AGRA/CGA Partner to Advance Regenerative Agriculture in Kenya ahead of the Oct-Dec 2023 Rains

Jane Njoka, Regional Sales Rep at Wondergro showcase WonderGro is a new product which has been designed to improve soil health and improve the efficiency of fertilizer use.  WonderGro helps farmers to restore the fertility of soils which have been depleted and have become acidic through over-use of inorganic fertilizers.

AGRA in partnership with the Cereal Growers Association (CGA) convened a pre-planning preparation forum with key stakeholders to reinforce regenerative agriculture practices in Makueni and Kitui counties.

Through the Strengthening Regenerative Agriculture in Kenya (STRAK) Project, funded by the IKEA Foundation, the partnership is entering its second phase following a successful initial phase in 2020/2021. 

The project’s core objective is to assist smallholder farmers in diversifying their crops, exploring new income sources, and adopting regenerative farming techniques to enhance soil health.

In attendance was County Executive Commissioner for Agriculture in Kitui County Dr. Stephen Kimwele, who stressed the importance of public private partnership. 

“It’s vital to consider agricultural produce markets and foster collaboration among Government, County Government, NGOs, and the Private Sector,” said Dr. Kimwele.

The forum, preceding the anticipated October to December rains, brought together implementing partners of STRAK and representatives from various sectors of the agricultural value chain in the lower Eastern region.

With the aim of reaching 100,000 farmers, the forum seeks to foster sustainable development in food and farming systems through innovative and regenerative models tailored to specific contexts. It also emphasized climate resilience and food security while providing comprehensive support to farmers across the entire value chain. 

Speaking at the forum, AGRA’s STRAK Project Program Officer Dr. Abednego Kiwia reaffirmed that the project seeks to encourage adoption of regenerative agriculture while increasing outputs for farmers in the region.

“The STRAK Project seeks to increase the productivity of farms, advocate for adoption of agricultural policies in county governments, and to promote resilience through home gardens, water conservation, poultry keeping and agroforestry. Through our implementing partners, the Project will see an increase in maize output in farms of the lower Eastern region in Kenya from 1.8 metric tons per hectare to 6 tons per hectare,” said Dr. Kiwia. 

Farmers are poised to gain a wealth of knowledge on Regenerative Agriculture, spanning a wide spectrum from seeds, fertilizers, and agrochemicals to effective storage methods. AGRA’s commitment lies in bridging the gap between suppliers and farmers, ensuring that agricultural products, brands, and the knowledge and skills needed to utilize them are readily accessible to farmers.  

Also present, CGA Regenerative Agriculture Project Manager, George Mabuka, said “Over 300 trained Village Based Advisors (VBAs) are now deployed, addressing the gap left by the limited number of Agricultural Officers on the ground. We focus on drought-resistant seeds, offer extension services, and training to boost food production, including Home Gardens targeting malnutrition and circular business models for sustainability,” said Mabuka.

Presentations covered a wide array of topics, including fertilizers, soil conditioners, seeds, crop protection, agro-chemicals, storage methods, and service provision.

Looking ahead, the partners agreed to support farmers with technology and machinery like augurs and rippers, that improve soil health and diverse crops that increase productivity ahead of the rains.

We Need a Double Pronged Public-Private Approach to Food Security

Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA, on how the Ukraine conflict has been a big wake-up call for many African governments, the huge importance of investing in soils, and her frustration at the slow pace of climate mitigation.

Dr. Kalibata has served as the President of AGRA since 2014, where she leads the organization’s efforts to ensure a food-secure and prosperous Africa through inclusive, sustainable agricultural growth, improving the productivity and livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers in Africa. From 2019-2021, Dr. Kalibata also served as the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, at the start of the Decade of Action to improve food systems around the world to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement. Prior to joining AGRA, Dr. Kalibata was Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) from 2008 to 2014, where she drove programs that moved her country from a food insecure to food secure status and became a reference point for other countries seeking to deliver agriculture transformation. Dr. Kalibata sits on various boards including the Global Commission on Adaptation, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, the Global Panel for Agriculture & Food Systems for Nutrition, the Global Agriculture & Food Security Program (GAFSP), the Malabo-Montpellier Panel, the Global Commission on Climate Overshoot, and the Advisory Committee of the Presidency of COP28. Dr. Kalibata holds a doctorate in Entomology from the University of Massachusetts and has received many awards including the Africa Food Prize, Honorary Doctorates from the University of Liège, and from McGill University. She won the National Academy of Sciences’ Public Welfare Medal in 2019 for her work to drive Africa’s agricultural transformation, and in 2022, she received an Award from World Farmers Organization recognizing her leadership in mobilizing farmers’ contribution to the Food Systems Summit.

As an agricultural scientist, who has been both Minister of Agriculture in your home country of Rwanda, and head of AGRA for nearly ten years, where do you see real examples of more productive and sustainable farming underway across the continent? Can you spell out what seems to be the key factors leading to such success?

There are three broad things to keep in mind when looking at the success of an agricultural system – whether you’re in government or at AGRA. One critical element is access to technology, which is now mainly sufficient in most countries to advance decent production of food, anchored in higher productivity. Globally, we are producing five times more food today than 50 years ago. So there have been huge increases in efficiency over that time, and food has become a big industry. There are two basic elements to technology – improved seed with much better capabilities to give higher yields, and soil nutrition including availability of the right micronutrients in the soil and whether they are available for plants to use. Then, there are a range of other things such as water, and mechanization which help speed things along. But let me say, all this remains largely inaccessible without a functional “public commons” backbone, of which the most important element is extension. I work principally with smallholder farmers. They can’t afford extension on their own, so they need the public commons to provide this. The second public good is a viable market ecosystem, that farmers can plug into. The third one is infrastructure, going from energy to irrigation to roads. These are things that must be provided by the public commons. Outside of technology and a viable public support system, the third part I referred to above is the private sector backbone, which is extremely important. If you have these three things growing in tandem – technology, a public commons backbone, and an effective private sector – you will have an increasingly productive agricultural system.

Now, where has this worked on the continent? It’s in countries where you have strong functional public commons, and in places where they are investing more in the agricultural sector. Just as an example, between 2000 and 2015, we had a good number of African countries investing in agriculture. Starting in 2000, there was a lot of debate and recognition of the need to do things differently. This period was also when AGRA was born. Technology was a critical element of what’s been missing. The Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) was signed in 2003, which recognized very clearly the need to invest in public commons, but alongside both CAADP and AGRA, there was a clear recognition of the private sector as the backbone of the agri-food sector. The question of how well countries performed has been very mixed in that period, catalyzed partly by the food crisis of 2008, but three countries stick out in my mind. Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Nigeria put an increasing share of their state spending into agriculture in line with the pledge made through CAADP. This had an impact on food security, economic growth, and most of all, the poverty numbers. Take Rwanda for instance, where 12% of the population moved upwards leaving poverty behind. It’s no surprise, if you have 80% of the population involved in agriculture – it goes without saying that supporting farmers gain access to improved seeds and appropriate fertilizers, alongside extension and markets, had a direct correlation to farmers thriving. Farmers increased yields from less than half a metric ton to 3 or 4 metric tons of maize per hectare. Similarly, today in Ethiopia, they have decided to double down on wheat, due to the Ukraine crisis. This has led to $800mn of savings in foreign exchange, since they no longer need to buy so much wheat from abroad. In the end, success is attributable to a public commitment to spend in the agricultural sector and create an enabling environment for the private sector. It’s a double-pronged approach.

Is the crisis associated with the Ukraine conflict an opportunity to rethink strategy? Might it have the longer-term benefit of demonstrating the vulnerability of agri-food systems for certain African countries that have been forced to give agriculture much greater political attention and associated investment?

There is no question that the Russia-Ukraine conflict was a big wake-up call. Africa has not had so many hungry people and the cost-of-living crisis is impacting everyone. Unfortunately, this Russia-Ukraine crisis cannot be looked at in isolation from the climate crisis. The rise in prices is both a result of the war but also climate change, because food supplies have fallen and of course become so much more expensive- drought is becoming more frequent, the rains less predictable, and yields have been steadily going down. The latest IPCC report estimates a 34% loss of yields in Africa since 1961. We are hugely exposed because of being on the equator. Yes, both the Russian war on Ukraine and COVID-19 left Africa hugely exposed. How many people really knew that the wheat we had in our homes came from Russia or Ukraine? What the combined impact of COVID-19 and Russia-Ukraine did was expose the weaknesses of global supply chains and our dependencies. Many of the value chains and trade systems on which we have relied have been thrown into question. But every dark cloud has a silver lining and Africa is waking up to its potential and the need to produce more food as a result of these crises.

Currently, Africa imports $50bn of food each year, but this is food it could produce locally. I gave you the example of Ethiopia whereby increasing the area under wheat, in the last two years, Ethiopia has been able to cut its wheat imports by $800mn. African countries have largely treated the agriculture sector as subsistence-based, missing its huge economic and great business future. The sector currently generates revenues of $300bn but this could easily triple to become a trillion-dollar industry if we designed it right. For me, the silver lining is that we finally recognize the business opportunity of Africa’s food and agriculture sector. Of the $50 billion I referred to earlier, $18 billion is spent by sub-Saharan Africa to buy four crops that it can produce itself. To do this, we need stronger systems and to build resilience into these systems to reduce our exposure to every shock that comes along. When there is a global shock, we’re all shaken out. Look at the Russia-Ukraine crisis – we were all shaken out, including food value chains. We have largely stayed afloat because of the continent’s inherent resilient capacity anchored in a huge diversity of crops, and production systems.

The African Continental Free Trade Area does give us something to build on to increase trade within the continent – Africa right now depends on something like 17% of internal trade as compared with more than 70% elsewhere. So you can see Africa is a long way behind. We need to catch up and get to 50-60% of intra-African trade. We can do this. Most of this food can be produced here. The Russia-Ukraine war and COVID crisis have been a wake-up call to help us understand how our dependencies on food can be easily disrupted, but our hands are not tied – we can do something about it! Like the rest of the world, this is an opportunity to make farming highly productive. Let’s wake up to the fact that investing in securing food is in our interest, it is good business, and it is critical to strengthen the resilience of our systems. Politically, leaders are now waking up to this. Unfortunately, all our countries are struggling with debt, so to be able to save $800mn as Ethiopia did, is hugely valuable. Many other countries should follow Ethiopia’s lead.

Soils are clearly fundamental to building a sustainable agri-food system, yet they need long-term investment to build up their fertility and structure. How important is land tenure in providing incentives for investment in soils?

Soil is very easy to destroy, especially in some of our environments where we get torrential rain, in tropical equatorial areas- carbon and micronutrients are washed away with topsoil. Our farming practices do not help – the use of a hoe means that only the top 8cms are constantly being farmed creating a thin dust layer that gets washed away during torrential rains and strong winds. This contrasts with deep plowing which helps with water retention and holding capacity. So it is no wonder that farming systems in Africa are losing soils and associated carbon faster than we’re building them. But rebuilding carbon in soils costs money and time. There is a trade-off especially when you see the fragmentation of land in areas where so many of our farmers live. Choices become easier when tenure is clear. I have personally seen a lot of farmers doing their best to keep soils protected from erosion in hilly areas. They know it’s crucial and they even go to the bank and use their own money to invest in controlling erosion if they have secure land tenure. In Rwanda, farmers will go and borrow money and build bench terraces because they know it’s tremendously important to keep soil on their land.

But there is something else that you observe across the continent; farmers who don’t have secure land tenure aren’t prepared to invest in the soil. In many places, there is a loose land market, by which farmers will allow others to use their land for a single crop. The farmer who comes in is just looking for what the land will give them. They don’t invest in strengthening the ability of that land to give a good harvest in the long term but will take whatever the land can offer today. I once asked a farmer why she would use a good variety of seed but she was not prepared to use fertilizers, and she said, “This is borrowed land, so I can’t use fertilizers – they stay in the soil for three seasons and I am only allowed to use this land for one season.” For her, putting fertilizers into the soil is an investment. Secondly, even though she knows the soil needs carbon to help build water-holding capacity, she won’t mulch the crop, and when she does till the land she knows she is creating opportunities for erosion, but it is not her land! You definitely see better practices with farmers who have secure tenure over their land. They also start thinking about what the land means for the future of their families. They tell you “I have planted this forest – my children will use it for this and that.” You don’t hear this from farmers who don’t have tenure, so it is really very crucial.

There is an important land market emerging; and my worry is that if we don’t do it right, this land market will lead to increased degradation. Land markets need to be secured by law, with clear guard rails around the use of land by the renter. I should be able to rent out my land to someone to use it under certain conditions for a certain number of years, for certain crops, without fear of it being degraded. Policies and laws could work to discourage land degradation, but they would have to be based on secure land tenure. China has introduced this sort of land market. So there are important opportunities for governments to be more intentional around land markets, including how public land can be made available for use, how to protect it, and the role of land tenure in achieving this protection.

The regular Africa-Europe Agricultural Ministerial meeting takes place at the end of June. Does Europe have a particular role to play in support for Africa’s agricultural sector, or do you think African countries should look elsewhere for technical and financial support?

My belief is the partnership between Africa and Europe goes well beyond technical and financial support and must include trade. It would be great to see Europe become a better trading partner to Africa and Africa become a more important trading partner for Europe. Africa has always offered a big marketplace for Europe but the reverse is also possible. Europe could become a bigger market for Africa as well. Why should Europe have major trading relations with every other part of the world and treat Africa like a minority partner? 65% of Africans earn their livelihood from agriculture, so negotiating a way to enhance trade in agricultural goods would be a much better payoff than any amount of aid to Africa.

I can tell you from my time as a Minister, it is a nightmare to get the permits needed to trade with an EU country, on any commodity. Once you get it, that’s great, but since it can be revoked overnight, you risk that the crop dies in the field. It has happened many times for commodities like French beans or peppers grown here in Kenya. We want the EU to be a predictable trade partner, and for Africa to be treated equally, which could then result in a much stronger partnership. Instead of which Africa is seen by Europe as an object of charity. What Africa really needs is to learn from Europe how it was able to build a successful trade bloc. With a fully functional continental trade area, the AU will not need to request to be recognized, it will rather be a force to reckon with. Actually, we don’t need any charity from the EU.

My hope is that both sides get off the high horses and ask what would constitute a decent relationship. More than ever, Africa needs now to harness every opportunity, Africa needs the EU to be a better partner. But the EU and other developed countries continue to refuse to come through on Adaptation funding despite the large number of people suffering from climate change impacts. This is one area where a good partnership would benefit us all. Instead, you see the EU push Africa on environmental issues in ways that fail to recognize that Africa is Europe’s nearest biggest carbon sink. It would be really good to see a balanced conversation. If nothing else, let’s make trade work! Africa’s farmers should be given a chance to participate in the EU market, this would impact poverty and create millions of jobs. The Europe-Africa relationship has to be built around more equity and justice – with less of a senior-junior arrangement. Africa is not just a market for others. Once in a meeting, we were talking about trade, and I asked, “So what can we sell to you in Europe?” and the room went silent. EU and AU need to talk about equal and opposite trade based on comparative advantage.

You took on the role of Special Envoy for the UN Food System Summit two years ago, and you’re now coming up to the stocktake of progress at the end of July. What do you want to see from this, and how might it help feed into COP28?

The UNFSS was a great moment to mobilize and wake up the world to many of our challenges. The sector generates 30% of our emissions. And of course, all these emissions are part of the global total which makes it very difficult for people in my part of the world to produce food and thus they face increasing hunger. We must address Food System challenges like everything else, and wake up to the fact this sector needs to be managed to reduce emissions. A lot needs to happen in more industrial countries, which have not gone fast enough to mitigate emissions in food systems. In my part of the world, I want to see more people embrace adaptation and the associated opportunities. I want to see more local food system solutions that ensure that producers, indigenous peoples, and others are able to survive climate change and are building coping and resilience capabilities as a result of local food systems’ transformation. Lastly, I want to see us achieve some big wins for the 2030 agenda as a result of embracing food systems transformation.

What do I want to see from the Stocktake? Having a few countries step forward and be able to show significant improvements, such as strengthening resilience in food systems, with governments staying the course in transforming their systems. Hundreds of solutions were profiled in our preparations for the UNFSS. I hope that many of these have been embraced and are being implemented. A few areas have made real progress including school feeding through local procurement. This creates markets for local farmers while improving children’s nutrition. In Kenya we see far more people rebuilding soil carbon, and regenerating landscapes. I am most proud of the work done by my team at AGRA alongside NEPAD to embed food systems tracking into our continental frameworks, of CAADP and Malabo, in line with the African common position. We are working with a number of countries to design food system transformation strategies that can be showcased at the Stocktake and through to COP28. Often people say they don’t know what to do – I am hoping the work we are doing with a few countries that are taking leadership of this agenda can provide good examples of what needs to happen.

For COP28, we’ve been building momentum, especially outside the negotiations, recognizing that food systems must be part of the COP28 process. For me, we should focus on both mitigation within food systems, and remind other countries that the lack of sufficient mitigation has created a need for much more adaptation. Then there is also the question of Loss & Damage. These are complex and interrelated issues. The problem with our world is that if you don’t address a particular problem in good time, you end up with something more complex and difficult to resolve. It is much better to act early.

A clear dichotomy is often drawn between an approach to agricultural development that focuses on high external inputs, reliant on chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and hybrid seeds, and an agro-ecological approach that privileges recycling of organic matter, local seed varieties, and food sovereignty. Is this a false dichotomy? Can the two approaches be mixed and matched depending on context and geography?

This question is about what production systems work best for Africa, and what might work best for other parts of the world. It’s all about context. Within Africa, there is great diversity – there are places where it is easy to produce with minimal inputs. I live in Kenya which has some areas with deep volcanic soils, so it’s much easier to get a good crop with minimal inputs. AGRA was created in recognition that African farmers do not have access to many of the technologies available to farmers in the rest of the world. It was also in recognition that there was no simple technology fix – rather, Africa needed an institution with the capacity to work with and navigate through a succession of challenges, that it could resolve on the go. We started out thinking that providing access to hybrid seeds with good yields would be half the solution. And it did solve problems from high susceptibility to pests and diseases – just try to grow a local bean crop or local groundnut crop in the rainy season, they cannot cope with the disease pressure. AGRA funded conventional breeding by local institutions to strengthen the ability of crops to deal with some of these challenges and to reduce their susceptibility to pests and diseases. This is not “rocket science” which needs large amounts of biotech. Nowhere else in the world are farmers using traditional landraces with low yields, so why would we expect that in Africa?

On fertilizers, Africa has some of the most highly degraded soils, which have suffered from torrential rains long before climate change, which have had an impact on the soil’s structure and fertility. Chemical fertilizers introduce essential plant nutrients into the soil. Here in Africa, we are only using an average of 14kg/ha which is nothing compared to what is needed or to what Europe is using at 300kg/ha. And remember, Europe and other industrial agricultural countries have been using these levels for the last 50 years or more. Today, if a country in Europe wants to do agroecology, it makes sense. Every season of applying these nutrients to the soil has built a big and deep bank of nutrients from which one can afford to drive an organic system for some years. Organic farming mostly introduces carbon to the soil but doesn’t provide the other nutrients that are critical and often missing in African soils. So, it is wrong for people to say Africa should not use mineral fertilizers. Of course, we are concerned about the impact of mineral fertilizers on the environment, that is why we care about the level of nutrients needed in our soils in order to feed people. At no point at AGRA have we recommended that African farmers use 300kg/ha like industrial countries. We must use fertilizers appropriate to soil needs, and apply them more carefully than we have done in the past, such as through micro-dosing, to stretch farmers’ resources as far as possible, given their limited resources.

If we were to rely entirely on organic agriculture, we’d need 5 tons of organic matter to produce one ton of maize, for example, rather than 25kg of mineral fertilizer. But you must ask – where do these 5 tons of organic material come from? You’ll be eating into your biodiversity reserves to get the organic matter needed to produce the crop. Farmers in Kenya that have not had rain have nothing to make compost with! What is the dichotomy here for these farmers?

We will not go for 300kg/ha of mineral fertilizer. But neither does Europe need 300kg/ha. Africa has a recommendation of 50kg/ha and is still below half of this level. This undermines the continent’s production capacity and fosters environmental degradation. Alongside appropriate use of fertilizers, Africa needs to find ways of rebuilding its soils. What nobody can do is suggest that organic agriculture can feed Africa. We are committed to rebuilding our degraded agricultural ecosystems – we owe it to ourselves. And maybe that way we can influence rainfall patterns, water holding capacity, and ground-water levels and mitigate that drought that is coming at us. There are 101 reasons why we should be doing the right thing – for hunger, health, soils. This idea of a dichotomy is not needed. From a mitigation perspective, we are also saying to those with industrial agricultural systems – put a brake on it! You are contributing to further climate change. Let’s create a better balance between producing food for people and sustaining our environment.

Let me end by saying AGRA has moved from a focus on Green Revolution to a much broader approach to support sustainable Food Systems. We’ll be holding the annual Conference on African Food Systems (former AGRF) in Tanzania in September. We’re also re-naming AGRA to recognize that the green revolution was yesterday. Looking forward, we must transform our food systems, for people’s food, health, and the environment. And we must support heads of state to meet the commitments they have made. It’s an exciting time!

Harnessing Africa’s youth population for inclusive growth

Africa stands at a critical juncture in its history, with a rapidly growing youth population that presents both challenges and opportunities. As the continent grapples with pressing issues such as food security and economic development, it is crucial to harness the potential of this demographic dividend to achieve inclusive growth. By empowering Africa’s youth and creating an enabling environment, we can transform the continent’s food systems and unlock its economic potential.

Africa’s food systems face multifaceted challenges, including limited access to modern agricultural practices, inadequate infrastructure, and a lack of inclusive policies. However, within these challenges lie tremendous opportunities that can be achieved through investments in education, vocational training, and entrepreneurship programs tailored to the agricultural sector.

By equipping young people with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in agribusiness, they can become agents of change and innovation. Governments in collaboration with the private sector organisations and civil society, can enhance the provision of comprehensive as well as accessible education as well as training programmes that align with the needs of the labour market. By incorporating practical skills and modern agricultural techniques into the curriculum, young people can develop an appreciation of farming sustainably, market linkages, and value chain management.

Ensuring equitable access to resources is critical for inclusive growth. Financial institutions and governments should establish mechanisms that provide affordable credit and access to land for young farmers. Many young Africans face significant challenges in accessing capital due to limited collateral and financial literacy. To address this, innovative financing models, such as microfinance and blended finance initiatives, can be employed to provide young farmers with the necessary capital to start and scale their agricultural enterprises.

Furthermore, it is essential to promote sustainable agricultural practices through policies that incentivise youth-led initiatives in conservation, organic farming, and climate-smart agriculture. By incorporating environmental considerations into policy frameworks, governments can encourage young farmers to adopt sustainable practices that protect natural resources, enhance resilience to climate change, and contribute to the overall well-being of communities.

In addition to inclusive policies, participatory governance is crucial for youth engagement. Governments should actively involve young people in decision-making processes, providing platforms for their voices to be heard. Youth advisory boards, consultative forums, and mentorship programmes can facilitate dialogue between policymakers and young agripreneurs, ensuring that policies are designed and implemented in a manner that reflects their aspirations and needs.

Harnessing Africa’s youth dividend requires collaboration between governments, civil society, private sector entities, and international organisations. These stakeholders can join forces to provide mentorship, capacity-building programmes, and investment opportunities for young agripreneurs. Public-private partnerships can promote the transfer of knowledge, technology, and expertise, fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector. By leveraging the strengths and resources of various actors, comprehensive support systems can be established to empower young farmers and agripreneurs.

International organisations and donor agencies also play a crucial role in supporting youth-led initiatives. By providing funding, technical assistance, and networking opportunities, they can facilitate access to resources and markets for young agripreneurs. Collaboration between African countries and international partners can also foster knowledge exchange and innovation, promoting the adoption of modern technologies and best practices across the continent.

AGRA actively contributes to harnessing the potential of Africa’s youth for inclusive growth. We invest in education and training programmes tailored to the agricultural sector, equipping young people with the necessary skills for agribusiness success. Additionally, we advocate for affordable credit and land reform policies to ensure young farmers have access to resources. By embracing digital technologies, we empower young agripreneurs to overcome barriers. AGRA’s involvement in shaping inclusive policies and fostering partnerships creates an enabling environment for youth engagement, transforming Africa’s food systems and unlocking economic potential.

One such initiative through which AGRA supports young agripreneurs is the Generation Africa programme. This AGRA-led youth partnership initiative seeks to strengthen the ecosystem for youth entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector across the continent and allows them to unlock this untapped potential. The programme also provides a platform for young entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector to showcase their innovative ideas and businesses through two competitions named the GoGettaz Agripreneur Prize and the Pitch Agrihack. Through the Generation Africa programme, youths are offered mentorship, funding opportunities, and access to networks, enabling them to further develop their ventures and contribute to sustainable agricultural development in Africa.

The programme strengthens the ecosystem that supports youth entrepreneurs in different countries by catalyzing stakeholders (government, private sector, development partners) action and strengthening youth flagship programmes through the Youth Ecosystem Development Framework (YEDF) assessments and stakeholder engagements. By connecting young agripreneurs with resources and support, AGRA, is empowering the next generation of agricultural leaders, driving economic growth, and creating a more inclusive and sustainable future for Africa.

Africa’s youth population holds immense potential to drive inclusive growth and transform the continent’s food systems. By investing in their education, facilitating access to resources, implementing inclusive policies, and fostering partnerships, Africa can empower its young population to become the driving force behind agricultural innovation and economic development. Through such efforts, Africa can secure its food future, create sustainable livelihoods, and unlock the full potential of its youth demographic dividend. It is time to embrace the power of Africa’s youth and work together towards a prosperous and inclusive future. By investing in the potential of its young people, Africa can lay the foundation for a flourishing continent that benefits all its inhabitants.


The writer, Dickson Naftali, is the Head of Generation Africa, AGRA

Collaboration In Investment And Innovation Is Key To Accelerating Climate Action In Africa


By Jennifer Baarn

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 21 – About 35 years ago, the world witnessed pivotal events that propelled climate change to the forefront of the global agenda.

Since then, there has been a gradual increase in interest and investments in initiatives aimed at limiting the rise in global temperatures to below 1.5°C and curbing the depletion of the Ozone layer.

As a result, a series of intensified global initiatives have emerged, with the aim of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing resilience and adaptability to the consequences of climate change, under the banner ‘climate action’.

For Africa, the narrative on climate action has mainly focused on the harsh effects of climate change on farming communities and economies.

This points to the urgent need for increased investments in adaptation, and addressing the loss and damage experienced by the continent’s food systems.

And while this emphasis is crucial, it is now important to recognise and promote a parallel narrative that emphasises the significance of Africa’s biodiversity and ecological resources as vital targets for investment in mitigating or even reversing the impacts of climate change.

This is as it becomes increasingly clear that the fight against climate change in Africa may not yield meaningful outcomes without the implementation of comprehensive, integrated, and adaptive conservation and management strategies.

These strategies must balance preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services while promoting the region’s economic development and safeguarding human health.

To achieve these goals, investments in climate-smart agriculture should be prioritised, which includes adopting sustainable farming practices and appropriate soil management techniques.

In this regard, investing in data-intelligent systems that provide timely and reliable information to support informed decision-making on commodity availability and demand before and during crises is important.

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.

Further, significant investments are needed in the acquisition of supportive technologies such as renewable energy and irrigation,  helping enhance agricultural productivity while minimising negative impacts on the environment.

The integration of renewable energy sources can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing reliable power for agricultural activities.

And the improvement of access to irrigation systems can enhance water management, ensuring more sustainable agricultural practices.

Another critical aspect is the promotion of action to radically reduce food loss along value chains.

By investing in efficient storage, transportation, and processing technologies, the continent can significantly reduce post-harvest losses, which account for nearly 40% of all food production, thereby reducing the pressure on agricultural systems and, ultimately, the environment.

The mentioned solutions are commendable and are being actively delivered in many ways by different institutions. However, the impact, which portends great benefits, is limited in pace and scale due to fragmentation and misalignment in implementation by governments, development partners, and private sector players.

Yet the complexity of the structural challenges that Africa regularly faces calls for an integrated basket of solutions involving parallel investments and reforms in infrastructure, irrigation, logistics, financial systems, and education systems.

It also calls for new alliances and forms of collaboration amongst these actors that create synergies and critical mass.

At AGRA, we realised this gap quite early and we have over the years focused our investments on building the capacity of governments to prioritise and implement policy reforms with a food security and climate integrity bearing.

This is in addition to actively fostering and mobilising impactful public-private partnerships amongst governments, the private sector, and civil society organisations.

The coming together of diverse stakeholders has proven critical in the alignment of investments and synergies in technology transfer and knowledge sharing.

This can be exemplified by the Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) initiative, 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 leverages digital and satellite technology to enable more up-to-date monitoring and forecasting of food crop production, pest, disease attack, and other climatic shifts that could potentially impact food availability.

The tool leverages machine learning and advanced analytics to provide timely supply, demand, and price information on staple crops in Sub-Saharan Africa to inform evidence-based decision-making by the public and private sectors and other stakeholders in the ecosystem.

Many more collaborative investments are required to facilitate impactful climate action and promote long-term success.

The writer is the Head of Partnerships at AGRA

Africa’s journey to self-sufficiency: The power of intra-Africa trade

Africa, with its vast agricultural resources and untapped potential, holds the key to overcoming food security challenges and achieving self-sufficiency. The continent possesses an immense capacity to feed itself and even become a major player in global food markets. However, the continent has long been dependent on external markets for its food needs. Africa spends approximately $50 billion annually on food imports. This heavy reliance on imports creates a sense of vulnerability and dependency that hinders Africa’s progress towards self-sufficiency and economic prosperity.

Presently, regional trade within Africa stands at just 14.4% of total African exports, indicating an underutilization of trade opportunities within the continent. However, there is immense potential for growth and collaboration through increased inter-Africa trade. According to UNCTAD forecasts, implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could boost regional trade by about 33% and reduce the continent’s trade deficit by 51%. These statistics highlight the urgent need to prioritise and invest in continental trade as a pathway to self-sufficiency and economic growth.

Promoting intra-Africa trade is a powerful strategy that can unlock Africa’s agricultural potential, reduce import bills, and strengthen local economies. By prioritising trade within the continent, African nations can maximise local production and consumption, harness their unique agricultural resources, and create a self-reliant and resilient food system. This shift away from heavy reliance on external markets empowers African nations to tap into their capabilities and address food security challenges.

Intra-Africa trade fosters the development of resilient supply chains capable of adapting to local conditions, reducing Africa’s vulnerability to external disruptions. Robust supply chains facilitate the efficient distribution of agricultural products, minimize post-harvest losses, and ensure timely access to nutritious food for all Africans. By incentivizing farmers to produce higher-quality crops and meet market demands, regional trade integration drives innovation, investment, and job creation within the agricultural sector. This enhanced productivity not only benefits local markets but also positions African farmers as key players in the global agricultural landscape.

The AfCFTA presents a unique opportunity to boost regional economic integration, reduce import bills, and drive transformative economic growth. However, the wins under the AfCFTA would be at the back of strong policy measures to improve the trade environment including the removal or non-tariff barriers to trade, improving trade infrastructure and logistics, telecommunication infrastructure for digital trade, and access to productive and trade finance.

Governments, regional organizations, and stakeholders must prioritize and invest in initiatives that promote trade integration. By fostering an enabling environment, harmonizing regulations, and investing in infrastructure, African nations can create a conducive ecosystem for intra-Africa trade. It is essential to seize this moment and unite, trade together, and pave the way toward a prosperous and self-reliant future.

AGRA recognizes the transformative power of trade amongst African nations and plays a pivotal role in driving policy reforms and institutional support. AGRA’s efforts focus on strengthening trade relationships, harmonizing regulations, and addressing cross-border barriers. Through its advocacy, capacity-building programs, and knowledge-sharing platforms, we empower farmers and agribusinesses to actively participate in trading. By creating an enabling environment that encourages investments, innovation, and entrepreneurship within the agricultural sector, as an organisation, AGRA contributes to the realisation of Africa’s self-sufficiency and economic growth.

Our approach also involves the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, investment in public and private trade institutions and companies to strengthen their capacities to participate in trade, generating data and evidence to inform policy and investment decisions, as well as create platforms for knowledge sharing and policy advocacy. For instance, AGRA’s market-shaping investments aim to strengthen suppliers’ and off-takers capacities to comply with food safety requirements such as aflatoxin levels through training on post-harvest management including warehouse and storage management, Good Agricultural and Hygiene Practices, etc.

Similarly, to support a more predictable environment for regional food trade and provide some flexibility in reducing the time and costs of trading, AGRA through the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is implementing the Mutual Recognition Framework/Agreement to remove the need for multiple inspections and testing in the exporting and importing countries thereby contributing to increased trade flow. To forester evidence-based decision-making, AGRA through its regional food trade flagship and in collaboration with regional bodies such as the COMESA has rolled out the Regional Food Balance Sheet (RFBS) to support governments in their market intervention decisions on the back of food security reasons. AGRA continues to produce its monthly Food Security Monitor shedding lights on global and national food security issues, again, to support governments’ decisions on food security and investment decisions in the agri-food sector. By fostering collaboration among African nations and supporting policy reforms, AGRA aims to create a conducive ecosystem for regional trade.

AGRA’s efforts in driving regional trade integration are invaluable and contribute significantly to Africa’s journey towards self-sufficiency and improved livelihoods. Together, with visionary leadership and collective action, we can unlock Africa’s full potential, ensuring food security, reducing poverty, and fostering inclusive development and shared prosperity for all Africans.

The road to self-sufficiency may have its challenges, but the rewards are immense. Africa has the capacity, resources, and determination to chart its path towards a resilient and prosperous future. By embracing the power of intra-Africa trade and investing in agricultural development, Africa can rewrite its narrative and become a beacon of hope, resilience, and self-reliance for the world. Now is the time for African nations to unite, trade together, and build a continent where food security is a reality, economic growth is sustainable, and the well-being of its people is secured.

The writer is the Head of Regional Food Trade and Resilience at AGRA

Agtech: A Pivotal Force Driving Climate Change Action in Agriculture

By Nixon Gecheo K

The agricultural sector is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for an estimated 19-29% of these emissions according to the World Bank. This figure climbs even higher to 40% when we consider the emissions produced throughout the entire agricultural value chain, encompassing transportation, storage, and processing.

With the global population expected to double by 2050 and consequently increase demand for food, emissions from agriculture are expected to increase unless action is taken to stem the harm to the environment.

The solution lies in embracing agricultural technology (Agtech) to revolutionise agricultural practices, boost yields, increase farmer incomes, and promote sustainability. Technologies such as climate-smart agriculture, precision farming, soil carbon sequestration, and digital tools for value chain optimisation all aim at raising the production per square inch of agricultural land while recovering more from loss and damage.

Agtech offers numerous tools and techniques for sustainable crop and livestock management, including the use of climate-resilient seeds, and improved breeding techniques that result in higher yields with reduced land, water, and chemical inputs. By increasing the productivity of land, agtech helps preserve natural ecosystems, reduces deforestation, and prevents the conversion of additional land for agriculture, thus mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Soil health technologies are also important for transforming the output of agricultural land for increased food production and soil sequestration. Soil mapping and monitoring enable farmers to apply the appropriate nutrients in the right quantities leading to enhanced crop productivity and increasing the capacity to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Additionally, through regenerative agricultural practices like cover cropping, reduced tillage, and agroforestry, agtech actively contributes to carbon sequestration.

As well, more climate goals are linked to climate-smart agriculture, which leverages digital technologies for weather forecasting and data-driven analytics to provide farmers with real-time information on rain patterns, crop diseases, and market conditions. As a result, farmers are equipped to make climate-smart decisions, such as adjusting planting schedules, selecting suitable crop varieties, and adopting climate-resilient farming techniques. The AgriBot co-developed by AGRA and Microsoft is one such agtech, designed to optimise resource utilisation and minimise climate-related risks, ultimately helping farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions. The AgriBot provides valuable agricultural information to farmers through SMS and social media platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram. Deployed in two Kenyan counties since 2020, the Bot today serves 47,470 farmers with vital information on good agronomic practices, pest management, weather prediction, and insurance as well as linkages to county approved agrodealers and certified seed varieties. The same is being scaled to three other counties in Kenya and three countries of Nigeria, Malawi and Uganda through the partnership of AGRA and IFC.

Precision farming involves the application of data collected using drones and sensors to drive precision irrigation and nutrient management. This minimises wastage of resources, prevents pollution from excess chemicals, and decreases the overall carbon footprint of agricultural operations. CropIn’s Smartfarm is a good example of farm monitoring and management solutions that utilise advanced analytics to help farmers geotag their land, digitise their records, and optimise their use of water, fertilisers, and pesticides. The tool also supports the real-time monitoring of crop performance. The technology has already digitalised 10,626 village-based advisors in six countries – Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique, and Tanzania – where it supports delivery of inputs, services and information to 2.7 million farmers on nearly 600 million hectares of land. Overall, the World Economic Forum estimates that the adoption of precision agriculture on 15-25% of farms could boost global yield by 10-15% by 2030. It would also lead to a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 20% decrease in water usage.

The optimisation of agricultural value chains is critical in advancing food and nutrition sufficiency without increasing the size of land under cultivation. Technologies like blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) enable better tracking, traceability, and management of agricultural products throughout the value chain. This reduces post-harvest losses, optimises transportation routes, and ensures timely delivery, thereby lowering energy consumption and emissions.

A good example is the deployment of IBM technology in Rwanda that combines satellite data with machine learning to identify where maize is grown and the forecasted yield. Farmer organisations can also use the technology to identify areas of low yields and provide timely output-enhancing measures such as the adequate supply of fertilisers.

Yet, even with the transformative nature of the technologies, many remain beyond the reach of a vast majority of smallholder farmers in Africa due to the high costs of acquisition and lack of infrastructure to support such solutions.  In the short-term, stakeholders can ensure an equitable and inclusive transition through investments in digital infrastructure and connectivity driven by a collaborative approach for developing a conducive policy environment, and the advancement of regional integration. Sustained investments in agricultural research and development also remain crucial, as has been shown in developed countries, which increased their adoption of agtech by committing 3.25% of their GDP compared to only 0.52% in developing countries. The increasing disparity in R&D expenditure exacerbates the gap in productivity, thereby rendering the poorest countries incapable of rapid progress.

The writer is a Senior Programme Office, AGRA

Dr Kalibata appointed to COP28 President’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change

AGRA is proud to announce Dr. Kalibata’s membership to the Advisory Committee of the President of the 28th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The COP28 which will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the end of this year is a critical platform that brings together nations, organizations, and stakeholders from around the world to address the challenges of climate change.

As a member of the COP28 President’s Advisory Committee, Dr. Kalibata will contribute to the development and implementation of strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change. She will be involved in strategic initiatives, including working groups, task forces, and consultations, to ensure that the voices and needs of farmers and businesses are heard and incorporated into global climate policies.

“I am delighted to join the COP28 President’s Advisory Committee. There is nothing today that is more important than all of us pooling together to contribute to the global effort to combat climate change,” said Dr. Kalibata. “Climate change is quickly becoming the most significant challenge facing our planet, and I am committed to working with other partners and stakeholders to address this critical issue. I am committed to share my experience and to collaborate with other members to drive urgent and meaningful action.”

Dr. Kalibata shares the vision for COP28 having herself successfully stewarded the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit to create global awareness for the need to transform Food systems to be more inclusive, deliver better food and reduce environmental foot print. “This is an opportunity to advancing Food Systems efforts even further globally and here in Africa and I remain desirous of and committed to sustaining the momentum” she said. “The diverse membership to the COP28 Advisory Committee is an opportunity for all of us to continue our efforts to combat climate change and work towards a more sustainable present for us and future for all.”

About COP28:

The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the international forum for countries and stakeholders to discuss and collaborate on climate change policies and strategies. COP28 is scheduled to take place in November 2023, and will be hosted the United Arab Emirates. 

For more information, please contact:

Jean Kiarie
Head of Communications

We look forward to sharing more updates about our involvement in the COP28 committee and our efforts to address climate change.

Born in Rwanda, raised in Uganda as a refugee, Agnes Kalibata is changing African farming

It is daunting enough to head an iconic organisation supported by big-name international funders.

As if that is not demanding enough, this is an organisation founded by the legendary Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General from 1997 to 2006. The Ghanaian diplomat died in August 2018 but remains one of the most revered Africans on the global stage with a legacy to match.

Tall order as it may seem, one woman has been at the helm of this organisation since September 2014. She is Dr Agnes Kalibata, an agricultural scientist from Rwanda who grew up in Uganda as a refugee then later returned to Rwanda to be the country’s Agriculture and Animal Resources minister in 2008, where she drew global acclaim for the radical improvement her ministry brought to small farmers in Rwanda.

That contributed to her being picked as the president of AGRA, an organisation with a presence in 11 African countries and whose headquarters are in Nairobi. The alliance aims at inclusive agricultural transformation in Africa by increasing incomes and improving food security for millions across the continent.

As she readied herself for an interview with us at her Nairobi office on a Tuesday afternoon, she offered us sweet bananas she had carried to take for breakfast but her busy schedule somehow couldn’t allow her. She farms them in her Nairobi home.

“And this is a type I’m sure you have not tasted before,” she said.

They sure had a unique taste somewhere close to a glass of milk with two teaspoonfuls of sugar added and with the solidity of a fresh loaf of bread that had been compressed.

The sweet bananas were perhaps a representation of what Dr Kalibata is passionate about: improved breeds that can withstand the pressures of the environment and deliver bumper harvest that can fill tummies and part of it be sold to fill pockets.

There were many takeaways from the interview in which Dr Kalibata came out as a deeply knowledgeable scientist with a distinct sense of humour.

“I take pride in ensuring that we are a well-run African institution.”

AGRA employs more than 200 staff from at least 27 countries; the vast majority being from Africa. It has a list of partners across the globe, with some of them pumping in huge amounts of money to be used in various ways. These include the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, USaid, UKAid, German Development Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, among many others.

Then President Uhuru Kenyatta with a  delegation from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa among them Dr Agnes Kalibata (left) at State House Nairobi. Photo by Nation Media Group

“Our recent evaluation highlighted our success facilitating 42 policy reforms, supporting 11 national flagships, and mobilising $1.4 billion (Sh89.3 billion) investment into the (agriculture) sector,” says AGRA’s Life of Strategy Report covering 2017 to 2022.

Though Dr Kalibata says that AGRA handles significant sums of money and one of her roles as president is to ensure accountability.

“My job is to ensure that the institution is well-run, and that is extremely important,” she said. “I know that there is this thing out there where they say Africa doesn’t have capacity.”

She added: “I also ensure that we give value to our funders. Our job is to ensure that once people invest in AGRA for the work that we do, we show them the value in terms of good custodianship of their money. There is a whole lot of belief (about) Africans — corruption and stuff like that. We can actually demonstrate that we take care of people’s money; that an African institution can take care of people’s money.”

The AGRA strategy report says that in its first 10 years (it was founded in 2006), the organisation trained 680 PhD and Master’s graduates in crop breeding, crop science and agronomy. It also facilitated the release of 562 new seed varieties and supported the production of nearly 600,000 metric tonnes of seed. It also trained 5.3 million farmers on soil fertility management practices.

In the last five years, it says, it has been focusing on working with governments and widening its network of partnerships.

“As a result of our efforts, a majority of our farmers have adopted improved practices, with 75 per cent of farmers adopting fertiliser use, 48 per cent adopting improved seed and 60 percent adopting post-harvest practices. We are starting to see these outcomes translate into increased yields at the farm level,” the report notes.

Dr Kalibata is happy to be the captain. Supervising the management team she heads is a 14-member board of directors that is chaired by former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn.

“We’ve been very deliberate to ensure that members of our board, not just the chair, are passionate about how this continent can get itself out of poverty, are passionate about the role of the agriculture sector and are influential enough to help us move things forward,” said Dr Kalibata.

Dr Annan, the United Nations secretary-general for almost 10 years, was the founding AGRA chair. Among the members of the current board is former Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete.

USAID Administrator  Gayle Smith and  Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa President, Dr Agnes Kalibata, at a past event. Photo by Nation Media Group

“You will see that some of the members of our board are former heads of State because they understand some of the things that need to be done,” said Dr Kalibata.

“The thing that fascinated me the most is that there are insects that regrow legs.”

How does a girl being raised in a foreign land choose to study insects and biochemistry at Makerere University? Well, one of the things that made her intrigued about entomology, the study of insects, is the fact that some of them regrow legs when they are cut off. She wanted to know what magic goes into this.

“I was really interested in understanding it,” she said. “But that’s another story.”

Her father used to teach in Rwanda before they fled northwards due to war.

“My family ended up in Uganda because of colonial challenges. You remember the fight for independence and all that? At that time in Rwanda, there was a war. My family and a whole lot of people were forced to flee the country. Others fled to Congo; others to Kenya; others to Burundi. Rwandans got scattered all over because of that war,”said Dr Kalibata.

“I went back after my PhD, after over 35 years of living in exile,” she said.

Her father being a teacher ensured she got an education to the highest level. Most of her female peers didn’t go very far and it hurts her.

“I wasn’t the brightest child in my class. And I always think of those girls who I think were bright but couldn’t progress (because of poverty). I was lucky because my dad was a teacher. And he was going to stop at nothing to ensure that I’d get an education,” said Dr Kalibata. “When I was leaving my rural village and going to secondary school, the drop-off at that stage was amazing.”

After her first degree at Makerere, she returned to the same institution for a Master’s in agriculture. She would later head to the University of Massachusetts Amherst in America for her PhD in entomology.

Then Deputy President  William Ruto with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa President, Dr Agnes Kalibata, in Karen, Nairobi. Photo by Nation Media Group

She says that besides insects like bees being key to the survival of humans, there is a lot to learn from the six-legged creatures.

“Our understanding of genes and genetics is so much greater (because of insects); and our understanding of how we can improve medicine is so much better,” she said.

“Another reason why I thought entomology was a good area, especially as I was doing my PhD, is that it’s also an area that’s not just in agriculture. It’s also medical. There is also criminal entomology,” added Dr Kalibata. “Who knew that you could tell the cause of death (of a person) by studying insects?”

After her studies, she was involved in university research before Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame appointed her minister. She is credited for ensuring almost half of Rwandese farmers rose out of poverty. Among the initiatives she implemented is the famed cow-sharing programme.

“I did that job for about seven years and while in that role, I learnt a lot around policy and how policy-making is a make-or-break,” she said. “I learnt that it’s actually possible to use agriculture to fight poverty.”

Good weather

“Nairobi is a beautiful place with good weather.”

Having lived in Nairobi for the last eight years, Dr Kalibata admits that she is in love with Kenya’s capital. She is even happier that it is nowadays easier to take her children to school and to reach the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

“I love Nairobi,” she said. “The people are great; the culture is good. It has a vibrant international community; it has a vibrant local community. It’s really a decent place. Most people love living here, so you get to meet all sorts of people.”

She went on: “Nairobi is interesting; it has everything. It has the African part and the Western part, all in one. So, it’s not like you’re missing anything. You find anything in one place. You can be purely African in Nairobi and you can be purely whoever you want. So, it’s a microcosm of things that make it really interesting to live in as a city. And the traffic has significantly improved. As long as getting to school and the airport is easy, life is easy,” she said, laughing.

Clearly, if she can farm sweet bananas, Nairobi is as good as it can get.

“I’m one of those pretty late mums.”

With a chuckle, Dr Kalibata noted: “I sometimes wonder about my choices.”

She said that as she discussed her life as a mother. She has two fraternal twins – a boy and a girl – who are 10 years old.

She admits that she got into motherhood late in her life, noting that she should have found a way of striking the balance earlier.

“It’s very painful, wondering whether you’ll be able to have children, whether you’ve sacrificed too much when it comes to children. It’s something that every woman who has a career worries about. And I just keep saying that there must be a better way. There must be a better balance. There must be a better balance that saves you the pain; that allows you to get your career in good time and saves you the pain of having to look for children when you’re older,” she said.

On the left of her desk at her office are writings by her children declaring that she is the best mum in the world.

The children have had to keep up with her busy travel schedule. And meetings. And her bid to strike the perfect work-life balance.

Fresh air

“Yesterday I told them, ‘You know, there is a meeting next week. I’m supposed to be in…’ They were like, ‘Again? You just came from Washington and you’re going to another meeting?’” said Dr Kalibata.

She noted that the children keep her in check. They also ensure that she at least takes a break once in a while to take them somewhere to take a breath of fresh air. Without that, leave for her means doing work that was waiting to be done elsewhere.

“You know, sometimes Africans don’t take leave. They go home to do other projects. I’m still waiting to see one African that actually takes leave. Because when you go home for leave, there are so many things that are waiting for you. So, you basically shift. Sometimes I come back from leave more tired than when I left. Am I going to take a leave to go to the beach? Unlikely. But today, because I have young children, I’ll do it,” she said.

On the work-life balance, she noted: “(Work is) 7am-7pm really.”

“Once you put in 7 to 7 like in my case, you can afford three hours of sitting and having dinner with your children. You can afford to pretend that the world doesn’t exist. You know, in the morning it will be waiting for you but that ability to shut off when you’re entering your home is extremely important. Unfortunately, it also translates into the ability to shut off when you’re entering the office,” she added.

“The incentive has to be strong enough.”

Dr Kalibata believes that Africa’s youth are less enthusiastic about agriculture because of the meagre rewards. Because the continent imports billions worth of food annually, she notes, it means there is a huge demand that is not being addressed.

“We are importing $50 billion worth of food that we can produce. If you do a back-of-the-envelope calculation on how many jobs that is, basically those are the jobs we are losing that young people should be having here,” she said.

Biggest gap

“We need to make sure that the market is available, to make agriculture attractive. And I think that’s the biggest gap to date that we see. With a good market, people will invest in research, in improving the sector. In getting better yields. But the market has to pay,” she added.

To change that trend, AGRA has been funding institutions that in the long run improve the market.

“Our job is to strengthen capacity, not to do things for people. We want to make sure these communities can actually do a better job when we are not there. So, we want to leave them in a better place. Because of that, we use grants and technical support. When we go out to a community and find that there is a private sector that is struggling, we find ways to support that private sector so that they can be better off at providing the services that they are providing,” said Dr Kalibata.

“Because we’re a small institution and we don’t have a whole lot of money, we focus on trying to be catalytic,” she added.

She went on: “Because of that place we have chosen of being a catalytic institution and again really trying to do our best while we can, my typical day is full of meetings internally, consulting with staff, externally, engaging with partners and also just trying to move things from what we have agreed on to do as a strategy.”

Side-by-side with incentive, she says, better seeds are transformational.

“Imagine if all farmers adopted improved seeds so that instead of 0.5 metric tonnes, they are producing five metric tonnes. Life will change for these farmers. My job is to focus on those farmers who are not adopting even simple technologies that are already available to us,” she said.

Originally posted on

Tanzania President launches Africa’s Food System Forum 2023, calls for inclusion of youth and women as critical drivers of Africa’s food systems agenda

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 17th March 2023 – Her Excellency Dr. Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of the United Republic of Tanzania, has today officially launched Africa’s Food System Forum 2023, Africa’s premier platform for advancing the agriculture and food systems agenda on the continent, at State House, Tanzania.

The theme of this year’s Forum – Recover, Regenerate, Act:  Africa’s Solutions to Food Systems Transformation – is anchored around building back better Food Systems and Food Sovereignty. It identifies three steps needed to achieve this transformation: Recovery: a call for decisive strategies and actions to help the continent recover and rebuild its food systems following multiple crises and shocks; Regenerate: which calls for the need to regenerate the natural resources, such as soil and water, which are essential for sustainable food production, and Act: which refers to the need to take urgent action to address food systems challenges, such as climate change, food waste, and food insecurity at only seven years before the 2030 SDG deadline. 

The forum will spotlight the role of women and youth through a re-energized commitment in the food systems conversation, with a focus on regenerating interest in agriculture as a means of wealth creation for the continent.

Speaking at the launch in Dar es Salaam today, President Suluhu spotlighted the role of youth and women as critical to Africa’s food systems agenda

Speaking at the launch, H.E. President Samia Suluhu said:

“The hosting of the Africa’s Food System Forum 2023 is of importance to our nation where more than 25 percent of our GDP relies on the agricultural sector. For many years, Tanzania’s agriculture was based on subsistence farming. Today, the Government of Tanzania has intentionally made it a goal to prioritize this sector to create livelihoods for our people. We are doing this through various programmes borne out of our hosting and learnings of the 2012 AGRF Summit and our focus on ensuring that the youth are a priority in investment and agricultural reform in our country. It is my hope that the hosting of this forum in our country is one step forward and a good start to achieve the results we expect in our agricultural sector.

In addition, Tanzania as the host of this forum announces to the world that our country aims to become a food granary for Africa and the world in general. I would like to call on the international community, partners of Africa’s Food Systems Forum, the private sector and development partners to participate fully in the upcoming forum on the development of the agricultural sector to strengthen food systems in Africa.”

In his remarks, the Chair of the Africa Food Systems Forum H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn highlighted the importance of the continent moving beyond planning to curb food insecurity, to executing and actualizing commitments, and called for innovation, partnership, leadership and home-grown solutions to respond to emergent agricultural and food systems challenges.

“Our challenges around food system challenges will only get worse unless we work together to drive meaningful change. The difference between the Africa we seek to see and the Africa we shall become by 2060 is all dependent on the decisions we as leaders make and the supporting infrastructure, investments and policies in transforming food systems to produce sufficient, nutritious food in the changing social, political and climatic conditions.

As we rally towards the next Africa’s Food Systems Forum, it is important that we deepen our efforts to scale up our homegrown solutions and partnerships.” He said.

The Africa Food Systems Forum will take place from September 5th-8th 2023 in Dar es Salaam Tanzania, with a pre-summit event scheduled for September 4th 2023.  Launch. The summit will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders, including leaders, policymakers, scientists, heads of governments and private institutions, farmers, and youth, to agree on practical actions and solutions. These discussions are crucial to driving Africa’s food security forward and creating better livelihoods for all.


Catherine Ndungu- Senior Communications Officer, AGRF
+250 791 568 865 cndungu@edaudMedia contact – Eugene Nganga – +254 703 516 173

Makueni County points out possible areas for partnership with AGRA, Bayer

AGRA has always used strategic partnerships to support the creation of alignment between government priorities and private sector interests, for improving impact at smallholder farmer level and for mobilizing private sector investment to scale. 

In the first week of March 2023, AGRA team, alongside Natasha Santos, the Vice President at the Germany based Bayer Crop Science visited Makueni County to find out some of the priority areas for partnership with the main aim of supporting agriculture transformation particularly for smallholders.

“Today’s mission is to learn from the County government (of Makueni) about areas of opportunities, what areas of knowledge that can be drawn from the government that can be scaled out, areas that can be rife for partnerships, and areas of challenges that AGRA and Bayer can partner to bring more people on the table,” said John Macharia, AGRA’s Country Manager for Kenya.

“Am here to learn from the County Government of Makueni, then I recommend to the (Bayer) team about the areas where we can do more, and the areas we should prioritize,” said Santos.

To that effect, Joyce Mutua, Makueni County Executive Committee Member (CEC) in charge of Agriculture, Irrigation, Livestock, Fisheries & Cooperative Development pointed out some of the priority areas that the county government is already working on, and require partnerships.

“We are at the beginning of the five year cycle of the government, and every government comes in with a new policy direction,” said the CEC. “Focus of the current government is on transformation agenda, with priority on agriculture,” she said.

In Makueni, said Ms Mutua, the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP), which is a five year document, is all about agriculture transformation. 

To that end, Makueni County is looking at value chain development in areas not limited to poultry, rabbits, green grams, beans, pigeon peas, livestock, and fruits among others. 

“It is unfortunate that 57% of households in Makueni County are food insecure and yet more than 80% of the households are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods,” said Ms Mutua.

She noted that so far, there is a deliberate effort to produce food for commercialization. “The county is now looking at sufficient production of food so as to feed the world. This is because if we achieve primary target of feeding the world, then we will definitely afford to feed ourselves, and be 100% food secure,” she said.

So far, the county is already walking towards the (feed the world) direction by exporting mangoes, French beans, and pulses. The county government is also working towards exporting avocados. However, the CEC noted that those value chains being exported have not been well developed, and that is therefore one of the areas that need partnerships.

“Our strategy is that farmers will determine the value chains they want to follow. We encourage them to focus on at least only three value chains at a time and perfect them, and the government will help move those value chains to scale,” said Ms Mutua.

She pointed out that if it is poultry value chain for example, the farmer should target not less than 200 birds at any given time. If it is dairy farming, the farmer will need to have at least four animals, out of which at least two are lactating. If it is green grams, the farmer should target at least five acres under the crop. 

“If we get this correctly and aggregate the farmers, then we will have enough for commercialization,” said the CEC. “We are already clear on the strategy for mango value chain, and the strategy for exportation of pixie oranges is coming out very well,” she added.

The ban that had been imposed on the exportation of mangoes has since been lifted. The county had been banned from exporting the fruits because of some pests, and slightly above average chemical reside levels. The lifting came in after the government introduced the use of pheromone traps to achieve low pest zones in Kibwezi and Mbitini areas, where mangoes mature earlier than the interior zones. But the county is slowly expanding the acreage under the low pest zones.

Ms Mutua said that investing in integrated pest management to expand low pest zones is therefore another area that needs partnerships. 

So far, mangoes from low pest zones retail at up to Sh40 a piece in the export market, four times higher than what is found in the open market.

Makueni County has installed a plant that is producing puree, though in low volumes. However, this season, the county purchased one million kilograms of mangoes from local farmers. 

“We are doing the market study, and this is an area we are seeking for support. We are looking at how we engage with the private sector partnership in the mango value chain. This is because the government has its own limitations based on how it runs,” said the CEC noting that sometimes, money coming from the government arrive late, which is not good for such projects that involve perishables.

“We are also setting up a drying plant so that we can absorb as many mangoes as possible. There is a huge market for the dried mangoes, and we are exploring many more value addition techniques including the use of hot pepper on the dried mango crisps,” she told the AGRA and Bayer team, pointing out that one youth group is already exporting dried mangoes to South Africa and USA.

Dairy farming is another area that the county government is working on, though the facilities in place are not running at the moment. “We need support to boost fodder production. We also need involvement of the private sector to develop the required facilities, because we can still buy milk from elsewhere to be processed in our facilities,” said Ms Mutua.

Other areas of interest include scaling up of production and aggregation to bypass brokers who always take advantage to offer very poor prices. 

The county government is also planning to put up a testing facility because at the moment it is relying on the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and other facilities in Nairobi for testing, which takes a long turnaround time.

The county is in the process of putting up phase one of agriculture and food laboratory that will be able to test the soils, and the food laboratory that will support the angle of processing.

“We are also planning to put up an industrial park to be supported by aggregation centers. That is where we will do incubations like starter businesses, and host businesses that just need to run,” said Ms Mutua.

 “At the moment, we are not very industrialized as a county due to lack of infrastructure, such as electricity, water supply, sewage system among other amenities,” she noted.