Change Initiatives

Africa: Inclusive Agricultural Growth

How can African agriculture sustainably nourish a growing population, whilst lifting millions of rural producers out of poverty?

The Challenge

Diverse issues face the sector. Farm productivity is low. Supply chains and markets are weakly integrated. Farmers struggle to access vital services. Land tenure is insecure. Investment capital is expensive and in short supply. Climate variations increase risks. Ecological pressures are growing. Policy is unpredictable and out-dated. With roughly two thirds of Africans as smallholders, these dynamics lock many in poverty.

Yet we are in an era of optimism. Since the food crisis of 2008, political leadership and commercial interest has rallied to the sector. Urbanisation and a new middle class are providing attractive domestic markets. New technology, policy reform, and investment flows are unlocking opportunities for the 60 percent of Africans whose livelihoods depend on the sector.

Cross-sector partners must collaborate. Farmers, agribusinesses – small and large, consumer goods companies, financial bodies, tech players, government agencies, regional institutions, donors and NGOs, all have a role to play in transforming food systems across the continent.

Resolve is needed to change underlying dynamics. Downward pressure on farm-gate prices is sustained by fundamental power imbalances as smallholders engage with markets. Knowing their vulnerability, many are cautious about investing in their farms, which grow 80 percent of Africa’s produce.

Inclusive and sustainable growth is possible. Stories of innovation and entrepreneurialism abound. Indicators in many countries show positive trends. Wasafiri holds great hope that family farms can thrive in vibrant agricultural economies that serve diverse markets with nutritious food.

The State of System Change

Using our Systemcraft Framework, we offer our assessment on the quality of collective efforts to transform agriculture in Africa; and ask “what next?” to maintain progress.

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.

Securing Commitment:

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.

Enabling Coordination
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.

Augmenting Learning:

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.

What Next?

Over the last decade, protagonists of Africa’s agricultural transformation have become much better organised, informed and resourced, and Wasafiri is proud of its role in supporting this journey. The work is by no means done though, so what should protagonists focus on next? A major shift is needed from agenda-setting and process planning, towards delivery and learning; and we believe the following interventions offer immediate opportunities to further strengthen efforts towards inclusive agricultural growth:

1. Galvanise leadership through the Biennial Review.

The Malabo agenda will only be achieved if political leaders feel strong accountability and therefore push for sustained change. The Biennial Review offers a unique and pioneering mechanism to promote peer pressure amongst Heads of Government, regional leaders, and the international community, but it is not yet fulfilling its potential. Advocacy and communications work is needed to cultivate African leadership, popularise performance reviews, and drive collective performance and delivery.

2. Invest in Value Chain Partnerships as engines of action

Value chain partnerships offer a foundational building block from which to build out systemic change. It is here that farmers, businesses, government agencies and their partners find common incentives to actively collaborate. It is here that structural bottlenecks are identified so as to prioritise system-wide efforts to improve the enabling environment through policy reform, innovation or public investments. Private actors are rarely able to resource the coordination work required to establish and facilitate such partnerships. Donors and governments should commit more resources to specialist bodies like the SAGCOT Centre who can do this work.

3. Promote learning on how to increase smallholder incomes

Increasing smallholder incomes is the most basic measure of success for inclusive agricultural growth, and yet we have only have thin evidence on how to do this at scale. More academic research is valuable but not enough. The priority is galvanising action learning, in which cross-sector partners are experimenting, sharing challenges and successes, and pushing for scale. AGRA, IDH, Grow Africa, the Sustainable Food Lab and the World Economic Forum have all supported such efforts to date, as well progressive companies like Mars, SAB Miller, and Yara. Double down on this work, make it even more tangible, and connect it through a shared learning platform.

4. Establish an Open Data Platform for Smallholders

Mobile ICT innovations are increasingly serving farmers with everything from price data, to agronomy, trading, and disease warnings. Data from these farmers can also be used to help them secure more affordable loans or insurance. The scale and utility of these services is limited because the technologies are not integrated, and the options are confusing. A standard farmer ID and open data platform could unlock a systemic leap forward in such services. Tech partners need convening with farmer organisations and supporting NGOs to develop and roll-out such a platform and overcome the current huge asymmetries in data access as farmers engage with markets.

Our Experience

For nearly a decade, Wasafiri has played an instrumental role in cross-sector collaboration to transform African agriculture. This has included:

  • Helping establish the Africa-wide architecture and networks through which governments, companies, donors and civil society are collaborating on agricultural transformation
  • Facilitating public-private partnerships within value chains and market systems that offer commercial and developmental returns
  • Reviewing social impact investments
  • Enabling peer learning and innovation on inclusive business models
  • Structuring community engagement for investments with complex environmental, social and governance risks

Through our experience we have helped the major players in the agriculture sector in Africa to connect across the public, private and third sectors to advance their strategies. Clients include USAID, World Economic Forum, DFID, GIZ, Rockefeller Foundation, Rwandan Government, Save the Children, IDH and Swiss Re.

Tools & Resources

Africa’s Goals for Agriculture

The Malabo Declaration sets out ambitious targets for inclusive and sustainable growth of its agricultural economies. Endorsed by Heads of State and build from extensive stakeholder consultation it provides a mandate for change up to 2025.

How to Develop and Implement a National Agricultural Investment Plan

The AUC and NEPAD offer guidance and support on how African countries can play their role in achieving Malabo goals through a national plan that is owned and delivered by cross-sector partners. This integrates historic work by Wasafiri to negotiate how donors, governments, Non-State Actors and businesses would collaborate and hold each other mutually accountable at country and continental-levels.

How to Establish Flagship Agribusiness Partnerships in Support of National Plans?

A Country Agribusiness Partnership (CAP) Framework is a tool to support a country’s flagship agribusiness partnerships. It funds effective coordination. It generates a roster of cross-sector commitments for investment and policy change. It facilitates learning and mutual accountability for partners. Here’s the guide developed by Wasafiri for Grow Africa and NEPAD.

How to Forge Country Partnerships to Transform Agriculture?

In this guide, our client, the World Economic Forum, shares their practical insights from catalysing agricultural partnerships across 19 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

How to Deliver Services to Smallholders?

Developed by Wasafiri for Grow Africa and IDH, this paper shares pioneering insights on how to commercially structure service delivery to smallholder farmers so they grow and prosper.

Business Skills for Smallholders Offers Income Growth

Training subsistence farmers to think like business people can decrease costs and risks; and increase profits and investment. This paper prepared by Wasafiri for Grow Africa and AGRA shares how.

The Role of Companies in Supporting Income Resilience in Smallholders

Progressive off-taker companies are building income resilience or financial stability for their farmers as a prerequisite to developing a more robust and regular supply chain for their own operations. This paper prepared by Wasafiri for Grow Africa and AGRA shares how.