Integration and scale: Transforming the livelihoods and lives of smallholder farmers in Africa
AGRA’s 2019 annual report is out. Read it here – https://agra.org/ar-2019/
Last year, after six years at the helm, Strive Masiyawa, outgoing chair of AGRA handed the reins to H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn. As a former PrimeMinister of Ethiopia, he is more aware than most of the transformative effects of agriculture on a country’s economy. Ethiopia was once synonymous with drought and hunger – an estimated million deaths were caused by the 1980s’ famine – it now has a thriving agricultural sector and was declared food self-sufficient in 2016. As his excellency says, if it is possible in Ethiopia, it is possible anywhere.
Climate change and population growth remain threats, and now a global pandemic can be added to the list of challenges facing the continent. COVID-19 has yet to deliver the same devastation delivered to other regions, but if some predictions are right 190 million Africans could fall victim to the virus in the next 12 months. Although crisis response is not a core part of AGRA’s work, to avoid the potentially disastrous impact of the virus on food systems, AGRA engaged governments early in 2020 to ensure food insecurity will not rise, consistent with 2019’s focus on resilience. As AGRA continues to build systems to counteract natural disasters and climatic events it responded to outbreaks of Fall armyworm in Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mozambique and Ghana, plus desert locusts in East Africa and Cyclone Idai in Mozambique.
AGRA is well placed to confront these challenges. In the next decade, they aim to get Africa’s agriculture system to work sustainably without external interventions. To do so it will continue the partnership model it has pioneered, bringing together governments, NGOs, the private sector and farmer organizations. The new Strategic Framework 2030 will scale,accelerate and create conditions for agricultural transformation. Meanwhile, four years into its five-year strategy, integration is at the heart of everything AGRA does – multiple systems working together to deliver fertilizer, seeds and knowledge to smallholder famers. Three pillars remain at the core of its strategy: state capacity, supporting governments to create enabling environments in which agriculture and farmers can thrive; systems development, from technologies to village shops, to ensure farmers get the products and services they need; and partnerships to accelerate investment and innovation. AGRA is unlocking scale and plugging gaps in Africa’s agricultural systems, bringing services ever closer to farmers.
In just five years, integration has halved the distance travelled by farmers to access inputs. It has gone beyond program implementation, moving away from short-term projects focussed on funding and outputs, to a long-term strategy that drives systemic change. In 2019, AGRA carefully assessed how integration is working with a number of studies and confirmed its agribusiness platforms are generating investment in soil facilities and seed production, giving greater access to credit, creating opportunities for SMEs and its national flagship programs are helping governments to unify disparate activities.
In 2019, AGRA reached over 4.5 million farmers, 32% were women, made $139 million of grant investments across 11 countries, leveraged $800 million in private capital and made 62 new grant commitments totalling $27.5 million. Meanwhile, it reached 1.5 million farmers through digital finance initiatives, supported production of 21,230 MT of certified seed that went to 849,200 farmers, and identified and trained 15,193 new village based advisers to reach over 4.5 million farmers. Overarching all this, AGRA engaged all 11 focus country governments in policy landscaping and benchmarking exercises.
Last year, Ghana hosted the 9th African Green Revolution Forum, the continent’s premier agriculture event. Its Agribusiness Deal Room continued its success by supporting new business deals and saw 117 SMEs seeking $800 million in capital engage with more than 40 investors and financial institutions through 350 scheduled meetings.
AGRA continues its policy to decentralize by deploying staff closer to farmers and markets. 61% of that staff are technical – 211 in total – and there is a continued focus on women who now represent 35% of its beneficiaries. Although this is up 5% on the previous year, it is acknowledged there is still some way to go before that percentage correlates with the numbers engaged in agriculture. Kenya’s phone-based access to credit for agriculture scheme saw 54% of $9.38 million of loans it facilitated go to women, and in line with their stated objective of including more young people in agriculture, 52% of these loans were to the under 40s.
There is no doubt that agriculture remains Africa’s surest path to economic growth. AGRA has an important role to play. In the words of its president, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, “it reaches and enables the disenfranchised, bolsters fragile states and systems, and helps to build a more sustainable world”. AGRA drives the bulk of its investments Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA). The founding members of the partnership include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has recently joined the partnership, bring greater focus on regional food markets and food trade through policy predictability and market systems development. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, BMZ, is currently a non-voting member and a resource partner, co-financing AGRA’s strategy in Burkina Faso and Ghana.