Regional Hub partners AGRA and UNDP support RFS country projects in developing resilient and sustainable value chains, a key avenue for establishing more sustainable livelihoods and reducing food insecurity in smallholder communities.

In Africa’s drylands, small-scale farming is characterised by low productivity and financial returns. Smallholder farmers primarily produce food for their families and their local community. They operate within informal ‘short’ agri-food value chains, selling crops, livestock, and other raw materials, either directly or through middlemen, to small local off-takers, such as stores and consumers.

The income from these short value chains is inconsistent, and opportunities to grow and expand into other markets are few and far between.

Gaining entry to higher-value informal or formal agri-food value chains can put a small-scale farmer on a different track. The development of new agri-food value chains, or expansion or formalisation of existing value chains can expose smallholders to new markets, opportunities to pivot to higher-value crops, new skills and technologies and greater income security. 

The bottom line? Value chains are essential components of food systems. By integrating the green value chain development approach within food security projects and programmes, we can better identify barriers to smallholder development and leverage opportunities to improve the incomes and lives of small-scale farmers.  

In line with this understanding, Resilient Food Systems (RFS) has been integrating a cross-cutting value chain approach across all 12 country projects. Regional Hub partners, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), provide guidance and technical assistance to country projects in support of the development of resilient and sustainable, or ‘green’, agri-food value chains. Their support will span the entire duration of the RFS programme. 

‘Green’ agri-food value chain approach helps food security initiatives achieve the ‘triple bottom line’

‘Greening’ refers to the transformation of a process or practice towards a more holistically sustainable and resilient outcome. Green agri-food value chains proactively promote the sustainable use of natural resources to mitigate adverse environmental impacts on the landscape and generate positive results for nature and communities. A resilient and sustainable food value chain considers proper disposal and recycling of by-products and waste. It has a plan for recapturing value at every stage to reduce negative environmental, socio-cultural and economic impact overall.

By promoting the development of ‘green’ agri-food value chains, RFS aims to increase economic opportunities, introduce innovations in production operations, upgrade technologies and practices, and integrate smallholder farmers into upstream value addition activities.

Transformative interventions using the green value chain approach can contribute to the ‘triple bottom line’. Interventions can lead to improved human wellbeing (economic impact) and social equity (social impact) while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities (environmental impact).

For RFS projects, adopting a ‘green’ agri-food value chain approach means designing and implementing interventions that address challenges within specific agricultural production and post-harvest links, from input suppliers to end markets.Combining economic objectives with environmental and social goals and an enabling operating environment enhances the quality of smallholder livelihoods and aligns food system transformation with broader sustainable development goals.

AGRA and UNPD are supporting the development of sustainable and resilient agri-food value chains in 12 African countries

RFS Regional Hub partners AGRA and UNDP have supported country projects in developing resilient and sustainable value chains since the programme’s start. In September 2019, the two Regional Hub partners hosted a regional training workshop, which focused on formally introducing the green agricultural food value chain concept to RFS country project teams in Nairobi, Kenya. The event’s purpose was to find entry points for country project teams to identify and apply green value chain practices and technologies to priority crop and livestock farming operations, raise awareness of the need to make food value chains more sustainable and resilient, and, importantly, identify value chain greening training needs.

Thirty people attended, representing Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Malawi, Senegal, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The trainees attended sessions on integrating climate-smart agriculture into value chains, building community resilience and adapting to climate change. At the end of the training, each country project developed specific action plans for greening their three priority food value chains.

With the knowledge gained from the initial training session and further country project engagements, UNDP and AGRA developed a training manual to help guide RFS country teams as they work to green food value chains. The guide aims to build value chain actors’ capacities and analytical skills, focusing specifically on encouraging smallholder producers and support service providers, such as farmer extensionists and marketers, to embrace food value chain greening.

The manual blends best practices and lessons learned from projects, programmes and initiatives that promote resilient and sustainable food value chain development in Africa. It will help country teams implement a holistic approach to agricultural productivity and agribusiness development in their smallholder farming systems and improve the health of their ecosystem.

In May and June 2021, AGRA and UNDP hosted a second round of targeted training to promote value chain greening with the aid of the manual. The three sub-regional training sessions were preceded by a pilot training in December 2020, which was attended by four country project teams: Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Eswatini. Each sub-regional training focused on building country team capacity to develop multi-stakeholder platforms (MSPs), identify priority value chains actors, and develop action plans. AGRA and UNDP covered all aspects of green value chain development, from mapping the value chain to financing its “greening”.

RFS awards three grants of USD 200,000 to organisations working to develop and strengthen green agri-food value chains in Sub-Saharan Africa

Complimenting their capacity-building efforts, AGRA and UNDP invited applications from experienced, competent and interested applicants for sub-regional catalytic grants for green agri-food value chain development in April 2020. AGRA and UNDP requested proposals addressing critical resilience, sustainability, production and marketing constraints affecting selected regional staple food crops and livestock.

AGRA and UNDP received sixty-three (63) value chain greening concept notes from interested organisations across the 12 RFS countries. The RFS partners shortlisted nine (9) concept notes for further development into full project proposals.

RFS ultimately awarded grants to three organisations: Kilimo Trust, covering Tanzania and Uganda; the GRAD Consulting Group in Burkina Faso; and African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnerships in Malawi and neighbouring countries. To learn more about the grant recipients, download the most recent RFS knowledge brief, which provides an overview of the three innovative value chain greening projects and documents the AGRA-UNDP approach and grant process.

Over the next 18 months, the grant recipients will work with over 40,000 smallholder farmers to strengthen agri-food value chains and integrate natural resource management into food systems in West, East and Southern Africa. The grants will support the adoption of climate-smart agriculture, provide labour-saving agricultural inputs and services to smallholder producers, build agricultural centres for aggregation and processing, facilitate trade agreements, and improve producers’ access to finance. 

As these three projects progress, AGRA and UNDP will produce knowledge products to communicate valuable lessons learned, experiences and knowledge that will help inform the implementation of RFS country projects and, more broadly, projects and programmes that focus on improving smallholder production and resilience across the African continent.

To keep up to date on project progress, sign up for the RFS newsletter for critical insights and stories as the awardees begin their work to upgrade agri-food value chains and, as a result, establish more sustainable livelihoods and reduce food insecurity in smallholder communities.

Originally published