Building Shared Understanding:
Clarity on problems but not solutions
Whilst stakeholders emphasise different priorities depending on their relative point of view, a broad consensus exists on the challenges facing Africa’s agricultural economies and smallholder production specifically, with a great deal of research available.
However, how to fundamentally change the dynamics is less well understood amongst protagonists. Positively, partnership models are being embraced to commercially develop value chains and wider market systems; and approaches to land tenure reform are tested, even if political will is hard to secure.
A big puzzle remains how to lift smallholder incomes meaningfully. Pockets of success exist, but evidence of impact at scale is hard to find. Related to this, there are few answers on how to economically empower women in agriculture, who are the majority of farmers, often the poorest and offer the best development returns. With farmers and agribusinesses struggling to succeed season to season, their adaptation to the longer-term threat of climate change is often weak.
Joint ambitions need translating into action
In 2014, the African Union’s Malabo Declaration committed the continent to achieve compelling goals for agriculture by 2025 – from six percent sector growth to ending hunger. A multistakeholder, market-driven, inclusive, evidence-based, country-led approach to reach these goals is clearly defined by the CAADP country guide.
The majority of countries and Regional Economic Communities have, or are updating, Agricultural Investment Plans that set their priorities and implementation modalities aligned to Malabo goals. Country Agribusiness Partnership Frameworks are structuring cross-sector partners around strategic value chains and committing them to act in concert, albeit not yet at adequate scale.
The architecture for accountability is centre around annual Joint Sector Reviews inviting cross-sector partners to examine progress at country-level. These reviews intend to feed up to Africa’s performance review and scorecard for agriculture, comprising the ‘Biennial Review’, through which the African Union presents country progress to Heads of Governments. This creates peer pressure and aggregates for regional performance reviews so as to prompt action on shared barriers.
A huge challenge remains in ensuring all this goal-setting and process-planning translates in to action. The Malabo goals, scorecard and review processes often have low visibility at country-level and barely register on the political radar for international partners. Efforts are underway to change this. National implementation is compromised by resource and capacity gaps that undermine cross-sector collaboration.
Changing the Dynamics
Diverse interventions, but what works at scale?
A cornucopia of initiatives, investments and policy reforms are undoubtedly reshaping Africa’s food systems. Land reform, trade facilitation, disease management, post-harvest loss reduction, financial risk-sharing, mobile ICT, value chain partnerships… all promise positive impacts within a busy landscape.
What is unclear is how to achieve impact at scale. The average value chain partnership reaches thousands of farmers, but initiatives need to reach tens of millions. New jobs are getting created but are not keeping pace with the youth entering employment markets.
Policy reforms to promote inclusive growth can have sector-wide impact but rarely respond to market needs and are inconsistently implemented. Blended finance shows promise but is under-resourced and the pipeline of investable companies is thin. New technologies, such as mobile platforms to serve smallholders, are exciting for their potential exponential growth, but as yet such innovation is weakly supported within the sector. If realised, the African Free Trade Area, championed by AU Chairperson Paul Kagame, could offer a huge boost to agricultural trade and the resilience of food markets.
Established platforms need to drive collaborative action
At continental-level, there are mature platforms for partners to engage on key issues. The AU Summit engages Heads of Governments. The CAADP Partnership Platform brings together government, donors, regional farmer organisations and NGOs to learn and review progress against the Malabo agenda. The African Green Revolution Forum offers the largest open platform for cross-sector exchange. The Grow Africa Investment Forum facilitated an action-oriented cross-sector process that successfully engaged investors and agribusinesses, and now the African Development Bank will fill this gap by co-convening an Africa Investment Forum.
Historically, these platforms have been vital to agenda-setting. The challenge is now to transition them into vehicles that drive and incentives implementation and practical collaboration. Also, they have focussed on agricultural growth, whilst parallel initiatives have dealt with related challenges such as nutrition through the SUN Initiative, or climate change through CSA Africa. Bridging these silos could offer an integrated agenda for food system transformation.
At country-level, coordination of multistakeholder collaboration is highly variable and often under-resourced. Strong examples exist, such as Ethiopia with a CAADP country team that links across Ministries, collaborates with the Donor Working Group, convenes a dedicated private sector engagement group, and is supported by the specialist Agricultural Transformation Agency which facilitates collaboration on anchor initiatives such as Agricultural Commercialisation Clusters. Elsewhere, coordination is often most effective within concrete value chain partnerships, such as the Farm to Market Alliance.
Information flows need to reach frontline change-makers
ReSAKSS, a specialist agency, provides impressive support in tracking performance against the CAADP Results Framework in order to feed the Malabo Biennial Review. However, it reaches a narrow audience of policy-makers interested in long-term progress and high-level accountability. It is not designed to serve leaders working at the frontline of change, and who seek learning and innovation on practical challenges such as disease management, aggregation models or land tenure.
The most frontline of change-makers are smallholders themselves, but they face enormous asymmetries in accessing information. Farmers are much more likely to invest successfully in their farms where mobile ICT and business skills training enables them to make more informed decisions. Increasing amounts of market, finance, and agronomic data are available, but work is needed to develop digital platforms that integrate this and provide access at scale to farmers and agribusinesses.