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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.



Interview with Mary Shelman, Director of Agribusiness Program, Harvard Business School

By Skye Lawrence, Africa Agribusiness Magazine

I spoke with Mary Shelman, the Director of the Agribusiness Program at Harvard Business School. She discusses with me a unique project called the African Agribusiness Consortium which consists of six African business schools in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya that are developing agribusiness management courses. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports the Consortium’s goals of building capacity in the agricultural sector using action learning and case studies specifically tailored to the African context.

Skye: Good morning Mary. Tell me a bit about the African Agribusiness Consortium and
how the curriculum is designed.

Shelman: I’ve had the pleasure of being involved for three years with the Africa Agribusiness Consortium, a group of business schools that are beginning to offer agribusiness management short courses for managers. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and strong support from AABS (the Association of African Business Schools), they developed a standard curriculum that can be delivered on a local basis. Many existing business schools do not really understand agribusiness so the AAC is addressing this problem with basic training and agribusiness master classes.

The question is, how do you raise the skill level for those professionals who are already working in these countries? How do you make the courses practical and relevant? It is not just about learning theory from books. It’s about sharing concepts and information that will be relevant and useful to their everyday work.

The curriculum needs to be effective and accessible, but the case studies we use here at Harvard Business School are not accessible to small entrepreneurs. They need local cases on African agribusiness. Today there are only a few of these cases but more are being written all the time, some specifically for this program. Along with case discussions, the courses include learning projects that allow participants to go beyond the classroom and test taking. They also go out and physically look at operating plants, storage facilities and markets. Continual curriculum refinement is key to creating dynamic, accessible courses.

Skye: How are the courses structured?

Shelman: The program is designed as three one-week modules, spread across three months. In between the sessions the participants work on a project that’s very specifically related to their own business. The course is very practical. These are managers that are already working in the field so they can talk about their experience and learning it with their peers. In the process they start to form a network that they can tap into later on.

Skye: Is the private sector involved in these trainings?

Shelman: They’re getting more involved because they are seeing the importance. I’ve heard time and again that talent is the biggest challenge for companies operating in Africa. The trainings are very much case study based with project work involved. The private sector has been training people and seeing that this can have a significant impact. I think there are more partnerships that are evolving. There is a change in the delivery and funding model of these courses going on right now.

Skye: Tell me about the African business case studies you and your colleagues are working on?

Shelman: Sure, myself and two other co-editors—one from industry and the other from TechnoServe–compiled a special set of case studies on African agribusiness success stories. This volume was published in conjunction with the global forum of the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) that was held in Cape Town this past June. You can find them on the IFAMA website.

What was fun about these case studies was hearing and learning the things that we don’t normally encounter. The common threads in all of the cases were the need be creative to overcome problems and the challenge of scaling up. Everything goes okay so long as you are a small business, but getting the operation to scale has many hurdles. This is where the management courses can play a critical role.

Women have a particular challenge with getting financing to scale up because financing is tied to land titling. Even though women might be doing all of the farming, they typically don’t hold the title to their land- a key piece of collateral to get a loan. Even in many cases where there is clear land title is respected it is not in the women’s hands therefore the decision making power doesn’t necessary move over to the woman involved in the business. There is a serious disconnection between women farmers and access to the resources they need for scaling up production or expanding into value-creating activities, such as processing.

One particularly creative and telling case example is about Lovin Kobusingye, woman entrepreneur in Uganda, who worked with local producers to grow more fish. It turned out they produced more fish, but there was not a market for them, so she goes out and she develops a new product, the fish sausage. This is such a fantastic story because it shows how much the value chain needs to be connected by local people that know the local market. She built a market for a new product as well as creating the product.

This story illustrates the need for the total value chain approach. If you work with the local farmers to produce something you don’t have a market for, you’re in no better shape than where you started, maybe even in worse shape. You need to connect that entire chain.

Skye: What can foreign businesswomen do to work with local African women?

Shelman: I think a woman-to-woman mentoring opportunity to do social investing could work well, something that would be more personal, maybe a program that would match up experienced business women who could provide advice and act as a sounding board to other women entrepreneurs. It is the personal connection that is really effective in building long-term success. It also means that small business owners can get their specific questions addressed.

The challenge becomes, how could you make this mentoring system scalable without losing the effectiveness of one-on-one mentorship? A train-the-trainer model could be the answer. This is what we are trying to do with the alumni network from the recent IFAMA training.

Skye: If there was an African Women in Agribusiness conference what do you think would be some of the panel topics that would be? It sounds like financing would be one.

Shelman: Yes, it is access to capital and financing, access to markets and there would definitely be a panel on how you build a sustainable business. The big question is, how do you cross that gap from getting a very small, basically household-level business to something that’s a viable business.

The biggest challenge I see with the smaller companies and entrepreneurs is not being able to operate to the high quality standard required by processors and supermarkets on a consistent basis, day-in and day-out. If you lose business due to the inability to meet these standards you don’t get it back. Our trainings address this challenge.

Skye: Are these courses going run on a regular basis throughout Africa or in South Africa?

Shelman: Yes. They will run in Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana, among others. The goal is that they would be offered regularly in different countries and that more countries will be involved and more locations will come online. We are now setting up shorter master courses that may be three days or so. They deal with very specific issues. That’s much more like what we do here at Harvard.

We are still trying to figure out the funding model and delivery strategy. Every delivery module requires faculty members who have a good understanding of agribusiness in order to add the right type of value. You can’t just reach into a business school and pluck a marketing professor out of a business school. They need to have a good understanding of marketing specifically in the agribusiness food chain, for example.

Skye: If a company wanted their employees to be trained in one of these courses what would they need to do?

Shelman: Companies can send their people to attend trainings at various universities across Africa (see African Agribusiness Consortium) where the attendees’ network can start growing. This is how the model works at our Agribusiness Seminar at Harvard Business School. Every year, this four-day executive education course attracts more than 200 participants from all over the world and all parts of the supply chain. By discussing cases with peers from outside your own company, you learn more because they all share their diverse perspectives.

Skye: For our readers who read about the Consortium and say, “This is such a great opportunity. We want to get involved.” Who can they contact for more information?”

Shelman: They would need to contact Dinah Hanson, the Project Director at the Association of African Business Schools. She has really been the driver and chief organizer behind the courses. All are welcome to attend the courses. Usually participants are from NGO’s, managers in companies, or local entrepreneurs. We do a lot of work to arrange a class mix so that participants will get as much out of the experience as possible.

Skye: This is exciting work. It will be interesting to hear more about these courses as they develop. Thank you for your time today.

Mary: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

By Alex Hitzemann

Although sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to produce more agricultural goods than the US and Europe combined, the economic and political structure have not allowed it to reach those levels… as of yet.

However, this week a shimmer of hope was discovered by an analyst pouring over 2013 ag data about sub-Saharan crop yields. 

A 3 ton increase is a significant indicator of a green revolution. This data points to Côte D’Ivoire hitting a tipping point, where their agribusiness could go into overdrive. The Ivory Coast currently imports a vast majority of their food, which is detrimental to their economy.  However, the hope lies in similar developing nations that have posted the similar figures before breaking into agricultural sustainability. One example of this is South Korea, which reached self-sustainability shortly meeting similar indicators. The data can be shown in the graph below;

After 1961, Korea’s grain yields began to rapidly grow until 2013. If this indicator holds true for Côte D’Ivoire, then we may have a full scale #GreenRevolution in Sub-Saharan Africa. The benefits would be outstanding. Since they would be able to share their practices and processes with neighboring sub-Saharan countries.

However, there are many other factors at play. So one would be wise to curb their enthusiasm. McArthur explains “Africa’s agricultural systems are extraordinarily diverse, so one country’s partial productivity measure provides cannot be overstated as captured trends across a vast continent’s diverse range of crop systems. Nonetheless, the recent Cote d’Ivoire yield observation is unprecedented, and thereby provides cautious grounds for broader hope. At least some African countries might well be entering a greenshoot revolution”in agriculture.” Of course, some of Côte D’Ivoire’s officials hit twitter with the exciting news today…

By Alex Hitzemann

At a Conference on Friday, agribusiness experts and government officials gathered to make plans for the coming years. It was suggested that accelerated policy reforms and further investments in transport and storage infrastructure would be a major priority for Ghana in the coming years. The other major theme of Friday’s forum was empowering women to exit poverty by participating in agricultural activities.

Taluma Irene Banda, a gender specialist at Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), believes comprehensive reforms in the policy and legal environment of Ghana were crucial to promote female led agribusiness.

“Many women across Sub-Saharan Africa are keen to venture into agribusiness, but huge barriers have stifled their aspirations. We cannot lift our economies from stagnation if women remain subsistence farmers,” Banda explained.

“African women contribute 70 percent of food production, yet they are stuck in poverty due to lack of access to markets. Other limitations, such as, lack of land tenure and inadequate capital  are to blame for limited female participation in agribusiness,” another expert remarked.

African governments need to empower women in agribusiness through training, exposure to global supply chains, and provision of subsidized inputs like seeds and fertilizer.

Jemima Njuki, a Senior Program Officer at the Canadian International Development Research Center (IDRC), noted that distorted value chains and lack of access to credit discouraged women from taking up agribusiness.“The entire agriculture value chain from production, transport, storage and markets should be reformed to incorporate female needs and aspirations,” Njuki said.

“Evidence-based research indicates that African women who benefited from capacity building and credit pioneered successful agribusinesses,” said concluded.



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 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.

For Mary Makkazi, growing maize is a profession that she grew up in. Her parents were smallholder maize farmers, and today, she grows maize and beans on a small farm outside Mityana, Uganda, to support her five children as a single parent. Until very recently, her approach to farming, known as subsistence farming (literally farming for one’s own food), had changed little.

She made enough money to keep her family fed, but there wasn’t much for anything else.  Her resources often run out when it’s time to pay her children’s school fees, forcing Makkazi to swallow her pride and beg school proprietors to let her kids stay in school until she can pay the tuition at next harvest.

But this year, she’s excited about new progress she’s making with her farm. About a year ago Makkazi and her neighbors heard about Opportunity International, which offers small loans, access to training, extension services, savings and insurance programs, and other essential financials never before available to rural, smallholder farmers in her area. Her neighbors organized into a loan group, and asked Opportunity to extend its services into their remote, rural area.

Customer Service Officer Clean Chendera with clients in Mchinji, Malawi.

Customer Service Officer Clean Chendera with clients in Mchinji, Malawi.

Group members each had individual goals for how they wanted to use Opportunity’s services. Makkazi received a loan for about $180 (500,000 Ugandan shillings), to purchase fertilizers, pesticides and higher quality seeds for her farm.

As part of Opportunity’s programs, Makkazi also took advantage of the organization’s connections to ensure that these inputs were legitimate. “This is an important asset, because it’s not unusual to be sold counterfeit seeds and fertilizers in this part of the world,” said John Magnay, head of agriculture at Opportunity International.

Makkazi said the program worked for her. Due to improved inputs she’s earning more and was able to build a home for herself and her five children—ranging in ages from 8 to 18—and also for her sister and her two children.

“I have just one loan, but I plan to get another loan soon,” Makkazi said.  “I have seen my life improve dramatically from my Opportunity loan and that’s why I’d like to get some more money.”

“I have been able to build my house with the money I made. The benefits of that loan you can see when you visit my home. I feel proud of myself for being able to support my family,” she said, grinning.

Makkazi is equally proud she was able to pay back her loan. With a second agricultural loan, she plans to expand the land that she is able to till. She also is hoping to receive education loans to help pay for her children’s tuition and other school fees. This is another popular financial product Opportunity has introduced to support families.

GPS plotting provides precise information about his land, including plot boundaries, altitude and access to water. From this survey, Asuman can accurately gauge seed, fertilizer and labor needs, as well as predict his sugarcane yield. GPS mapping helps farmers plan and manage their farms, increasing efficiency and income. Where farmland is often fragmented, knowing the exact acreage of their tillable land enables growers to utilize the latest agricultural practices for maximum productivity and environmental sustainability.

GPS plotting provides precise information about his land,
including plot boundaries, altitude and access to water. From this survey, Asuman can accurately gauge seed, fertilizer and labor needs, as well as predict his sugarcane yield. GPS mapping helps farmers plan and manage their farms, increasing efficiency and income. Where farmland is often fragmented, knowing the exact acreage of their tillable land enables growers to utilize the latest agricultural practices for maximum productivity and environmental sustainability.

Opportunity International has been offering small loans, averaging about $150, to community entrepreneurs in the developing world since 1971. Until recently, the loans were only available to clients in urban areas who could visit brick-and-mortar banks.

“After years of successfully offering loans to struggling entrepreneurs who drove taxis, worked as craftsmen and ran food stalls at markets among other trades,” Magnay said, “we realized we needed to do more to address one of the most entrenched repositories of poverty and hunger—rural, smallholder farmers.”

In 2008, when Magnay began working with Opportunity, the organization was piloting agricultural finance programs in Malawi with little success.

“It was a true eureka moment,” Magnay said. “I realized that Opportunity International needed to look at smallholder farmer financing in a completely different way.”

Since it was introduced in 2008, Opportunity International’s agricultural finance program has transformed millions of lives.  In particular, the program is enabling access to financial services, savings programs, training, extension services and mobile banking in rural areas of seven African countries: Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania. Alternative delivery channels—such as mobile banking (trucks that operate as bank branches) and cell phone banking—are some of the most important aspects of Opportunity’s financial services in rural areas.  For many of the world’s poorest people—often subsistence farmers in remote areas—the nearest brick-and-mortar bank location may be hours away, meaning that they would have to take a day off work to visit with a banker—something impossibly difficult for people barely surviving.

The majority of the world’s poor are farmers. Most of these farmers cultivate less than five acres of land. Africa is home to a quarter of the world’s farmland, but generates only 10 percent of all crops produced globally. According to Opportunity, most African farms are operating at just 40 percent of their capacity. Under Magnay, Opportunity International is working to develop additional capacity to dramatically reduce hunger in Africa.

After five years of offering agricultural finance to clients, the results are positive.  Smallholder farmers have increased their crop yields by up to 60 percent after becoming Opportunity clients.

Opportunity’s agricultural strategy has been supported by a number of leading companies, large foundations, institutions and individuals, such as The MasterCard Foundation, the Caterpillar Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and John Deere. The MasterCard Foundation initially supported Opportunity’s impactful interventions in rural communities more than five years ago. From 2009 to 2013, this strategic partnership equipped Opportunity to deploy 676 financial access points, disburse 141,000 agricultural loans and open 1.4 million savings accounts in Africa. To scale the innovative work, The MasterCard Foundation and Opportunity expanded their partnership in 2014 through a $22.7 million commitment by The MasterCard Foundation for expansion of agricultural finance and other critical programs through The Africa Growth and Innovations Initiative.

This initiative builds on Opportunity’s early successes by promoting a deeper dive into rural areas to offer more smallholder farmers access to loans, savings programs and other critical financial programs and services. Over the next five years Opportunity will provide financial services to impact the lives of more than 7 million people in eight countries, including the remote Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), where they are launching an aggressive branchless banking campaign using mobile money and rural-based loan officers. In this new program, all transactions will take place on cell phones, and cash is never part of the equation. In that way, clients never need to visit a bank branch.

Cell phones offer unprecedented access to rural farmers in Africa. In fact, 80 percent of Africans own a cell phone. This is impressive because buying a cell phone is often not an insubstantial expense for Africa’s poor.

“Cell phones have been quickly adopted across Africa. For example, in the country of Uganda, there are more cell phones than light bulbs,” explained Rosa Wang, Opportunity’s director of mobile money. “Our programs are limited only by the availability of cell signals in Africa, and that’s proven to be no limitation whatsoever.”

Magnay said that the traditional lack of access to any capital at all is a huge burden for the smallholder farmers. It means during the “hungry season”—the name given by these farmers to the months before harvest when money often runs short—many will turn to traditional moneylenders, known as “loan sharks” in the United States for their extremely high interest rates, or they will have to sell their crops to buyers months early, which can cut profits in half.

“For most of the new clients of our agricultural finance programs, this is the first time that they’ve ever had any contact with a traditional bank,” Magnay said. “If you look back just five years into the past, farmers did not have any access to financial services. If you want an African success story, it’s that bank programs are available in places where they never have been before.”

“The clients that we finance have never had a formal bank account before in their lives,” Magnay said. “Opportunity International, as it often has, serves as a pioneer in proving that these programs work—we’re helping people and creating a sustainable banking program where none existed before. While it’s true we have work ahead of us to expand and improve our agricultural finance programs, I think that’s truly a remarkable accomplishment.”

In addition to harnessing the popularity of cell phones on the continent to initiate its mobile money programs, Opportunity International is using new mobile technologies to identify potential client farmers, assess their households for financing and provide them with information on banking services. Loan officers are able to complete loan applications for farmers remotely using a tablet to collect information about the farmer and GPS technology to map the farm, which allows for exact information about the inputs needed for planting.

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The growth of Opportunity’s agricultural finance program is impressive, but not to Magnay. “To me it’s really still just a work in progress,” he said. “Whilst we do have a good strategy, it’s still an evolving strategy.”

For Magnay, one of the reasons that he was tempted to join the Opportunity team is that Opportunity’s model is sustainable. While most often Opportunity clients are not asked for collateral for their small loans, because they have no collateral to offer, loans are repaid at the rate of 98 percent, allowing for the Opportunity bank funds to continue to cycle through the community in perpetuity. As a bank, Opportunity leverages each donation so that every $1 donated will grow to $5 in five years.

Like Makkazi, most loan clients are a part of Trust Groups—a loan group and support group with weekly meetings that include training programs on business, finance, savings, budgeting, marketing and even life skills. During that meeting, the Trust Group members make their loan payments and talk about business. Makkazi said that she enjoys getting advice from her peers and her loan officer. If one Trust Group member is unable to make a loan payment one week, the other Trust Group members will help cover it.

The training that is provided during Trust Group meetings is not only about banking—like how to write a check—but also on budgeting, business, family life and preventative health. As a result of the successful Trust Group system, Opportunity banks have set up sustainable, life-changing programs.

“This isn’t project-based philanthropic development where a charitable organization launches an operation in an area with many smallholder famers and they spend millions of dollars to train farmers to meet a series of goals, and then, once those goals have been met, they pull the money out and say, ‘We’ve done it!’ They haven’t done it,” Magnay explained. “Farmers need continued services. Opportunity International is committed to building financial institutions in rural areas to deliver services and financial help. Those agricultural finance banks are sustainable, so they’ll continue to deliver help long after I retire.”

Opportunity is an international organization that establishes strategic partnerships with generous donors, corporations, foundations and institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, Germany, Singapore, Switzerland and Hong Kong. Funds provided by strategic partners—which can include a $50 donation from a school bake sale—are used to expand programs in developing countries around the world, including the DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, China, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Just as The MasterCard Foundation has been an essential partner to Opportunity, the Caterpillar Foundation has also played a critical role in supporting the delivery of impactful financial services to Africa’s smallholder farmers. The Caterpillar Foundation has partnered with Opportunity International for over 20 years, committing nearly $30 million in grants that will impact an estimated 18.3 million lives. John Deere has also developed a program to offer financial incentives to help deliver tractors into the areas of Africa where Opportunity International is helping smallholder farmers increase their production, acreage and skills. Earlier this year, Credit Suisse similarly invested in Opportunity’s programs.

Opportunity’s programs are also constantly being monitored to ensure that they work properly. In fact, the organization conducted a study in 2013 to understand the impact that its agricultural finance programs have on the lives of smallholder farmer clients in Uganda, Malawi and Ghana—farmers like Makkazi. The organization interviewed 1,200 clients growing 10 different crops, sampling randomly from bank branch areas where the greatest number of farmers worked.

The study’s findings were very positive, showing that the services were improving the lives of clients. The vast majority of farmers in the study experienced positive results in crop yields and productivity. For example, farmers who grew Ghanaian maize or Ugandan coffee saw crop yield increases of 38 and 67 percent respectively, compared to farmers who were not working with Opportunity banks. The inference drawn from these results is that the Opportunity clients were accessing improved agricultural inputs, following agricultural best practices taught by extension service providers, enjoying greater access to market channels, and selling their crops for a higher price.

The Opportunity International survey of clients showed that they were also better able to meet food expenses, build assets and invest in income-generating activities. Just like Makkazi, their lives, as a result of Opportunity International, were being transformed.

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!

Story and pictures by Jennifer Hyman, Director of Communications
Land O’Lakes International Development

Working as a community health volunteer (CHV) in Madagascar since 1998, Jeannie Razafinadramanana never imagined that her passion and commitment to volunteerism would enable her to play an important role in transforming the dynamics within her hamlet of Tataho.

But after joining forces with the Strengthening and Accessing Livelihood Opportunities for Household Impact (SALOHI) program, she significantly bolstered her knowledge base beyond her traditional focus on maternal and child health. Not only did she learn how to provide more substantive health and nutritional support to a wider segment of the community, but she also became deeply engaged in the promotion of Village Savings and Loan (VSL) programs that sparked community cohesion and newfound trust.

Led by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and implemented by a consortium of international partners including Land O’Lakes International Development, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and CARE, since 2009 the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded SALOHI program has been tackling food insecurity in 100,000 households — for nearly 650,000 people — across 110 rural communes in eastern and southern Madagascar.

In collaboration with Malagasy community leaders, the 5-year SALOHI program addresses a range of development issues, including health, nutrition, agriculture, emergency preparedness and resource management. Through this multi-faceted approach, SALOHI has helped communities become more resilient to disasters and economic shocks, while improving food security and decreasing dependency on external assistance.

“Before the training, I did things like distribute medicine to women, administer vaccines and hand out mosquito nets,” Jeannie explained. “But most mothers gave birth traditionally. They never saw a doctor for pre- or post-natal care. They didn’t weigh their children to find out whether or not they were malnourished, nor did they pay much attention to what constituted a healthy diet.” Those who were sick were typically only provided with traditional natural compounds, she said, rather than any type of western medicine, and children were rarely vaccinated. Now, she says, 100 percent of the children in her hamlet are vaccinated for a variety of potentially detrimental illnesses, including Hepatitis A, B and C, Rubella and Polio.

Through SALOHI and the Land O’Lakes team working in her community of Tataho, Jeannie learned how to sensitize pregnant mothers to prepare healthy, nourishing foods. “In general, the dietary training I’ve provided has focused more on how to improve existing staples to make them more nutritious, rather than trying to switch residents’ diets altogether. For example, I’ve shown my clients how they can add meat, small fish or oil to cassava dishes, to make them more nutritious.”  She has also shared with others her newfound knowledge on the seasonality of crops, so that villagers have a better understanding of when it’s an appropriate time to plant peanuts, cassava or rice.

Traditionally, the women in her community exclusively breastfed their children for only 2 months, and then they would be transitioned to solid food. She now counsels women on the importance of exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months, and about how prolonging breastfeeding for an extended duration can even be an effective means of family planning.

“At first, the community didn’t fully embrace the new ideas I was trying to spread. But, later on, mothers were able to see for themselves the difference in their children’s health and mortality when they sought medical care for their families. This helped convince them of its importance,” Jeannie explained.

Promoting Village Savings and Loans

Even though Jeannie’s a CHV focused on health and nutritional support, she promotes the group banking model known as a Village Savings and Loan (VSL) through her regular household visits. The VSL operates with clear regulations that stipulate that the money can only be used for critical needs such as medical expenses and medicine, emergencies, and even investing in a business, but not for luxury items like clothing or luxury goods. When members borrow, they must pay back the principal, plus a 10 percent interest rate that goes back into the fund; meanwhile, at the end of the year, savers benefit from earning 10 percent interest on what they save.

“The VSL helped give birth to love in our community. People really started to like each other more, to care about each other more,” she said of the VSL’s impact. “During hard times, people don’t have to go far for help anymore. It not only changed our access to finance, but it changed how we related to one another.”

The people in Tataho not only had no concept of VSLs before, but also they rarely engaged in any sort of banking or savings. Jeannie explained that when people urgently needed financial support in the past, they had very few options. Those who would lend resources often charged astronomical interest rates at 100-200 percent. “Now, when there are happy events or sad events in the community – from birth to death – there is now an outpouring of broad community support. In the past, select individuals would help out a struggling close family member, but now the entire community is really devoted to the health and wellbeing of the entire population.”

As one of the 36 CHVs providing support to her hamlet, which has 3,000 households, although she hasn’t received a penny in earnings since she began her service in 1998, she is motivated by the advantages volunteering provided her in taking better care of her family and community. “Health has been my vocation for a long time, even if it’s not paid work. But, now I’m devoting energy more broadly on the health of the entire community, while providing more meaningful support to the women and children who are the greatest focus of my work.”

Another new focus for Jeannie as a result of SALOHI has been sensitizing the community to the importance of hygiene and basic sanitation. “I’m teaching people that they should only drink potable water, that they should wash their hands after using the bathroom and to use latrines when they need to relieve themselves. Honestly, these are things our community never regularly did before, but we’re changing our practices collectively.”

Importantly, Jeannie says that working as a CHV has made her and others like her feel empowered and gain an elevated status in the community. As most of the CHVs are women, their position gives them more clout and negotiating power within the family structure.

Her husband agreed, saying, “I’m very proud of her and seeing her take this kind of initiative in the community. Much of her work can be done from home or nearby, and things are going well. In fact, our dialogue as a couple and the ways we problem-solve have become much more effective, and we can really work things out together. I used to feel like the burden of family care was all on me, but now we treat each other as equal partners.” In total, the family has 19 family members, including three sons, six daughters, and numerous grandchildren.

Even though the SALOHI program is drawing to a close, Jeannie is emphatic that her CHV and VSL work will continue on. In fact, she and several other CHVs in her community are already planning for their next collective effort: literacy training for women. She says that 75 percent of the women in Tataho are illiterate, as they tend to start school as late as 10 or 15-years-old, and are often encouraged by parents who see them as a financial burden to drop out of school early and marry.

“I want to ensure that more women can read and have greater agency on their own futures, and also invest positively in the VSL. It would help empower them to get out of poverty.”

Story and pictures by Jennifer Hyman, Director of Communications
Land O’Lakes International Development

Until recently, eking out a living was a huge struggle for Chiweshe Chirevo, who lives in the parched Zimbabwean town of Buhera, in Manicaland Province. With little arable land to speak of and insufficient rains to nourish soil that more closely approximates sand, meeting the nutritional and household needs for his nine-member family was a significant challenge.

To get by, he did some basic subsistence farming of maize, millet and sorghum, and would earn a little money by drying and selling limestone on credit, which he would exchange for more grains. However, getting any protein in his family’s diet – particularly meat – was rare.

As beef and dairy cattle have difficulty surviving and getting adequate nourishment in such an arid environment, Chiweshe and other smallholders in the area also regularly keep goats.
However, Chiweshe found it hard to maintain his herd, as he often had no choice but to sell these few assets that he had when times got tough. “I obtained my first goats in 1989 and once had as many as 20. However, I had to sell them all off over time in order to pay the school fees for my seven children, while others died of disease.”

DSC_0276Although 97% of Zimbabwe’s national goat herd is owned by smallholders, farmers rarely work together to leverage economies of scale. As they do not treat their goats as assets that require adequate care, feeding and shelter, they are often viewed as scavengers. When farmers are forced to sell their underweight animals at the farm gate, they cannot fetch a good market price, and they typically miss out on the many benefits these animals can provide as a key source for valuable milk, meat and fertilizer.
But, through the Zimbabwe Livestock for Accelerated Recovery and Improved Resiliency (ZRR) program, made possible by the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Chiweshe and his neighbors are learning how to manage and market their goat herds collectively to improve their livelihoods. The program provides farmers with training on goat husbandry and health management, and trains Community Livestock Workers on preventative and curative animal health techniques.

Implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, ZRR is assisting 2,000 farmers, who collaborate through 10 marketing groups of 200 farmers each. Farmers like Chiweshe receive three female goats, and are ultimately required to pass three female kids onto their neighbors, with one buck provided to service the breeding needs of each village’s goats.

To qualify for the program, ZRR requires that all the recipients already have other goats, and be willing to build a raised goat structure with one or two other families, with whom they can pen their animals together. Penning the animals in at night on a raised structure prevents them from being attacked by other wild animals, facilitates collection of their manure for fertilizer, and also helps to minimize an issue goats often face of foot rot, by providing them with a dry shelter.

“When the program started, I had 10 goats and received another three. I started taking better care of them and proactively working to breed them, which has already enabled me to pass on the three goats I was required to, sell 16 at the market, and still have 12 left over for future breeding and growth,” Chiweshe explained. Prior to ZRR, Chiweshe says he never thought about the importance of disease prevention, even though five of his animals previously died from preventable illnesses. “Through the program, I realized that buying the products required to dip and spray my animals was an important investment in my livelihood. I saw how spraying made the ticks on my animals disappear, and then I was convinced.”

Chiweshe Chirevo and his wife stand in front of the new home they’re building.

Chiweshe Chirevo and his wife stand in front of the new home they’re building.

As a result of their new shelter, disease prevention efforts, and providing them with appropriate feed, Chiweshe says his goats now appear markedly healthier, with their coats free of lice. ZRR also trained him how to keep detailed records of goat births and sales for the first time. Moreover, since he started spraying and vaccinating his animals, none of them have died.

But, most importantly, times are simply a bit easier than they once were. He says he’s now able to pay all of his children’s school fees without issue, and the family now even slaughters a goat once every two months to enjoy some meat over the course of several weeks, which they used to only eat once or twice a year on special holidays. And he’s even started building a new, sturdier home to accommodate his large family, which he’s constructing as funds permit, brick by brick.

The support he received through ZRR has also allowed him to dream about the future, and to think about how he might expand into owning some local cattle one day. “I used to think that taking care of my family, by nature, had to be a struggle. But now, the program has convinced me – made me believe – that I can be a business man. And if I want to succeed, I must invest in what I do in order to grow.”