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Regional Report - Africa
Mr. Ivan Asiimwe, UCA (Uganda)As leaders gather in Kigali for the Forum’s Africa meeting, the continent’s economic growth is once again top-of-mind. And if we are going to talk about economic growth, we must talk about agriculture.
With 70% of Africans dependent on agriculture for livelihoods, the sector is critical to the economies of all African countries. As a sector its growth is central to increasing prosperity, food security, industrialization, intra-African trade and to bolstering Africa’s contribution to global trade.
Governments, donors and private organizations all recognize the importance and potential of agriculture in building sustainable, inclusive economies. With continued investment, smallholder farmers can improve their livelihoods and experience the direct effects of this growth.Such investments stand to have the most profound impact if directed towards technology.
Technology is not just about ICT or mobile access, but frankly any tool that makes work or life easier, and makes us better informed – after all, even the wheel was a game changer in its day. Mobile technology on the continent is already having a positive impact on smallholder’s livelihoods: cell phones allow them to carry out business without mediators, open bank accounts only they can access, receive market and trade information, and access agriculture extension services and training that governments may no longer provide.Yet when it comes to introducing technology to their planting, harvesting and storage practices, many farmers stick to the traditional approaches passed down through generations. Sometimes it’s a simple lack of awareness that prevents a change. Whatever the cause, the gap between what farmers have and what they could be using to dramatically improve their livelihoods is persistent – but not insurmountable.
Let’s look at Tanzania, where the past 12 months yielded a bumper crop of maize. Safe storage was in great demand to keep the harvest in good condition so that it could be sold over time, free of rot or pests.Last year, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), with support from The Rockefeller Foundation’s agronomist expertise, trained 2,000 farmers – who had grown 1,425 metric tons of cereal – on different techniques for reducing post-harvest loss. They focused on simple storage technologies, including hermetic cocoons and bags, metal silos, and polypropylene storage bags. This February, they unveiled the maize that had been stored for six months using these technologies – and all were in good condition.The much welcome outcome translates to more sales and greater incomes for the farmers, and better nutrition for their families and communities.
In other words, technologies – even simple ones like metal cocoons – stand to dramatically alter the future for farmers on the continent. Notably, prior to the AGRA training, more than 50% of the farmers they reached used sacks to store grain, or had no storage at all. Others used plastic containers, or custom-made mud-walled structures, baskets and other traditional methods, all leading to a 30-40% loss of their stored grain. Eliminate those losses, and you change the game.
So what’s next? We can get these simple technologies to more farmers is we can invest more in local fabrication, coupled with better distribution. Which is where the private sector has a very important role to play.
Smallholder farmers are the backbone of the sector. When they have what they need to make their hard work pay off, we are all better off, because we will be able to feed the continent sustainably for posterity. The power of technology in farmers’ hands will yield countless dividends. It is up to us to ensure farmers know about them and can afford to use them.
The vast majority of the continent’s populations living in the rural areas also live in extreme poverty. The enhancement of sustainable agricultural and rural development is therefore fundamental to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa, particularly the eradication of hunger and poverty.
Africa is endowed with a wide diversity of agro-ecological zones. These zones range from the heavy rain-forest vegetation with bi-annual rainfall to relatively sparse, dry and arid vegetation with low uni-modal rainfall. This diversity is a tremendous asset, but it also poses a substantial challenge for African agricultural development.
On the one hand, it creates a vast potential with respect to the mix of agricultural commodities and products which can be produced and marketed in domestic and external markets. On the other hand, the diversity implies that there are no universal solutions to agricultural development problems across the continent. Consequently, programming and implementing interventions in the sector must be tailored to the particular conditions of the different agro-ecological zones and to prevailing socio-economic conditions of rural households within individual countries.Over the last three decades, increases in agricultural output in Africa have come largely through extending rain-fed crop cultivation, particularly food crops, on to more and more marginal soils and/or by reducing traditional fallow periods in cropping cycles.
Under conditions of rapid human population growth, rural households have been forced to adopt agricultural practices that guarantee their survival. Unfortunately, raising the productivity of crop enterprises through intensification per unit of land cultivated -- i.e., through increasing crop yields per hectare - has not been adequately promoted as an important household food security strategy.Apart from commercial agriculture which covers a relatively small share of crop production, the use of agricultural inputs - that is, improved seeds, inorganic fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides -- has been much lower in Africa than in other parts of the developing world. Inorganic fertilizer use is often less than ten kilograms of nutrients per hectare. Use of agro-chemicals and/or integrated pest management techniques to deal with plant diseases and pests is still largely confined to export crops.
Continuous expansion of crop cultivation has been done at the expense of the natural resources. One consequence has been the accelerated destruction of forest resources by land clearing and over-exploitation for fuel-wood and other household uses. Another, more subtle effect, has been the deterioration of livestock farming as larger and larger areas formerly allocated for dry season grazing are put under the hoe and plough. Over-exploitation of fisheries resources has been a serious problem where common resources are exploited for private gain. Lack of adequate regulatory provisions and, where present, their ineffective enforcement have resulted in catch declines and have severely challenged prospects for adequate stock replenishment in the future.
Collective action is the core resource of agricultural cooperatives. Cooperatives create social relations that enable individuals to achieve goals that they may not otherwise be able to achieve by themselves. For example, cooperatives can help farmers benefit from economies of scale to lower their costs of acquiring inputs or hiring services such as storage and transport. Agricultural cooperatives also enable farmers to improve product and service quality and reduce risks. They may also empower their members economically and socially by involving them in decision-making processes that create additional rural employment opportunities, or enable them to become more resilient to economic and environmental shocks.Agricultural Cooperatives
Agricultural cooperatives enable producers to realize economic benefits that they could not otherwise achieve alone. Groups of agricultural producers improve their bargaining power in the marketplace, reduce costs by pooling capital and resources through cooperative enterprises, and make expensive services, such as marketing, that are unavailable to individuals accessible. Through cooperatives, farmers can achieve economies of scale, by reducing the unit costs of inputs and services, enabling farmers to focus on producing goods rather than finding buyers and suppliers.Cooperatives also enable farmers to improve product and service quality and reduce risks. Agricultural cooperatives can allow farmers to address common problems, develop new market opportunities or expand existing markets. Agricultural cooperatives empower farmers and improve their position in the marketplace.
The objective of a possible committee (to be set-up in WFO) in charge of cooperative affairs could have the following objectives:
• Increase the competitiveness of cooperatives around the world in the current international context; especially by strengthening their position in the agri-food chain.
• Lobby decision-makers for a pro-cooperative policy environment at national and international levels: governments should ensure a level-playing-field for cooperatives, regarding trade policies, financial policies and legislation in all affected areas.• Strengthen the competitive position of cooperatives in the respective markets, where they are operating: education and training for members, staff and leaders of cooperatives; cooperative governance, stability of membership, and countervailing power of coops.• Strengthen the link between agricultural cooperatives, society and consumers.
Cooperatives in Malawi.The number of registered cooperatives in Malawi has increased more than seven-fold the past two decades from 138 in the mid-1990s to 1192 in 2014. Agricultural cooperatives are the majority (56.1%), followed by SACCOs (28.2%) and multi-purpose cooperatives (15.7%).
AFRA Regional Strategic Cooperative Framework (2014–2018)
The AFRA Regional Strategic Cooperative Framework (RCF) is the principal planning tool for setting regional cooperation priorities and developing AFRA regional cooperative programmes. The present document, adopted by AFRA Member States in September 2012, covers the period 2014–2018. The RCF represents the frame of reference for the formulation of the AFRA regional programmes and is used as the main modality to strengthen the planning and programming of AFRA regional projects.