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    It has been a remarkably year, 2016, with its attendant successes and failures for peoples, industries and nations. More remarkably, it has been a year of great technological strides and achievements with technologies that provided avenues to solving big problems and opening up opportunities, ranging from self-driving cars to Advanced Robotics, Improved Data Science, Genomics, Improved Solar energy technologies etc.

    Agricultural stakeholders and technology enthusiasts in Africa also witnessed the introduction of the Zenvus Technology, a unique innovation from a team of highly talented individuals led by Prof. Ndubuisi Ekekwe driven to exploit the ever burgeoning power of technology and science to revolutionize farming output efficiency and productivity in Africa.

    4ecd56cc-c17f-46dc-aafb-a127af6f5006_111_20161212_foto1kl_Ghana maize afflicted by numerous stresses PhotoMarloes_van_Loon_WUR“Zenvus is an intelligent solution for farms that uses proprietary electronics sensors to collect soil data like moisture, nutrients, pH etc and send them to a cloud server via GSM, satellite or Wifi. Algorithms in the server analyze the data and advice farmers on farming. As the crops grow, the system deploys special cameras to build vegetative health to help detection of drought stress, pests and diseases. The data generated is aggregated, anonymized and made available via subscription for agro-lending, agro-insurance, commodity trading to banks, insurers and investors”, Prof Ndubuisi Ekekwe.

    The Zenvus technology among other things would allow farmers and stakeholders make informed decisions by providing real time data for the farmers and stakeholders thus eliminating guesses on timing, procedure and crops for farming. Indeed, as the American Data Scientist W. Edward Feming quipped , “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion” we have long continued to rely on opinions and poor forecast to make decisions on Agricultural investments and this has taken a toll on agricultural yield. The technology also provides data analytics that relate information on possible outbreak of pests and diseases in farms which usually reduces yield, allowing farmers to initiate preventive measures.

    This is a timely innovation for an industry that has been tipped to boost many economies in Africa with many African leaders pledging commitment towards Agriculture in the present and future. It is a peerless stride in an industry seldom associated with innovation in Africa. However, as continuous push is being made for a deeper penetration of mechanized farming in Africa, it is necessary to remind ourselves that Agriculture has remained an industry driven by innovation and technology in the developed societies. Agricultural yields have been maximized through innovation, technology and science as demonstrated by countries like Israel. In the economic account of Israel in their phenomenal book, Start-up Nation, the authors recounted that President Shimon Peres had asserted that Agriculture is ninety-five percent science and five percent work. This drove his underlying commitment for innovation in Agriculture which saw Israel increase its agricultural yield seventeen times within twenty-five years.

    The promise of this innovation is apparent and its impact is scalable and measurable. Little wonder that within months of its introduction, the technology was a finalist of the 2016 Singularity University Food Grand Challenge and have been featured in many leading technology reviews. The technology has also recorded noteworthy milestones within the last 6 months of launch, such as a grant support from Facebook to develop the artificial intelligence which will power farming decision making via Zenvus Bot which is on beta at the moment.

    The technology has also been quickly adopted by leading Agricultural stakeholders and policy proponent in Africa. For instance, Zenvus will begin piloting its technology for African Development Bank which wants to deploy it across all farms it is providing funding. The Bank of Agriculture, Nigeria is also adopting Zenvus as the technology platform to drive agricultural innovation in Nigeria. More recently, Zenvus have signed a contract with an African farm union to support 12.2 million farmers from 2017.

    Nonetheless, more commitment would be required by the government and its attendant social institutions across Africa towards delivering needed incentives that can encourage and support more farmers in integrating this technology to increase crop yield.

    As Professor Joel Mokyr noted in his book, The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress.

    …to encourage technological creativity and innovation in a society, …three conditions have to be satisfied,… there has to be a core group of ingenious and resourceful innovators who are both willing and able to challenge their physical environment for their improvement,… Secondly, economic and social institutions have to encourage these potential innovators by providing the right incentive structure and thirdly such society most encourage diversity and tolerance.

    The team at Zenvus technology has done an exceptional job in developing this technology; it would be great if such technological creativity comes under the aegis of the governments and agricultural stakeholders in Africa who can devote resources towards scaling this technology for farmers because of the positive impact on farm productivity accruable to this technology. This could hold the key to more productive farming in Africa from 2017 going forward.


    Kingsley Egbo, a Commonwealth Scholar writes from the UK

    Digital Media for Africa Agribusiness Magazine by Alex Hitzemann 



      Untitled-5Women dressed in vibrant African fabric are sprinkled across fields of tea, coffee and banana trees. This is Tanzania, and these women are the caretakers of the land – and of their families. And yet, for women like Isabella Mwile, hard work in the field and raising children doesn’t necessarily make her a partner at home. Traditionally in Tanzania, men are the decision makers. However, in Isabella’s village of Mbaka, in Rungwe district, these traditions are changing.

      In January 2015, leaders of Mbaka village acknowledged Isabella’s leadership qualities and selected her to attend an Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) training-of-trainers course on women’s’ and girls’ leadership in agriculture. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, the IGE program facilitated this session with the goal of  improving community members’ knowledge and understanding of issues that are critical for women’s empowerment in Tanzania.

      During the three-day training, Isabella learned about the benefits of expanding a women’s role inside and outside of the home. Like how two heads are better than one when it comes to decision making on raising children or household finances. And how important it is to raise boys and girls equally. She also
      learned about how much value a woman can bring to a community organization or government position.
      I was most surprised by the fact that I could be independent from my husband. I realized that I could contribute to our household income by starting my own business of selling cereals, rice and beans,” says Isabella. She went home to share what she learned with her husband. He was supportive. In fact, he was proud of her new found confidence and relieved to have a second opinion, and a second income.

      Since 2012, IGE has trained 443 people like Isabella to become trainers of women’s empowerment and gender equality in their communities. And, over 3,900 women and 1500 men have joined groups to learn about the important role women can play in their homes and communities.

      After her training, Isabella formed the Upendo group to share what she learned. For the last two years, they have been meeting every Thursday to discuss how they are incorporating the lessons of gender equity into their lives.

      One woman joined the school board and plans to run for district office next year. A few women share about the benefits of joint household decision making. One woman speaks about how her son and daughter now have equal access to education – and are doing the same household chores. Several women have been empowered to start their own business. And one woman, a widow, is now confident to fix up the house, taking charge of repair projects that her husband used to see to. The stories
      vary, but each has a common theme. As Isabella puts it, “Our confidence is growing. We are helping each other improve and take care of ourselves. We no longer depend only on our spouses.”

      Since the first meeting in 2015, Isabella’s group has grown from 20 to 50 members – including both women and men. “Neighboring communities are taking notice, they admire us and want to join. Our women members are known for our matching skirts! We have applications for 10 more members,” she says. Attendance is 5,000 Tanzanian shillings (2.50 USD) a week – and the money goes to a group loan system. Members can take out loans to buy supplies for their farm, or to provide temporary support to support one another during family emergencies.

      As their weekly meeting ends, the women and men of Upendo joyfully sing a hope for their future in Kiswahili, “Waking mama tusonge mbele, tusirudi nyumbo…” In English, this means, “Mothers let us move forward, we should not go back…” Thanks to people like Isabella, Mbaka is making progress.

      “I was most surprised by the fact that I could be independent from my husband. I realized that I could contribute to our household income by starting my own business of selling cereals, rice and beans.”

      ALG Estates manages their whole citrus supply line from the orchard to the retailer. This provides work for 120 full-time employers and a further 800 seasonal workers for 8 months of the year.

      ALG Estates manages their whole citrus supply line from the orchard to the retailer. This provides work for 120 full-time employers and a further 800 seasonal workers for 8 months of the year.

      By Alex Hitzemann

      Currently, South Africa’s racially selective Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy utilizes a points system to award economic advantages to businesses with a significant percentage of black ownership and/or management. The policy has gone through several major revisions and has been a flash-point for debate in South African political theater. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) projects in the South African agricultural sector have an alarmingly high failure rate.

      However, a BEE citrus project in the Upper Olifants River Valley near Citrusdal in the Western Cape has proved to be an exception. Cedar Citrus started in 1999 due to unique co-operation between 32 of ALG Estate’s farm laborers, where every individual received his own share of Citrus land. ALG Estates is a family operation of 6 farms producing some 18,000 tons of citrus a year mostly for the export market.

      In the first year more than 24,000 trees were planted by Cedar Citrus and a further 12,000 where planted in 2002. Cedar Citrus started making a profit in 2010. In 2012 it paid off its startup loan to the Industrial Development Council and is now expanding its operations with the purchase of additional farm land.

      The Western Cape government awarded Cedar Citrus’ good performance over the years with a sprayer, 4 crate wagons, a trailer and recently this brand new John Deer tractor.

      The Western Cape government awarded Cedar Citrus’ good performance over the years with a sprayer, 4 crate wagons, a trailer and recently this brand new John Deer tractor.

      During 2015, the company exported 1,500 tons of citrus from their production unit of 36 hectares realizing a total turnover of R12 million for the year.

      In their next move towards more financial independence the workers jointly decided to plough back their profits and extended their operations by purchasing additional farmland to plant more citrus for the export market. 92 hectares of additional farmland has therefore been purchased on which new citrus orchards will be established.

      This of course was only made possible being part of a bigger organization such as ALG Estates. Their employer is an established citrus exporter. “Constant mentorship combined with in-house training and being part of an established value-adding export chain are the necessary ingredients for success in an operation such as this,” says Gerrit van der Merwe, CEO of ALG Estates.

      “Cedar Citrus is managed as one of our production units that receives continual expert external advise from professional entomologists and horticulturalists that specialize in citrus management. This is essential for pest and disease control as well as general orchard health. We also handle all their admin such as HR, financial administration and record keeping. External chartered accountants audit the company annually.


      Cedar Citrus directors Lena September and Dirk Dirks at a dam under construction which will supply irrigation water to their new 20 hectares citrus block.

      Cedar Citrus directors Lena September and Dirk Dirks at a dam under construction which will supply irrigation water to their new 20 hectares citrus block.

      “All 32 shareholders are furthermore employed in our various operations such as production, processing, packaging, marketing and general administration. Three of the shareholders occupy middle management positions while two are directors with executive powers. This ensures that they grow with our own operation and establish their own independence.

      “Over the last few years the Cedar Citrus patch of 36 hectares coincidentally turned out to be the most lucrative of all the production units on our six farms. They produce mostly popular soft citrus varieties such as Morr and Orr as well as navels, which are exported to North America, Europe and sold locally to the Woolworths supermarket chain. We are especially pleased that the 32 shareholders of Cedar Citrus jointly decided to waive their profit payouts from the company and rather re-invest it in the expansion of their own operation,” says Van der Merwe.


      Gerrit van der Merwe and his son Gerrit Junior who is in the process of taking over the reigns of this family-run operation going back some 250 years. The estate is the second biggest citrus producer and exporter in the Western Cape region of South Africa.

      Gerrit van der Merwe and his son Gerrit Junior who is in the process of taking over the reigns of this family-run operation going back some 250 years. The estate is the second biggest citrus producer and exporter in the Western Cape region of South Africa.

      The first phase of the company’s extension on the newly acquired land will be to plant 20 hectares of new popular varieties for the export market. This necessitates infrastructure such as a farm shed, farm manager housing on site, electricity, drainage, water supply and a pump house to irrigate the new orchards. It takes five years for a newly established citrus orchard to get into full production and ten years to make a profit on the initial capital outlay. The Western Cape government awarded Cedar Citrus’ good performance over the years various rewards such as 4 crate wagons, a trailer, and recently a brand new John Deer tractor.

      “Cedar Citrus is one of the best performing projects of its kind in South Africa and the envy of many farmers country-wide. Not only is the project a financial success, richly compensating the beneficiaries, but a very good example of how BEE schemes should be implemented and managed in South Africa. Congratulations to Gerrit and his team at ALG Estates on this beautiful project,” says Charl Senekal, the country’s largest private sugar producer and chairman of Pro-Agri Forum the exclusive club of former South African winners of the Farmer of the Year Award.

      Anthony Penderis on behalf of ALG Estates produced this report. Some portions were edited for publication in Africa Agribusiness Magazine by Alex Hitzemann

      Gerrit van der Merwe: 082 569 8787; gerrit@algestates.com
      Anthony Penderis: 084 306 0331; anthony.penderis@gmail.com

      Walki has developed a new fibre-based soil mulching solution that is completely biodegradable. This organic mulch type, which is used for weed control and to optimise soil conditions and crop yield, is the first of its kind on the market.
      Tests have shown that Walki’s Agripap is not only easy to lay on the fields and delivers excellent weed control, but also offers benefits in terms of yield and durability. © Walki

      Tests have shown that Walki’s Agripap is not only easy to lay on the fields and delivers excellent weed control, but also offers benefits in terms of yield and durability. © Walki

      Walki, a leading global producer of technical laminates and protective packaging materials, has developed the first-ever organic mulching solution that is based on natural biodegradable fibres instead of plastic. Mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of an area of soil. It is designed to conserve moisture, improve the fertility and health of the soil and control weed growth. Soil mulching also reduces the need for pesticides, fertilisers and irrigation.

      Traditionally, soil mulching materials have been made from plastic, and, most typically, from polyethylene film. While effective, plastic mulch is not biodegradable and eventually becomes waste material that has to be removed from the field and dumped or recycled at a high cost.

      It is estimated that more than a million tonnes of plastic films are used for mulching every year around the world. In addition to having to be collected from the fields, the mulch often leaves behind plastic residues, which pollute the soil and reduce its future growth potential. Yields from polluted soil are typically up to 20 per cent lower than those from non-polluted soil.

      “Walki’s Agripap solution is the only organic mulch type on the market that is made from paper instead of plastic. It is entirely biodegradable, does not contribute to plastic pollution and, instead, simply dissolves into the soil. It also reduces the need for the chemicals used to control weed growth,” says Walki’s Vice President Technical Products, Sales & Marketing, Arno Wolff.

      Walki®Agripap is made from kraft paper that is coated with a biodegradable coating layer, which slows down the degradation of the paper. Without the coating, the paper would degrade in the soil within a few weeks.

      Walki’s new organic mulching solution has been the subject of extensive field-testing in Finland. The tests, which were carried out in 2016 by independent research institute Luke Piikkiö, compared the performance of different biodegradable mulches for growing iceberg lettuce and seedling onions. The tests demonstrated that Walki’s Agripap was easy to lay on the fields and delivered excellent weed control. The results in terms of yield and durability were also good.

      “Having seen the kind of environmental impact that plastic film can have on the soil, Walki has understood that there is a need for a more sustainable mulching solution. Walki®Agripap is the perfect alternative for the farmers who care about our environment,” says Peter Martin, Technical Service & Development Director, Industrial Packaging.

      Following the successful testing and approval of Agripap in Finland and Sweden, the next step will be to complete testing in Europe’s main mulching markets: Spain, France and Italy. Farmers and equipment manufacturers wishing to participate in testing Walki’s new organic mulching solution are encouraged to get in touch with Arno Wolff.

      For more information, please contact:

      Arno Wolff
      Vice President Technical Products, Sales & Marketing
      Tel. +49 170 31 9140
      e-mail: arno.wolff@walki.com

      Walki in brief

      Walki Group is a leading producer of technical laminates and protective packaging materials, specializing in the production of fibre based, intelligent, multilaminate products for markets ranging from energy saving construction facings and construction membranes to barrier packaging applications. The Group has plants in Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, the UK, Russia and China with a workforce of about 900 people. Annual net sales for the Group are over 300 million Euros.


      Africa Agribusiness Magazine Media by Alex Hitzemann

      By Nawa Mutumweno

      Of all Zambia’s economic sectors, agriculture holds more promise than any other in the country’s march to economic diversification.

      Since mining, the country’s prime industry, is a wasting asset, it is important more than ever before, to explore sectors that are sustainable to wean the country from the copper spoon it was born with.


      Zambia’s has 40 percent of the water resources of the entire southern African region. Of the 58 percent arable land, only 14 percent is currently cultivated. In real terms, this means that of 42 million hectares, only 1.5 million hectares is farmed each year.

      The agricultural sector employs 85 percent of the population and makes up around 20 percent of overall gross domestic product (GDP).

      Food Processing

      Food processing represents an outstanding investment opportunity in Zambia due to vast natural resources, extensive arable land, ample water and investment incentives and many joint-venture options.

      The Zambia Association of Manufacturing (ZAM), says despite its strong performance, the country’s food-processing industry has achieved only around one-quarter of its capacity and potential so far.
      ‘’There are vast opportunities for more investments in most sub-sectors of Zambia’s food-processing industry, for both small-scale and large-scale projects,’’ ZAM says.

      15092305657_d0d17e2311_zHigh potential sub-sectors encompass growing and processing oil seeds; downstream processing of meat and dairy products; producing palm oil; manufacturing soy-based food products; million wheat, rice and maize to produce flour; producing juices, carbonated drinks, beer and other beverages; processing groundnuts; producing ketchup and other tomato-based products; roasting and grinding coffee beans; processing cassava, pineapple, mangoes and sugar cane; producing dried fruit and processing fish to exploit Zambia’s vast fish resources.

      Other investment opportunities include producing tinned foods, confectionery, bread products, honey and cheese.

      One example of potential food –processing projects in Zambia is COMESA’s Regional Investment Agency (RIA) promotion of a greenfield project to build pineapple –canning factories in the north-western part of the country

      Mwinilunga district in the province has been ranked as Zambia’s best location for pineapple production. In the 1990s, a pineapple processing facility in the area produced around 11,368 tonnes

      from 1,421 hectares of pineapple plantations. The facility was later closed down. The planned new plant is expected to produce about 12,000 tonnes of processed pineapple per annum.


      In diversification away from maize, one of the sub-sectors which is being promoted is aquaculture. In August 2015, the Government launched a $10 million privately-owned fish farm, Yalelo. The firm, located on the shores of Lake Kariba in southern Zambia, already produces 6,000kg of tilapia daily.

      In a deliberate effort to increase domestic fish production, the Government is encouraging private investment.


      The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) recently received $400,000 to support the growth of the leather sub-sector in Zambia and three other member countries.

      Zambia has the potential to grow its leather value chain to half a billion dollars a year if all hides are transformed into finished products. The state has also agreed to waive taxes on leather production machines and equipment to further enhance growth.

      Farm Block Development

      In a bid to grow the agriculture sector, Government is developing the Farm Block Development Programme with vast opportunities for investors. Ten farming blocks have been identified (one in each province).

      ‘’The Nansanga Farming Block in Serenje, central Zambia, is the most advanced, with roads constructed and power connected. We have already allocated pieces of land to small-scale and commercial farmers. We are in the process of awarding 10 000 hectares of land to what is referred to as a core venture,’’ Minister of Agriculture, Given Lubinda said.


      Zambia’s future indeed lies in agriculture and President Lungu’s administration has emphasized its determination to pursue an agriculture-led economy through the rolling out of irrigation schemes and other innovations throughout the country.
      Speaking during the launch of the construction of the $28 million Mwomboshi Irrigation Dam in Chisamba, central Zambia recently, President Lungu reiterated his commitment to diversifying the agricultural sector.

      ‘’The construction of this dam gives a practical expression of my Government’s resolve to put agriculture at the centre of our economy. Irrigation farming is an act of diversifying the sector away from rain-fed agriculture, President Lungu said.
      Currently, the construction of dams is underway in Lusitu (Chirundu) and Musakashi in Mufulira district.

      ‘’We aim to have over 75,000 hectares by 2030. To achieve this, Government will ensure adequate funds for irrigation development annually. Currently, K56.7 million has been set aside for irrigation in the 2016 national budget,’’ he pointed out.

      Key players in Zambian agribusiness

      These include, inter alia, Zambeef Products, Zambia Sugar and the Zambia Breweries Group, a subsidiary of South African giant SABMiller, one of the world’s largest beer manufacturers.


      Zambia must take action to invest in industrialization in order to be competitive and take advantage of the business opportunities in the region, Zambeef Joint Chief Executive Officer Dr Carl Irwin told delegates at the fifth Zambian International Investment Forum (ZIIF) this week.

      “Zambeef strongly believes in Zambia’s potential to feed itself and the region given its abundant resources; good soils, climate, readily available as well as the ability to produce most crops given the right investment. But only in adding value to our produce can we fully realise the sector’s full potential,” said Dr Irwin, who was speaking at the opening of the high-level conference, which was officially launched by H.E. the President, on. Edgar Chagwa Lungu and attended by Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Hon. Margaret Mwanakatwe.

      Dr Irwin highlighted some of the benefits of focusing on value adding operations and the opportunities presented for the national economy; increased national food security, social development in rural areas, job creation, and tax and duty generated as result.

      Zambeef alone has generated US$220 million in revenue for the financial year 2015 and US$38 million of foreign exchange income for the nation; invested more than US$150 million in the last eight years; employed more than 6,000 staff and contributed US$18 million in tax and duty paid to the Zambian government

      Zambia Sugar

      Margins in both the regional and EU export markets are expected to remain under pressure from surplus sugar stocks on the world market. Realization in these markets will continue to be influenced by exchange rate movements.

      Zambian Breweries

      Zambian Breweries and National Breweries are among the largest buyers of maize, barley, cassava and sorghum in the country.
      The group purchases a significant quantity of raw materials locally. A total of 40,000 tonnes of maize is bought from small-scale farmers for use in the production of opaque and clear beer.

      The group has engaged close to commercial farmers in the growing of barley, with a planned annual uptake of 12,,000 tonnes. In 2015, two small-scale barley outgrower pilot programmes have been introduce with a view to further expansion

      More than 10,000 tonnes of sugar were consumed towards the manufacture of non-alcoholic drinks.
      A further 1,750 tonnes of sorghum was used in the production of its affordable Eagle lager, with a direct impact on 3,500 households in the year to March 31, 2015.

      From 2015, the company introduced cassava into its Eagle lager formula. It is now developing an end-to-end supply chain supporting small-scale farmers in Northern and Luapula provinces, and with innovative technology will deliver a high quality, affordable clear beer that will grow to become a leading brand within the company’s portfolio.

      Zambia’s agriculture is on the rise and is changing many lives in various corners of the country.

      As the Ministry of Agriculture rightfully acknowledged: ‘’Agriculture is the only sector that assuredly alleviates poverty in the country. The focus is to grow this industry that is the future of the country.’’

      Article written  by Ray Mwareya, 14 November 2016

      Africa Agribusiness Magazine media by Alexander Hitzemann

      Reckless inbreeding, spurred by ignorance, almost wiped off cattle, goats and sheep stocks in Zimbabwe´s rural provinces.

      In the words of Mr. Max Makuvise, co-founder of Makera Cattle Company, an entrepreneur who is at the forefront of reviving the country´s beef cattle herd, the calamity that chopped off Zimbabwe´s cattle head can be described in one word “inbreeding!”

      Rural farmers, especially women, watched in dismay as calf births plummeted to an average of 25 kg, drug resistant sheep diseases mutated, and dishonest merchants dangled exploitative prices like $80 per heifer bull.

      Thanks to a critical intervention by global Irish Aid and GOAL charity, and indigenous startups like Makuvise, pedigree cattle bulls have been introduced to farming cooperatives in rural Zimbabwe.

      The results are astonishing and instant.

      makera-cattleNewly birthed calves have seen their weight shoot to 45 kg! Goat stocks have multiplied into hundreds, entrepreneurial female farmers are stocking up to $50 000 in saving clubs, commercial beef corporations are offering lucrative prices again, villagers are selling livestock as community cooperatives, and spreading the income into pharmaceuticals or growing legumes like lablab, velvet beans to supplement stock feed.

      We sit down with Mr. Max Makuvise, the beef entrepreneur, who says an $80 000 seed grant from Zimbabwe largest bank, mentorship from Zimbabwe´s top finance regualator and strategic collaboration with multilateral organizations such as Irish Aid has sparked his efforts to return the country to the status of “the beef capital” of Southern Africa.
      Between him and his partners Mr. Petrus Erasmus, they claim to have 50 year’s livestock experience. “Through Coopers Animal Health, which we are both directors of, we also bring over 100 years of animal health experience to the party.”
      “We began this in 2004 with a “pedigree Tuli cattle herd,” he begins.

      Why this specie of cattle?

      Zimbabwe government’s aggressive seizure of white owned commercial farms beginning in 2001 provides a clue.

      “The Tuli cattle herd specie became available as it was being sold by a friend who had lost his farm. He was winding up operations, and had already moved them onto our farm with a herd of Herefords specie for safekeeping. Naturally, he was looking for a buyer. We took an interest in them as they were indigenous breed and are known to be very fertile.”

      Zimbabwe was facing world record hyperinflation from 2004. Beginning operations was a nightmare until intervention came. “The initial cost was approximately US$80,000. We received help from a bank through Mr. John Mangudya, who is now the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.”

      He says Zimbabwe beef industry, formerly the darling of European Union importers and restauranteurs, has changed beyond belief today.

      “Our beef industry has been rebranded in the last fifteen years. Historically, white owned commercial farms accounted for the largest output. Interestingly, rural small cattle farmers are the mainstay of the country beef supply today. It´s a revolution.”

      “I think now it is important to allow rural farmers the ability to manage their cattle both as an economic, commercial asset.”

      Mr. Makuvise and his company are walking the talk in their passion.
      “We train rural farmers to be para-vetenarians who treat their own sick cattle, equip them with tools to monitor market prices, provide breeding literature etc.
      Funding is ours, complemented by the donor community. An informed farmer brings increased genetic cattle sales.”

      “We upgrade Para vets through refresher courses.”

      He smiles and reveals, “The term Para is being changed to Primary Animal Healthcare worker.”

      Mr. Makuvise who manages over 200 bulls in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and will over the next few months be completing the training of 10,000 farmers in Primary Animal Healthcare.
      He thinks Zimbabwe´s beef industry need to gaze long into the horizon and avoid rapid consumption culture. “We a great deal of emphasis on the farmer not just worrying about markets. Our rural farmers need to be able to present the best possible product that they can to the market to maximize their earning capacity. Cattle sales must be a purely commercial decision not motivated by desperation and hunger.”
      One way his company is doing this, is through science and genetics. “We are producing world class genetics through our breeding business, for use in the community / rural livestock projects. We deploy bulls for Artificial Insemination, so the rural farmer can obtain healthier breeds of cattle.”
      “On science are carrying out trials on feeding of crop residues in winter as for supplementary feed cattle in hot summers.”

      The offspring, bred from science, is spread wide, to obtain maximum results. “Our customers are any farmers that have cows that need to breed, universities, commercial farmers and of course rural farmers.”

      Zimbabwe with its grim economy, characterized by vanishing US dollars and runaway industry closures, presents obstacles, when it comes to critical cattle feed.
      “Yes, cattle feed is sourced from local players and is not hard to find. However, it is rather expensive comparing to regional countries like South Africa, Botswana, Zambia.”

      Electricity, a key component to run beef abattoirs and raise calves, is a vanishing product in Zimbabwe, but Mr. Makuvise counts his luck this year. “2016 has been very good with virtually no power outages for the last 10 months.”

      Makera Cattle Company is not all beef and bones. Milk, once a mainstay of Zimbabwe´s dietary economy before a catastrophic fall to just 22 000 cattle in 2010 from 110 000, is in their sights too.
      “We have have embarked on a project to grow a milk collection centre in conjunction with Zimbabwe´s agriculture ministry. We lecture 23 dairy cows on primary animal healthcare, the right ration to feed their animals etc. It´s a pilot program.”
      His mind is disturbed by the ever present threat of foot and mouths infections that can ground beef farms. Since 2001, the country lost its lucrative quota of 9000 tons to the European Union.

      “True, foot and mouth diseases are hampering Zimbabwe´s ability to export beef. Government is battling to regulate the movement of live animals. We see room to partner with authorities.”

      In conclusion, he says climate change and drought – a menace looming on Zimbabwe – is forcing him to distinguish their programs from other beef entrepreneurs.

      “We insist on productivity not merely increasing herd sizes. Our competitors are preaching the doubling of family herd sizes. We think this is an error. This puts a strain on the environment at a time Global Warming is ravaging pasture grass and natural water streams in Zimbabwe.”
      ABOUT THE WRITER: RAY MWAREYA is the Africa Correspondent for the Global South Development Magazine. Twitter: @rmwareya

      For media and advertising inquired contact Alexander Hitzemann at alex@africaag.org

      Vongai Musembwa’s eyes light up as she scoops up healthy white grains from a metal bin she uses to store newly harvested maize. Happily, they’re free of a naturally occurring poison — aflatoxin — that can contaminate crops in the field, before or after harvest and during storage.

      The metal silo protects the grains from aflatoxin — produced by certain fungi that grow on food crops like maize, millet, sorghum, groundnuts, cassava and rice.

       Farmer, Vongai Musembwa from Makoni District in Zimbabwe stores her maize grain in a metal silo, an effective method in preventing aflatoxin contamination, Photo credit, Busani Bafana

      Farmer, Vongai Musembwa from Makoni District in Zimbabwe stores her maize grain in a metal silo, an effective method in preventing aflatoxin contamination, Photo credit, Busani Bafana

      Ms. Musembwa is one of more than 260 smallholder farmers in Makoni District, east of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, who have switched to non-chemical hermetic storage to prevent food from contamination. Musembwa received her metal silo from a local organization, under a multi-partner project seeking to prevent aflatoxins contamination of maize grain.

      The Makoni District farmers are participants in a two-year project worth $1.6 million supported by the Cultivate Africa’s Future programme, an initiative funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research. Under the project, Zimbabwean farmers are given access to metal silos and thick plastic “superbags” to determine if improved storage can reduce aflatoxin contamination in local maize grain.

      Crops contaminated by aflatoxins develop moulds and acquire a dark colour. Livestock and humans can fall sick or die after eating contaminated food grains. It has also been linked to childhood stunting, liver cancer and immune suppression in adults.

       Scientists warn that extreme weather is increasing the level of health-damaging toxic chemicals in crops, including staple foods which are key to food, nutrition and trade security in Africa. To protect themselves against extreme weather, plants generate aflatoxins, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

      “Aflatoxins are pervasive in African food systems negatively impacting health of women and children, income from agriculture value chains, and food safety and security of nations,” says Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, a senior plant pathologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), where he guides research and development activities on crop diseases and poisonous chemicals produced by certain fungi known as mycotoxins.

      Bandyopadhyay, said people fall sick, farmers lose income, grains are destroyed, food prices soar, profitability of animal industries declines, reputation of African exports are tainted and nations become less food secure due to aflatoxin contamination.

      “Aflatoxin contamination presents a barrier to trade and economic growth and is a serious obstacle to programmes designed to improve nutrition and agricultural production while linking smallholder farmers to markets,” Bandyopadhyay said. “The extent of contamination varies by seasons, crops and regions and can be anywhere from none to 100% and often hovers around 25%.”

      Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the AUC’s commissioner for rural economy and agriculture said curbing the menace of aflatoxin contamination was critical to improving child and maternal nutrition and health as well as achieving Africa’s goal to transform its agriculture.

      Farmers are particularly vulnerable to fungal poisons, according to a 2015 baseline study to reduce maize-based aflatoxin contamination and exposure in humans in Zimbabwe by researchers from the University of Zimbabwe and the international humanitarian organization, Action Contre la Faim.

      Dr. Loveness Nyanga, the project principal investigator and researcher at the University of Zimbabwe, notes that the high-level of aflatoxin contamination is a public health concern because Zimbabweans eat maize and legumes on a daily basis.

      The existence of aflatoxins has other consequences to Africa’s economy. The continent is losing more than $450 million annually when its commodities are rejected on global markets because of high contamination levels, says the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), an initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC) whose aim is to protect crops, livestock and people from the effects of aflatoxins.

      The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) confirmed that aflatoxins affect 25% of the world’s food crops and hurt trade. About US$1.2 billion is lost in global commerce annually as a result of aflatoxins, according to IITA. While the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) notes that the World Food Programme has sharply reduced the quantities of maize it has been able to buy locally in Africa since 2007 because of aflatoxin contamination.

      Africa also faces a health burden associated with humans’ exposure to contamination.

      Harming our health

      An estimated 26,000 people die annually in sub-Saharan Africa from liver cancer resulting from chronic aflatoxin exposure, according to a 2013 research by IFPRI.

      Globally, 5% to 30% of all liver cancer cases are linked to aflatoxin exposure, with the highest incidences occurring in Africa, according to the Platform for African-European Partnership on Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD), an eight-year project sponsored by the European Commission.

      In Mozambique, a high prevalence of liver cancer in southern part of the country has been associated with consumption of aflatoxin contaminated food, especially from groundnuts.

      Sustainable solutions

      Cultivate Africa’s Future is one of several ongoing efforts to contain aflatoxin contamination. If experiments with the plastic “super bags” are effective against contamination, they will be a highly sought after item by Zimbabwean farmers who lose up to 30% of harvested maize every year to pests and poor post-harvest handling.

      More than $50 million worth of maize, the staple food, is lost annually during storage alone, says Ringson Chitsiko, the permanent secretary in Zimbabwe’s ministry of agriculture.

      To fight aflatoxins contamination and maintain food quality and safety, scientists recommend an integrated approach, including, among other techniques, timely planting and harvesting, proper plant density and managing insects. This is in addition to crop rotation, shelling, enhancement of proper plant health and nutrition, rapid drying of grains in the sun for days, or with driers to reduce the moisture content and proper storage.

      Bandyopadhyay leads Africa-wide efforts on the development and scaling-up of the aflatoxin biocontrol technology known as Aflasafe, a novel biological product developed by the IITA to fight pre-and post-harvest aflatoxin contamination.

      Already the IITA has a programme to develop Aflasafe in Malawi where between 40% and 100% of the country’s groundnut-based commodities contain unsafe toxin levels. Aflasafe has also been tested in Burkina Faso, Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal since 2009. About 30,000 farmers in Nigeria, Senegal, The Gambia and Kenya are using Aflasafe and getting 200 to 500% return on investment, Bandyopadhyay said.

      Tanzania in June 2016 announced that it was undertaking field trials in the use of Alfasafe targeting four regions. A 2012 study in Tanzania established high incidents of aflatoxin contamination in maize and groundnuts in the country.

      The Africa Aflatoxin Information Management System platform spearheaded by PACA is creating a “one stop shop” database for aflatoxin-related information in the health, trade and agriculture sectors as a way to raise awareness and prevent contamination.

      The Aflasafe product has been registered in Senegal and Gambia where aflatoxin contamination is a major deterrent for groundnut exports. Bandyopadhyay said aflatoxin exposure in humans is rampant in West Africa with the toxin found in the body fluids of 100% Senegalese and The Gambian people in a few instances.

      In 2005 the World Bank estimated that investments in aflatoxin control can add $281 million to the Senegalese economy from increased export volume and price differential of aflatoxin-safe crops.

      A key impediment is the level of aflatoxin awareness among farmers and consumers. Because of poor policing of food safety standards in many African countries, researchers say that many people eat contaminated foods, especially the staples such as maize, legumes and groundnuts, without checking for signs of aflatoxins.

      Researchers at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi- Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in  June 2016 announced the decoding of the DNA of the ground nut or peanut (Arachis hypogaea), an oil and protein rich crop of global importance with the annual production of 42.3 million metric tonnes.

      Rajeev Varshney, the Research Programme Director- Genetic Gains at ICRISAT said in an online interview that groundnuts, though an important crop in terms of nutrition and income in Asia and Africa, face low productivity as compared to Americas. The current pace of developing improved peanut varieties and their productivity may not be able to meet the demand of ever increasing global population, especially in Asia and Africa where in some countries productivity is less than one tonne per hectare. According to the FAO, the world average productivity of groundnuts is 1, 6 tonnes per hectare.

      Varshney said the gene resources generated through this breakthrough provide an opportunity for scientists to prepare an efficient road map for developing improved groundnut varieties with increased productivity and quality.

      “Peanuts produced from African countries and India have high level of aflatoxin contamination,” said Varshney. “This makes peanut produce unsuitable for export to Europe and Americas. Therefore it is really important to work in the direction of producing varieties with minimal aflatoxin contamination.”

      Manish Pandey, a groundnut genomics Scientist at ICRISAT said the availability of the DNA sequence will accelerate basic research to answer important biological questions about groundnuts and help crop improvement programmes around the world.

      Interview with Dan Glickman, vice president and executive director of the Aspen Institute Congressional Program

      Co-Chair, Agree, Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (1995-2001)

      By Dave Ramaswamy, Africa Agribusiness Magazine

      Dave:   Dan, if you look at American foreign policy, our focus over the past 15 years has been around national security, terrorism and issues related to that, fighting battles, and exercising military options. Food insecurity, especially in Africa and the Middle East, is both a cause and consequence of conflict. Going forward, how do you think food policy can integrate itself into national security, especially with respect to Africa?

      Dan:     It’s a complicated question, but a couple of things. The problem with food policy is that there’s no stability in it. One year you may have surpluses, low prices, lots of rainfall, and fairly free flow of markets working well. Like this year and last year — prices are lower, supplies are higher, and there seems to be less of a problem in getting food in the developing world. So food security in the short term isn’t as bad as it was, let’s say, five, six, seven years ago, when we had shortages, very high prices, and very volatile prices that caused food riots in Tunisia, Egypt, and other places.

      I’d say there are three parts to this problem. One involves anything we can do to build much greater agricultural self-sufficiency — no country is totally self-sufficient. We’re always going to need aid and trade. The extent that we can build agriculture systems, small-holder farmers being able to produce more, that’s a big part of the problem and it’s also a part of the solution. That’s what the US had been trying to do, and this Feed the Future Initiative is to help countries become more self-sufficient. The ability to produce more food, build infrastructure systems, storage, all the kinds of things that you need to deal with the thing. That’s one issue.

      The second issue is aid. There’s no question that humanitarian assistance is still important and required, especially when there’s famine or drought — or in places like Syria or Yemen, where there are just political catastrophes. The U.S. had been the leader in that effort, but now you’re beginning to see more countries [offering assistance]. You got to have a system of humanitarian assistance as well.

      But the main part of it, and number three, is to elevate food and food security issues higher on the multilateral political agenda. For the first time, food security is part of the G7, part of the G20. It’s an integral discussion of all the national leaders. Whereas 10 or 15 years ago, it just wasn’t viewed as important. It was viewed as farm issues, not that significant. “We’ll satisfy the problem with aid. We don’t really need to burden ourselves when we have to deal with issues like nuclear security and other kinds of things.” Now, these issues are getting a lot higher attention than they ever used to get so that’s very important.

      Dave:   Building on that, you said in terms of food not seen as a priority, especially food policy and agriculture and farming, that policymakers didn’t understand the interlinkages between food and other security challenges, but now it’s getting on the agenda. At the policy level, if you look at 100 years ago and the kinds of people who went into Congress, a lot of them came from farms and farming backgrounds. But if you look at the makeup of Congress now — and I’m not just talking the US Congress, but state legislatures as well — the number of farmers or people from farming backgrounds participating in the legislative process has waned substantially.

      Even if you look at the age of farmers in America, the average age is close to 60. Europe is in the mid-60s. Farmers have just not been at the table when it comes to making these policy decisions. How do you think that can change, or needs to change? Because lot of the people who makes these policy decisions are completely disconnected from the farm.

      Dan:     There are a couple of issues here. We’re a much more urbanized society, so we have a significant movement of people moving from the farms into the cities all over the world at various rates. The US, China, India — and it’s true in the developing worlds, Africa and other places in South Asia — are just part of the trend.

      One of the reasons for this is because agriculture is a lot more productive than it used to be. We get more bushels per hectare, per acre, so you haven’t needed to have all these people on farms like we had historically. But it’s a good question, because the clout of agriculture is not as great as it used to be. That’s why we need to look at these issues in a broader context: the relationship between agriculture and political stability, the relationship between agriculture, food, nutrition and health.

      That’s what the Gates Foundation tends to focus on. How do you make people healthier so they can go to school? The relationship between food, health, and education, so that people don’t have to spend 24 hours a day trying to seek food; they can have a more comfortable, secure access to food so they can go take care of their health or take care of their educational needs.

      That’s become the focus of the foundation world and, to some extent, government. Recognizing that food is more than just food security. It’s related to national security, health security, education security. Ministries around the world have started to talk to their agriculture ministers, saying, “The health of our nation is depending upon a stable food supply” or “The political stability of our nation is dependent upon a stable food supply.” Those are the kinds of issues that people are talking about now.

      Dave:   One key point you made connecting food security with national security: According to a group of retired U.S. military leaders, “unhealthy school lunches pose a threat to national security”. Since 1995, the proportion of U.S. recruits who failed their physical exams because they were overweight has risen by nearly 70 percent.

      The latest nutritional science demonstrates that a calorie is not a calorie. A calorie consumed from a cola beverage is processed in the body differently from how a calorie is processed from, say, an avocado or an eggplant. How do you think nutrition policy needs to be changed at the school level to reflect these realities?

      Dan:     First of all, to a large extent over the past 50 years, we’ve concentrated much more on volume rather than on nutritional quality. That’s because if you had hungry people, you had to feed their bellies, and we didn’t pay as much attention to nutrition and health security, issues like obesity. One can be undernourished and be obese.

      In the US, we see what the First Lady is doing with her school meals program and other things, which is tricky because it’s sometimes politically difficult. But nutrition is becoming a much bigger factor globally as well. What we can do is encourage a much more balanced diet in the context of local customs. Everybody’s not going to actually eat the same. We’re not going to force an American diet on people, say, in Tanzania. It doesn’t work. But how we can ensure a much more nutritionally balanced diet is part of national food policy.

      The foundations — Gates, Ford, Rockefeller, Buffet — and organizations like DFID in the UK and USAID are pushing a nutrition message much more than they used to. Today we’re starting to realize that you are what you eat and it does make a difference. It’s not just the volume of food, but what the content of the food is.

      Dave:   You spoke of how things are politically charged, especially with the First Lady’s initiative Let’s Move! and now the labeling requirements on added sugars, for example, being politically charged. Even the agency you used to lead, the USDA, has been accused by its critics of regulatory capture, saying that the big food and beverage companies are driving food policy. What do you see as the role of government or foundations in driving sensible food policy while balancing the interest of, say, food companies? And/or how do you change the products of food companies to reflect health realities, and not follow the mistakes of the tobacco industry, which publicly denied their products were harmful.

      Dan:     I think that in this case, a lot of the drivers in the future are actually consumers. Consumers want to know what’s in their food, whether it’s GMOs or sugar, salt. And the more they demand that the food companies disclose certain kinds of nutritional content, the more the food companies will begin to get the message.

      How is this happening? Right now, Walmart, the largest food company in the world, is beginning to source more product locally and more organic. McDonald’s is changing course, in terms of hormones and antibiotics, and chicken and meat. Why is this happening? It’s not really the government that’s doing this. It’s the consumers saying, “We don’t want this other stuff in our food.” I would say that, at least in the US and in Europe, these issues are largely driven by consumers and not by the government, although the government is a big part of the factor here.

      There’s another factor about food companies, they’re adaptable — with the exception of the beverage companies that are basically selling sugar water in many cases, although they’re adapting, too, with water and low fat, low-calorie foods, and that kind of thing. Most of the food companies, they’re going to want to sell products that consumers will buy. But consumers are often very confused. They’re bombarded by massive marketing and advertising, especially in the US.

      That’s why the government does get involved with issues like the dietary guidelines, the Food Guide, MyPlate, and all those things that try to give consumers the basic information to make wise choices when they buy their foods. But it’s hard if both spouses are working. People aren’t cooking at home, yet people tend to eat better nutritional meals when they cook their own meals at home. A lot of people can’t do that any longer.

      I think we’re making progress in this area, though. I think that there is much more national recognition about understanding the relationship between what people eat and how healthy they are. Ultimately, the food companies, and I don’t necessarily view them as culprits, have to respond to consumer demand. Years ago there was a movie called Field of Dreams. I don’t know if you remember this.

      Dave:   Sure, with Kevin Costner, and set in Iowa.

      Dan:     In that movie they were talking about whether they’re going to build a stadium, and he says, “If we build it, they will come.” For years, production agriculture has said, if we grow it or if we raise it, they will buy it. That’s changing right before our eyes. Now it’s, if they want it, we will grow it. The paradigm of power is changing a lot in the whole issue of food and consumption of food.

      Dave:   Over the next 30 years, 2 billion people are going to be added to the world’s population. I mentioned earlier the increasing age of farmers around the world. There’s a huge amount of science and innovation, and lot of young talent that needs to get into agriculture to meet the increased food needs. But agriculture as a sector is still seen by many as backward, old-fashioned. As you said, with increasing urbanization around the world, a lot of people are abandoning rural areas. … In Africa, small rural farming on one acre, or growing commodity crops like maize, is not a money-making venture. How do we make agriculture sexy from a policy level to get more innovation and young minds into it?

      Dan:     Actually, the trends in the U.S. and Brazil are both pretty good because there you’re seeing, in fact, more profitability in agriculture. The land grant schools are seeing increases in enrollment, and that’s because the past few years have shown that agriculture can be extremely profitable. Now we have very good commodity prices, but much more high-value agriculture, fresh fruits and vegetables, a bigger part of our diet that’s much more profitable than the row crops.

      Of course, there’s still consolidation agriculture in this country. I wish we had smaller farms so that people can be self-sufficient, but we’ve had consolidation in almost every industry in the world. In places like Africa, on plots one acre small, it’s not going to be very realistic, in terms of producing more profit for farmers. There will be some consolidations there. They’re not going to be like in the US, but use of cooperatives is becoming a big factor, particularly in Africa.

      A lot of the techniques that we went through in the US, they’re going through now and such here in Africa. In Ethiopia, for example, they have an Ethiopian Agriculture Transformation Agency that’s doing its best to try to educate farmers, providing them an extension network like we have in the US, and to give them more information, and realizing that the one-acre and two-acre farm probably isn’t a good revenue stream for the long term.

      Dave:   That being said, you know there are a lot NGOs and other civil society groups who want to help small rural farmers.

      Dan:     When I say small rural farmers, the developing world will have small rural farmers for a long time to come. It’s just they’re going to be a little bit bigger than they were 50 years ago. It may be 5 acres or 10 acres, as opposed to one acre.

      Dave:   In that case it becomes more commercially viable.

      Dan:     If you look in the United States, the thing that we saw is that people have to band together to produce and market, and that requires some sort of legal arrangement. In the U.S., it was cooperatives. In Africa, cooperatives were often viewed as a tool of a corrupt state, but the truth of the matter is that individuals alone in agriculture have trouble making it because it’s so volatile … weather, pricing … that you need some sort of safety in numbers.

      I suspect that one of the trends that you’re going to see in the developing world is the much greater use of cooperatives in terms of growing, producing, marketing, buying fertilizer, trying to share the risk a little better. It’s very hard for somebody who’s got one or two acres to cope in the event of famine or some sort of extreme weather crisis.

      Dave:   It seems like it’s not a question of whether you’re big or small, but of whether you’re networked into a cooperative or a group-buying scheme or not.

      Dan:     You also have something now that most of the developed world didn’t have. That is the use of handheld devices, the use of modern communications, the ability to get pricing information. I was in Mozambique about four years ago, and I was with a group of women, vegetable farmers. A cell phone rang and there were 11 women in there. All 11 picked up the phone. They didn’t know who it was for. We asked them how they use their cellphones — this was fairly early — to talk to their seed dealers about bringing the seeds there, how to plant, to find out more about pricing information from ports.

      There are still a lot of problems there. Roads aren’t good. Electricity systems aren’t great. Waste and spoilage, because they can’t get storage very well. But notwithstanding, there’s a lot happening on the ground that in Africa through the help of the foundations like Gates, Ford, Rockefeller, through the help of NGOs, both US and African NGOs — and, well, there are NGOs all over the world. And the governments are doing a better job, but I wouldn’t stake my future in what the governments are doing. That’s why the foundations and the NGOs are so important.

      The US, through this Feed the Future Initiative — and I assume you’ve followed it — has been really transformed how we have helped farmers overseas.

      Dave:   Earlier you mentioned that only now are people trying to integrate health, nutrition, food, agriculture. When it comes to food insecurity in Africa, a lot of it stems from energy insecurity. Now the Obama administration, through the Power Africa Initiative, is trying to facilitate deals to allow more access to utility scale grid power for Africa.

      Dan:     It’s absolutely critical. Again, I’ve got to go back to what we did back in the late 18th, late 19th, early 20th centuries. The building of an electric grid made all the difference in the world. You couldn’t transport crops without an electric grid. We electrified rural America. … Because of that, we created these rural electric cooperatives all over the country that provided power so they could operate grain elevators, do all these kinds of stuff. Without electric power, it’s almost impossible to do anything.

      Dave:   Historically in Africa, there have been US and European energy companies, extractive industry companies, especially for the past 50 years. And typically the NGO civil societies have opposed these investments, saying they’re despoiling the land, polluting groundwater, soils, displacing communities. But in many cases, the infrastructure that will be built by these companies can actually help small rural farmers, in terms of providing energy to store and process food. And on the environmental side, because of stable energy, it will reduce deforestation, reduce the need for firewood. How do you think the story needs to change for some of these companies to be seen as allies of the farmers and the environmentalists, instead of enemies?

      Dan:     That’s a very good question. The truth is, major American public companies that have shareholders are now subject to all sorts of public relations activities by their shareholders, including by environmental groups, to push American companies to be much more environmentally responsible. Take a company like Coca Cola, which has had problems with, for example, water utilization in India, Latin America. Now, Coke is all over the issue of water quality in East Africa, Central Africa.

      You take a lot of the agriculture seed companies, Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta. These companies, because of shareholder democracy, are no longer like the old colonial-type powers. I like to say the Chinese have begun to occupy that space. I was in Ethiopia last year in Addis Ababa. We met with a lot of agricultural officials, and they were saying that the Western companies had come to realize how important being sustainable stewards of the land was, but how the Chinese companies had come in and were occupying the old-time extractive space.

      For this to work, you have two things. One is that US government has a big role to play to push this, but the more modern shareholders of democracy, are really forcing them to do the right thing here. That’s a big positive. The question is, “Is there enough investment opportunities to make it worthwhile for them to go into these countries and spend a lot of money?”

      For Coca Cola, yes, because they’ve been there. … Coca Cola’s the largest employer in Africa. I mean, they’ve got distribution networks. But for a lot of the companies, I don’t know. It depends on whether they can secure some sort of return on their investment, or their shareholders won’t want them to do it. The foundations, Gates Foundation, particularly, is a seminal force in this area. Do you know Howard Buffet?

      Dave:   Yeah.

      Dan:     His foundation is not as big a player as Gates, but they’re also a very important force. The Rockefeller Foundation has been doing a lot of work in the area of finance. And financing water systems and technology are offering us opportunities where the systems don’t have to be as big as they used to be. You can have water purification systems that are much more local, for smaller communities and even for small, older farmers. Even energy technology, although you still need a grid, no matter what you do, but there are other new technologies.

      I guess my answer to your question is, I think most major companies understand it and get it. But whether they’re willing to commit a lot of resources, I don’t know.

      Dave:   I’ll pick on two things you said. One is the role of Chinese and Chinese into Africa. Many people think it’s controversial, and that the types of things they’re doing, the extraction of resources, their policy towards human rights and environmental rights are very questionable. That being said, they are a force in Africa. The trade volume of China with Africa is three times what it is for the US with Africa. They’ve built a lot of infrastructure, which has improved lives of farmers because they can now get crops to market. Where do you see collaboration opportunities with US companies, US government, and some of the new players in Africa, the Chinese, Indians, and Brazilians?

      Dan:     One of them has to be in the environmental space, where there’s a lot of pressure in almost every country in the world, and in China, to deal with water, water rights, soil health, and forestry. Forestry’s a huge issue. That’s where multilateral institutions are so important. That’s where governments have a really big role. You’re starting to see now the Chinese recognizing that their people could choke to death unless they somehow deal with these issues. As long as we keep these high up on the multilateral agenda, then I think we’ll make progress.

      I don’t view the Chinese as the enemy. I just think that their resources are so limited, and they’ve been on a growing spree. So sustainability hasn’t been historically at the top of their agenda, but it’s going to happen.

      Dave:   It’s similar to what happened to North America. If you look at the bison population in 1800 versus 1900, a 60 million bison population was reduced to less than a 1000. Now the bison population is about 500,000. U.S. forest cover now is much more than what it was a 100 years ago. In the 19th century, large areas of our forest were cut down for timber and energy. As countries get economically wealthy, they tend to get more environmentally conscious.

      Dan:     That’s right.

      Dave:   Civil society groups — especially in the U.S. and Europe — want Africa to leapfrog over how development happened in the US and Europe, by putting the human rights cart before the economic growth horse. When the US was developing through the 19th century and early 20th century, women, minorities – none of these groups had voting rights, very poor human rights, we had a destructive civil war. Yet the U.S. evolved past all of that towards a more perfect union. As we became richer, all these human rights and environmental rights issues came to the fore, and we had a chance and monetary resources to tackle them.

      Dan:     You’re very right, I understand. There certainly wasn’t perfection in the Western world that we exploited to build, but our political systems were, by and large, pretty stable. While there was corruption, it wasn’t everywhere. Things got too bad like they got during the … let’s say, right around the turn of the 1900s, and yet the progressive movement worked to clean things up.

      Look, the cultures are so much different. The lack of profound education — I mean, education was a huge factor in the US. It was much more limited [elsewhere], I mean, because the colonial powers didn’t encourage it in Asia or Africa certainly. These things take a long time. The danger of Africa’s course is that it’s got all these minerals, forestry, and all these potential exploitable resources — and we don’t need it as much here, but the Chinese need it, and certainly India.

      Brazil is a pretty good example of a country in the more modern era that’s developed its agricultural resources better and now has exploited the Amazon region to build soybean farms. Brazil now spends more on agriculture research than the US does. They learned it from us. Most of their scientists were trained in the US. Brazil is a pretty good example of some of these developing countries that have managed to develop a much stronger agriculture and food security environment.

      Dave:   Brazil has a lot to teach Africa in terms of tropical crop research.

      Dan:     That, and then you have the connection with the Portuguese language, so they have the relationships in Mozambique and Angola. There’s a more natural fit. … I mean, the U.S. relationship is more just the diaspora relationship of Africans in this country, but culturally, Brazilians are probably closer to Africa than we are.

      Dave:   That’s where you say more multilateral cooperation makes sense.

      Dan:     Absolutely, like keeping it on global agendas like the G20, G7. The power and role of the big foundations like the Gates Foundation. If you were to ask me who has more power and influence in the area we’re talking about, I’d say that Bill Gates and Walmart, just ironically. It’s not the US government — maybe a little bit — but all the players in the modern world are forces like them.

      Dave:   That raises the question of accountability. Elected legislators are accountable to voters every few years. Companies are accountable to shareholders. But it seems like some of the large foundations, because they have their large endowments, are pretty much not accountable. Or their accountability is substantially less than what you’d think. Especially in Africa, in countries like Ethiopia and other fast-growing countries, you’re starting to see this backlash against many NGOs, which are seen as not accountable to anybody and slowing down the pace of economic development.

      Dan:     Some are better than others, and you can’t generalize. My experience tells me that probably it’s because the amount of money. The Gates Foundation spends $5 billion a year, mostly in Africa. With those resources, and the fact that there’s a leader of the foundation who genuinely cares about this stuff, it’s made a big difference. Leadership is a big factor in both donor and recipient communities.

      Developing leadership is a really important part of this effort. How you train young people to be different from their ancestors? To be more respectful of political systems, capitalism, freedom? It could take a long time. The American land grant system used to be really big in terms of relationships with African universities. They ran out of money or they ran out of interest, and that [relationship] has fallen way down. That’s something we’ve got to try to encourage because to develop agricultural technology in this field, it can carry forward on these things.

      Dave:   Now my question is about diet. Humans evolved in Africa, on the African savanna. Homo sapiens arose almost 200,000 years ago, and for most of human history, humans have been hunter-gatherers. Agricultural civilizations have been around for 10,000 years. Now when people look at modern diseases like diabetes, heart disease, or obesity, there’s this view that the agricultural diet, especially, the industrial agricultural diet, is responsible for a lot of these problems and we need to look back into our evolutionary past to address some of these health challenges.

      In Africa, of course, there’s hunger and poverty, but there are some tribes in Africa like the Nuer, the Maasai, the Dinka who are some of the tallest humans on earth, with average height of 6-foot-2inches, and they have lean physiques, and nobody goes to the gym. What do indigenous cultures like those have to teach us with respect to diet?

      Dan:     I think, one, we have to respect that there’s no one size fits all. That’s for sure. Second, our particular dietary system is not necessarily suitable for the rest of the world, and we’re changing that ourselves. We’re finding that it leads to huge amounts of carbohydrate consumption and sugar and other kinds of things. It’s a very good point.

      On the other hand, there are great nutritional deficiencies in the developing world. Micronutrients and diversity of foods, and part of that is because of poverty. Poverty has such a big role on these kinds of things. How do you get everybody in the world, developed and developing nations, to have a diet that’s much more in sync with, perhaps, what humans should be eating and what history should be guiding us to eat? It’s not easy to do. If you look historically, there’s not a lot of research in the relationship between agriculture programs, health, and nutrition.

      The Council on Foreign Relations had a task force on non-communicable diseases in the developing world. What are they? The ones you just mentioned — diabetes, heart disease, cancers. … They did this report and it was composed of a lot of health people, and they focused on tobacco control, which was important; and they focused on pharmaceutical availability, which is important; and they had virtually nothing in there about diet and nutrition, school meals, you just name it.

      I said, “I won’t sign the report.” In fact, I think this is the report. I’ll give it to you. The Emerging Global Health Crisis. If you look at the people on it, by the way, there was me. I’m the only guy who has anything [to say about nutrition]. … Sandy Berger was on the National Security Council. Mitch Daniels is president of Purdue University. Tom Donilon was National Security Advisor. Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm Emanuel’s brother. Me. Donna Shalala and Tommy Thompson, former health secretaries in the U.S.

      You look through this thing, and you’ll see there’s just virtually nothing about diet and nutrition as part of health strategy. I raised the issue. A French philosopher once said, “You are what you eat.” I said that building immune systems, making people so they’re not susceptible to disease, has as much to do with health as everything else. I put additional views here. You’ll see them. I said, basically the report doesn’t fully include diet and nutrition and other forms of preventive care as key strategies to help combat diabetes, cardiac disease, hypertension, cancer, and other non-communicable diseases.

      In this country, we think if it’s exotic and technologically advanced, then it must be good. Telling somebody or devising systems to get more protein into the diet or micronutrients into the diet — that’s too simple of a solution [for people who prefer to hear about technology-related solutions].

      Dave:   Things like eating fermented foods.

      Dan:     Yeah. That’s why you’re supposed to eat sauerkraut —

      Dave:   Eat Sauerkraut and drink kombucha.

      Dan:     Even pickles. It doesn’t sound like it’s the greatest diet in the world, but fermented foods and, of course, the omega 3 fats, which are —

      Dave:   Good fats, as opposed to hydrogenated vegetable oils and trans-fats.

      Dan:     Some, like avocados, are pretty good. Anyway, it’s not viewed as exotic science.

      Dave:   Absolutely. It’s viewed as too simple.

      Dan:     It can’t be good because it doesn’t cost any money to solve the problem. On the other hand, the consumers of the world are really beginning to demand a lot more. “I want more control over my life. I don’t want you to tell me what to do.” Some of that’s not so good because a consumer will say, “I don’t want to get vaccinated,” and that’s not good either.

      Dave:   You raise a good point about how in our country we look down or are dismissive of solutions that are cheap or “old-fashioned,” and not technologically advanced. We also seem to ignore the environmental aspects around health.

      I’ll give you an example. If you look at obesity rates in rural America, when compared to New York City or Washington, DC, they’re substantially higher. In cities you have walkable streets. People take public transportation and walk to the café or restaurant, while in many parts of rural America, people live in these suburban islands and they need a car to run even simple errands.

      Dan:     At the farm now, they have very expensive machinery. It used to be you had to actually walk with the horse. Modern technology has made a lot easier, but it’s true, some of the highest incidence of obesity is in small towns in rural America.

      On the other hand, some of the highest longevity rates are in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, where you have very homogeneous populations, where maybe there’s a lot less stress. You’ve got friends. You don’t worry whether the Middle East is going to blow up or not, this kind of thing.

      Dave:   Sure, I agree. I know you mentioned food waste. There’s talk about climate-smart agriculture. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on increasing food yields and crop yields in Africa, and row crops and use of agrochemicals and fertilizers. But the fastest way to increase yield is to reduce waste. If you look at what happened in manufacturing with the Toyota Production System, “the machine that changed the world.” A key innovation there was reducing inventory and reducing waste in input materials. Who do you think are the companies designed to play the role of the “Toyota of agriculture,” in terms of reducing food waste?

      Dan:     I don’t know because there are a lot of new companies, but what are the problems to be solved? One problem is refrigeration. Much of the waste is just lost spoilage. A lot of that’s related to the grid and power, but can we devise storage systems and refrigeration systems that are more suitable and cheaper for smaller-scale agriculture.

      Food waste is a big problem in Africa because of spoilage and no real transportation system. If you don’t have a railroad or a road, then you’ll lose your crop unless you can somehow consume it locally. For the developed world, it’s largely because we overproduce. We eat too much and food is cheap. Inventory management is not nearly as good. But you’re right, the 30% to 40% of food that’s either rotten or just thrown out could help feed another billion or 2 billion people, no question about it.

      I still think that you’ll never stop the march toward technology, though. There are crops that are drought-resistant and pest-resistant, and basically dealing with this crisis of water, which is probably the biggest problem facing agriculture. That’s going to take some technological solutions, too. That can’t be done using prehistoric technology.

      In a lot of small-scale agriculture, you don’t need that. You just need better production methods and more appropriate use of fertilizers. But you also need seeds for drought-resistant crops, too. There are ideological factors that play here. Some people are just against new technology. On the other hand, there are some people who say the only answer is new technology. It’s going to be somewhere in between.

      Dave:   2015 is the International Year of Soils. And with respect to soils both in North America and Africa, if you look at the loss of topsoil per year for the past 50 years, it seems we’ve lost a lot of mineral content, a lot of organic matter. For example, a carrot grown in two different fields could have different nutritional content based on different soil mineral profiles.

      Dan:     By the way, research into soils has been a very low priority in our land grant schools, so we tend to research higher yields, productivity. There’s a guy at the Land Institute in central Kansas who has been doing work on perennials and cover crops, which are very important.

      Dave:   What are your two takeaways for a young person who wants to enter the African agriculture sector? What’s your advice?

      Dan:     One, you’ve got to learn the field just like everything else, which means either go to school formally or else find an extension-type network, where you can become skilled in the subject matter. You can’t do this without knowledge. That’s certainly one thing. Then, use modern technology to keep up to date, so you’ll know what’s happening with respect to prices, technology, trends in the weather, all those kinds of things. Do you remember the movie The Graduate?

      Dave:   Yeah. The key for career success was “plastics.”

      Dan:     Yes. I honestly do think that the future of the world is agriculture and food. Just look at the population, the demographics. … People can make a lot of money in this business in Africa, not just the US, but in Africa. In fact, there are probably more opportunities in Africa than there are in the US because you haven’t had this massive urbanization yet and everything else.

      There are a lot of challenges, huge challenges, but leadership skills coupled with adaptability for changing technology — smart people can make money in this business if they know what they’re doing. That’s the big issue, if they know what they’re doing. You just can’t haphazardly go in and think you’re going to be a great farmer and necessarily survive. That’s why maybe you have to adapt and go into a cooperative or some sort of similar type of endeavor. Aspen does a lot of that. As I said, leadership training, there’s some done in the agriculture sector, but there’s a lot of stuff online now that wasn’t there a long time ago.

      Dave:   Thanks for your time.

      Dan:     You’re welcome.



      Article by Alexander Hitzemann

      “China’s engagement with African agriculture represents perhaps Africa’s biggest opportunity in history. China’s partnership with Africa has evolved from the donation-aid model of assistance to a more sustainable donor investment engagement.”

      All across the African continent the effects of Chinese interests can be seen. Some journalist even jokingly refer to Africa as China’s second continent. In the last few years that seems to have become more true. This is mostly due to the large amount of money China has to invest in it’s own territories and across the world.

      Dealing with Chinese businessmen was not first choice for most Africans, the United States was the investment partner Africa would have rather had. However, western investors have failed to see the long term strategic opportunity Africa presents or have the equity to place in such a plan. China has experienced the same losses as other investors, except they have continued to partner with Africans in order to execute a much longer plan which could take decades to reach fruition.

      sfsdhajfhasjfhasdlRight now, China’s main business in Africa is the extraction of valuable resources. They have invested nearly $10 billion in these operations so far and they will continue. What separates Chinese operations from other extractive institutions is their national interest in forming continueing partnerships, in industries like agribusiness. Additionally, they “pay back” African nations for their resources by building infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, and university campuses. So far China has been a very subsitive partner for Africa,

      In order to learn more about how China’s involvement in Africa has affected African Agribusiness AAM met with scholar Donald Cassell. Cassell is a Senior Fellow at the Isoko Institute and directs the African portfolio of the Sagamore Institute, an Indianapolis based think tank. In recent years he has published on China’s Role in African Agriculture which analyzes the subject.

      Cassell states, “China’s engagement with African agriculture represents perhaps Africa’s biggest opportunity in history. China’s partnership with Africa has evolved from the donation-aid model of assistance to a more sustainable donor investment engagement.” (Cassel 33) The Chinese, themselves being a rising world power, bring their own experience of rapid development and growth to the African continent. They are almost presenting their own development as a model for African nations to follow. A proven model to follow, since it has eradicated more poverty than any other in human history. The Chinese come from a very poor background, like Africans, and have built their economy from almost nothing very quickly. Additionally, China has successfully solved its major food security problems in the last thirty years.

      ==FILE== Seneglese and Chinese workers observe a ceremony at the national theater construction site financed by China on February 14, 2009 in Dakar, during a visit by Chinese president Hu Jintao and Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade. AFP Photo / SEYLLOU_[24FEB2013 SUNDAY REVIEW BOOK REVIEW]

      Seneglese and Chinese workers observe a ceremony at the national theater construction site financed by China on February 14, 2009 in Dakar, during a visit by Chinese president Hu Jintao and Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade. AFP Photo

      However, how Africa manages how it does business with the Chinese is critical to maximizing the opportunities and minimizing the risks. This is the type of investment and involvement Africa has sought from other world leaders, but is now only receiving from China. Africa must be very careful dealing with the shrewd Chinese businessmen. Being the only region in the world that has seen no appreciable agribusiness development, Africa is in desperate need to reverse this decline. It’s hard to turn away Chinese investments in that agribusiness climate.

      Cassell explained that the nature of Chinese involvement in African agribusiness has been complex. However, overall China views Africa as a strategic development partner. China already has a significant presence in trade and national development. According to Cassell much of this has been done in the framework of the One China policy, cooperation based on respect for national sovereignty, national interest, non-intervention, and non-imposition of conditionalities. At the core of this business philosophy is mutuality, trust, partnership, and win-win cooperation. China realizes that its relationship with it’s allies in Africa were weak, so they are build relationships.

      Ghana is a good example of this Chinese model of cooperation. China sends excess skilled and unskilled laborers to Ghana for employment opportunities. Also, in Tanzania China has developed some of its most advanced agriculture experiments.

      China’s relationship with Africa is just the early stages of it’s going global strategy, really it’s still trial and error. As the Chinese enter Africa they will learn that to do business in Africa they cannot easily separate politics, religion, and culture. In order to create these types of partnerships, at least the business cultures will have to meld. We can see some of this happening especially as Chinese migrate to Africa and intermarriages begin to happen. Since this is a relatively new partnership, overtime more people will have interest as it develops.
      But China also has interest in its own food security needs. The FAO has determined that food production will have to increase by 70% to meet the worlds growing urbanized affluent population. At the moment china is meeting its own food demands by diminishing its own arable land. It sees Africa as a vast agricultural opportunity. China says that its interest is in global food security, not just to grow food and export it to China. However, there is already a high demand for African agricultural commodities in China.

      Changing people changes history. If people do not change, little else changes in the long run. The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character.

      Flag_of_the_People's_Republic_of_China.svgChina has done more to alleviate poverty in Africa than anything ever attempted by western colonialism or the initiatives of traditional partners. The Chinese engagement may be even more meaningful if the Africans do business carefully. So far China has really taken the lead, if the Africans can become more participatory it could become an even more lucrative relationship. Especially, if this could be done in the development framework.

      Why is China so interested in Africa? They see investing in the African people as having the possibility of infinite returns.


      Cassell, Donald L., Jr. “China’s Role in African Agriculture.” Marketplace: Liberia 2.1 (2013): 33-37.

      “Chinese Involvement with African Agribusiness.” Personal interview. 05 May 2015.

      For media and advertising inquired contact Alexander Hitzemann at alex@africaag.org

      BN-HF633_olam03_J_20150304031535By Dave Ramaswamy, Africa Agribusiness Magazine


      Sunny Verghese is Co-Founder, Group Managing Director & CEO of Olam International, one of the world’s biggest agricultural commodity trading companies. Verghese established Olam in 1989 and leads the company’s strategy, planning, business development and management.


      Dave: What is your view on pricing natural capital? People have talked about the carbon tax. What option do you prefer, and what’s more economically and environmentally sound?

      Sunny: It’s a catch-22 situation. No country wants to bell the cat, to perform the difficult task. They say that if they are the only country that applies the carbon tax, then their producers and exporters will get a disadvantage compared to another country. So while intellectually a lot of countries accept that in order to change behavior in terms of carbon emissions, we need to price carbon, nobody wants to bell the cat. So unless this will be something that all [UN] member countries will implement concurrently, I don’t think this will happen. Nothing’s going to change.

      Dave: Okay. So based on your work in Africa and being vertically integrated in commodities from sourcing to branded products, why did you decide to fully integrate from being just a trader of commodities? Going up and down the value chain?

      Sunny: The way we look at where to participate in the value chain is we do profitability analysis as to where the profit resides. Is it upstream of the grower/planter? Is it mid-stream at the processor? Then we ask ourselves how we can attract a slice of the profit.

      If it is distributed upstream, do we have an ability? Can we really enter upstream and successfully capture the production economics in terms of farming and plantation management skills? If we believe that it’s doable, then we want to invest there. It is very nuanced, so there is no strategic orthodoxy as to where we will similarly invest.

      We only invest when we know that we have a competitive cost to production, both capital cost of production and cash cost of production. That will allow us a cost position below the marginal cost producer’s cost of production.

      Dave: Can you give an example with a particular commodity, like coffee?

      Sunny: If you take coffee, you know Brazil produces coffee at about roughly $1.25 per pound for Arabica coffees.

      So we know the commodity prices are cyclical. If you go upstream and become a producer/grower in a deep down cycle you start bleeding. You will not bleed, however, if your cost structure is below the marginal cost producer’s.

      Therefore [we look at] the capital cost of producing in a particular country and the cash cost for producing. If your cost structure is below the marginal cost producer’s then even in a deep down cycle in coffee prices you are profitable. You can ride it out. In a normal cycle, and especially in an up cycle, you’ll be significantly more profitable.

      These are long-term investments. To plant coffee, the first full maturity is in seven years. So you have to wait for seven years. You can’t make a speculative guess that coffee prices are going to be high seven years in the future. But, if you know that you’ve got a cost structure that is competitive and below the marginal cost producer you’ll be riding through every cycle.

      Dave: That is impeccable logic.

      Sunny: So, we invested in Laos, we invested in Tanzania and Zambia, Ethiopia, Brazil. Win 4 of those countries we have a high margin of safety between our total cost of production and the marginal cost producer’s cost of production. So in Laos we produce coffee at roughly 80 cents, in Zambia at about 85 cents, in Tanzania at about 90 cents, in Ethiopia at about a dollar, but all this is significantly lower than Brazil’s cost of coffee.

      When coffee prices start going down, as they are now, it will still hold, we believe, above the marginal producer’s cost of production. And if it dips that way it can’t hurt anything. So that is the strategy.

      In every commodity we look at that. We saw cashews were grown in 19 countries around the world, with millions of small owner/farmers and fragmented production. The farmer makes 6% to 7% of the profit.

      When we looked at almonds, 75% of the profit was made by the grower. And almonds can really only can be grown in four countries because the crop is quite sensitive to the agro-climactic conditions.

      Dave: For almonds, it is places like California in the U.S., Australia, Chile and South Africa.

      Sunny: If you understand where the profit pools are, and you believe you have an ability to organize and capture the production of economics, then you invest on that basis. That’s what we do in 21 crops that we farm and produce ourselves across 26 countries.

      Dave: Let us look at comparative advantage. You know China and India can be looking at consolidating farm holdings, and being self-sufficient in food. But sub-Saharan Africa has a comparative production advantage for key food commodities. So, how do you think Africa plays a role in supplying the food needs of India and China?

      Sunny: Well, 55% to 60% of the world’s arable land is in Africa, but considerable investment needs to go in to build that infrastructure to make that arable land fully productive. You need to make long-term bets in farming, because it’s not something you can pull out and abandon a year after you invest it. You need the certainty of being able to make agriculture investments—whether it is governance or good infrastructure. For Africa to realize the potential is a long way off. And there have to be significant private/public partnerships to really exploit the potential.

      Dave: Which countries in Africa—please name your top three preferences—are better producers compared to others in the next five years?

      Sunny: Typically we look at a few factors. One is we want countries with low population density where land is not a big issue. So Gabon is a good example. It has 1.6 million people, a lot of land and not too much cultivation. So, one factor is population density, availability of land.

      Second is labor, cost of labor and the trajectory of wage/price inflation. If you’re feeling wages are going to go up very fast in this country because of the developing economy, then you might be priced out. So, you need to understand not only what current wage costs are, but you also need to have a point of view on wage/price inflation.

      Also, what is the capital cost of production? What does land cost? How are land prices increasing? Are the focus of government policies pro-business and pro-investment?  Can you look at the communities and be equal partners to manage your supply chains? Because you will need them to support it. If they are against you, you have no hope of establishing assistance long term.

      Dave: I know you mentioned Gabon, but what are two other countries?

      Sunny: We have farm plantations in Nigeria. We’ve got a couple of [oil palm] plantations in Ghana and Liberia. We’ve got rice farming in Nigeria. We have forestry interest in Congo and in Gabon.

      Dave: I know you would like most farms to consolidate into clusters or cooperatives. You have this outgrower model where you give input and you have buyback arrangements for the output.

      Sunny: Yes.

      Dave: In the last seven years there has been a huge issue made of these large land deals in Africa. And many of them have failed. Going forward, how do you think this land acquisition process will evolve?

      Sunny: Many people made the mistake of believing that the [central] government confers the land to you. The government can transfer legal title to you, but in our view customary rights are more important. If a person’s forefather has cultivated that piece of land, then—according to human rights convention—that has precedence over any legal right. A lot of people come from overseas to invest there, they don’t understand this. They feel the government has given them the title and therefore the title is clear.

      Dave: Sure, that has been the case in most instances.

      Sunny: You have to go through a pretty intense farm consent process with the local population. You need to understand what the customary rights are and you want to respect those rights. So people make lots of mistakes in not going through a proper evaluation process. If you don’t recognize customary rights, things can blow up.

      Dave: Based on your experience in African countries, what would be your message to regulators or policy makers?

      Sunny: Clearly they have to make agriculture the priority sector and they have to ensure an environment that allows planning for long-term investments. It should not be ad hoc, but the law, a law of parliament so that investors have predictability when they are investing. It should not be the case that in four or five years, the government changes and a new administration might reverse all these policies. Foreign investors need the security of policy lasting for the lifetime of the project. That has to be through an act of parliament. It should not be politically partisan; it should be consensual and broad-based.

      Second, is for them to facilitate upscaling in terms of agricultural training. Very few people in Africa want to do any agriculture. The average age of the African farmer is 64 years old.

      Very few want to do farming by choice. It’s a tough job. So you have to make it more exciting and you have to have programs to encourage younger farmers wanting to come into the business. Unlike the U.S. or other places, in Africa land is not very expensive, so you won’t need an inter-generational transfer of wealth to enter the business. For a new entrant, land is relatively cheap. So even a young guy who has an entrepreneurial streak can contemplate getting into it.

      Dave: I know you have to run now. Thanks for your time, Sunny.

      Sunny: You are welcome.