AGRA’s vision is to drive inclusive agricultural transformation on the African continent, changing the lives and livelihoods of smallholder farmers. During our first decade, we focused on addressing barriers to providing farmers with the improved inputs they would need to boost productivity. This approach has limitations, of course. Change at scale requires systemic change – and systemic change demands a different lens and a broader scope of work. Starting in 2017, we began investing at multiple levels of the agricultural ecosystem, strengthening the key elements necessary for transformation.
At the national level, we work with governments to build momentum for country-led transformation. Globally, no agricultural transformation has occurred without a committed and capable state. This is foundational. With the right enabling environment, non-state actors – particularly agricultural businesses – can invest confidently in growth and serve as the engines of scalable, sustainable change. Absent this, meaningful progress becomes immeasurably harder. Thus AGRA collaborates closely with governments as they set agricultural strategy, plan and coordinate investments, update policy, and deploy resources.
We also recognize that agricultural transformation cannot be driven by AGRA or any other individual actor. The problem is too big, the underlying causes too complex, and the resource demands are too great. A broad range of partners is necessary to effect change, and they must be coordinated in a complementary to offer the right technical and financial resources, directed in the right ways, and deployed at the right time. Lack of information and a high degree of uncertainty makes this difficult. AGRA helps bridge this divide by leveraging our capabilities, connections, and convening power to build and expand partnerships on the continent.
AGRA’s investments in building capable states and strategic partnerships are to establish an environment in which the private sector can grow and thrive. The agricultural systems that farmers rely on – inputs, extensions services, distribution, and output markets – will only be sustainable if they are built around businesses that can offer goods and services in a profitable, scalable way. This requires the right enabling environment, of course, but it is also dependent on market conditions in which the private sector can confidently invest and expand. Uncertainty about the business case for producing certified hybrid seed or growing the agrodealer network or developing a new fertilizer blend can easily lead to a chicken-or-egg problem – and inaction. AGRA intervenes by taking a strategic, integrated approach – identifying the most impactful interventions for the local context, coordinating among the actors that can fill the gap, and selectively de-risking growth opportunities.
Highlights of our accomplishments include:
- AGRA went for scale as the only way to help catalyze inclusive agriculture transformation. It has succeeded, directly reaching 10.1 million farmers, with indirect reach of 16.8 million through our PSC work, and 2.3 million through our partnership work. This provides our gateway to impact – and AGRA has come through on its targets. While we await outcome survey data for 2021 and 2022, we have collected and analyzed available data and can conclude that we have supported and catalyzed change at farmer, systems, and national level.
- At farmer level, we have seen 62% of our supported farmers change their practice, largely due to our work at systems level. There is emerging evidence that farmers are adopting technologies, seeing increases in yields, bringing more produce to market, and increasing their incomes.
- AGRA has significantly strengthened input markets at systems level:
- The development of seed markets across AGRA’s countries of operation has led to increasing development of seed companies, Early Generation Seed, commercialization, and adoption.
- Investments in agrodealers and village-based advisers have seen farmers better reached, equipped and empowered. Evidence shows VBAs well along the path to sustainability, while data shows agrodealers sustaining their business, with steady or increased numbers of farmers supported, and revenue holding steady or increasing.
- AGRA demonstrated and used the powerful and systemic effects of consortia in creating a more vibrant private sector and delivering an integrated approach to 7.9 million (78%) of our farmers who were directly reached. Incremental investment of some $660 million (15x incremental capital) was tracked around our consortia investments.
- AGRA significantly catalyzed change through our PSC work, prioritizing successfully, and building important linkages with our work in systems and the private sector.
- As an African institution, AGRA has been established as a trusted go-to partner for governments across its areas of operation. It engages both widely and deeply, and has been able to document improvements due to its work with partners in supporting governments.
- The Flagship model of mobilizing governments to lead nationally prioritized investment plans has been successful. Design time has reduced, national ownership and prioritization has increased, and some $1.4 billion of resources have been mobilized.
- At policy level, AGRA was able to significantly support policy reforms at both micro and macro levels, guided by government priorities, and has seen reform implemented in 60% of its cases.
- Our regional food trade investments are leading to policy reforms to remove barriers to trade and new approaches to data, such as the Regional Food Balance Sheet. We have also supported improvement of market systems and off-taker engagement that more effectively connects farmers and structured trade opportunities.
- AGRA sees emerging evidence that its work in supporting partnerships is paying off, addressing barriers that hold back the sector. AGRA has worked with 100 institutions, leveraged $141 million, and worked with 875 SMEs. The AGRF deal room has been established as the preeminent platform for connecting investors and opportunities, with a 20-fold increase of capital sought by SMEs for example.
- AGRA has moved systematically from gender-neutral to gender-responsive programming. We supported some 3.5 million women farmers directly, with some countries seeing changes in practice by female farmers of 55%. We built the ‘Value for Her’ initiative into the pre-eminent gender platform for agribusiness. Much yet remains to be done in the area of inclusion, which AGRA will further expand in our next strategy.
As we assess AGRA’s work over the last four years, we see strong evidence to support continued emphasis on systemic change. We observe improvements in how governments set agendas, how agricultural businesses are growing and attracting capital, and how smallholders are farming and connecting to markets. We can see the importance of AGRA’s role as a credible African institution and voice that works effectively across these different levels of the ecosystem. There are many actors that we work with – implementers and service providers, multilaterals and financiers and donors, research institutions and industry bodies, private companies and public agencies – and our collective impact is enhanced as AGRA uses its unique position to convene, coordinate, and partner.
We also see a strong argument to continue investing to increase smallholder productivity. Too much of Africa’s growth in agricultural output comes from expansion of land under cultivation, rather than improvements in crop yield. Yet productivity remains low relative to the rest of the world, which means significant potential has not been tapped. Increasing productivity – rather than simply farming more land with low yields – will become more important as land pressures increase and expansion leads to environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. The evidence is clear: better seeds, better fertilizer – planted and applied as per good agronomic practices – will increase smallholder productivity. Embedding such changes means meeting farmer demand, not trying to force supplier-led change. AGRA’s market development work, including the scaling of village-based advisors and expansion of agrodealers – is thus designed to create a viable market that is self-sustainaing beyond our involvement. We know efforts to boost productivity should also be contextualized through local research and development, which is AGRA’s investments include locally-adapated seed varieties, domestic production of early-generation and certified seeds, and soil mapping – all steps towards fostering robust, domestic agricultural systems.
We acknowledge that we have much to learn. Our first ten years focused more narrowly on the inputs side of things – increasing the number of agricultural researchers, improving the supply of better seed varieties, changing farmers’ approach to soil management. Our evolution towards systems-level work meant stretching ourselves strategically and tackling bigger, more intractable problems. Not everything that AGRA has tried has worked, and the effectiveness of some interventions are yet to be validated. For example, we can see evidence that farmers we have reached are changing agronomic practices, but there is variance across countries. Not all farmers have moved out of subsistence into commercial agriculture, and adoption of post-harvest technologies is still modest. We have had success scaling extension services to last-mile farmers through village-based advisors (VBA), who are increasingly connected to commercial opportunities. However, we have had mixed results instutionalizing the VBA with local and national governments. Within inputs, we have strengthened seed systems across countries – and then seen some of these gains eroded with natural disasters and the COVID pandemic, indicating that greater business resilience must be built in. Part of the answer for both resilience and growth is access to financing, of course, but we are still in the early stages of testing out de-risking and blended finance innovations; we have not yet proven that we can mobilize capital at scale from financial service providers wary of risk in the agricultural sector.
In our state capabilities work, we have also learned important lessons. AGRA has taken important strides with national governments, but we see the need to add a more intentional regional and continental strategy. We have not always aligned effectively with stakeholders outside of agriculture, such as ministries of finance or presidential delivery units, or aligned our efforts with a given cuontry’s budget cycle or ROI expectations. Similarly, we have struggled in our policy work when we have not identified the right “champion” or when our timing has not matched with the right “window” for reforms. We have also concentrated much of our effort on seeds and fertilizer, but recognize the importance of investing in resilience, post-harvest systems, and nutrition, as well as incorporating a stronger climate adaptation and gender lens into our work.
We also recognize that AGRA has taken the first steps on important issues of sustainability and gender inclusivity, but we are at the start of a long journey. We recognize the threats to the unique landscapes and biodiversity of the continent and how climate change and environmental degradation will be particularly costly to smallholder farmers. Our investments in smallholder productivity also contributes a higher leaf area index, and we can estimate the resulting increase in carbon sequestration per hectare. Our work on soil health protects above- and below-ground biodiversity, and training farmers on integrated soil fertility management and targeted application of fertilizer helps protect it and embed sustainable practices. However, we acknowledge the need to do more – including improvements in water management, the integration of agroforestry trees, and use of minimum tillage and green manure cover cropping. Similarly, there is much more work to do to empower women. AGRA has shifted from a gender-neutral organization to becoming intentional and even transformative in our investments. Our efforts to improve opportunities for women farmers and women-owned/led SMEs are taking us in the right direction, but we also acknowledge that AGRA has much more work ahead to increase our impact in gender inclusivity.
As we look across AGRA’s areas of investment since 2017, we provide the logic for our interventions and emerging evidence for results; our focus is on systemic change, and measuring impact at this level is not simple. Helping a government plan and operate differently, building long-term partnerships, and revamping the systems that deliver key goods and services to farmers requires a long time horizon. There is not a simple metric to reflect the results, for example, of a policy change on agriculture businesses or its eventual downstream impact on farmers. Nevertheless, we have chosen to review what we have learned from the first four years of our strategy and to find evidence of our impact. In many cases, this requires looking at what we would consider leading indicators that are initiating change, but whose effects will only become evident with time. Policy reform, improvements in the delivery capacity of a government agency, or the establishment of M&E tools for the public sector are all critically important, but may not have an immediate payoff. New private sector investment that AGRA has helped catalyze is strong evidence for a business case to expand rice milling capacity or mechanization services, for example, but there are not immediate, direct effects on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
We also acknowledge that agricultural transformation is a fundamentally difficult challenge – eluding governments and development partners across the continent for the last 50 years. Deeply-rooted structural impediments impede the development of the sector, resulting in long term rural poverty and food insecurity. AGRA was created to help governments and farmers address these challenges, irrespective of the difficulty of doing so. As an institution of limited means, AGRA exists to help catalyze and support change. We have embarked on an extensive exercise of data collection at outcome level, but believe we need at least three years of outcome data to begin drawing conclusions, and even then, it will be difficult to account for the extensive externalities inherent in the rural and agricultural economy, beyond what AGRA is able to support with its partners.
This document has therefore been developed to gather and analyze existing data, with a number of proxy indicators that can be used that may indicate what change might be emerging at farmer, system and government level. This data can sometimes be limited, but we consider it best to present what we have available and engage in an open dialogue with partners and critics, even as additional data gets collected over time. Also, depending on the field of work, AGRA works with an extensive array of partners to achieve its objectives. Change is almost always attributable to these partnerships between national actors, and international actors such as AGRA.
Our objective in this document is not to claim that AGRA has gotten every strategy and decision right, but rather to reflect – and to invite others to engage in dialogue with us – on what we have achieved to date, what appears to be working, and where we are still learning.
Note on Data Sources
AGRA collects and analyses data through different sources. These include surveys of smallholder farmers, village-based advisers, agrodealers and other agricultural SMEs through targeted “rapid impact” studies, phone and in-person surveys, and longer-term outcome surveys. These surveys are conducted by third-party organizations including KIT Royal Tropical Institute, Ipsos, and GeoPoll and are generally focused on organizations and rural households that have been reached through AGRA’s interventions. AGRA invests significant resources to collect comprehensive, robust data across a very wide range of indicators that reflect the scope of our work on the agricultural ecosystem. This provides a broad base of data that allows for farmer- and system-level analysis and comparisons over time and across geographies. We have supplemented that in this report with program reports and case studies.
We acknowledge certain limitations in our data. First, as noted above, the long-term nature of systemic change means that not all of AGRA’s activities and outputs will manifest in clear impact in a short period of time. Further, we note that our strategy development did not suddenly cease in 2017 – some aspects of the strategy continued to evolve, so the timing of our baseline data varies across intervention areas. Second, the COVID pandemic slowed our data collection in 2020, and we believe it adversely affected both smallholder farmers and SMEs. Finally, we acknowledge that limited resources require us to maintain a narrow focus in our data collection to those geographies and communities where AGRA has invested. This means we do not have comparable nation-wide data that could serve as a counter-factual data set for the farmers, businesses, and other organizations that were outside AGRA’s focus areas.