It is imperative that models that significantly reduce food loss and waste in Kenya be piloted and upscaled,” said John Macharia, AGRA’s Kenya Country Manager. 

A picture of fruit and vegetable waste at a local market in Kenya

For rapid action, Dr Robert Mbeche, who led the study under validation, reiterated the need to develop FLW as a critical food system indicator, eliminating the existing bottlenecks to understanding the causes, extent, and priorities for reducing FLW. 

“Despite being a priority issue under the Sustainable Development Agenda of 2030, FLW has not received much attention compared to other food system indicators such as food availability and food safety,” he said.

He added that while there is emerging but growing literature on FLW in Kenya, most studies do not employ standard methodologies that increase the accuracy and comparability of the results. 

“These studies tend to analyse FLW at specific stages of the value chain – which makes it difficult to determine the critical points of loss. Furthermore, few studies have been undertaken at retail or consumption nodes making estimation of food waste difficult. The assessments of physical losses are more common compared to quality or nutritional losses,” he said. 

On the other hand, Dr. Mbeche was pleased to note that some studies have documented important innovations that could potentially minimize FLW, in addition, to attempts to assess the cost effectiveness and impacts of various FLW innovations.

A section of participants in a group photo during the FLW workshop at the Movenpick Hotel, in Kenya’s Capital, Nairobi.

Other speakers emphasized the need to develop consistent and targeted measures to address data gaps on FLW. The WRI and FOLU partners are working on such a protocol for adequate FLW measurement and response. A draft of this protocol was presented at the workshop, as evidence of FOLU’s prioritizaton of FLW among its four critical transitions in Kenya, which also include: Healthy diets; Productive and Regenerative Agriculture, and Protecting and Restoring Nature for a Sustainable Food and Land Use System. 

Meanwhile, Dr Susan Chomba, WRI’s Director of Vital Landscapes, highlighted the importance of partnerships in addressing food loss and waste. She said: “to achieve food system transformation, we cannot do it alone, there is need for us to collaborate and work together to achieve this, hence the need for the Food and Land Use Coalition.”

Let’s mentor the youth to tap into Africa’s agro-value chain

The 40 per cent of Africa’s population comprising young people in the 18-35 age bracket holds the key to the continent’s food security and economic progress.

Their potential, however, needs to be harnessed through innovative technologies. Unfortunately, the reality is that many youths are jobless, with limited opportunities to transform their lives. One area where we are yet to fully exploit the potential of youth is agriculture. 

We should get our youth intricately involved in the food value chain and completely revamp the current agricultural model to make it more youth-inclusive.

We need to debunk retrogressive stereotypes that dissuade the younger generation from embracing agriculture as a dignified career option. 

For far too long, young people have perceived agriculture as a retirement pastime. Such stereotypes not only stifle growth and innovation in the agri-food sector but also dim the overall perception of agriculture.

The youth must shun the mindset that agriculture is a boring venture. One of the ways through which the youth can be engaged in transforming the agri-food space is through innovation.

The disruptive impact of technology is evident in virtually every sector and facet of life. While agriculture initially lagged in embracing innovative technologies, it has not been immune to the disruption.

Indeed, some of the most radical innovations have been around food systems. From food security apps to weather and calorie apps, technology has mainstreamed the agri-value chain while neutralising entrenched stereotypes.

Through technology, farmers can now access markets directly, influence prices and learn better crop and animal husbandry practices. On the same platforms, they can showcase their produce, processes, and other activities along the agri-value chain.

Mentoring next generation

We must begin to envision the role of the youth in shaping the future of agriculture by mentoring the next generation of agripreneurs.

The emerging, tech-driven agri-space is gender and age neutral and devoid of biases that fuel the exclusion of youth, women and other disadvantaged groups. 

In addition, the quest for a new breed of agripreneurs and innovators has spawned many initiatives that seek to stimulate creativity in pursuit of opportunities in the trillion-dollar Africa agro-value chain.

One such initiative is the GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize and the Pitch AgriHack competition, whose aim is to showcase youth’s ground-breaking solutions to Africa’s food security challenges.

The disruption that tech and youth are injecting is the Midas touch the industry needs to transition to the next level. Crucially, youth have a higher risk appetite, which is needed to overcome challenges facing the industry.

Individually and collectively, this youthful effect will affect what we know, drive trends that influence what and how we eat, what we farm, where we farm, and generally influence what the market will produce and consume in future.

Ms Namayi is the GoGettaz Lead – Generation Africa at AGRA; 

Originally posted on:

The ‘new normal’ in food systems is anchored on gender equality

The world quickly embraced a ‘new normal’ in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that swept the globe in 2020, dramatically upending life as we knew it. That should inspire a shift to a new way of growing food by decisively tackling gender inequality that pervades the agricultural system globally.

For far too long, women have been consigned to playing second fiddle in the global food system. Inspired by the immortal dream of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., who envisioned a ‘Promised Land’ where equality for all reigned, I stand with the millions of women marginalised by gender inequality even as they cling to unfulfilled international commitments on mainstreaming gender parity as a way of achieving food security.

We must be bold as to disrupt the status quo that eternally condemns women to marginalisation, to unshackle them from the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability. The new normal of agriculture must deliver on gender equality, equity and empowerment.

Decent meal

In striving to bring the millions of women in Africa toiling on land they do not own, growing crops they cannot sell, working long hours of unpaid labour and being considered uncreditworthy by lenders to the decision-making table, we must first recognise their potential to transform agriculture.

Ahead of the 2021 UN Food Summit, I was part of a worldwide listening tour. Many women narrated the inequality they experience, the inability to cook a decent meal for their children, the number of times they had to hold back their needs and pass the plate on to a member of the family (You see, for us women, that is honour). How can this be ingrained in the food-producing systems?

They pleaded to be treated and valued as equal and productive members of communities; and for an end to the historical injustices they have faced. They also asked governments to fix laws and policies that denied them equal treatment and for financial solutions to enable them to access much-needed credit. They demanded fair and equitable wages—which can only be realised through a cultural shift driven by behaviour change.

Pain areas

We have had way many conversations around these pain areas and the changes required to attain the dream of equality. When shall we be bold enough to act? Sixty per cent of the agricultural workforce are women.

I see a world where women are not just labourers but producers on farms they own alongside their husbands. I see leaders, decision-makers and innovators. I also see a world where, because of empowerment, women have better access to factors of production.

As such, they can produce twice as much or more than they do, and where the enhanced output translates into affordable and accessible food, nutritious diets and improvement in standards of living for all.

For financial institutions, I see more customers, bigger savings and growing loan books. Let financial institutions change their attitude and create products for women, see their potential and teach them financial literacy to empower and grow them. For every man there is a woman; why is a significant part of the other half not visible to you, in this world of innovation, creativity you can’t find a product to unlock this clientele?

For governments, I see a wealthier and broader tax base. Time is night for states to be deliberate about affirmative action, passing laws and policies that support women’s empowerment in food systems. There is a lot of evidence of where countries that have been so bold have reaped huge benefits from it.

For the media, it is time to highlight the inequality and tell us inspiring stories of how and where equality is working, to inform and drive the much-needed behaviour change.


Now is the time for a cultural reorganisation to discard negative practices. Civil society has a crucial role in educating the populace. For intellectuals and policymakers, it is the moment to shepherd conversations and actions toward the end goal of an equitable and progressive society that is empowered and productive and can feed itself.

The benefits of a more resilient food system driven by gender equality are many. However, they will remain a pipe dream if we do not get off the rhetoric and work towards gender equity and address the systemic hurdles hindering our path to the Promised Land.

It is time to act by actualising a new normal, time to champion new thinking and rally individual and collective responsibility to correct the gender inequality in our food systems. We must stay hungry for change until the change we desire becomes a reality.

Dr Kalibata is the president of AGRA. @Agnes_Kalibata

Originally posted on

COMESA Ministers Undertake to Promote the Regional Food Balance Sheet Initiative

Protase Echessah, Senior Program Office, Regional Food Trade and Resilience Unit, AGRA

Gregory Chansa, Consultant, TetraTech

Mumbi Gichuri, Coordinator, Food Trade Coalition for Africa, Regional Food Trade and Resilience Unit, AGRA

During the 8th Joint Meeting of the Ministers responsible for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment from COMESA Member States, the Ministers pledged to fully support the implementation of the COMESA Digital Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) Initiative. Under the theme of this year’s meeting: ”Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration”, the Ministers reviewed regional strategic frameworks and programmes to expand agricultural production and productivity, strengthen regional agri-food data and information systems, enhance resilience, increase access to markets, and trade in safe and high-quality agricultural commodities and products, enhance regional food security, adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change and build resilience.

The Regional Food Balance Sheet initiative ( is a collaborative and multi-stakeholder engagement that includes participation from a range of analytical and technology partners to provide data and forecasts on crop production, cross-border trade, input supply, and data aggregation. The RFBS, launched by AGRA and COMESA at the 2022 AGRF Summit, is leveraging digital and satellite technology to enable more up-to-date monitoring and forecasting of food crop production, pest and disease attack, and other climatic shifts that could potentially impact food availability. It is a web-based tool that leverages machine-learning and advanced analytics to provide timely supply, demand, and price information about staple crops in Sub-Saharan Africa to inform evidence-based decision making by the public and private sector and other stakeholders in the ecosystem. 

The recent shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia – Ukraine Crisis have further amplified the critical need for timely and reliable information on food availability, given the potential of these shocks to dramatically increase Africa’s food insecurity for millions of people throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Without reliable information about the spatial and temporal dimensions of commodity availability and demand, including production estimates, stocks, trade flows, and market information, it is difficult to understand the implications of these shocks and the policy responses to them. Addressing challenges around information and data are critical to not only increasing intra-African food trade, but to increasing food security on the continent. 

The RFBS, anchored within the COMESA framework, was developed in collaboration with (AGRA), with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Rockefeller Foundation (RF).

In a virtual meeting held on Thursday, 24 November 2022, the Ministers pledged to promote and implement initiatives that contribute to reducing post-harvest losses, improve agriculture commodity aggregation and storage, and enhance competitive access to markets and trade in the region and internationally.

“We commit ourselves to enhancing access to production inputs, services and improved technologies including leveraging digital technologies to drive agriculture and livestock production and productivity”.

“We further request the COMESA Secretariat and its specialized institutions and agencies to work in close collaboration with Member States, cooperating partners, private sector, and other stakeholders to drive the implementation of the decisions taken at this virtual meeting” the Ministers stated in a joint declaration at the end of the meeting.

During the Meeting, COMESA Secretary General (SG), Chileshe Kapwepwe and AGRA Vice-President – Policy and State Capability, Dr. Apollos Nwafor, pitched for the support of the RFBS Initiative by COMESA Member States, arguing that the success and long-term sustainability of initiatives such as this depend on commitments from all players, especially governments who have the obligation to provide information/data as a public good. COMESA will anchor the RFBS in the long-term, but it is the Member States who will determine if the initiative survives or not. The Member States must commit to supporting this initiative through the establishment of critical structures at the national and regional levels, and by way of funding. They further argued that the success of the RFBS Initiative at national level will demand overall support to the initiative by government and other national level stakeholders, and inclusion in the national regional planning agenda. 

The SG added that COMESA will continue to deploy skills and efforts in designing policies and instruments to speed up agricultural growth, facilitate trade and investment among its Member States and with the rest of the world. The meeting was also addressed by representatives of other cooperating partners of COMESA including Mr. Joseph Silavwe (European Union Delegation to Zambia and COMESA), and Mr. Patrice Talla (Food and Agriculture Organization).

The meeting affirmed the importance of timely, accurate and reliable data for informed policy decisions, investments in agri-food systems, and natural resources development in a rapidly changing agri-food system and environment.

This meeting was preceded by the 8th Joint Technical Meeting on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources on 22 -23 November 2022.

The RFBS tool is critical and central to enhancing policy and market predictability – for functional food markets and food systems. This platform will inform data-driven decisions around production support, trade policy, and stock management by governments, business decision-making and investment by the private sector, and food aid by donors or emergency response organizations. Basic data on food production, consumption, trade, stocks and balances are essential to promote not just regional food security, but also long-term inclusive agricultural transformation, regional agricultural trade, and resilient food systems.

Dr. Nwafor: The Green Deal Could Help Address Africa’s Food Security Challenges

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has brought about new complexities in the global supply of staple food items and inputs like fertilizer, affecting many African countries. 

According to AGRA’s Vice President for Policy and State Capability, Dr. Apollos Nwafor, at least 20 African countries – 12 from north Africa and eight from sub-Saharan Africa – have been thrown into jeopardy due to a sudden break in the flow of wheat, maize, soybean and rice from the black-sea region. 

“Across sub-Saharan Africa, food prices have increased, and the purchasing power of families has taken a deep dive,” said Dr. Nwafor during a panel discussion at the Future of Food and Farming Summit 2022, organized by American political journalism newspaper company, Politico. 

The session, titled ‘Global Food security in times of crises, sought to review the disruptions to Africa’s and the Middle East’s food supply chains as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict as well as the role of the European Union in bridging the gaps. 

Other panellists included Carla Montesi, the Director for Green Deal and Digital Agenda, at the European Commission (EU); and Nada El Majdoub, the Executive Vice president for Performance Management at Morocco’s fertilizer giant, OCP.  

Dr. Nwafor noted that because of the conflict, many African families are unable to access healthy diets. 

“Because of the crisis, there has been more focus on the ability to eat instead of the ability to eat nutritiously,” he said. 

For long-term solutions, Dr. Nwafor emphasized the need for a food systems approach, which takes into account the geopolitical environment in driving sustainability in agricultural production. He particularly recognized the relevance of the EU’s Green Deal, a set of initiatives aimed at boosting the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy, and stop climate change in addition to reverting biodiversity loss and cut pollution.

“The Green Deal brings a lot to the African continent in driving food security especially in the areas of climate and resilience, agroecology and nutrition, and ensuring that we are keeping Africa’s arable land for the future,” he said. 

He, however, noted that the push for the implementation of the Deal must be implemented in consideration of Africa’s priorities for it to be effective, noting the need to:

  • Consider the fact that the financing architecture between Africa and the EU are parallel, they don’t meet – We need to rethink the financing architecture for the Green Deal to ensure that it is a win-win for the EU and Africa because it holds a lot of promise. 
  • Have a deeper understanding at the political level on what the Green Deal brings to drive economic growth – Food systems is not necessarily a product of economic growth, it is actually the driver of economic growth, we need to make that case much more clearly for Africans to understand whey the green deal is important for economic growth.  
  • Consider the fact that this is a partnership – The old ways of providing aid support need to change from conditionality to partnerships. This is important because these (African) governments have a clear economic and political agenda, and the Green Deal could become a vehicle for driving that, rather than a conditionality for driving certain interests,” he said. 

The future of agricultural access to finance

Co-written with Dr. Hermann Messan, Program Officer for Inclusive Finance at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and Olufunmi Adepoju, Managing Partner at PearlMutual Consulting Limited, Xoe Juliani, Marketing and Communication Officer at SCOPEinsight, Hermann Messan, Program Officer Inclusive Finance – West Africa at theAlliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Funmi Adepoju, Managing Partner atPearlMutual Consulting Limited

In a recent project with AGRA and various Local Experts, including PearlMutual Consulting Limited in Nigeria, SCOPEinsight piloted the bankability metrics and their ability to increase access to finance for agribusinesses.

A pilot to increase access to finance

A map of Africa showing the countries in the project and the logos of the Local Experts. Agri Vision Sahel worked in Mali, MDF worked in Ghana, PearlMutual worked in Nigeria, and Sundy Merchants worked in Tanzania.
The project was conducted in Tanzania, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria by four Local Experts.

In 2019, SCOPEinsight and AGRA began a project to graduate agribusinesses and link them to finance. The project was conducted in four countries: Tanzania, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria. Three to four agribusinesses were assessed per country. The agribusinesses were assessed initially in 2019, then they were given targeted training and capacity building to increase their professionalism based on the results of their baseline assessment.

In 2021, the agribusinesses were reassessed to show what improvements they had made, thanks to the training and capacity building they received. The data from their reassessments was used to fill out the bankability metrics, which were developed in 2021 by SCOPEinsight, AGRA, and the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI). These metrics contain the information on agribusinesses that banks require for their pre-due diligence process. The bankability metrics with the reassessment data were shared with multiple banks and other non-bank financial institutions and then discussed in follow-up meetings.

Creating a lasting business development ecosystem

The four local organizations who assessed and trained the agribusinesses are all members of the SCOPEinsight Local Expert Network (LEN). The LEN is part of an effort by SCOPEinsight and AGRA to create a more effective business development services (BDS) ecosystem. By combining SCOPEinsight’s global standards and the local expertise of like-minded businesses, the LEN ensures that international capacity builders can efficiently implement their projects while strengthening the local economy. Working with standardized tools allows for benchmarking and data comparison, but localizing with expert knowledge allows for customization to the environment. This combination is crucial to the LEN’s success.

Working with the LEN to create a bankable agribusiness pipeline

As part of the pilot project, SCOPEinsight and the Local Experts used SCOPE assessment data to create a pipeline of bankable agribusinesses for financial institutions. The data from SCOPE assessments can be used in many ways, including creating targeted BDS and benchmarking agribusinesses. Another potential usage of SCOPE data is the bankability metrics, which were designed to be used alongside SCOPE assessments.

Addressing Farmer Working Capital: Bankability metrics provide a common language between farmers and financial institutions. Agribusinesses meet market requirements through professionalization, and lenders have transparency into risks.
The bankability metrics can act as a connection between agribusinesses and lenders.

In the pilot, the bankability metrics were filled out using the SCOPE assessment data and then shared individually with local financial institutions. However, for future usage, SCOPEinsight has developed a Portal that financial institutions can use to discover agribusinesses which fit their loan profiles and risk appetite. The Portal will contain basic information on agribusinesses and their filled-out bankability metrics. This will provide financial institutions what they need for their pre-due diligence process. This portal will also allow agribusinesses to directly communicate with financial institutions more easily. Overall, the Portal will help reduce information asymmetry between the demand and supply sides of finance for agribusinesses by using a reliable methodology that is jointly agreeable for stakeholders of BDS and financial ecosystems.

Promising successes from PearlMutual in Nigeria

In Nigeria, PearlMutual Consulting Limited conducted the assessments and capacity building for the agribusinesses. PearlMutual is a leading Nigerian business advisory firm with more than ten years of experience delivering various Capital Raising, Financial Advisory, and Executive Training services. PearlMutual has also been a member of the LEN since 2021.

As part of the project, PearlMutual had meetings with multiple local banks in Nigeria to explain how the data from SCOPE assessments can help in the pre-due diligence process for agribusinesses. PearlMutual’s status and connections in the banking industry helped them to open doors for the project. As a result of these meetings, PearlMutual is currently in the process of signing an MOU with Sterling Bank, who now intends to use SCOPE data in their pre-due diligence process with their SWAY AgFin product. PearlMutual is also working to recreate this success with other local banks.

The business case for the graduation process and pipeline

Agra Project Map 1
While there may be other influencing factors, agribusinesses of different levels will generally cover different amounts of their capacity building costs, sometimes with help from external funds.

While the SCOPE Portal is still a work in progress, SCOPEinsight and AGRA have many plans of how the graduation system and pipeline will work in practice. The specifics of payment for the assessment and capacity building will depend on several factors. These include the level of development of the financial and BDS ecosystem, the size and type of agribusinesses, the nature of the financial institutions’ partners, the presence of conveners and donors, etc. For example, while some agribusinesses cannot afford to pay for their own assessments and training, others can afford to pay either part of the sum or the entirety of it. The agribusinesses that cannot afford to cover the costs at all will rely on donor funds, while mid-level agribusinesses will work together with external funds to cover the cost, and higher-level agribusinesses will be able to pay for it on their own.

Once the agribusinesses have been assessed and their data has been put into the bankability metrics, they will be added to the SCOPE Portal. Here, financial institutions will pay to access the Portal and view their potential pipeline. Various financial institutions have already indicated that the data in the bankability metrics would save them time and money on their pre-due diligence process, and they have confirmed their willingness to pay for a pipeline.

Next steps towards greater access to finance

The completed pilot project has shown that there is a great deal of promise in the deployment of the bankability metrics as a cornerstone for the establishment of a sustainable BDS ecosystem. The next step is to increase their usage and to introduce them to more financial institutions so that they can become a ‘hygiene factor’ in the industry. The SCOPE Portal also needs to be piloted and further refined, to determine how best to display the data for the bankable agribusinesses. With the combination of SCOPEinsight’s standardized data and tools, AGRA’s global connections and standing, and the local knowledge and expertise of Local Experts like PearlMutual, an ecosystem can be created where agribusinesses, BDS providers, and financial institutions can all work together and communicate effectively.

Lessons learned so far

A few important lessons have been learned through the just ended pilot:

  • A strong, reliable, and internationally proven methodology is important in gaining momentum from the agribusinesses and obtaining confidence from the financial sector. In this project, the SCOPE Methodology and the bankability metrics filled this role.
  • A strong understanding of the local environment through the LEN brings agility in BDS provision in different markets with different local realities.
  • The neutral convener and catalyst roles played by AGRA proved critical to connect the dots and reduce frictions. This was done by aligning both the supply and demand side on one side and by facilitating market development through continuous support through the entire value chain.
  • It is important to spend enough time in raising awareness and increasing the confidence of the financial sector on the benefits of the bankability metrics.
  • The economics of the bankability portal needs to be finetuned to make it a seamless and go-to tool for sourcing agribusiness deals and closing the gap on the unmet demand for financial services in agriculture finance.

Originally posted on

Lead with local solutions: What I learned while supporting agriculture transformation in Africa

Author: Thierry Ngoga

In June 2022, I stepped down from my role as the head of Support to State Capability at AGRA. After four years focused on capacity building for agricultural transformation, I leave the hustle and bustle of Nairobi to begin a new venture.

During my time at AGRA, I have supported a multitude of state and non-state actors, helping to create the policies, frameworks and environments necessary to drive change in the agriculture sector. In the course of this work, ‘the why’has always been clear. Across Africa, agriculture remains a vital source of livelihood, supporting about 65% of the population, mainly the poor.[1] Overall, the sector accounts for 61% of employment opportunities, 20% of gross domestic product (GDP), and 9.2% of total exports.[2] As such, agriculture is critical to the achievement of key development goals, such as food and nutrition security, import substitution, and economic growth, which in turn stimulate job creation, poverty alleviation, and youth and gender empowerment. Efforts to help African countries realise their agricultural potential, and enable inclusive sector transformation, are, therefore, essential.

What has been less clear is ‘the how’. Naturally, different countries take different approaches. Rwanda, for example, has created a Single Project Implementation Unit (SPIU) that merges all relevant entities within the Ministry of Agriculture to deliver transformation programmes. In Ethiopia, the Agriculture Transformation Agency (ATA), which is modelled on the ‘special agencies’ of South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia, has been established for this task. And in Nigeria, transformation plans are implemented through the alignment of state and federal leadership. Across Africa, there is a diverse range of agricultural delivery mechanisms and models. But which is best? What works and what doesn’t? And should these mechanisms be integrated into, or independent of, government systems?

The following insights and observations draw from my experience of working with countries on agricultural policies and programmes. They are intended to highlight some of the major gaps and barriers that still exist across the continent. They also aim to help shape strategies that will enable the successful delivery of agricultural transformation.

Commitment to the cause

High-calibre staff and well-functioning institutions are essential to effective delivery. But alone, they are not enough. To be truly impactful, delivery mechanisms need to be underpinned by strong moral foundations. Staff, for example, must be fully aligned with their organisation’s mission and values. Such alignment is critical, as it is the primary driver of engagement. It is the principal motivating factor in an employee’s everyday actions and endeavours. Without it, key personnel – be they ministers, directors, officers or managers – will lack the discipline and dedication required to deliver programme objectives.

Commonly found within the public sector in Africa, moral responsibility for agricultural transformation is imperative yet seldom prioritised. And no amount of institutional staff capacity can fill this gap. At every level, everyone working towards transformation has to view delivery as their moral duty, and their core purpose. It has to be part of their DNA. If we cannot achieve genuine commitment to the cause, transformation efforts will be compromised, lacking the impetus, conviction and continuity needed to deliver results.

By way of example, a key factor in Israel’s success in transforming its agriculture sector was the unwavering and universal support generated for the programme. During the mid-to-late 20th century, agricultural development was decreed a national priority, with strong, unifying leadership and vision from the highest levels of government. As a result, delivery was non-negotiable, and the relentless efforts of the country’s agricultural pioneers enabled the most unlikely of green revolutions. Today, despite its arid climate and landscape, Israel is a world leader in dairy, fruit and vegetable production, water management and post-harvest handling.

The burden of bureaucracy

Another contributor to Israel’s success, one I have witnessed first-hand, is the lack of bureaucratic constraints within its institutions. Compared to the African public sector, where requests to meet with senior officials often need to be sent and approved by letter, Israel’s civil service enjoys a level of informality that is immensely liberating. Everyone is addressed by their name, not their title. Open-door policies create an environment that encourages new ideas and innovation, enabling programme objectives to be achieved quickly and efficiently.

African institutions, which are often heavily hierarchical, should learn from this example. In many African countries, cumbersome, siloed and slow-moving structures, entrenched in bureaucratic procedure, present insurmountable barriers to progress. Government ministries also tend to be staffed by ageing personnel, who are unwilling to countenance new ways of working. Not only do these restrictive environments impede delivery; they fail to attract and engage the young leaders of the future.

But there is hope. In Kenya, the Agriculture Transformation Office (ATO), which was recently established as the primary delivery mechanism for the country’s Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS), has presented an alternative model. Housed within the Ministry of Agriculture, the ATO was mandated to enhance coordination across the sector by breaking down siloes and slashing the red tape that has traditionally hindered transformation efforts. As Covid-19 hit, the ATO was enlisted to support Kenya’s Food Security War Room (FSWR), the government’s rapid response unit created to oversee food security during the pandemic.

Bypassing the usual bureaucratic protocols, the ATO and FSWR showed how direct lines of communication, sector-wide coordination and action-oriented processes can expedite decision-making and delivery. Thanks to these efforts, Kenya successfully navigated the multiple challenges it faced at the time of the Covid outbreak. And although conceived in a time of crisis, these mechanisms provide lessons in collaboration, engagement, efficiency and speed that should now be leveraged across the continent.

Ministry mandates

The operationalisation of the ATO in Kenya highlights the extent to which ministries are heavily reliant on specialist agencies and units – internally created or externally appointed – to deliver their primary mandate. Over and over again, capacity issues arise in government that call for agency support. Is it time, then, to review the roles of those institutions currently in charge of agricultural transformation at country level?

In Ethiopia, the ATA was originally empowered to report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office, rather than the actual ministry whose mandate it was helping to achieve. Further, the creation of parallel institutions within government has major cost implications, while also generating horizontal and vertical duplication of functions.

So, what does the future hold? Will government ministries ultimately be supplanted by specialist agencies? Or can existing institutions be reformed to become more streamlined, progressive and impactful? One solution could be to reduce the number of ministries within government (for example, having 10 instead of 30), while using agencies to bridge key capacity gaps. By moving away from heavy government structures, agencies and ministries could begin to work together with greater synergy and efficiency. This approach could also address some of the rampant challenges of attracting and retaining talented civil servants, such as providing better financial incentives.

Context is key

Above all, delivery models and mechanisms have to be tailored to the country context. Back in the 1980s, Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) paved the way for debt relief in Africa, conditional upon economic liberalisation and privatisation. These solutions, imposed from the outside, had scant regard for the national economies and cultural systems within which African societies function. As a result, local ownership of political and economic decision-making, and commitment to implementation, were diminished. This in turn led to non-prioritised, poorly customised and sequenced strategies that have failed to deliver agricultural transformation.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges facing African agriculture. And external interventions, parachuted in from above, with no contextual awareness or nuance, will continue to fall short of the mark. Through my work with AGRA, I have learned that successful interventions begin from a point of understanding achieved through rigorous diagnostics and dialogue. In order to deliver in a way that is meaningful and sustainable, agencies, donors and other actors need to put their own perspectives and agendas to one side. Rather than impose their own programme templates, they need to listen to what the people and institutions on the ground require in order to advance. Because every country and every culture is different, it is only through customised, context-relevant responses that we will begin to make genuine strides towards agricultural transformation in Africa.

Additional key takeaways

There are of course a multitude of considerations to take into account when devising agricultural policies, programmes and interventions. The following are just a few of the additional key takeaways from my state capability work with AGRA: 

  • Prioritise and differentiate. While it is important to be ambitious, it is equally important to make ambitions realistic. Through small, prioritised interventions, we can begin to identify what works and what doesn’t, what is scalable and what isn’t, and thereby set the right start point. These activities require the formulation of flexible and dynamic policies, and the identification and integration of effective change agents.
  • Sector leadership needs to be aligned from national to subnational levels, with clarity of roles and responsibilities established among all stakeholders. Such clarity makes coordination easier and delivery faster. Meanwhile, capacity enhancements of mandated institutions must focus on the subnational level, where actual implementation takes place.
  • Try different approaches to accelerate delivery. This process should be adopted when resources partners – both financial and technical – are co-designing support to countries. It is also important to let government and national actors drive the changes required, with support provided from behind the scenes.
  • Don’t address long-term challenges with short-term solutions. While donor support and disbursements usually happen over the short term, addressing state capability issues requires long-term commitment and vision.
  • Locally-grown solutions and traditional interventions are of significant value. Transformation programmes are likely to be more impactful if infused with cultural practices that resonate with local communities. Rwanda, for example, has mainstreamed the process of imihigo, a cultural practice whereby leaders or warriors make a public vow to achieve specified goals or face public humiliation. Deeply rooted in Rwandan culture, imihigo is being leveraged to encourage culture-based performance and accountability in agricultural service delivery.

[1] AGRA, 2018

[2] Tralac, 2017

Digitally Enabled Farm Mechanization Aligns Incentives to Revolutionize Smallholder Livelihoods

Mr. Chesko Mdeka, contractor for smallholder farmers.

The arrival of a tractor in the small farming community of Luhindo in Tanzania’s Kilolo district feels to local residents like “a revolution” according to local farmer, Chesko Mdeko. Three years ago, Mdeko purchased a tractor from one of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s (AGRA) partners, the equipment dealer ETC Agro, with financing from a local bank. The tractor has enabled Mdeko to expand cultivation from 3 acres to 15 acres, and to increase his maize harvest five-fold. But the impact of Mdeko’s tractor extends well beyond his own farm. Mdeko also rents out mechanization services to other farmers in the area. As a result, farm production and crop sales have risen throughout the community — attracting, in turn, more maize buyers who supply Dar es Salaam and even neighboring Kenya. As a result of increased productivity and profits, Luhindo village has improved food security and its local economy.

Graphic of the farm mechanization ecosystem.

While Mdeko and his fellow Luhindo residents credit the tractor for this revolution, in fact, an entire ecosystem is needed to bring mechanization to villages like this one. Equipment dealers need a sufficient market of buyers to warrant serving a given area; financial service providers require collateral, risk-sharing and evidence of income before providing asset financing in what is considered a risky sector; skilled maintenance providers are needed nearby to keep the equipment in good working order; potential tractor owners must perceive a solid business opportunity, be able to access affordable financing and maintenance, and succeed in reaching rental customers efficiently; and local farmers need to be confident that their increased production will find a reliable buyer at a price that makes their investment in mechanization and farm inputs worthwhile. In the absence of any of these components, the mechanization ecosystem (see the figure above) cannot function.

AGRA and its partners — like ETC Agro in Tanzania, TROTRO Tractor Limited in Ghana and Hello Tractor in Kenya — are working with the support of Mastercard Foundation to unite these ecosystem actors to advance smallholder farm mechanization in sub-Saharan Africa. Underpinning all of their efforts, digital technology offers a promising way to align the overlapping goals and address the constraints of equipment dealers, financial service providers, agricultural value chain actors, maintenance providers, equipment owners and operators, booking agents, technology providers and smallholder farmers. On the one hand, GPS-enabled equipment trackers permit real-time monitoring and essential data on output and consumption, which helps establish the business case for financing and investment. On the other, digital platforms permit efficient matching, service delivery and payments between equipment owners, tractor operators and disparate smallholder farmers. AGRA provides strategic financial and technical support to its partners for leveraging digital technology to augment both the supply of and demand for mechanization.

On the supply side, AGRA and partners are engaging equipment owners by:

  • Building the business case for farm equipment ownership and provision of rental services.
  • De-risking investment to increase access to finance for tractor ownership.
  • Aggregating farmer demand and maximizing tractor uptime.

On the demand side, AGRA and partners are engaging farmers by:

  • Reinforcing interest in and justification for farm mechanization.
  • Fostering access to, trust in and usage of mechanization rental services.
  • Making farm mechanization affordable and effective for farmers.

As these and other farm mechanization innovators continue to explore strategies for enhancing smallholder mechanization, AGRA plans to keep advancing the state of the practice through strategic investments in promising models and the exchange of lessons learned.

By Hedwig Siewertsen, Head, Inclusive Finance, AGRA 

Originally posted on

African, American leaders agree to cooperate on agricultural and food systems transformation strategies

On Tuesday January 18, 2022, leaders from Africa and the Americas met in a dialogue to discuss areas of convergence in the agricultural development agenda of the two regions. The session was organized by AGRA, and had the participation of ministers and other high-profile leaders from the two regions including AGRA’s Chair H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, AGRA’s president, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply of Brazil, Hon. Tereza Cristina and H.E. Manuel Otero, the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), amongst many others. The session was co-moderated by AGRA’s Deputy President, Dr. Fadel Ndiame, and Beverly Best, the Director of External and Institutional Relations at IICA.  This was the first of two ministerial meetings planned to explore areas of cooperation between ministers of agriculture from Africa and the Americas.  A larger meeting is planned for April and will be convened by AGRA and IICA following the signing of a MoU for collaboration between the two organizations in advancing intercontinental agricultural transformation plans.

In the Tuesday gathering, the delegates agreed on a plan that will see the two regions share agricultural production expertise as well as market sharing techniques, all aimed at a complete agri-food system transformation, with Africa as a special focus. 

Dr. Kalibata noted that a majority of the countries in the Americas had already undergone an agricultural transformation, which served as a precursor for their overall economic transformation. She went on to appeal for an exchange of technical knowhow, especially among the scientists from the two continents, which she noted would advance the resolutions of last year’s UN Food Systems Summit, to which she was a special envoy.

“We recognize that Latin America has moved significantly in some of the areas we are trying to move in. This is especially when it comes to building its own research and innovative capabilities in the agricultural sector, but also in valuable markets. We (Africa) are looking to learn from you (the Americas),” she said. 

H.E. Dessalegn noted that the cooperation between Africa and the Americas would provide an opportunity to support the deployment of agro-industrialization initiatives in the two regions for increased food security. This he added would be done by leveraging innovation capability through cooperative research and technology transfer, as well as driving economies of scale for micro, small and medium-sized businesses.

“This cooperation and collaboration will enable Africa to learn, adapt and increase adoption of digital innovations, mechanization, and services that benefits more small-scale producers, improve food and nutrition security, strengthen sustainability and resilience,” he added. 

Hon. Minister Tereza Cristina, affirmed Brazil’s willingness to share the strategies that have made her country an agricultural powerhouse, noting that “it is crucial to consider agriculture and food security together, and to think about free agricultural trade and fair and sustainability”.

The discussion also touched on the global issues around climate change, soil degradation and water loss, with the leaders agreeing on the need for further engagement in these areas to develop impactful solutions. 

“No country is going to save itself in this crisis. We need to be together to face problems of a transversal nature. Everything makes more sense if we build bridges,” said H.E. Otero.

Radio show enlightens Malawi’s farmers on seed authentication to save them from fake seed

Farm Radio Trust Radio Programmes Specialist, John Mpakani interviewing Malawian women farmers

By Pauline Mbukwa

For many years now, farmers in Malawi have been exposed to fake seeds by unscrupulous sellers, who flourish on the lack of awareness on the techniques for confirming the authenticity of inputs. 

Clementina Chakumba, a farmer from Mtukwa Village in Mchinji District, says that while she has not been personally affected, she has heard of people who bought fake seed, which resulted in poor germination and low harvests. 

Such reports have made her cautious, even as she struggles to authenticate the quality of seed she buys, and often has to rely on the guidance of an extension service provider, who is based 20km away from her village. 

To relieve farmers like Chakumba of the perennial worry of buying low quality seed, the Farm Radio Trust is using a radio show Mbeu Zovomelezeka Ndi Boma (Seeds Approved by the Government) to teach farmers on how to tell apart fake from genuine seed.

The radio show airs every Tuesday evening on popular radio stations Zodiak and Mzati FM. During the program, farmers can share their concerns or experiences via call, SMS or WhatsApp messages. 

“Since the radio program started airing, farmers know how to differentiate between fake seed and genuine seed. Initially, they thought seed bought from any agrodealer was genuine. The farmers now know how to use the verification scratch card system to know whether the seed they have bought is fake,” said Farm Radio Trust Program Officer Stanley Chiyaka.

The verification scratch card system Chiyaka is referencing to was introduced in August 2021, and it works by attaching a special tag to seed packages with a special code that is sent by SMS to a toll-free number for information on the manufacturer, date of production, seed quality, seed weight, test date and seed lot number. 

According to the host of the Mbeu Zovomelezeka show, John Mpakani, “the program aims to increase awareness of fake seed in the market, in addition to training farmers on good agricultural practices for increasing their production.”

The show is part of a year-long project titled Upscaling Awareness and Outreach in Malawi’s seed system (UAOMASS), which was initiated in January 2021 as a partnership between Farm Radio Trust and the Department of Agricultural Research Services through the Seed Services Unit, Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) and the Seed Traders   Association of Malawi (STAM), with financial and technical support from USAID through AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa).