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).

Harvesting potential: bolstering government efforts to reach Africa’s farmers

Governments have a vital role to play in supporting smallholder farmers. But, argues Thierry Ngoga, Head of Support to State Capability at AGRA, they need technical help and partnerships to get the job done.

Awino lives in a small village in the lower Nyando basin, Kisumu County, Kenya. She relies on a four-acre plot, inherited from her late husband, to which she has no title. In 2017, following a donation of improved maize seed and fertilizer, she had high hopes for the harvest. A good harvest would enable her to pay her children’s school fees and keep the family fed.

But it wasn’t to be. In December  of that year, devastating floods destroyed her crops and killed her only dairy cow. Then, two weeks before schools reopened, she lost all her chickens – her only means of generating income – to Newcastle disease. Without access to savings, credit, crop or livestock insurance, Awino had no option but to reduce the family’s number of daily meals.

Unfortunately, Amino’s story is not uncommon. As I have seen through my work with the AGRA, such situations are widespread among the smallholder farmers who constitute roughly 80% of the farmers in Africa. With limited access to improved farm inputs, technologies, information, credit and insurance, Africa’s smallholders struggle to withstand the impact of climatic shocks and extreme weather events, plunging families like Amino’s into food insecurity and crisis.

A government issue

According to the constitutions of many African countries, every citizen has the right to adequate food of acceptable quality. This commitment is consistent with SDG 2, which seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. Food, nutrition and agriculture are therefore public sector issues. Although other players may contribute to addressing these issues, I believe sustainable solutions can only be achieved by government.

For women like Awino and other disadvantaged groups, the start point to increasing agricultural output and income is gaining secure and equal access to land and other productive resources. Improved seeds and fertilizers, knowledge and information, financial services and market access are also vital to breaking the cycle of low productivity, poverty and hunger.

Furthermore, we must promote resilient agricultural practices among these smallholders to enable them to cope with floods, droughts and climate change in general. For developing countries, this may require increased investment in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and training, technology development, and the enhancement of plant and livestock gene banks. Market systems must also be made to work properly, devoid of distortions.

Only government has the authority and power to implement these measures, either directly or through facilitation. Governments must, therefore, be very deliberate in their efforts to enhance smallholder communities. Because it will not happen by chance.

Four clear steps to improvement

As I see it, there are four clear steps governments need to take to deliver meaningful support to farmers:

  1. Prioritise, tailor and sequence agricultural programmes to the challenges farmers face. To do this, governments need to engage with smallholders on the ground and devise plans based on the data these meetings generate.
  • Provide a range of services to meet the breadth of smallholder needs. In addition to things like seeds, fertilizers and technologies, smallholder farmers often require additional support in the form of technical and financial help, or guidance on markets and risk management.
  • Synchronise and collaborate to provide maximum impact. Governments need to ensure all parties within the agricultural sector are pulling in the same direction. For example, if a programme has been identified as suitable for Awino, the government, development partners, the private sector and even farmer organisations should channel their investments into that programme. The roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder should be clear to avoid duplication and delays in decision making. Sub-national government activities should also be synchronised with those of national government, with mandates clearly specified at each level.
  • Give smallholders a voice. Create platforms where farmers can provide feedback on which elements of a programme should be sustained, which should be abandoned, and which should be improved. Such platforms should form part of a clear system to track and report progress. This may involve collecting and analysing data, reporting to stakeholders, discussing progress and capturing learnings.

Supporting and partnering with government

In my experience, governments usually know what needs to be done to improve smallholder productivity and wellbeing. But they often lack the capacity to fully discharge these responsibilities.

For example, they might lack the expertise to collect and analyse data to inform agricultural sector policies and priorities, or the ability to identify high-impact rural programmes. They might lack the human, systems, tools and financial resources required to implement and deliver projects. Or the skills and experience to bring sector stakeholders together and achieve consensus. Many governments also do not have the requisite data systems to support evidence-based planning, progress tracking, reporting, peer review and learning.

In short, while governments are vital to driving progress for smallholder farmers, they are often hamstrung by internal shortcomings. Recognising this situation, at AGRA we have made what we call ‘state capacity enhancement’ a key strategic priority.

To strengthen the ability of governments to support Africa’s farmers, it is critical to invest in the development of agriculture line Ministries, focusing on areas such as prioritisation and performance management, planning, budgeting, procurement, resource mobilisation and leadership, as well as data management and analysis. It is also important to invest in institutional capacity enhancement, looking at organisational structure, staffing, funding, equipment, tools and technologies. Other focus areas include legal and regulatory frameworks to facilitate the implementation of key sector policies. In this regard, AGRA provides support to governments in the form of staff time, technical secondments, grants for government activities, and the procurement of consultants to strengthen the areas mentioned above.

Due to the complexity of the agricultural sector, AGRA often forms strategic alliances with development and technical partners. This approach enables us to concentrate on areas where we have competence and experience, while leveraging the expertise of third-party specialists in other areas. In this way, additional resources can be mobilised, programmes can be better coordinated and partners more aligned, while quality services can be offered for accelerated sector transformation.

Crucially, AGRA also encourages governments to work in collaboration with other partners (national, regional and international) and take a multi-stakeholder approach to tackling food and nutrition security. Because while governments are the primary players in this field, they cannot achieve their goals alone. Only through partnership with external stakeholders, in particular private sector organisations, can governments deliver the programmes, policies and interventions required to transform the agricultural landscape.

I truly believe that through strengthened government support, smallholder farmers like Awino can build the resilience they need to withstand floods, droughts and other extreme events. The primary objective of this work is to help Africa’s smallholders improve their incomes, livelihoods and lives through sustainable agricultural production and productivity. And it is an objective that is fully achievable. Indeed, with multiple sector stakeholders working together, driven by strong national governments and guided by common programmes, Africa can begin to progress towards food and nutrition security. And Awino can begin to look to future harvests with confidence.

COVID-19 won’t leave us alone, but we can beat it through trade

By Daniel Njiwa, Head, Regional Food Trade, AGRA 

Friday morning 1st January 2021 held it own significance. In the world I operate in, this was a particularly special day for Africa with the launch of the start of trading on the basis of the newly developed framework of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA). The occasion was replete with accompanying fanfare, messages of commitment and reassuring speeches from Africa’s presidents and leaders.

I couldn’t stop smiling. Finally, here we were. The moment when the small business person grasps the opportunity to sell to any market in over 50 countries. However, my excitement was quickly cut short by the harsh reminder that we have been in similar, smaller, nimbler and more homogeneous markets before (East African Community, Southern African Development Community and the Economic Community of West African States among others), from which my friends in the SMEs business are yet to see the benefits. Have we fully addressed their old challenges? These include access to finance, storage infrastructure, inability to meet standards, compliance obligations with heavy red tape, corrupt officials and the list of barriers to trade is endless. The thought of all these obstacles got me depressed, before I realized that I had been dozing on my couch.

It is 12:01am on 2nd January 2021, and I am shaken awake by disjointed noises and a sharp headache. I am drenched in sweat and quite disoriented. What could this be? Something new and terrifying had taken a hold of my system. This, my friends, is how the second wave of the corona pandemic welcomed me into the new year. I was immediately struck by the fact that it had come upon me fast and forcefully, just as the media houses were estimating that new infections would more than double in the next few weeks of this new wave compared to the peaks reached during more than eight months of the previous attack. Africa may be even more unprepared during this time, while the vaccine is at least six months away.

As I worried about my early symptoms, I also turned by attention to the search for herbs and thought about stocking up on fruits and vegetables and I couldn’t help but ponder the source of these ‘power nutritious foods’ and how they ended up in the wet markets and eventually onto my plate. How many small businesses made a living out of it? For most urban centers in Africa, these supplies are sourced from neighboring countries, arriving in markets aboard the night buses and trucks. In Lilongwe, Malawi, urban dwellers enjoy sweet pineapple and melons from Mbeya, Tanzania, while in Nairobi, the mangoes and bananas flow in from Uganda. Nothing unusual there.

As you can imagine by now, my Covid-19 scare had spun me back into work-mode, the very reason our leaders delayed the launch of the ACFTA months earlier. Now I feared that I might be one of the reasons the two-day-old shining launch would face another set of delays going forward. If the pace expected to accompany the new wave is anything to go by, we ought to suppose the re-emergence of drastic containment measures and restrictions to the movement of people imposed by governments, and this, my friends would be the final straw that broke the camel’s back, completely crushing the small businesswoman, youth or SME in Africa. Why do I say this?

My organization, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), with the support of the UK government’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), was at the forefront in creating an understanding of both the primary and secondary effects of the Covid-19 measures on food supply systems across a number of countries and the results were telling. The small perishable food businesses run by women and the youth were the most impacted by almost all the containment measures set for the operation of local wet markets, transportation, the absence of structured and digitized trade platforms, as well as the cross-border facilitation which failed to recognize these small actors. They also suffered massive livelihood losses occasioned by loss of income, non-existent work due to scaled down industrial activity.

With the anticipated second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic threatening an already volatile ecosystem, how we react this time around will either make or break the aspirations of the ACFTA and the woman trader who is only now beginning to pick up the pieces from the ground up to give her business another shot at success in these unprecedented times. African governments should continue in earnest with interventions that will not stifle this SME lifeline, but instead nurture and guard it with everything available for we know that these are the veins that have fed Africa in the most resilient fashion possible. AGRA estimates 60-80% of all food produced and distributed in the continent is by SMEs. More significantly now, since fruits, vegetables and other herbals that are vital for the health of the population amidst a global pandemic and dwindling nutrition are moved and distributed by the same businesses in the hands of women, youth and SMEs, there is a new urgency in ensuring their bulking and storage facilities are open and functional; that they can access soft loans to get them to trade more; that digital solutions are in place to enable them reach wider and distant buyers; that there are deliberate steps to create customs green channels for SMEs; communication lines are open and they have the information on tap to educate them on how best to deal with and pass on Covid-19 information as they ply their businesses. These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, but qualify as a starter pack menu that each government should commit to in order to ensure the women, youth and SMEs involved in the lifeblood of our continent continue to operate and thrive.

Meanwhile, with a positive confirmation for my Covid-19 test results, I have embarked on the journey of a fortnight to manage the symptoms and work towards getting back on my feet again. A major part of this process is a study in how interconnected we all are as it will entail a late-night bus transit from Mbeya, Tanzania delivering my favorite fruits, and a vegetable farmer plucking ‘sukumawiki’ the succulent leafy vegetables along the wetlands from Nakuru to Nairobi. Covid-19 is real! Stay safe and take care!

Africa: How The Digital Revolution Can Help Level The Playing Field for African Women in Agriculture

The race to limit the spread of Covid-19 has, through necessity, accelerated many other transformations that were already under way, including the digital revolution in African agriculture.

What had previously been a growing but limited shift towards the use of digital tools and technologies for food production and business has become a lifeline in the face of market restrictions, food insecurity and lockdowns. And among the biggest winners have been women.

Long since excluded from equal resources, from land rights to training, almost 90 per cent of African women with small and medium agricultural enterprises have taken up digital solutions during the pandemic, according to a recent survey. Figures from before the coronavirus outbreak indicated women previously accounted for just a quarter of registered users of digital solutions.

The challenge – and opportunity – now is to build on these gains, and translate participation in the digital marketplace into prosperity in the real marketplace. Through leveraging the potential of digitalisation to level the playing field, African countries can unleash the potential of women in agriculture, who already represent 50 per cent of the workforce and own a third of the small and medium enterprises that produce, process and trade food.

The first benefit provided by digitalisation is more equal access to markets, which has been the greatest limiting factor of the pandemic for almost three-quarters of women. Even before the emergence of Covid-19, women tended to be limited to labour intensive, low value agricultural production activities rather than high-value activities but with market closures and restrictions related to COVID 19, many women have found themselves cut off from their normal business channels.

Online platforms have provided new opportunities for women to continue and grow their operations, with two-thirds taking to social media to market their products in new ways and reach broader audiences.

Increasing internet connectivity in rural areas, scaling up access to mobile technology and improving digital literacy would help more women in agriculture benefit from the digital revolution and enjoy greater market access.

Secondly, digitalisation offers the possibility of more widespread networking and training, particularly for rural women in remote areas where opportunities to participate in workshops or educational sessions are limited. Platforms like VALUE4HERConnect, Africa’s first online portal for agricultural businesswomen, provide gender-responsive services such as a Women2Women community forum that allows women to learn from one another and access mentoring and support services.

The service also offers a Women2Finance pillar and a capacity-building resource to help equip women with the skills, inputs and knowledge to grow their businesses.

Since launching last year, VALUE4HER has engaged more than 600 women across 27 countries and under the leadership of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), will support more women as part of plans to reach up to 5,000 women-led agribusinesses over the next five years.

Initiatives like this, which are designed specifically with women users in mind, will be vital in ensuring the digital dividend reaches African women.

Finally, growing levels of digitalisation offers women greater access to information and services when conventional channels are closed or off-limits, providing greater resilience to shocks and stresses, including the Covid-19 pandemic.

Digital technologies can help reduce the burden of agricultural labour and processing, which is particularly important for women, who continue to take on a greater share of domestic work. They can also help women increase their yields and build up financial resilience to minimise the impact of sudden disasters.

For example, Hello Tractor, a mobile app that allows farmers to hire a tractor on demand, increases the accessibility of mechanised tools while overcoming the prejudice women face by allowing them to interact directly with service providers through a mobile device.

Meanwhile, e-verification tool eHakiki received a grant from AGRA last year for four pilots to help reach 100,000 farmers in Tanzania with a service to identify counterfeit products, helping to build the resilience of women farmers by ensuring the quality of their seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.

Women are a key pillar in Africa’s food and agricultural systems, from taking charge of household nutrition to providing much of the labour on small-scale farms.

It is crucial, not only to the viability of these women’s businesses but to local and regional food security, that the benefits of the digital revolution are extended to women as well. This needs investment in infrastructure and resources from both public and private sector, but it also needs dynamic partnerships to ensure the design of these services feature the unique needs of female farmers and entrepreneurs and that they are affordable and easy to use. Covid-19 may have ruptured business as normal but it has also disrupted longstanding inequalities, creating a chance to build back better.


Choice and Opportunity for African Farmers Will Transform Africa

NAIROBI, Dec 7 2020 (IPS) – ’A hungry man is not a free man. He cannot focus on anything else but securing his next meal.’ So proclaimed the late Kofi Annan.

In 2003, Kofi Annan and a like-minded group of African leaders recognized hunger as a complex crisis on the continent.

They saw the eradication of hunger as not just an end in itself – but the first step towards sustainable development and progress, requiring the transformation of African agriculture.

In order to address this, three momentous events occurred at that time. In 2003, the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) was launched to provide a policy framework for the transformation of African agriculture.

We need African solutions to African problems. When an African farmer has access to better technology and finance, they see improved productivity, food security and income. Most of the big mistakes in development have happened when external actors have foisted their ideas and ideologies on the continent

In 2006, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the organization I lead, was established to turn these ideas into reality. We are founded on the belief that the only way to do this is at scale – and yet with a focus on the farmer.
And the Africa Fertilizer conference was held, to increase access to crop nourishment – identified as the weakest link in the farming chain.

These measures have reaped rewards.

Across Africa, we have directly reached millions of farmers with increased access to technology, investment in research, financial support or training.

Significant investment was put into access to inputs – especially improved seeds, and soil health management technologies.

For instance, we have helped establish over 110 African seed companies, with some 700,000 tonnes of seed now available to 20 million farmers. Countries like Ghana and Mali had no seed suppliers, and now have an average of six each.

Across our programme countries, a network of 30,000 agri-preneurs now serve farmers.

Healthy soil is fundamental to a productive global food system. However, many smallholder farmers do not have means to prevent or address soil degradation problems. As the world commemorates the World Soil Day, we are encouraged that our soil fertility management techniques are helping reverse decades of soil depletion wherever we work.

We have taken the lead in providing evidence to governments on the value and challenges of subsidies being used in agriculture. We advocate for national policies that benefit smallholder farmers. We support upgraded storage facilities, better market information systems, stronger farmers’ associations, and more credit for farmers and suppliers.

There is still much to do, however. There are approximately 45 million farmers on the continent – African governments and investors must reach all of them if we are to see an end to poverty and hunger.

There are also new challenges. Climate change has the potential to reverse the continent’s hard won gains.

Desertification threatens productive lands. Locusts, armyworm and diseases like the Maize Lethal Necrosis wipe out the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands. Currently, COVID-19 is pushing tens of millions more into malnutrition, while farmers see their choices diminished.

As a proud African, I share Kofi Annan’s optimism and conviction. Africa will prevail, it can eliminate poverty.

I know that a major way of making this happen is through smallholder farmers. I have personally seen smallholders change at scale in Rwanda when government puts its weight behind transformative programs.

As a catalyst for change, AGRA is on track. The eleven countries we support have all advanced in the last ten years through hard work and investment. With ten years to go to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, it is important now to reflect on progress, and positioning for future gains.

Inclusive agriculture transformation is not a quick fix. It requires a long-term focus. We estimate US $25-35 billion a year of investment is needed to transform the continent’s agriculture, while an unparalleled coalition for change is required.

Ultimately, we need African solutions to African problems. When an African farmer has access to better technology and finance, they see improved productivity, food security and income.

Most of the big mistakes in development have happened when external actors have foisted their ideas and ideologies on the continent. This is why AGRA focuses on its unique position as an African institution.

African farmers deserve the same opportunities enjoyed by farmers in Europe and North America. They do not want to be stuck with 40-year-old seed varieties. When given the chance, we have seen adoption rates of 90% of new seeds in countries like Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

On a recent visit to Kiambu in Kenya, women farmers explained to me how they are happy to spend more on seeds that mature in half the time, increasing yields.

In these difficult times, there has never been a greater need for agricultural transformation. Through COVID-19, our farmers have shown great resilience, and AGRA has been on hand to support this.

To achieve Kofi Annan’s vision, we certainly need further support and investment for farmers. We must also learn as we go forward and be humble.

Our focus must always be on the needs, capabilities and choices of smallholder farmers themselves – this must be our ‘North Star’ objective, for agriculture is nothing without the farmer.

Dr. Agnes Kalibata is the President of The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Food System’s Summit


CNBC Africa: Dr. Kalibata – We must give women a chance to build back a better food system

Dr. Agnes Kalibata is the President of AGRA and a Member of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. In 2019, she was also appointed as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit.

Communities across the world are facing a food securitycrisis. Over 690 million people worldwide experiencehunger on a daily basis. This has only been exacerbated by the impacts of COVID-19: The number of people facing acute food insecurity could double to 265 million by the end of 2020.

It doesn’t end there. For billions of people living in the global South, this is a crisis on top of a crisis on top of a crisis. In southern Africa, record-breaking droughts and floods destroyed crops on a large scale earlier this year. Massive outbreaks of desert locusts continue to threaten crops in East Africa. In fact, in 2019 weather extremes and conflict led to 33 million and 77 million starving people, respectively.

The pandemic is pushing already vulnerable people further to the brink and it cannot go on. Moving forward, COVID-19 recovery efforts need to build resilience in our food systems to withstand future shocks. More than that, we must ensure a fair and just recovery, as the impacts of crises are not felt equally.

Women are at the frontlines of economic and extreme weather impacts, including impacts driven by both climate change and the spread of COVID-19. Women often lack decision-making power in and are de-prioritised during emergencies. The food insecurity crisis is no different. While women comprise 40-60% of the agricultural workforce, existing institutional biases often prevent them from having access to land rights, financing tools andtraining opportunities, and hold them back from employment and leadership.

But women are a vital part of the solution to these challenges. If women had access to the same resources as men, they could close the gender yield gap and increase production on their farms by 20-30% on average, and help reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17%.

Addressing gender inequity must be central to the response to food insecurity. In the short-term, we need immediate financial and policy support to manage the impacts of COVID-19 on current food production and distribution systems.

Ensuring equitable access to agricultural inputs and resources in the near-term can decrease the long-term effects of the food crisis. Targeted food programmes and shock-responsive safety nets can enhance and expand social protection measures, but must reach women in places where they are needed the most. Response efforts can collect sex and age disaggregated data and use this to monitor who is being most impacted. Such data can helpdesign evidence-based interventions that support the most vulnerable, such as women and women-run businesseswho bear the burden of the pandemic so disproportionately.

In the long-term, we must make the food system more resilient to potential future shocks. Practices such as regenerative agriculture that enhance soil health, promote agrobiodiversity, and efficiently manage water have shown to increase yields and must be available to people that need them the most. But sustainable food systems are only possible with gender equality, as was found in a programme carried out by the UN across seven countries, including Liberia and Niger. Results showed that when rural women have better access to resources and opportunities, their communities have improved nutrition, increased incomes, and more efficient and sustainable food systems.

Securing women’s land rights is a critical step towards any solution to the current hunger crisis. Doing so createsincentives for long-term investments, such as soil conservation, by female farmers. This can result in increased productivity and makes the land more resilient to climate change, in turn improving livelihoods.

Many regions and countries are already advancing equal land rights for women. The African Union has declared a goal of 30% of all registered land being in a woman’s name by 2025. There is still a ways to go but progress can be noted: My home country of Rwanda, which has the highest percentage of female parliamentary members globally, is also one of only two countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with over 20% of land rights registered in women’s names. Even when land is shared, such as in marriage, the woman’s share is protected by law in Rwanda, a very critical yet often forgotten step.

Bolstering women’s role in the food system can have broad and lasting benefits for our communities and environment. We know that women can lead recovery todeliver a sustainable food system. What we need now is global solidarity to address and overcome the gender barriers.

Next year’s UN Food Systems Summit, for which I am the Special Envoy, calls on all of us to collectively act and change the way we produce, process, and consume food. Leveraging international processes, by ensuring that regional and national consultations are inclusive and participatory, can provide platforms that listen to and support women as change agents.

Now is a unique moment to collectively aim for economic, social and environmental transformation on a previously unthinkable scale. Women can lay the foundation and lead the effort to build back better – we just have to give them the chance.