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by Dave Ramaswamy, Africa Agribusiness Magazine

Dave: What is IFA’s mandate? Please give an overview of your work in Africa.

Esin: IFA is a trade association representing the global fertilizer industry with about 550 members in more than 80 countries, of which half hail from emerging economies.

IFA’s priority today is to promote the efficient and responsible production, distribution, and use of plant nutrients. Access to affordable fertilizers is a key issue in that respect, in particular in Africa.

For Africa, IFA is committed to facilitate reaching the Abuja target of 50 kilogram/ha in an environmentally responsible manner. In order to do so IFA as an association runs an Africa Forum.

In addition, IFA partners with various stakeholders on a series of programs and campaigns.

  • In order to develop from the ground up, African agriculture requires better and more reliable data. In partnership with IFDC,AfricaFertilizer.org facilitates exchange of information about fertilizer markets and policies. It has quickly become a standard reference website for all of those interested and involved in agricultural markets.
  • Recognizing the need to foster expertise on the continent, IFA and the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) run the Africa Fertilizer Volunteer Program. The AFVP places global fertilizer industry experts willing to volunteer their time and knowledge towards building the African fertilizer value chain, with the ultimate goal of increasing fertilizer users and usage in the continent on the field in countries. Experts from fields such as project development, financing, marketing, logistics, and safety, health and environment (SHE) in production. So Far the pilot countries have included Ghana, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Individual companies who are IFA members also undertake their own extension initiatives in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, training agro-dealers and farmers on soil testing and fertilizer best management practices.


As an Association IFA is very active in the multilateral arena. This year, IFA and 7 partners organizations ran a year-long campaign promoting smallholders’ access to fertilizer in Africa. The campaign included 3 side-events, a letter to African heads of state, a campaign video and numerous media articles aimed at raising awareness among policy-makers and business leaders alike.

Dave:  What are the biggest growth markets in Africa? Which countries and even which regions? Please give a percentage breakdown of customers – governments, cooperatives/self-help groups, commercial farmers? What are your usual sales channels.

The African fertilizer market has been stagnating from the mid-80s till 2008, increasing by 15% only during that period. Since 2008, the region is witnessing robust growth. Between 2008 and our forecasts to 2015, we see the regional market growing by more than 40%. Most of the expansion would come from Sub-Saharan Africa. Fertilizer demand in Sub-Saharan Africa without the Republic of South Africa is projected to grow on average by 8% annually. Nigeria and Ethiopia are the leading countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. But demand is also increasing in Kenya, Tanzania and many other countries that are committed to increasing agricultural productivity. Today, Africa as whole accounts for slightly less than 3% of world consumption, but this share is expected to increase over time. With an average application rate of some 10 kg/ha, Sub-Saharan Africa consumes 10 times less fertilizer per unit area than the global average. This is one of the main reasons for the high yield gap and prevalence of hunger in the region. Working with partners, we are striving to increase fertilizer consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa to address both food insecurity and poverty in the region, and help realize the immense potential of the continent.

Dave:   Given fertilizers are generally expensive to use in Africa – compared to other regions, with poor storage and transport infrastructure, how do you ensure smallholder access?

Esin:  The elevated price of fertilizer in many regions of Africa is mainly due to high transaction costs and the lack of local production and blending facilities. IFA works towards enabling and enhancing smallholders access by engaging in innovative partnerships with other stakeholders. These partnerships aims to provide the following catalysts for African smallholders:

  • access to credit, finance and insurance by retailers and farmers.
  • facilitated imports and the distribution of diverse fertilizer products.
  • Individual IFA members often invest in infrastructure: transport, handling, storage, and blending facilities.
  • We are also keen on developing mobile technologies to provide information on markets, extension services and prices.
  • IFA members also train extension workers to help farmers organize themselves.
  • Last but not least we work to disseminate best practices based on the integration of organic and mineral nutrients, balanced fertilization, and other good soil and crop management practices.

Dave:  Given recent talks at the UN about climate smart agriculture,  how should lower nitrous oxide (N2)) emissions – a greenhouse gas,  be implemented in fertilizer production? N2O is 300 times more potent than CO2. What financial commitments are required and within what implementation timeframe?

Esin: The fertilizer industry recognizes the importance of GHG emissions reductions and sees climate-smart agriculture as a vehicle for that. To this effect, IFA is a member of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture.

Moreover, IFA encourages its members to minimize their direct emissions, to foster the reduction of emissions related to the use of fertilizers and, where possible, to contribute to the creation or expansion of carbon sinks. IFA encourage its members to act throughout the lifecycle of their products, from their production to their use by promoting industry best practices and supporting the development of innovative fertilizers and more efficient and effective application techniques in order to reduce nutrients losses to air, water, and soils to the minimum possible.

GHG are mostly produced from ammonia production processes. IFA encourages its members to adopt best available technologies (BAT) to reduce emissions. New technologies for nitrogen oxide (NOx) capture have been developed and adopted.

IFA members are reducing their carbon footprint by investing in energy efficiency and emission control technologies. Modern fertilizer plants are rapidly approaching the theoretical minimum energy consumption for ammonia production. Conversely, phosphate fertilizer production has become largely energy and greenhouse gas neutral, due to energy co-generation activities during sulfuric acid production.

Dave:   The Green Revolution in India, in some places like the Punjab, has now reached the limits of crop yields with indiscriminate use of fertilizer, with its resulting harmful effects on soils and human life. How do you see the Green Revolution in Africa evolving differently? e.g. in many places of Africa where soils are degraded, use of fertilizers is not a magic bullet for increasing yields. Soil organic matter needs to be rebuilt first.

Esin: The Green Revolution in Punjab has not reached its limit. As far as fertilizers are concerned, the fertilizer subsidy policy currently in place in India encourages unbalanced fertilizer use. If the Indian policy is revised to rebalance the ratio between nitrogen fertilizers and phosphate, potash, sulphur and micronutrient fertilizers, the room for increasing productivity in a sustainable manner is still substantial.

Africa should of course learn from the mistakes and build on relevant success stories in other parts of the world. For instance, the model applied in the Brazilian Cerrados should be considered in the savanna areas of Africa, where soils are also acidic and often nutrient-poor. In these areas, applying fertilizers is not enough; fertilizer use must be combined with the application of lime to improve the soil pH and with the return of crop residues and livestock manure to progressively increase the soil organic matter content. But, without fertilizer, there is no hope of increasing agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa without undesirable large-scale land use changes and related greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.

Africa could also learn from initiatives in Asia in terms of distribution and outreach strategies. Models developed in India for knowledge transfer to the farmers, including the use of mobile phone technology to access agronomic and market information, are worth adapting for smallholder farmers in Africa.

Dave:    What is the role of micronutrient additives/supplementation in fertilizer use?

Esin: The first role of adding micronutrients to fertilizers is to increase productivity. There are many areas in the world, both developed and developing, where micronutrients such as zinc and boron have become the limiting factors. In these cases, if the limiting micronutrients are not added, crops respond sub-optimally to fertilization with macronutrients. Adding micronutrients to traditional NPK blends can also address an array of human health conditions caused by micronutrient deficiencies. This is especially true for zinc and selenium. More than one-tenth of the total disease burden can be traced back to micronutrient deficiencies.

Among all micronutrient deficiencies, zinc is one of the most common: 2 billion people worldwide are zinc deficient and 1.5 million children die each year from zinc deficiency induced  diarrhea. The FAO estimates that 50% of the world’s agricultural soils are also zinc deficient. Micronutrient deficient soils reduce not only yields, but also the intake and bioavailability of minerals that are essential to humans who consume the crops cultivated on these deficient soils. Supplementing fertilizers with micronutrients addresses the deficiencies in the soils, in plants and in humans. As such, they contribute to increasing the quantity of food by raising yields but also the nutritional quality of the food.  The added micronutrients have immediate and profound impacts. Chronic deficiencies affecting mostly women and children in the local population are quickly eliminated as a result and contribute to eradicating many micronutrient-related illnesses.

Dave:  What does environmental sustainability mean to you? How do you define responsible fertilizer use?

Esin: For me personally, environmental sustainability is about making responsible business decisions that can foster economic growth and poverty alleviation while safeguarding the environment by limiting negative effects on the environment and on biodiversity. Responsible fertilizer use entails a balanced application of crop nutrients so as to maximize yields and maintain soil fertility, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient run-off to the environment.

During my mandate as IFA president, I have focused on shifting application from areas of nutrient excess to areas of nutrient underuse. I also believe that farmer outreach is essential for responsible fertilizer use. Farmers must be made aware of how to apply the right nutrient source, at the right rate, at the right time, in the right place. This is what we call the 4R nutrient stewardship, a framework based on sound scientific principles that guides all IFA members in their outreach and extension programs.

Dave:  Please tell us about some success stories

Esin: I would like to focus on a success story that is very personal to me. Because I believe that fertilizer have an important role to play in advancing food and nutrition security and that we must shift the conversation from enough calories to eating more nutritious food I will give en example from my home country – Turkey.

After scientific research revealed that soils in Turkey were severely deficient in zinc and wheat yields very low as a consequence, my company Toros Agri, dedicated itself to produce zinc-enhanced fertilizers. Our efforts have been repaid not just with higher yields, but also with a new generation growing up free of deficiencies. Since crops were able to absorb zinc from the soil, grain had a higher zinc content for the benefit of uthe humans who consumed the cereals grown on it. Nowadays over 300 000 tons of zinc enriched fertilizer is applied in Turkey and the economic benefits are at approximately $150 million as estimated by the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture.

The zinc success story is not limited to Turkey alone. In fact, half of the soils in the world are deficient in zinc.  Important work and field trials are being conducted under the Zinc Nutrient Initiative in China, India, Brazil and Bangladesh.

I hope that this success story from Turkey can be adapted and implemented in other regions of the world where micronutrient deficiencies threaten the future of children in particular.

Dave: Thanks for your time

Esin: You’re welcome

By Dave Ramaswamy, for Africa Agribusiness Magazine

B. Soundararajan, Chairman and Founder of Suguna Holdings

B. Soundararajan, Chairman and Founder of Suguna Holdings

Suguna Foods Limited, a division of Suguna Holdings, is India’s largest poultry company. Started with a seed capital of about $500, it has grown to $1 billion annual revenue (Rupees 6000 Crore) Suguna operates an innovative contract farming model—with a network of 20,000 farmers—that it now wants to adapt in African countries with suitable local partners.


Dave: How many farmers are there in Suguna’s farming network, and what is your pitch to them? What does Suguna offer to them?

Soundararajan:          We work based on a contract farming model. A contract farming model, whether in India, Africa or any other region of the globe, works in a similar way [and is] based on inputs and outputs. Investments in fixed assets, such as land and buildings, have to be made by the farmer. The management practices have to be implemented by the farmer.

Suguna will provide all the working capital requirements to the farmer. This starts with the poultry chicks, feed, medicines, vaccines, advisory on best management practices and supervision techniques. Suguna will also make all the working capital investments. The farmer will then become an “outgrower” for the company. A farmer will then go on to raise fully grown chicks in about 40 to 45 days. Suguna will take back the live birds on payment of growing charges, based on weight gained by the bird.

Dave: So are you guaranteeing buyback?

Soundararajan:         Yes. Suguna’s role is producing the chicks, producing the feed, supplying these to the farmer, educating the farmer, supervising the growth of the chicken to ensure health, and then marketing of the chicken to distributors. In India we have about 20,000 farmers in our network.

Dave: What does marketing involve? You mean the grown, live birds?

Soundararajan:         Yes. In India, 95 percent of the chicken is sold as live birds. In Africa, too, it would be a similar proportion. Frozen or processed chicken is the remaining 5 percent share of the market. Wherever processing is needed we have our own processing plants. With proper packaging and branding, we take this product to the consumers directly.

Dave: Through your own branded Suguna retail outlets?

Soundararajan:         Yes. We have our own branded shops, about 170 to 180 of them now. Through those we are doing retailing of the processed chicken. For marketing live birds, there is a two-tier structure below us. We sell to distributors in each Indian city, who then turn around and sell to retailers. The distributors take delivery of chickens at farm gate, and then distribute to retailers.

Dave: What is a typical investment required by a farmer on land and buildings? Do they approach Suguna, or do you approach them?

Soundararajan:         At this point in our history—we have been operating for 30 years, and with our good reputation—the farmers approach us. For investments, it is tough to say because there is no fixed amount. We have contract farmers who have poultry sheds ranging from 2000 birds to 20,000 birds. The per bird investment required would range from 120 Rupees to 150 Rupees, as you know what return you will get, and then figure out what working capital you will need. (Note: $2 to $2.50 at prevailing exchange rates) 

Dave: What is the typical return delivered to the farmer?

Soundararajan:         The annual returns for farmers ranges from 16 or 17 percent to 20 percent. They usually recover their investments in four to five years. Also, once farmers join our network, we succeed in at least doubling their incomes.

H.Feed millDave: Now I want to talk about the genesis of the company. How did you get the contract farming idea, and what were the challenges in the first few years of growth?

Soundararajan:         My brother and I started Suguna in 1984, with seed capital of 5000 Rupees, (about $500 at that time), as a trading company dealing with poultry feed and medicines. In 1990 there was a situation in India where farmers were producing surplus chicken and unable to sell at the right time and at the right price. Due to this, farmers lost a lot of money and many went bankrupt.

We then saw an opportunity to implement the contract farming model. The farmers are good at growing chicken but not good at marketing it. They also cannot standardize things on the input side. At that time on the input side, there were many middlemen, up to 14 in some cases, between the supplier and the farmer. Money was going to the middlemen or the retailer, but not to the farmer, who did the most work.

To protect the interests of the farmer, we decided to implement a contract farming model. We had a chance to eliminate many middlemen on the input side. As I said, the role of up to 14 middlemen was taken over by Suguna.

First we became a supplier of inputs, then we standardized the product offering—poultry feed, medicines etc. We also standardized the quality of the inputs. By buying in bulk, we were able to control the prices for farmers, as well as increase negotiating power with our suppliers, in obtaining bulk discounts. We were able to deliver a complete “packaged offering” to the farmer with the right quality/price combination.

This way we allowed a farmer who joined our network to be focused purely on production, without having to run around to banks, suppliers or customers. The sales and marketing part of the chicken was also taken over by Suguna. Through our work, we also came to know about market supply and demand and the variation in pricing across seasons. We could take steps so that the farmers would not be adversely impacted. There was no way the farmer “would lose out” at any time with this contract farming model in place. Suguna would manage all the risks on their behalf. The company would handle any pricing fluctuations and make sure that the farmers were protected. Over the course of the 1990s, many farmers started becoming a part of our network as word of our pioneering model spread.

Now in India, 100,000 farmers are involved in the contract farming model for poultry, and we have about 20,000 farmers. We have become India’s largest poultry company, with over a one billion dollars in revenue.

Dave: In the 1990s and 2000s, there were periodic avian flu outbreaks. How did that impact your business?

Soundararajan:         It did not impact our business too much. Wherever you have backyard poultry, there are multiple bird species, not just chicken. Other species got affected, not broiler or layer birds. Of course, in the early days, once the outbreak hit, consumers were fearful of eating chicken. So demand dipped initially during this period, but soon recovered. Nowadays, we feel consumers are more confident about the industry’s ability to handle such outbreaks, and they buy and eat chicken from different brands. The Suguna brand offers consumers peace of mind. There have been a few other outbreaks in the last two or three years in India, especially in the eastern part of the country. But this has not affected the rest of the country.

Now demand is stable in India and there is no drop in consumption, but instead we see a steady year-on-year increase. While the Indian poultry sector is growing at 10 percent annually, Suguna is expected to post 20 percent annual growth, and we see a growth of about 30 percent a year in our ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook chicken products.

Dave: Now in the US and Europe, there is a push to treat birds humanely. There is marketing of cage-free eggs. Do you see consumer demand for this in your Middle Eastern export markets?

Soundararajan:         We see this trend mostly in Europe. It is still early days in the US. Such a product demand is only 5 percent of the total need. Only a small percentage of consumers request such products. We are ready to cater to this demand as and when required. The markets where we operate now—in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Middle East—are quite price-sensitive, and we don’t hear of such requests now from our customers. In the next five years, we don’t see any change in this demand scenario. In Africa, it would also be a similar situation where consumers are price-sensitive.

European producers are losing their competitive edge to Brazilian suppliers. In Europe, there are bans in place for growing and marketing GMO food products. But Brazilian chicken sold in Europe is raised on GMO feed. In contrast, all of Suguna’s chicken is raised on non-GMO feed. The chicken we sell at our retail outlets has no added hormones.

Dave: Could you speak about your growth trajectory? How long did it take you to have 1000 farmers, 5000 farmers etc. in your network?

Soundararajan:         In 1990 we had three farmers. In 1997 we had 40 farmers. In the year 2000 we had 1000 farmers. Now we are in excess of 20,000 farmers.

Dave: If you’re starting the company now in a new African geographic location with a local partner, what would you do differently? It took you about 25 years to reach 20,000 farmers? How long would it take you to reach 20,000 farmers knowing what you now?

Soundararajan:         If there are no financing constraints and not much emphasis on margins, we can reach that number in about 10 years.

In India, markets are quite competitive now. We cannot expect the same level of growth we had before. We are producing 7.5 million chickens per week. If Suguna produces an additional million chickens per week, we would be oversupplying the market, and our margins will take a hit.

Dave: You talked to me earlier about your interests of entering African markets because of similarities with India, especially with comparable purchasing power levels. Also some African markets now are where India was 20 years ago, and so you could utilize your experience to serve those markets in a high-quality yet cost-effective way. What markets are you interested in entering?

Soundararajan:         We have made exploratory visits to Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. There we found the contract farming model in poultry has yet to be started. And just like in India, the majority of the demand there now is in live birds. Those markets are not as developed as in India, so we could increase incomes of local farmers there while lowering prices for customers based on our 30 years of experience and knowledge.

In Kenya, they do about 600,000 to 1 million birds per week. Margins are much better than in India. Farm gate prices are much higher. There is a problem with procuring feed. Soya meal is imported. White corn/maize and not yellow corn/maize is grown.

The challenge will be getting the feed. Lot of good agricultural areas, but yellow corn is not allowed to be produced. They are worried about cross-pollination of white and yellow varieties. So we would have to compete with food grain. That is one problem. The other problem is getting soybean meal.

We don’t want to rely on imports for our feed. It would not be efficient and we cannot be assured of stable supplies and prices. We would be subject to political forces beyond our control, putting our operations at risk.

In any market we enter in Africa, we would like to lower the production cost for chicken to benefit local customers and help correct nutritional deficits, especially in proteins. For this, streamlining the regulatory system is most critical. For example, COMESA exists on paper, but there are still lot of regulatory barriers for free trade across these member countries.

Dave: If you enter an African country, would you go it alone or work with a local partner?

Soundararajan:         We would definitely want a local partner. We would like and need the support of the local community. Also, a local partner can help us manage political risks and local complexities with their on-the-ground presence. We cannot do that sitting in South India.

Dave: Who would be a good candidate for a local partner?

Soundararajan:         Based in India, we cannot assume an operational role in Africa. So we want someone there who knows the poultry business well. If we don’t have someone like that, we have to send people from India, both senior and operational people, to manage the business. This is not viable. Plus, this is not our philosophy. We want to train and develop local African manpower. We can give inputs, expertise and management guidance. That is easy for us. But the operations need to be fully handled by local people in Africa.

So we want an African partner who knows poultry, understands poultry and can be hands-on in running the business. Someone who we can trust and shares our values in promoting inclusive economic growth, raising farmer incomes and encouraging social development.

Dave: What would be the investment required by an African partner? How many birds per week?

Soundararajan: We would look at doing/reaching 100,000 birds per week. We could reach this level in three to four years. If you consider individual East African countries, they typically do half a million birds per week now. So we could help our local partner there to capture 20 percent of the market. In India, 50 million birds per week is the overall market. In each East African market, it varies from 400,000 to 600,000 birds per week now. That is, each country averaging about half a million birds per week. We cannot expect big volumes there.

In five to seven years, we can help an African country partner reach 20 percent to 25 percent of the market share doing 150,000 to 200,000 birds per week. You cannot reach 80 percent market share in any country; 15 to 20 percent market share is a viable target and is doable. To do 100,000 birds per week, about $4 million would be the total required investment. We can discuss with the potential African local partner how this investment commitment would be split, whether it would be 50-50 or some other ratio.

Dave: Does this investment amount include the feed business and input supply business like poultry medicines and enzymes?

Soundararajan:         In African countries, that might be our ideal entry point. That would be to enter or start with the poultry breeding business and feed-milling business with a local partner. This would allow us to understand the market and then, after a few years, launch a contract farming business. You travel a lot in Africa and/or meet a lot of agribusiness people from there based in the United States. If you come across some good people in the poultry business, please put us in touch. They need to have poultry domain expertise. We would be happy to explore joint venture options with them.

For a market size of 500,000 birds per week, we can think of setting up a feed mill plant; 8000 to 10,000 tons per month would be the total required feed capacity, so we could try target 25 percent of that. So that would require a 2500 tons per month or 100 tons per day feed mill plant. This plant would require about $1.5 million dollars in investment.

I earlier talked about a $4 million dollar investment. Out of that two-thirds would go toward setting up breeding and feed milling operations.

Dave: What about the market for poultry medicines and enzymes?

Soundararajan:         We have to handle that differently, through the distributor model. We have a company headquartered in Delhi, Bovian Healthcare Pvt. Ltd., which manufactures those. They are selling poultry medicine, vitamins and therapeutics all over India.

Dave: What about poultry equipment? Do you manufacture and export them?

Soundararajan:         Yes, we do manufacture poultry equipment and sell within India. We currently export only to Bangladesh, and not to African markets. We could consider those on a case-by-case basis.

Dave: What about European and American manufacturers of poultry equipment?

Soundararajan:         Their equipment is too big for most African markets. The investments required to purchase them would be ten times as much as Suguna’s equipment. So for most individual buyers in Africa, European/American equipment would be way over capacity, at least for the next 20 years.

Dave: In Africa, there is talk now of how to get youth interested in agriculture? How would you address this?

Soundararajan:         The agribusiness sector has to give confidence to youth graduating from high school or college. Only then they will step in to this sector. Currently, many aspects of this sector are not integrated and/or there is lack of proper infrastructure.

Let us talk about agriculture in India, [where conditions are similar to much of sub-Saharan Africa]. Here even the older smallholder farmers are fed up. That is why they tell their children not to enter the farming business. They encourage their children to leave the village and go to the city for higher education. They advise their children to study engineering, medicine or information technology, and not return back to the farm.

In India, we see that after 10 or 15 years in the big crowded city, these children are stressed out and yearn to return back to their rural agricultural roots. In the IT sector, most people cannot work more than 10 years without feeling burnt out. In the manufacturing sectors, 70 percent to 80 percent of the product cost is the cost of the underlying input commodities or materials. In the IT sector, 70 percent to 80 percent of the software delivery cost are the people. So in the IT sector, they will cut costs by asking a given number of people to work more—to the point of burnout. So many of these IT professionals after seven to 10 years want to do something different. If they are from an agricultural background, many would think of returning to their rural roots. But when they come back home to their small town or village, the rural infrastructure is still weak, with no comforts and conveniences of the big city, like power, water, hospitals, restaurants etc. So, if you talk to ten smallholder farmers in India, all ten farmers will say, “Farming is not a future I want for my children.”

I think we could consider the kibbutz—group or collective farming—model to revitalize India and African agriculture. Israel was forced to adapt to this model in the wake of World War II. Now we can consider collective farming in a very structured way to meet looming food security challenges. Achieving farmers’ unity is a big problem with individual land holdings of two to three acres. In India, individual land holdings are much smaller than that. So we need to consider a farming unit of at least 1000 acres. On this plot size, five to ten young people can handle all farm functions if machinery rental and farming services are made available by third parties. Other young entrepreneurs could come together and provide these support services. Currently on one acre, you have two or three people working to achieve meager returns. This is not a lucrative opportunity for young ambitious people.

We have started the Suguna Institute of Poultry Management (SIPM) to train youths who want to enter this sector. Our aim is to help unemployed and underemployed youths to get self-employment opportunities across rural and urban India. SIPM imparts education and training on scientific poultry production, poultry farming, poultry breeder management, hatchery and incubation techniques, feed manufacturing and disease control measures. Our desire is to give hands-on training in various operations at different poultry farms and in its allied sectors, such as feed mills, processing plants, and disease quality control laboratories.

We welcome African officials and businessmen to visit our facilities so there can be an exchange of ideas.

Dave: There are a lot of donors who want to encourage smallholder farming in Africa, while you are saying even smallholders, at least in India, don’t want their children to follow in their footsteps.

Soundararajan:         Farming on one acre is simply not economically viable or attractive. Your income is capped at a few hundred dollars a year after backbreaking work. No young person will choose this kind of life. Even their parents do not want this for them.

When you’re doing farming, out of total expenditure or total input costs, one of the topmost is that of labor. The second is fertilizers. Third may be pesticides and agrochemicals.

To gain confidence of youngsters, collective farming needs to be implemented at adequate unit sizes of at least 1000 acres. Then necessary support structures need to be put in place—like having access to farm equipment rentals, adequate water facilities for irrigation, uninterrupted power supply. All these things are needed. If these things are in place, a young person in India or Africa might be attracted to agriculture.

Dave: If I can summarize what you said, it is that “the network is the farm,” and we need adequate infrastructure and support systems to protect against downside risk from weather etc. Standalone farming with no irrigation on one-acre plots of land is just too risky.

Soundararajan:         That is correct. In India, there are subsidies to buy new tractors—50 percent of the tractor cost is borne by the government. Where available, power to pump groundwater is free. Fertilizers and agricultural inputs for farmers are subsidized. Banks lend to farmers at 6 percent to 7 percent, well below lending rates to other sectors. Yet few young people want to enter agriculture because individual landholdings are capped at 15 acres. So governments need to get all the pieces of the agriculture support ecosystem right to encourage youth participation in agriculture.

Dave: Sir, thank you for your comments and time.

Soundararajan: You are welcome.

By Deborah B. Hamilton, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation

Pearl millet, one of the most extensively cultivated cereals in the world and a key staple crop in the African Sahel, is particularly important to the food security of smallholder farmers in arid regions. With over 230,000 millet farmers in Senegal, over 3.9 million millet farmers in West Africa, and over 95 percent of these farmers using the ancient mortar and pestle to thresh millet, the demand and need for an improved technology are immense.

However, up to 10 to 20 percent of this critical crop is lost in postharvest as smallholders largely rely on rudimentary hand tools for threshing, winnowing, and milling pearl millet into edible flour. In addition, these tasks fall primarily to women who bear the brunt of this physically demanding and ultimately inefficient process.

With few effective tools available for smallholders to reduce the labor needed to process the grain, Compatible Technology International (CTI), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, developed Outils de Céréales, a mechanical, hand-operated tool package that processes pearl millet from seed heads into clean, unbroken grain in minutes. Outils de Céréales includes a manually operated stripper, thresher, winnower, and grinder. The thresher alone allows women to process one kilogram of grain in three minutes, less than half the time and twice the efficiency as threshing manually. It also captures more than 90 percent of the grain, significantly reducing food waste.

Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation invested almost $400,000 in a commercialization grant to help CTI make its product more accessible and affordable for Senegal’s smallholder farmers. With program support, CTI began working in partnership with SISMAR, a Senegalese manufacturer with a regional marketing presence that has a strong brand and reputation for quality, with the goal to reduce the sales price 35 percent by eliminating the shipping, customs, and logistics costs incurred by external manufacturing. The commercialization grant also allows CTI and SISMAR to test market the more affordable product; by end-activity, over 1,000 communities and cooperatives affecting 16,200 individuals will have purchased them, and provided feedback. The true transformative impact of the package will be post pilot phase, however, when SISMAR will have ramped up its manufacturing to meet exponentially increasing demand. As the market for this product increases, it has the potential to reach a majority of Senegal’s smallholders with even greater potential for expansion throughout West Africa.

By Skye Lawrence, Africa Agribusiness Magazine

AAM: You recently participated in a panel discussion entitled, How to Build Resilience in the Face of Climate Change and Weather Shocks. What is your vision for a resilient global food system, particularly in Africa?

Shenggen: I think a globally resilient food system is one where everybody has constant, stable access to nutritious food. It is as simple as that. A resilient system occurs at a global level where there are functioning and efficient systems with no trade barriers, restrictions, and food can move to where it is needed. That is on the global level; the national level needs to produce enough nutritious food, which includes imports and stocks. We need to have the right amount of stocks because when there are shocks, whether they are weather or conflict-related, there needs to be adequate food in the national pantry so that food can be distributed efficiently.

AAM: Which “links” of the value chain are the most important to creating this system?

Shenggen: Storage is really important for building the value chain in Africa. It has two purposes. One is to help poor, hungry people. The other is for farmers to get higher prices. As you know during harvest season everybody’s trying to sell, so the prices go down, but if they can store their produce they can wait until later in the season when there is high demand and therefore get higher prices. For this farmers really need to have good infrastructure: warehouses, facilities, and in many cases cold storage.

Storage is one example of a business in Africa where private sector players can play important roles to build commercially viable businesses. Not all farmers need to individually have these facilities.  The farmer could pay a fee to store their grains in a commercial structure, which allows the private sector to make money. Storage for commercial farm goods would work just the way a personal storage unit does. If you go away, you can leave your stuff there. All you have to do is pay a fee. This allows farmers to “go away” to wait for higher prices before they retrieve their grain to sell.

The private sector can also provide other important “links” in the chain, for instance traders, seed companies, post-harvest processing, and transportation.  Private sector activity can really increase the value of the entire value chain, and smallholders can benefit when they capture some of that value addition.  An example of this is the Ethiopian commodity exchange. It sets up warehouses in different parts of the country where farmers can store coffee, tea and grain.

But I have to say, this is all production side. For the consumption side, having adequate reserves plays a crucial role in preventing malnutrition crises. For example, during the 2007-2008 food crisis Bangladesh did not have enough reserves. In the meantime there wasn’t enough food in the international market. That’s why the country was really panicked. We need to avoid that situation in Africa with adequate warehousing for reserves.

In 2002 the Horn of Africa food crisis taught us a hard lesson. We learned that the international aid agencies like the World Food Programme needed access to food to purchase in order to distribute it to the poor in Somalia.  We need regional reserves in the appropriate quantity that are close to hotspots. Having too much reserve is a waste, but not having enough is a major problem. Trade is a very important element because it is the best way to ship food from surplus areas to deficit areas. In the meantime the reserve can help the poor through the shock. Overall trade, stock, and reserve have to be looked at very carefully.

We have talked a lot about having a globally resilient food system, but more importantly is the resilient community food system. Everybody needs to make sure they have certain strategies to ensure their families have access to food, for example through insurance, their own storage or community sharing mechanisms.

AAM: What is the difference between “stock” and “reserves”?

Shenggen: Stocks and reserves are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are important differences. Stocks are commonly used as a way to stabilize prices. By buying and selling grain at strategic times, marketing boards or governments can help support farmers and improve food availability to consumers through physical grain stocks. But this strategy has limitations—in particular, they do not effectively address food security emergencies during a national or international food crisis.

Strategic grain reserves are primarily intended to guarantee availability of food in situations of extreme weather or crisis. Some reserves also function as a part of pricing policies, but this is not recommended. Most of the time, strategic grain reserves with this kind of price support does not work well. But a reserve like Ethiopia’s Emergency Food Security Reserve Administration, which is not involved in buying and selling grain, has been very successful. They have helped address quite a few food security emergencies since its creation in the 1990s.

There are ways to develop smart strategic grain reserves, but they must be well managed and their policies must be market-friendly and context specific. Establishing linkages with pre-existing food safety nets, like school feeding programs, can help improve the effectiveness of reserves. Overall, developing a functional grain reserve will provide an extra measure of food security in times of crisis.

AAM: How important a role does research into diverse crop varieties play in creating a resilient food system?

Shenggen: There are two answers. One is for the existing crops. We still have great potential to improve their resilience by increasing tolerance against heat waves, flood drought, frosts. The new variety should be able to withstand these elements. The second important factor is nutrition. The new varieties could have enhanced nutrition through the selection of seeds and through breeding to increase nutrition.

Farmers also need to diversify their crops so they are growing more than just one staple crop such as rice or wheat, which can be vulnerable to the elements. However, if farmers diversify, particularly with vegetables and fruits, they become quite resilient and they have the benefit of consuming more nutritious and micronutrient-rich foods. You don’t actually need to do much research because it’s more about knowledge transfer, effective policies and incentives.

AAM: Where is climate change effecting farmers the most?

Shenggen: Right now we still don’t know a lot. There’s a data problem and some modeling issues. However, we do know that in some of the dry areas, particularly just south of Sub-Saharan Africa (south of the desert) the droughts are already happening. I’m afraid that because of climate change their frequency and intensely will increase. The Sahel and the Horn of Africa, these are probably the two areas that will suffer the most from climate change.

AAM: What government/private sector responses have been successful in regions combating climate change? Which responses have failed?

Shenggen: Responses have been somewhere in the middle; well, perhaps closer to the failing side of the spectrum. There are some small successes where farmers have begun to plant drought resistant crops, invest in irrigation, and diversify away from planting just one or two crops which are very vulnerable to climate change. We have seen some successes, but definitely more needs to be done. For example, we need more research on  drought tolerant varieties, and more investment in irrigation and water catchment systems capable of moving water from surplus to deficit areas.

AAM: How important are farms of scale for a secure food system? What tools are needed to move “smallholders” to becoming “medium holders”?

Shenggen: At the global level I think it is clear that the size of farms has to be increased, particularly in emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and Vietnam. This is because people are moving to the cities. For Africa we have to be careful because urbanization has to happen, and the non-farm sector has to develop before farm size increases. Without development of rural nonfarm sector you push the people off of their land. These people will become homeless, the people without jobs in the city. Then you will have African spring! Not just Arab Spring. It is very critical to make sure that unless they can move out voluntarily, simply increasing the size of farms would do more harm than good. I think the first thing Africa needs to think about is the development of the rural, nonfarm sector. This is the experience of Asia. You need to move people outside of the agricultural sector, without moving them to cities. This is where smaller cities can be a good solution because they present economic opportunities for non-farm employment and are an alternative to megacities.

“Pulling out” is better than “pushing out”. Pulling out means that there are jobs in cities so people voluntarily go to the city for a better life, income and entertainment. We call this pulling out. Pushing out means that because of population pressure, the available land in your village continues to be divided to the point where there is not enough land for everybody. Because people don’t have viable livelihoods in the rural area they move to the city. This is how you create urban slums. The good lesson is Vietnam and China because farmers move to the cities voluntarily. The bad lesson was India some years ago, small holders lost their land and moved to the cities, but they did not have jobs so now you see big slums in Calcutta, Bombay and New Delhi.

AAM: Is another reason for getting “pushed out” the increasing size of farms spurred by foreign investment? If this is not happening yet, do you see this being a factor in the future as foreign investment increases in the agricultural sector and land concessions are given in Ethiopia, Ghana, and other countries?

Shenggen: As I mentioned, increasing farm sizes can push people out, particularly in Africa where the rural, non-farm sector is not as developed. It has not happened to the extent we have seen in India. Foreign investment in land is happening in Africa, though there is no consensus yet of its impact on smallholders getting “pushed out”, or on food security.

Foreign investment in land in Africa can benefit smallholders in need of investment in agriculture, but there are serious risks. There are risks of displacement of smallholders and reduced access to resources for local communities. There are also implications for food security, as often times foreign investors buy fertile land in poor, food-insecure countries. These lands are often used to produce biofuels. There is not much of a market for alternative energy in Africa. Investing in food projects would yield higher returns to local food availability.

Foreign direct investment in land must not undermine the food security and nutrition or the livelihoods of poor people. To get to a win-win situation, there must be contracts in place so that poor farmers are not forcibly displaced, but can reap the benefits of increased investment and shared knowledge. Innovative joint ventures, such as contract farming, can meet the needs of both investors and rural communities. It is a task for the government to provide a strong legal and institutional framework to ensure that investments in agriculture benefit the poor. We also need to empower local communities by increasing their capacity for land governance and contract negotiation skills.

AAM: What role do local scientific institutions play in creating in-country policy and extension services?

Shenggen: A huge, huge, huge role! Currently the major policies and technologies came from outside of Africa from organizations such as the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization and IFPRI. This is good for now before Africa has its own capacity. My vision is that in the future major policies should be analyzed, recommended, proposed, monitored and implemented by local agencies at the national level in Africa.  Technologies need to be adapted to local weather, climate, soil, and economic conditions. This is not just for the public sector, but also the private sector. Local companies that know the area can effectively disseminate knowledge and technology to farmers. Africa lacks capacity; that is the major weakness. Unless Africans have their own capacity to lead, own and drive their strategies and technologies development will not come.

AAM: Are there any exemplary universities in Africa that have created successful programs?

Shenggen: There are some good universities in Africa, for example the University of Ghana, Makerere University in Uganda, and many universities in South Africa. They have trained lots of good scientists, researchers and government officials, but the scale is just too small. We need hundreds, thousands, of universities where they can train Africans in technology, business, and policy. Capacity building in Africa is key!

Written by Rukondo Haam, CEO Rhamz International

The Agribusiness Development & Management Centre in Uganda

Uganda, the pearl of Africa, has taken important steps in transforming conventional agricultural production into an organic farming system, with significant benefits for its economy, society and the environment. Organic Agriculture (OA) is defined by the Codex Alimentarius Commission as a holistic production management system, which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It prohibits the use of synthetic inputs, such as drugs, fertilizers and pesticides. An Agribusiness Expert in Uganda shared with our reporter the future of organic agriculture in the Banana Republic (Uganda).

Why Organic Agriculture?

Perhaps the most unique feature of Uganda’s organic agriculture is the high coordination, involvement and commitment from all stakeholders in the organic sector. From public institutions including the Ministries of Trade, Agriculture, Uganda Export Promotions Board, Uganda National Bureau of Standards, Uganda Coffee Development Authority, Cotton development Organization, the President’s office, to private institutions (all under the umbrella of NOGAMU) these include farmer`s associations, export companies, NGOs, CBOs, and private Universities. There is a high spirit of working together among all stakeholders under the public private partnership arrangement. Due to Uganda’s geographical location, a wide range of organic products can be grown in the country throughout the year. These could be looked into two categories: i.e. these largely targeting the export market and the other grown or processed targeting the local/domestic and regional markets. The local market crops range from staple foods like plantains (locally known as Matooke), millet, cassava, local and exotic vegetables and fruits, juices, honey, to processed and livestock products like eggs.

What are the Facts and Figures?

Uganda has one of the fastest growing organic certified lands in Africa. The products grown organically and sourced from Uganda include cotton (lint, yarn and finished garments), coffee (Arabic and Robusta), sesame (simsim), dried fruit (pineapples, apple bananas, mangoes, jack-fruit), fresh fruits (pineapple, apple bananas, passion fruits, avocadoes, papaya (pawpaw), ginger), jack-fruit, , vanilla, cocoa, fish, shea butter and shea nuts, bird eyed chilies, dried hibiscus, honey and bark cloth. These products are exported to Europe, USA, Asia and other parts of Africa among others. The numbers of organic exporters in Uganda has been growing and are fully certified or in conversion, from internationally accredited certifying bodies operating in Uganda.

Currently, Uganda has over 400,000 internationally certified organic farmers, the first and second largest certified farmers in Africa and world over respectively. The highest number is found in India. Uganda had the world’s 13th-largest land area under organic agriculture production and the most in Africa. By 2013, Uganda had around 350,000 hectares of land under organic farming covering more than 2 percent of agricultural land. There are 44 certified export companies. Member organizations are over 500 in Uganda and outside the country. The value of trade less organic turnover is currently over US$37 million per annum. The demand for organic products from Uganda is high about US$600 million.

Uganda uses among the world’s lowest amount of artificial fertilizers, at less than 2 percent (or 1kg/ha) of the already very low continent-wide average of 9kg/ha in Sub Saharan Africa. The widespread lack of fertilizer use has been harnessed as a real opportunity to pursue organic forms of agricultural production, a policy direction widely embraced by Uganda. According to International Federation of Agriculture Movement (IFOAM), the global market for organic foods and drinks is estimated to be around US$50 billion, and increases by 10- 20 per cent annually. This sub-sector provides a unique export opportunity for many developing countries, owing to the fact that 97 percent of the revenues are generated in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) countries, while 80 per cent of the producers are found in developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a significant producer of organic products, Uganda benefits from an important source of export earnings and revenue for farmers. In terms of price premiums and income for farmers, the farm-gate prices of organic pineapple, ginger and vanilla are 300 percent, 185 percent, and 150 percent higher, respectively than conventional products.

What is the Policy Environment for Organic Agriculture?

On the policy side, in 2004 the Uganda Organic Standard was adopted, while in 2007, as part of the East African Community, Uganda adopted the regional standard, the East African Organic Products Standards (EAOPS) developed under a joint UNEP-UNCTAD initiative. In July 2009, the government released a Draft Uganda Organic Agriculture Policy. The draft policy describes the vision, mission, objectives and strategies to support the development of organic agriculture as “one of the avenues for delivering self-sustaining growth as it provides mechanisms for individual farmers to improve productivity, add value and access markets which are keys to achievement of the Poverty Eradication Action Plan objectives”.

The strategy put in place to implement the policy is based on interventions in nine policy areas: the promotion of organic agriculture as a complementary agricultural production system; the development of a system of standards, certification and accreditation; the promotion of research, to enable technology development and dissemination; support to the development of local, regional and international markets for organic products; the generation of information, knowledge and skills through education and training; the improvement of post-harvest handling practices, preservation, storage and value addition; the sustainable use of natural resources; and participation of the special interest groups such as women, youth, and the poor and vulnerable.


Uganda has taken an apparent liability – limited access to chemical inputs – and turned this into a comparative advantage by growing its organic agriculture base, generating revenue and income for smallholder farmers. Through organic farming, Uganda not only gains economically, it also contributes to mitigating climate change, as Green House Gas (GHG) emissions per ha are estimated to be on average 64 per cent lower than emissions from conventional farms. Various studies have shown that organic fields sequester 3–8 tonnes more carbon per hectare than conventional agriculture.

About Us

Digital Green is a not for profit international development organization that uses an innovative digital platform for community engagement to improve livelihoods of rural communities across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. We partner with local public, private and civil society organizations to share knowledge on improved agricultural practices, livelihoods, health, and nutrition, using locally produced videos and human mediated dissemination. In a controlled evaluation, the approach was found to be 10 times more cost-effective and uptake of new practices seven times higher compared to traditional extension services.

Till date, we have produced over 2800 videos in more than 20 languages, reached 2,200 villages and over 130,000 farmers. We currently implement projects in eight states in India and in select areas in Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia in Africa in partnership with over 20 partners.

Our Approach

We engage with and empower rural communities to produce participatory localized videos, leveraging pre-existing group structures to disseminate these videos through human mediation. These videos are of the community, by the community and for the community. The approach includes: (1) a participatory process for video production on improved livelihood practices, (2) a human-mediated learning model for video dissemination and training, (3) a hardware and software technology platform for data management customized to limited or intermittent Internet and electrical grid connectivity, and (4) an iterative model to progressively address the needs and interests of the community with analytical tools and interactive phone-based feedback channels

Our data management software called Connect Online | Connect Offline (COCO) and Analytics dashboard suite customized to low resource settings are used to collect and analyse near real-time data on dissemination, adoption, and community interest.

Ministry of Agriculture, Oxfam America, Sasakawa Africa Association Geography: Three districts (Arsi Negele, Gumer and D. Libanos) in Oromia and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS) Regions

We are collaborating with Oxfam America (OA) and Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA), along with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), to implement a pilot project to use participatory, mediated videos to promote key agricultural behaviors among rural community members. This pilot adapts our approach to the Ethiopian MoA agricultural extension context to reach approximately 1,000 farmer households.

We aim to amplify the effectiveness of government extension systems for agriculture by building the capacity of Ethiopian Development Agents (DAs), Ethiopia’s cadre of agricultural extension officers working in every kabele (clustered village) location, as well as Government-supported Farmer Training Centers (FTCs), also set up in each kabele. By training DAs in our video production and dissemination techniques, and by providing technical operational support of low-cost mediated, instructional video as a method of extension services, we aim to ensure the sustainability of the project.

The key behaviors disseminated through videos relate to locally relevant agronomic practices to help farmers increase productivities and save costs. Videos are being produced by local intermediaries trained in each of the 3 engaged districts on topics such as land management, pest and weed management, harvesting, post-harvest care and market linkages. Existing farmer groups, each consisting of approximately 20 farmers, attend disseminations conducted by trained DAs

International Development Enterprises (iDE)

Geography: 3150 households, 105 villages, seven districts of Rift Valley and Highlands in Oromia region.

We partnered with iDE in 2012 to leverage our approach in two districts of the Rift Valley to gauge its efficacy in communicating good agricultural practices and technologies in the Ethiopian context. The project elicited strong interest and support

from the 335 households in 19 villages participating in the pilot. This encouraged the scaling up and expansion of this approach to enable food security and livelihoods promotion.

The project is operational in seven districts where we provide training and supportive supervision to iDE staff and community intermediaries in project design, introduction of low-cost technologies, capacity building in video production and dissemination, quality assurance and monitoring and evaluation. iDE is primarily responsible for executing activities through their existing network of domain experts and community intermediaries by making use of our standard operating procedures and technology stack to implement the project.

The key behaviors disseminated through videos relate to low-cost irrigation technologies and locally relevant farming practices to help farmers increase productivities and save costs. In Ethiopia, many small-plot farmers cannot afford to irrigate their land and therefore have to rely on rain-fed cereal crops. iDE has developed low-cost irrigation technologies such as rope and washer pump and suction only treadle pumps to support farmers in irrigating their land. iDE employs local community marketing agents (CMAs) in ensuring easy access to these technologies as well as to spread awareness about its benefits and use. To support the CMAs in this, approximately 50 instructional videos on topics such as benefits of rope and washer pump are developed. Existing farmer groups, each constituting of approximately 15-20 farmers attend human mediated screenings of such 8-10 minute long videos conducted by CMAs. Regular adoption verification visits to assess behavior change are also conducted with a target that at least 1500 farmers adopt at least 1 practice successfully through the project.
Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

We have partnered with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to build the capacity of existing extension personnel within four Sub-Saharan countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Mozambique – to amplify the effectiveness of AGRA’s Soil Health Program. The project will integrate videos showcasing farmers who have begun innovating with AGRA-supported blended fertilizer and lime inputs across various staple crops. The project will roll out in 30 different villages, engaging approximately 2,500 farmers. In Ethiopia, our trainers conducted video production and group facilitation trainings for MoA DAs. In Tanzania, our trainers will work with community facilitators engaged with Faida Market Link, an organization working to improve linkages between producers and market value chains.

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

We have partnered with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to build the
capacity of existing extension personnel within four Sub-Saharan countries –
Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Mozambique – to amplify the effectiveness of
AGRA’s Soil Health Program. The project will integrate videos showcasing farmers
who have begun innovating with AGRA-supported blended fertilizer and lime inputs
across various staple crops. The project will roll out in 30 different villages, engaging
approximately 2,500 farmers. In Ethiopia, our trainers conducted video production
and group facilitation trainings for MoA DAs. In Tanzania, our trainers will work with
community facilitators engaged with Faida Market Link, an organization working to
improve linkages between producers and market value chains.

Sasakawa Africa Association – Nutritious Maize for Ethiopia project
Digital Green aims to increase the consumption of protein in 3000 vulnerable
households in the Amhara region by engaging communities with locally relevant
instructional videos on quality protein maize (QPM). By working with Sasakawa
Africa Association within three woredas (districts) in the region, Digital Green will
build the capacities of health extension workers (HEWs) as well as development
agents (DAs) to produce and showcase the videos to farmer groups as well as
health development armies (HDAs). QPM consumption recipes, nutritional
components of the maize crop itself, cultural practices affecting nutritional

Sasakawa Africa Association – Nutritious Maize for Ethiopia project
Digital Green aims to increase the consumption of protein in 3000 vulnerable
households in the Amhara region by engaging communities with locally relevant
instructional videos on quality protein maize (QPM). By working with Sasakawa
Africa Association within three woredas (districts) in the region, Digital Green will
build the capacities of health extension workers (HEWs) as well as development
agents (DAs) to produce and showcase the videos to farmer groups as well as
health development armies (HDAs). QPM consumption recipes, nutritional
components of the maize crop itself, cultural practices affecting nutritional child-feeding, and the best QPM-related agronomic practices are examples of some of the

video topics that will be shared with households to promote healthy diets through the
consumption of QPM. Digital Green aims to integrate agriculture and nutrition-centric
messages into the videos that will be produced for this pilot project. Each of the three
engaged woredas will serve as video production hubs to produce these locally
relevant videos. The videos will be produced by a mixed team of technical health and
agriculture experts and will leverage the strengths of HEWs, HDAs, DAs, and farmer


Digital Green’s collaboration with PATH will reach approximately 4000 households in
2 districts of Oromia region – Wuchalle and Dodata. Pregnant and lactating mothers
will be targeted through the Ethiopian health development army structures, as well
as pregnant women’s conferences located in each kabele.


nextgen_cassava_logoCassava is an important staple in sub Saharan Africa and provides daily calories for about 500 million. It is a generally hardy crop that thrives in marginal environments where other crops may fail due to drought, poor soils or other abiotic stresses making it a premium food security crop. Cassava is fraught with myriads of diseases chief of which are cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), both viral diseases. CBSD is a huge threat to the entire cassava growing African nations because there is limited or in some cases no known sources of resistance in the cassava germplasm. It is spreading like wild fire from its hotspot zones of eastern Africa to central Africa and a debut in West Africa will pose a phenomenal disaster for West Africa especially in countries like Nigeria and Ghana where it is a major food. There are other important diseases like cassava bacterial blight (CBB) and pests such as cassava green mites (CGM) among others.

image_galleryThe Next Generation Cassava Breeding (NEXTGEN Cassava) project aims to significantly increase the rate of genetic improvement in cassava breeding.The project aims to test a new breeding method known as Genomic Selection that relies on statistical modeling to predict cassava performance before field-testing. Cornell University researchers has partnered with other scientists at cassava breeding programs at NaCRRI; the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), both in Nigeria; as well as the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) for Plant Research and the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE-JGI) of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, both in the U.S. NEXTGEN Cassava is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated $25 million, and the UK Department for International Development.

Chiedozie Egesi is an assistant director and head of the cassava breeding team at the National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, Nigeria. He has led efforts at developing and releasing to Nigerian cassava farmers several improved varieties of cassava including pro-vitamin A cassava. His research activities involve the use of cross-cutting biotechnology tools in the genetic improvement of cassava including transgenic technologies. Chiedozie supports several African NARS cassava breeding programs in developing adaptive breeding schemes. He has worked previously as a university teacher and a yam breeder and have participated in the development and release of 6 yam varieties. The following is an interview he did for the magazine.

What is the importance of cassava on the African continent and the globe as a whole?

Cassavafarmers_nigeria_obisike.Tufan_Cassava is the African crop par excellence in terms of the number of people who depend on it daily for food and livelihood. Its advantages include the ability to store the roots in-ground for up to 2 or more years enables piece meal harvesting. Even though it contains cyanogen compounds these can easily be removed as the roots are processed into ready to eat forms. The cyangogenic compounds in turn protect it against animal attack. It is also an important raw material for starch and flour. It is excellent in the starch and flour yield per unit area surpassing most carbohydrate sources. It is also has potential use in biofuels.

What is open data?

Open data is the state of making all data freely available for use by any interested member of the public without restrictions. This is an adherence to what is called the Toronto Agreement on prepublication data release to foster transparent and accessible data sharing for the good of the public. It is important that the huge datasets being generated by the use of modern technologies in science are put together in standardized formats for unrestricted access by all who are interested.

What is the significance of data within the agricultural sector?

Scientists and policy or development workers make decisions daily based on available data. The quantum of information being generated in recent times will enable agricultural scientists make better decisions that will in turn benefit millions of people going hungry daily. Open data for agriculture will increase agricultural efficiency globally.

What implications would open data have on Africa? 

Open data for Africa means that African scientists will have access to Agricultural data generated by the developed countries. These data should be stored in databases that are easy to use, access, and with tools that will enable their utility in developing countries.

What challenges does this initiative face?

Challenges for the use of open data in crop improvement will include the ability to manage the huge data sets that are now available and how to make use of them to the benefit of mankind. Digitized agriculture should be the way forward in enabling higher precision research with most likelihood of success.

The Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU) in Ethiopia—the birthplace of coffee—is the largest organic coffee exporter in the world. The union collects six types of high-quality, organic Arabica coffee beans, all with distinctive and highly desirable flavor characteristics, from more than 250,000 farmers across the Oromia region.
In only 15 years OCFCU’s exports have grown nearly a hundredfold, with sales of $40 million, making it the largest coffee producer and exporter in Ethiopia. Key to the union’s success has been to link Ethiopia’s smallholder farmers directly to export markets. The prior central auction marketing process did not allow for quality distinctions.
Beginning in 2000, ACDI/VOCA, a nonprofit development organization, aided the young cooperative union under a USAID program, training cooperative members to improve coffee quality and productivity, and working with farmers, processors, exporters and others to strengthen the overall coffee value chain in Ethiopia. Improvements included creating a system of traceability to guarantee coffee quality from farm to cup.

The general manager of OCFCU, Tadesse Meskela, recently reflected on the pivotal capacity building by ACDI/VOCA and others that spurred OCFCU’s growth. As one of the four panelists at a learning event held in conjunction with ACDI/VOCA’s 50th anniversary in June, he discussed his experience as a former aid recipient and recounted OCFCU’s progress. AAM sat down with him after the learning event for his perspective on capitalizing on export markets, effective marketing and next steps in helping the Ethiopian coffee sector to flourish.

AAM: What led to your cooperative union’s success over the past 10 years?

Tadesse Meskela:

The key to success is promotion. As soon as Oromia was organized as a cooperative union, the challenge was getting the market. Tadesse at the learning event
With support from ACDI/VOCA, we came to San Francisco in 2000 [for a Specialty Coffee Association of America conference] with 146 kilograms of different coffees. Roasters took the coffee for free, cupped it and found that our coffee is the best.

It was eye-opening for us to learn how the coffee industry works in the West. Before that, we didn’t have any experience and did not know how coffee is consumed in the developed world. After coming to San Francisco we identified how people care for the product and what kind of certifications are required. In the first two years Oromia participated in the specialty coffee conferences with support from ACDI/VOCA. Since 2006 we have financed ourselves by renting a booth with fair trade coffee buyers.

The other thing is training—training to all the farmers. When we participated in the specialty coffee conferences we got feedback on the quality of the coffee. Based on this we trained our farmers so that the quality of the bean improves. In the 2012 Coffee of the Year competition, coffee from Oromia was the first out of 250 different coffees.
This is all because of the feedback we got from coffee roasters and the training we gave to our members to improve quality.

What are some of the current challenges for the cooperative?

Mainly finance.
We do have banks [OCFCU recently created its own bank, a great benefit to its members for much-needed preharvest financing] but still to capture the value chain, cooperatives have to receive all the product from their members, which would be facilitated by access to finance.
The other thing is capacity building. We have to train farmers from year to year. It’s not a one-time job, it has to be continuous. ACDI/VOCA supported us in the beginning. We have done a lot with ACDI/VOCA, but these trainings have to continue. It’s a dynamic process—training, awareness creation for farmers to get organized to come out of poverty—it’s very important. This is has to be accompanied by finance; they have to come together.

What are the techniques you’ve found most successful for training?

The way we communicated to members at the beginning of ACDI/VOCA’s intervention was through bringing in volunteers [ACDI/VOCA’s expert volunteers serve on short-term assignments that complement long-term projects] to talk to the farmers; so that has to be there.
We also use video classes on cooperatives to change the minds of farmers to enable them to come together, because we used to have bad cooperative experiences during the socialist regime, where farmers had no control over the product or pricing. So by the time we started with ACDI/VOCA, we had to educate farmers and show them how to change their lives through cooperatives by capturing the value chain, the comprehensive process of producing, processing and exporting.

You mentioned in ACDI/VOCA’s learning event that cooperatives receive 250 percent more by participating in OCFCU as opposed to selling to middlemen. Can you give an example of what the price difference would be for an individual coffee farmer operating alone?

Tadesse and an ACDIVOCA employee tasting coffee in Ethiopia

Especially during the time of the coffee crisis, 2000, when the price was at a three-year low, 4 cents a pound, [by participating in the Oromia Cooperative Union] farmers were getting more than double what they could get on the local market. Even now they are getting more than double because we certify the coffee organic fair trade and trace all of it to the cooperative. So the certification creates an additional price over the quality. We are also given a quality premium from our customers because our coffee is always top of the top. These together give our coffee a higher price and make us able to give back dividends to the unions. So this is how the lives of the farmers change.

And also through the fair trade premiums [an additional payment above the market price that must be spent on social and economic development in the producing communities], we build schools and other infrastructure. We’ve built 14 elementary schools, 10 high schools and more than 100 clean water supply programs. All in all, we have done about 226 different projects from the fair trade premium—success we got by creating quality and sustainability and supplying good quality coffee to our customers.
Our relationships with our coffee roasters and buyers, who started buying coffee from us in 2002, are now family-like. They visit us every year or every two years. We visit them. They give us feedback and based on the feedback, we train farmers. Our relationship is very strong.

What do members do with the extra money?

You can’t say the money the farmers are getting is beyond their expenses, because farmers are living hand to mouth. The price of coffee is going up and down, so with the extra money they get they send their kids to school, they buy good food for their families, they change their houses from thatch to corrugated iron.

A farmer sorting coffee cherries in Ethiopia

What do you think are the current constraints in the Ethiopian coffee sector?

The government needs to support characterizing the different coffees in the country. This has to be given a big emphasis, so that the country—and we—can win in delivering the high premium prices in the international market.
The biggest concern is agronomic. In most of the rural parts in the country the coffee is getting older, and there should be a stronger extension activity around agronomic practices. In the 1980s we had a coffee improvement project funded by the European Union for maybe eight years. That brought a drastic change to the Ethiopian coffee industry, with nurseries to raise coffee trees, training for farmers and stamping the old trees. This really has helped the industry. But since the culmination of the coffee improvement project, these programs are not there. So we have to work harder now.

Watch Tadesse Meskela and others discuss sustainable economic growth in developing countries at ACDI/VOCA’s learning event, “Moving Forward Together” here: http://www.acdivoca.org/site/ID/Video-50-Anniversary-Learning-Event

They rocked the house and rock the house they did! One by one, people began rising from their seats in the World Bank atrium, holding up their hands, clapping to the beat and then singing (or dancing) along with the performers —at the tops of their lungs.  Adults, youth (teenagers), children, the millennials, the middle-aged and elderly had the floor vibrating in rhythmic excitation.

On Friday, March 1, 2013, the World Bank, in partnership with the Italian Ministry of Environment, the Global Environment Facility (“the GEF”), and in collaboration with more than 150 knowledge partners, honored and awarded youth from 14 countries at their recently launched Connect4Climate (C4C) event in Washington, D.C.

Organized and produced by Lucia Grenna, the C4C program director and veteran World Bank employee who nurtured the project from its nascent stages, and hosted by John Raatz, the Master of Ceremonies along with MTV’s Izzy Lawrence, C4C got the word out through music and creative dance skits that created excitement, energy and participation. The strategy? Using music and artists of every medium to celebrate youth engagement in combating the effects of climate change, as “intellectual arguments” seemingly fall on deaf ears or, are simply not enough to effectively communicate the truth of what the world is really facing.  As a result of climate change, it’s become a whole different game and it is imperative for us all to connect, move in unison and make waves like a school of fish.

Makhtar Diop, from Senegal and Vice President for the World Bank’s Africa region, spoke briefly of what for several years, is being experienced in his home region, the Sahel. “For us,” he said, “a change of 2 degree doesn’t mean something we want to address in conferences. It means less water for us, it means drought in our area. When my friends from Mali are facing hardship…when in the western part of Kenya, in Nyanza, you see flooding and mud slides, it is because of climate change…it is something we are living everyday.”

Diop also acknowledged the current growth happening on the continent of Africa and how Africans are “doing things so right.” In terms of climate change, we don’t want to set ourselves back 10 years. “We can’t afford it,” he said. Africa can’t afford it and the world can’t afford it. He expressed delight and honors to see a coalition growing across the world and believes that without the support of not just the youth and civil society, but of all artists in the world, change is possible. Diop offered the example of the many artists in Africa who have successfully shown the ability to change things like HIV/Aids. “Their role has been tremendous.” They all stand as voices of hope.

Right Here Right NowWorld Bank Group President, Jim Young Kim, heartily applauded the winners, encouraging youth around the globe to take a more active role in combating the climate change. “We’ve got to connect in a very different way now,” said Kim. “Connect4Climate is important because we have to take this struggle to a different level. We have been talking about the numbers…we have said all of the numbers again, and again, and again. But what we have failed to do yet is actually connect.”  Kim brought it home, stating that the issue of climate change has now become a “very personal” one. As the father of two sons, ages twelve and three, he noted that if nothing is done to combat climate change, by the time his three year old reaches his own age, extreme weather events, struggles over food and access to water could be so rampant and commonplace (globally), he can just imagine his son living in that time and saying every day: “My father was the president of The World Bank. What did he do when he knew? When he knew that this was going to happen?”

The Italian Minister for the Environment, Corrado Clini, to great applause, briefly addressed the audience, encouraging all to support the project and help create a global community toward helping the planet recover from the changes occurring around us. “It’s fundamentally about family values and the world we’re leaving to our children, but this is the world we are living in right now.”

Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Network Vice President, offered a chilling thought. Namely, that helping to exacerbate the effects of climate change won’t be possible without “all of us.” We have to ask ourselves “what am I prepared to do?”

Among the winners for the competition, Africa scored big in nearly all categories and across several countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Morocco, Somalia and South Sudan.

In the Agriculture category for 13-17 year olds, Josephine Nakanwagi won 3rd place for “Soil Erosion #1”.  Under Jobs and the Green Economy, Jason Hanslo, South Africa (13-17 year olds), won 2nd place for “Adding Sunshine to the Sand” and Ngalim Njaiwo, Cameroon, took 2nd place for “Talent + Environment = Employment” in the 18-35 age grouping. Joana Simões Piedade, Mozambique, won 1st place in the 18-35 year old category for “A Day at the Office”. She also won 3rd place, Namibia, in the Water category (18-35 age group) for “Drinking Problem”.

Under the “Cities” category, Christena Dowsett, South Sudan, took 3rd place in the 18-35 age group for “Cities 01”. Coming in 2nd place in the Energy category for ages 18-35 was Evanne Nowack, Uganda, for “Daring to Invest”. Patience Moyo, Malawi, won 1st place among the 13-17 year olds for “What Policy Makers Should Know About Energy” and Nancy Saili, Zambia, won second place in the 18-35 year olds category for “Death of our Zambian Forests” under the Forests category. The Gender category produced three winners in the 18-35 category, 1st place went to Adil Moumane, Morocco, for “Suffering of Women”, Anab Garad, Somalia, was the 2nd place winner for “A Long Walk”, and Maash Sheik Hussein, Kenya, won 3rd place for “Wajir County”. Ray Blount, also from Kenya, took 1st place in the Health category (ages 18-35) for “Dumping Site”. This same category saw Christena Dowsett, South Sudan win again. This time in 2nd place for “Health 01” and Violet Moyo, Malawi, won 3rd place for “Infested Environment.” In the Music Videos category, Idamiebi llamina-Eremie, Nigeria, won 3rd place for “We Be”.

“Not Afraid”, a music video by Kenya based artists TS1, won 1st place in the global Voices4Climate competition and was performed live in the World Bank’s atrium to a crowd of no less than 400 attendees. TS1’s feat of an Eminem song used music more than creatively to address not only climate change but also the plight of the human race, if we don’t pay attention. We may all live in different corners, as the song says, “but in denial we fall.” This song…these kids…ROCKED the World Bank atrium and stairs! It’s a very cleverly worded and powerful song that resonates with you and one that you likely won’t be able to stop listening (bobbing to) and singing, again and again. Special guest and award-winning Malian musician, Rokia Traore, also blazed the stage with her soothing sounds. The evening’s end found attendees dancing on the atrium floor, the stairs, everywhere really, singing the words, “I’m not afraid, to take a stand.”

TS1’s song, along with the other artists, can be found on the CD “Rhythms Del Mundo-Africa” which also includes tracks by Beyoncé, Coldplay, Bruno Mars, Mumford & Sons, and many more. All attendees were given a complimentary copy. To view the video click on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI8KiVrIOvs or visit YouTube.com and type: Rhythms Del Mundo Africa feat Eminem & TS1 Not Afraid in the search window.

C4C’s goal is to create a participatory, open knowledge platform that encourages the global community to join the climate change ‘conversation.’ They hope to encourage action, drive advocacy, operational support, research, and capacity building on the local level. C4C is judiciously engaging the world through social media and the web, amplifying the voices of artists and local stakeholders with stories to tell about climate change and inviting youth and all us to do so as well.

While Connect4Climate has already produced a number of events and competitions, the ball is still rolling. Their next globe trotting competition –iChange- challenges students between the ages of 18-35 to create a “sharp” 30-second video message about climate change, telling a story that will heighten awareness and which will incite action and inspire change. If as the TS1 tells us “we’re not afraid to take a stand,” in combating the effects of climate change, the possibilities are limitless and certainly better than the alternative.

Learn more about Connect4Climate and the iChange competition, as well as other events and initiatives underway on their blog at http://connect4climate.org/blog and/or connect with C4C on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. The entire event can be viewed online at https://www.connect4climate.org/.