AGRA is an African institution, founded and led by Africans and with roots across the continent. The organization was founded by former UN Secretary-General the late Kofi Annan with funding from multiple international partners, in response to the need for an African institution to drive agriculture transformation across the continent. At AGRA , we understand that African farmers need uniquely African solutions, designed to meet their specific needs and environments in order to sustainably increase production, and gain access to rapidly growing agriculture markets.
Our mission is to catalyse transformational change in agriculture across Africa, and to improve the lives of millions of smallholder farmers. Our three headline goals are: to directly reach 9 million farmers, to indirectly reach 21 million farmers with best-bet agricultural technologies and practice, and to help advance 11 countries on their inclusive agricultural transformation (IAT) pathways. We work with African partners, who identify and deploy approaches that are appropriate to the continent, and are alive the local context. We collaborate with African governments, with whom we partner and help them implement the priorities and policies contained in their national agricultural development strategies.
1. What is our approach to sustainably growing Africa’s food systems?
AGRA’s new five-year strategy aims to help governments tackle hunger and poverty by strengthening Africa’s food systems, that have been devasted by a decade of multiple crises. The need for this support is powerfully highlighted by a decade of multiple natural and manmade crises including famine, COVID, drought, fall army worm, climate change, soaring food, fertilizer and energy prices, and the crisis in Ukraine Africa needs home grown support to confront this challenge. AGRA is an African institution, fit for purpose, working for African smallholder farmers, following national priorities, supporting African governments that have responsibility for the development of their countries and people.
2. What are our current targets?
AGRA will focus on eight high level targets to help grow resilient food systems:
3. What were our achievements in the past strategic period?
In the strategic period 2017-21, AGRA’s direct contributions included:
4. How does AGRA work with the private sector, including multi-national corporations (MNCs)?
AGRA believes that a strong private sector is crucial for the development of the agricultural sector and ending rural poverty and hunger. The private sector is fundamental for innovation and R&D to flourish in establishing sustainable systems, by providing information and products to farmers that they can use to make informed choices. AGRA believes that African farmers should have choices and access to technologies that other farmers around the world take for granted. We help unlock the private sector by linking farmers, SMEs, national actors, and multinational corporations to give access to inputs and markets, and to help in building resilient food systems.
AGRA’s focus on the private sector has been with local home-grown SMEs as evidenced by the 119 seed companies established in 18 African countries since 2007. These enterprises have produced 847,655 MT of quality seed, which has benefited 25.1 million farmers. One advantage home-grown companies have over MNCs is that they produce seed from a wide range of crops grown by farmers e.g. sorghum, cow peas, rice, beans, soybeans and groundnuts.
AGRA’s primary focus is SMEs, often run by women entrepreneurs. We have supported the establishment, training, and certification of 40,000 agro-dealers, who make inputs available to farmers in mom-and-pop shops across AGRA focus countries. The distance travelled by farmers to get inputs has reduced from 30km in 2006 to an average of 10km as of 2020. The other category of SMEs we have supported and worked with are those involved in produce uptake and processing thus creating ready market for farmers.
AGRA works with African and global MNCs in two ways. First, we support national priorities to strengthen the policy environment for doing business in the agriculture sector. This includes policy reforms to streamline variety releases, seed inspection, certification, and plant variety protection.
Secondly, the organization also helps suppliers reach the agro-dealers and village-based advisors who work with farmers directly. These entrepreneurs distribute inputs and popularize technologies such as micro dosing to improve soil fertility and access to improved varieties of seeds; both interventions are designed to increase yields for farmers and promote sustainability.
5. How has thinking on food systems, environmental sustainability and agroecology helped AGRA to evolve its support to African farmers?
AGRA is a technical, knowledge-based organization that stays abreast of advances in scientific thinking and practice, and applies an adaptive and context-specific approach to its strategy. We consider our role as an African-owned and managed institution to be critical to taking the best global practices and applying them to individual country contexts This allows us to help countries avoid past development mistakes, and develop and roll out uniquely African solutions to African problems.
AGRA’s experiences from the field shows that farmers’ livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa can be transformed through employing four intertwined systemic investments namely: (i) optimized use and management of resources through agroecological principles; (ii) transformation from subsistence to profitable farming through improved market linkages and agroecology-friendly incentive mechanisms; (iii) improved last mile delivery using context-specific agroecological innovations; and (iv) promoting policies and regulatory mechanisms in favour of smallholder farmers and their service providers.
We use context-specific entry points to facilitate science-based system change, informed by emerging thinking on agroecology and resilient food systems. Our entry points, seeds, organic and inorganic fertilizers, help farmers to access drought resistant and nutrient dense varieties along with improved soil health practices that promote nutrient use efficiency, soil carbon build-up and sustainable farming, while addressing food security and income. This has resulted in about 2.27 million smallholder farmers adopting improved soil health practices on 1.8 million hectares of land. Farmers who used integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) technologies reported cereal yields of about 61% above those of farmers who did not use the technologies. Boosting fertilizer use in Africa by 20% is predicted to raise yields of rice by 5.1%, wheat by 11%, and maize by 9.9%. This would permit 2 million hectares of currently cultivated land to be set aside for reforestation, thus sequestering carbon (Vlek et al. 2017).
6. How have incomes and yields increased as a result of AGRA interventions?
AGRA believes that smallholder farmers are the key to sustainable development by ending hunger and rural poverty in Africa. We fully support the targets of African governments to double yields, alongside the relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Agricultural transformation is challenging, due to deep rooted structural and historical reasons. Change takes time.
We focus our support on input and output markets, extension services, policy reforms, directly or indirectly through partnerships with both public and private sector all aimed at ensuring farmers get better yields, food security and incomes.
Increase in yields
AGRA’s 2019 Outcome Surveys by the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) put the adoption of maize related improved technologies in AGRA countries of operation at over 80% on average. In Nigeria, the report noted that there were yield improvements in maize by 40% over the 2016 baseline. In Mali, there was a 67% increase in cowpea yields over the 2016 baseline.
As yield trends can fluctuate sharply from year to year, for example with droughts, floods, fall army worm, locust infestations, and climate field conditions, we are reluctant to draw conclusions from this data until we have an additional two years of data for comparison. However, using data from FAO tracking rice and maize yields, Jayne and Sanchez (2021) argued that countries that were assisted to develop seed systems managed to increase yields.
Invested Countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia.
Non-Invested Countries: Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Guinea, Togo.
It is important to note that with the COVID-19 interruptions, data was not collected in 2020 as planned. We will be reporting on the outcomes in AGRA focus countries as our teams resume data collection through the first half of 2021.
Case studies show that yields can double if input and output market systems are fixed. We have observed remarkable results when farmers can access the right kinds of seeds, fertilizer and knowledge, as well as access to markets. The challenge for AGRA and its partners is to help develop these resources at scale and make them sustainable.
Have incomes increased?
Of the 10.14 million farmers reached directly, evidence from our outcome panel surveys shows 76% of them are using improved technologies/management practices on average across focus crops; 38% are using improved seed, 70% are using inorganic fertilizer, 47% are applying organic fertilizer, and 31% have access to formal financial services. We expect that the projected increase in yields will be a positive influence on incomes and food security over time.
AGRA is depending on multi-year income and food security data and cannot yet draw conclusions on how farmers are being affected in this way. However, farmer surveys show increases in production and surplus. Between 75% and 96% of AGRA farmers in the last year reported surpluses, with up to 30% of them showing reductions in post-harvest losses, and 30-60% of surpluses being sold. At least 67% of AGRA-supported farmers reported increased incomes since 2017 as a result.
7. How has AGRA supported governments at the national level to reach smallholder farmers?
AGRA significantly catalysed change through our Policy and State Capability (PSC) work, prioritizing successfully, and building important linkages with our work in systems and the private sector.