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Few farmers in Mozambique’s Manica province could have predicted the tremendous impact joining a dairy cooperative would have on their lives, considering their resounding skepticism when they were first presented with the opportunity to expand beyond growing crops. And their concerns were completely understandable, considering smallholder dairy farming had never before been seriously attempted in this part of Mozambique, near the Zimbabwean border, and many residents had been burned by their past engagements with cooperatives.

But, after hearing about the successes of the farmers who had worked with Land O’Lakes International Development under the first phase of a USDA-funded Food for Progress Program, which ran from 2008-2012, the fears of many Mozambican farmers were allayed, and clients began enrolling. Through the latest iteration of the program, which runs through 2016, Land O’Lakes will link 4,050 smallholder farmers in Maputo, Sofala and Manica provinces to a commercial dairy value chain. Moreover, through a partnership with Tillers International – which works to preserve, study, and exchange low-capital technologies that increase the productivity of rural communities – innovative farming tools focused on animal traction and transport are being made available to 20,250 farmers. Through the program, Land O’Lakes provides Milk Collection Centers (MCCs) with working dairy infrastructure, such as a cooling tank and generator, to ensure the constant flow of uninterrupted power needed to keep their milk fresh, and each member with a cow and training in dairy farming.

“Our biggest challenge in trying to mobilize members was just proving there could be different results through a cooperative system,” explained Marcelino Manuel Francisco, Secretary of the Gondola Dairy Cooperative, which was formed in 2010 and registered as a cooperative in 2011. He explained, “Many of us used to be part of a trading cooperative that was involved with buying and selling products. With that old system, it was mandatory to join, and the income was divided equally among all members, regardless of performance. Now, membership is voluntary, and earnings are commensurate with effort and yields. If you sweat more, you earn more.”

Despite residents’ reticence to join another cooperative and unfamiliarity with dairy, the farmers were ultimately lured by the promise of having a cow – which was universally recognized as an important asset – and the difficult life they would continue to have just growing crops like maize, cowpeas and cassava for their livelihoods.  Farmers grappled with the fact that insufficient rainfall could quash their best efforts at reaping a good harvest from their crops. Even more confounding, since they were only paid once a season for an entire year’s effort, they struggled with how to ration their limited money.

According to Gondola Dairy Cooperative Vice President Curruissa Zinanga José, “I used to earn about 7,000 MZN ($232) a year from farming crops. I sweated a lot to make ends meet, and to pay for medicine and school fees. But, sometimes, there was simply no more money left, and it placed my family in a very tenuous and vulnerable position.” Curruissa and other Gondola farmers are now making about 5,000 Mozambican Meticals (MZN) in one month alone, about US$165, just from delivering their morning milk. “The extra income has made a huge difference in my ability to care for my family and sleep peacefully at night.”

Gondola’s President Jaime João Tobias added, “We’re now actually planning and budgeting for our household needs. Before, there was no planning.  And, even if plans were made, there was no way to achieve them. These days, we’re able to create viable budgets and plans for growth in the years to come.”

Beyond mobilizing members, an equally large challenge for Gondola Dairy Cooperative at the outset was finding a reliable market for their milk. Most farmers had an ever-changing group of customers that they sold their produce to at small markets or at the farm-gate. Without a guaranteed buyer, they often risked having their milk spoil before it could be sold.

That problem was alleviated in large part after Land O’Lakes established a relationship with the processor DanMoz, which agreed to purchase every drop of milk that the farmers’ cows could produce.

Curruissa explained, “Initially, we had an ever-changing group of customers, and engaging in dairy wasn’t providing us with guaranteed income. But, when DanMoz partnered with Land O’Lakes and agreed to buy all of our milk, it significantly raised the confidence of Gondola’s members, and they began delivering more milk to us on a regular basis.”

USDA Program Incentivizes Private Sector

The important role the USDA-funded Food for Progress Program played in developing Mozambique’s nascent dairy industry cannot be overstated, explained the Chairman of DanMoz, Henrick Ellert. One of several partners who collaborated in buying the processing plant in 2012, Ellert noted, “One of our main incentives in purchasing the plant was the existence of the Land O’Lakes program, and knowing that program farmers could provide a growing source for fresh milk.”

DanMoz is primarily processing yogurt, and to a lesser extent Gouda, Mozzarella, Halloumi and Feta cheeses. The company recently purchased an ice cream machine, as well, in the hopes of expanding into frozen treats later in 2014. DanMoz is also working to expand their geographic footprint into the capital of Maputo and the Tete Corridor – which connects Mozambique to neighboring Malawi – and they’re staffing up and hiring managers to lead their marketing and sales efforts. Indeed, building local demand for a diversity of products will be a key challenge for their new marketing staff.  “Mozambicans tend to like sweet yogurt and ice cream, and so we want to do more to promote milk as a healthy, nutritious option. We’re also looking at infant feeding supplements and think there’s a lot of opportunity on that front,” Ellert noted.

The plant is currently operating at only 10 percent of its 18,000 liter/day capacity, but production is rising exponentially, as Land O’Lakes farmers learn how to increase their animals’ yields with improved nutrition and animal husbandry practices. As of November 2013, they were receiving 1,000 liters a day from farmers supported by the Land O’Lakes program. Another 15 percent of their milk comes from a handful of dairy animals owned by DanMoz that are being raised outside the processing plant, and the remainder is met by expensive milk powder imported from New Zealand and South Africa. “We are trying to encourage farmers to also deliver their evening milk, as this would greatly increase the capacity of DanMoz and improve the incomes of farmers, but right now only one cooperative is delivering in the evening,” added Ellert.

Although DanMoz is not currently providing farmers with bonus premiums for meeting Grade A quality levels, the processor is supporting the farmers in other ways, including providing the cooperatives with stock feed and other needed inputs, which farmers can purchase on credit and have deducted from their milk payments.

Ellert and his partners are excited about the development impact of the program, but are understandably focusing their efforts on commercial sales. Considering the USDA-funded Food for Progress program is slated to culminate in 2016, the leadership of DanMoz is already ruminating about potentially hiring Land O’Lakes’ staff to continue their work with program farmers, which would help ensure that the dairy development efforts USDA has catalyzed can continue to grow and flourish. 

 

Training in Transparency

With only 87 members currently delivering milk, as well as some inactive members, the leadership of Gondola Cooperative realizes work remains to attract additional members into the fold. Still, they’ve already made a number of transformative changes that are making a broader impact on how community members interact with and trust one another.

According to Jaime, Gondola’s president, “Much of the cooperative development training we’ve received from Land O’Lakes has focused on transparency. This means that if we want to make a decision, they must involve all producers in the decision-making through a participatory process. Thinking and acting in democratic ways is a new model for us all, but it is working. Our farmers appreciate that all members can vote and be elected, and that women’s voices are just as important as men’s. They’re also learning that along with rights, each cooperative member also has certain responsibilities and obligations to the broader group.”

But beyond the cooperative, the focus on transparency and accountability has built broader community cohesion, too. Curruissa summed up the sentiment by saying, “Everyone is united by the fact that we are all dairy farmers with cows, and we’re now working together as real neighbors, sharing ideas and resources, because we know working together will help each of us improve.”

About Us

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

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

Our Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Development Enterprises (iDE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

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

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

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

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

Path

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

0958548a17828d6cdf_8lm6bn5lp1. What is the scope of your cooperation with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation?

How will you prioritize the longer-term governance changes required with the shorter-term hunger and poverty needs to be addressed? 

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation is a funder of AGI and we have worked very closely with them for over a year; they are very supportive of our approach towards governance and are of course especially interested in the work we are doing to foster agricultural reform in the countries AGI works in. Our collaboration has further expanded this autumn with the announcement of the 40 Chances Fellows Programme where AGI; the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the World Food Prize will encourage the development of new ideas to address food insecurity. Fellowship funds will support social entrepreneurs who are addressing issues of hunger, conflict, or poverty in Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone, four of the countries where AGI works. 

With regards to prioritising longer-term governance changes with shorter-term hunger and poverty needs, we would argue that these two challenges are not mutually exclusive. Food security is imperative for any country but mitigating against famine does not preclude governments from also trying to move beyond hunger prevention towards more structural changes within the agricultural sector. For example in Rwanda, where we work, the government has successfully reduced the threat of food insecurity and is now focussing on increasing private sector investment in the agricultural sector. This investment will be targeted at factors which lead to raised productivity and sustained growth. The leveraging of private finance allows the government to concentrate on managing food security while allowing private investment to drive an expansion in productivity and value addition through attracting agro-processing investments. This shift results in options for farmers to commercialise their production as well as growth in off-farm job opportunities.. This is how agricultural policy can move beyond simply dealing with food security towards becoming a driver of economic growth.   

2. How is AGI’s model different from other charities in the countries you work?

One-off projects versus sustainable initiatives where locals “take off and run with” the new structure in place? What are your plans to involve African entrepreneurs either social or private, in your development work? 

AGI is unique in that we work directly, side-by-side, with our counterparts in central government. We passionately believe in government ownership and in every country we work in it is the government that has the vision and plan for how to improve the lives of their citizens, our role is to help strengthen the capacity of the government to implement that vision. This also relates to your point about ‘one-off projects’ versus sustainable initiatives. We believe that development reforms will only be sustainable if they are implemented and owned by the government in question. We are focussed on supporting government-led reforms which will improve the lives of a country’s citizens for the long-term. 

Finally, in terms of involving African entrepreneurs either social or private in development work, in every country we work in our overriding goal is to increase the capacity of a country’s institutions to lead their own development. For example in Rwanda we support the government’s new Strategic Capacity Building Initiative (SCBI) which is aimed at recruiting and training young Rwandans to work in and, ultimately , become experts in four critical sectors of the economy; agriculture, mining; private sector development; and energy. The initiative currently has over 60 recruits with more joining each month. By recruiting and training a new generation of policy makers and deliverers countries like Rwanda are building a much stronger and more resilient government system not reliant on external assistance. And, notably, in each of the priority sectors, the government of Rwanda’s overarching aim is to facilitate increased private investment via local and foreign entrepreneurs. 

3. In the countries where you work, 70%+ of the population is employed in agriculture, but only Malawi has allocated at least 10% of its national budget to agriculture, per the Maputo declaration. How will you persuade leaders in your countries of operation to raise budgetary ag spending to at least 10% if not more, to reflect employment realities? 

How a government allocates its resources is its own decision. AGI is not a campaigning organisation and we do not take a position on levels of individual government expenditure. Where a government does focus on agriculture our role is to help them manage their reforms effectively to get the most from their investment. 

4. You have talked about ending Africa’s dependence on aid in a generation. What is your message to charity workers in the UK who risk losing their incomes, as African countries begin to attain food self-sufficiency? How should charities reorganize for increased program efficacy and sustainability? And away from being in continuous crisis or emergency mode? 

It’s not our place to advise UK charities. Our focus is on supporting sustainable improvements to governance which will ultimately lead to reductions in poverty and dependence on aid. 

5. What are your 3 implementation priorities in 2014? How will you define their success? 

In countries where AGI works in which the government has identified agriculture as a priority, the support is focused primarily through two channels – support to avenues for private sector development and the setting up of delivery units. Throughout 2014 this will continue to be a dual focus for us in agriculture. It also reflects AGI’s wider aims of supporting improved policy delivery across government to improve the lives of citizens in the countries we work in, and to increase private sector investment which will ultimately drive growth and employment.   

UNWFD 1“The Single Greatest Challenge in Human History”

November 23, 2013

Yesterday, November 22, was a day of exhilaration at the United Nations as the Food and Agricultural Organization and other UN agencies inaugurated the International Year of Family Farming. But, it was also a day during which Americans recalled the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In looking back 50 years, it seemed appropriate to note that on June 4, 1963, five months before he died, President Kennedy addressed the UN-FAO organized World Food Congress, a global conference that attracted huge international press coverage. In his remarks, the President said – “We have the ability, we have the means, we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime. We only need the will.”

That same summer, the UN FAO took another step that received no media attention, but ended up changing the world. It had reached out to a little known agricultural scientist working in remote villages of the Yaqui Valley in Mexico, and now urged him to travel to South Asia, which at that time faced the specter of extreme food deficits that could result in hundreds of millions facing famine, starvation and death. His name was Norman Borlaug, born and raised in my home state of Iowa, and he brought with him a miracle wheat variety he had developed that was disease resistant and produced triple the yield. When transplanted to India and Pakistan it allowed both countries to achieve self-sufficiency, and then surpluses in food production in just a few years. It was the beginning of the Green Revolution, which would eventually lead to Borlaug receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, and being heralded as the man who saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived.

Kenneth QuinnAs a young development adviser in a remote village in the Mekong Delta during that same period, I was personally involved in facilitating the miracle rice that had been developed in the Philippines and which had the same impact throughout Southeast Asia, as Borlaug’s wheat did. I learned of the transformative power of rural roads in bringing this new technology to family farmers and in building healthy food systems.  I take great pride in having served as a “foot soldier in the Green Revolution.”

Mr. Director General, it should be a matter of great pride to you and everyone at the FAO that it was your organization that provided that critical connection to Dr. Borlaug that would lead to the single greatest period of food production and hunger reduction in all human history.

But now, 50 years later, we again need Dr. Borlaug’s legacy and the critical leadership of the United Nations, for in the coming decades we must confront the single greatest challenge in all human history: whether we can sustainably feed the more than 9 billion people who will be on our planet by the year 2050. Greater than going to the moon; greater than preventing nuclear war; greater than curing cancer. Indeed, I would argue it is the most difficult issue ever confronted by the United Nations.

Dr. Norman Borlaug said that “Food is the moral right of all who are born into the world.” Because he believed that, he created the World Food Prize that I head in 1986 with the hope that it one day might come to be seen as the “Nobel prize for food and agriculture.” He vision was that it would recognize and inspire those breakthrough achievements that would allow us to meet this greatest challenge.

Each year we present our $250,000 award to an individual who has made a breakthrough achievement in increasing the quality or availability of food in the world. The ceremony takes place as part of our Borlaug Dialogue symposium which draws over 1100 people from 60 to 70 countries to Des Moines. It has been referred to by international experts as “the premiere conference in the world on global agriculture.” And we have a Global Youth Institute, with over 150 high school students and teachers, because Dr. Borlaug believed that inspiring the next generation was one of his and our most important missions.

In the 15 years since I assumed leadership of the World Food Prize, we have endeavored to maintain and build upon this special connection to the United Nations.

In 2000 as United Nations launched the Millennium Development Goals, I brought the World Food Prize to New York for a special event with the President of the General Assembly to introduce our World Food Prize Laureates – Dr. Evangelina Villegas of Mexico and Dr. Surinder Vasal of India.

One year later, it was two World Food Prize Laureates, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan of India and Dr. Pedro Sanchez a native of Cuba, who were appointed the cochairs of the UN Hunger Task Force.

In 2003, the World Food Prize was awarded to Undersecretary General Catherine Bertini for her role in leading the UN World Food Program, the single most effective organization in history in delivering food to hungry and starving people all around the globe. And it has been my great privilege to see my friend Ambassador Ertharin Cousin for whom I have enormous respect, continue that inspired leadership.

One of the most significant moments of this special connection came in 2011 as we presented the World Food Prize to two former presidents: His Excellency John Kufuor of Ghana and His Excellency Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, for their magnificent leadership in propelling their countries to attain Millennium Development Goal Number One – reducing hunger and poverty by 50% prior to the 2015 target date. They had demonstrated that will that President Kennedy spoke of.

Mr. Director General, I well recall your personal participation in our symposium and the discussion of the Zero Hunger program that President Lula had pioneered and in which you had provided critical leadership in structuring and implementing it. And now the momentum of that achievement has been carried over and adopted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  Zero Hunger will mean Zero Malnutrition and Zero Stunting.

>Dr. Borlaug passed away in 2009. His very last words were “Take it to the farmer.” In recognition of Dr. Borlaug’s great accomplishments, following his death, the UN-FAO presented to his family its highest honor – the Agricola Award.

World Food Prize laureates have been building healthy food systems and taking their achievements to farmers:  including uplifting poor women through aquaculture in Bangladesh and Laos, eradicating cattle plague in Africa, initiating reformed agricultural policies in Egypt and China, developing new high yielding sorghum and rice in Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, advancing agro ecology in Kenya,  promoting micronutrients in Guatemala, and developing the storage and technology to reduce post-harvest waste and permit the shipment of nutritious fruits and vegetables between South America and Europe.

In 2013, we honored three of the pioneers of agricultural biotechnology whose new seeds are being used by over 17 million farmers worldwide, 90 percent of whom are small resource-poor farmers in developing countries. Biotechnology and genetic modification continue to be controversial issues. But it was the view of Dr. Borlaug that if we want to have healthy food systems and enhanced nutrition, we must ensure that all of the tools of that science will be available to the family farmer. For it will be those smallholder farmers, those poor women farmers who will be most severely impacted by the droughts and the floods and the intruding salt water from the rising seas, caused by increased climate volatility. And it is the new genetically enhanced seeds that offer these family famers the chance to overcome these ecological impediments.

I want to conclude by recalling a story that Dr. Borlaug told me when we were together in Oslo in 2001 on the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize. When he was a young boy he attended elementary school in a small one room schoolhouse. Dr. Borlaug recounted that about half of the students were of Norwegian heritage who followed the Lutheran religion, while the other half of the class were Czech or Catholic immigrants. These were very big differences in 1920 America. Dr. Borlaug said that each morning the students would all be made to stand up and sing together about the one thing they have in common – being from their new home state of Iowa. They would sing the Iowa Corn Song which was Dr. Borlaug’s favorite song in the whole world. They came to see that the others were not so bad. He learned the lesson of his life: people who could stand and sing together and work together could live in peace together.

I saw this lesson in practice in October 2012 when my foundation had the extraordinary privilege to host Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, at our Laureate Award Ceremony in Des Moines as we celebrated United Nations World Food Day. It was a ceremony at which we were honoring Dr. Daniel Hillel, the Israeli pioneer in the field of micro irrigation who, as a result of his work in Palestinian villages and throughout the Middle East, had been nominated for our Prize by individuals from three Arab countries. As the ceremony concluded, I introduced a UN-FAO Ambassador of Goodwill, a young Israeli performer named Noa, who sang a song from her Yemini family roots. As she sang, the audience stood to applaud, including the Secretary-General and Mrs. Ban, Ambassador Cousin, Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, a UN Messenger of Peace from Dubai, His Excellency Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani, the Deputy National Food Security Director of Qatar, standing next to a senior Israeli diplomat. All of this took place in Iowa at the same time there was considerable fighting and violence in Gaza.

More than anything else it demonstrated that the World Food Prize and the United Nations can bring individuals and countries together across even the broadest political, ethnic, national or diplomatic differences, when our common goal is to alleviate hunger and human suffering.

Mr. Director General, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, 2014 is the year of Family Farming but is also the year in which we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Norman Borlaug’s birth. This is a powerful combination. I believe Dr. Borlaug’s spirit is here with us today, and that he is telling us there is no time to lose. He is telling us to inspire that next generation; he is telling us to build those roads and that information infrastructure, so that we can “Take it to the farmer”; and he is telling us that this meeting room is our one room schoolhouse, where the members of the United Nations, so different in so many ways, can come together and, at last, find the will to ensure a sustainable and nutritious and healthy food system for all of the people of our planet. Dr. Borlaug is telling us just what President Kennedy told the UN World Food Congress in 1963: that if we have the will, we can overcome that greatest challenge in human history, and forever eradicate hunger, poverty and malnutrition from the face of the earth.

 [quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]“The developing world…faces a dearth of risk capital that has and will continue to constrain growth. Donors need to face the reality that the young companies that can really move the needle on innovation, inspiration and employment need high-risk, reasonably-sized, equity investments to grow.”

– Alan J. Patricof and Julie E. Sunderland, Venture Capital For Development[/quote]

DSCN0288 The Context

A key area of mutual interest between economic development actors and venture financing is building successful small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and business ecosystems that have a significant positive impact back into their economic environment. In emerging markets, even growing and growth oriented SMEs with strong potential for expansion often have difficulty accessing capital and overcoming the challenging business climate. A lack of internal capabilities and the limited capacity of their backers can stunt innovation and competitiveness.

Focused technical assistance (TA) to venture backed SMEs, working to address local ecosystem gaps and improve competency in order to be internationally competitive, can help alleviate systematic weakness, attract more venture financing to such firms, and generate more sustainable and higher quality employment opportunities.

In the past twenty years or so, across most emerging and frontier markets, a class of venture investors have emerged that are seeking to invest in local SMEs that are poised to grow. Despite the clear benefits of growth-focused SMEs to emerging and frontier markets, potential venture investors face significant challenges with investment and business climates that make it very difficult to profitably invest. In general, overall profits (or returns) to equity investors in SMEs and entrepreneurs from venture investments are not covering the losses or are not attractive enough to pull money away from “more certain bets” like real estate.

For the venture investor, technical support represents a better chance to achieve the impact-investor level of returns needed to attract further outsider investors and thus increase available intelligent funding to this category of SME.

VEGA’s F2F Pilot Bridges the Gap in Morocco

The USAID funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) pilot project Engaging Venture Capital to Strengthen Agricultural Value Chains in Morocco that VEGA implemented from 2012 to 2013 arose from two key observations initially made by Program Advisor William Fellows, a former venture investor and long-term advisor to venture/risk capital funds in the Maghreb region:

  1. Despite bringing ‘smart’ capital to growth oriented SMEs in Morocco, Venture Funds face real and impactful constraints. VC funds in emerging markets are typically staffed by purely or largely financial staff, ex-bankers, or chartered accountants who do not have the expertise necessary to help solve pressing industrial challenges, whether in production, technology, or management. 
  2. Local markets can have decent basic expertise to develop and call on, but often lack in depth expertise to support industrial innovation, particularly for new markets. It is usually cost and time prohibitive to search out and bring in specialized expertise on their own, and typically the investor teams lack the time and networks to address specialized issues that a firm may face, such as specific certification issues for a given market or improvement in industrial processes. 

 

The project established a partnership between the Moroccan national venture capital association (AMIC) and VEGA as an important screening mechanism to identify technical assistance needs for high-potential, innovative agribusinesses.  It also was conceived as a mechanism to assist the agribusiness sector better understand the long-term business and economic value of equitable win-win relations, in particular with small holder farmers. The key rationale behind this is that serving as positive business role models for the agriculture sector, newly competitive agribusinesses engaged in win-win solutions will contribute to improving the overall sector and laying a positive basis for scaling agricultural productivity and opportunity.

DSCN0335Association membership response was strong, with three to four times as many eligible projects being proposed as the pilot could handle.  Needs focused particularly on issues where the entrepreneurs and investors saw themselves as being weak, such as issues around international certifications, related market development for export and in adopting new, energy efficient production technologies. Three quarters of the beneficiary firms were early stage firms setting up methods of production and processes that are new and innovative for Morocco.

The pilot project’s focus on delivery of shorter-term senior level voluntary expertise in specific industrial and management areas, matched well with the needs of entrepreneurs.   Response was strong, with 3 to 4 times as many eligible projects being proposed as the pilot could handle.  Straddling mentorship and expert advisory missions, the project brought advanced insight to skilled entrepreneurs to help them overcome potentially fatal issues in setting up their industrial processes or entering new markets. Longer-term expertise, either using local consultants or long-term international advisors to transfer competency, was also identified as being useful to build firm management capabilities and help champions emerge.

Conclusion

Poor returns among SMEs in emerging markets are holding back impact investors. The VEGA F2F pilot in Morocco has shown that by providing targeted technical assistance to agribusiness start-ups with growth potential risk can be reduced and profitability improved. By transferring skills and expertise and assisting management to overcome hurdles, performance is enhanced and thus the overall financial return is more attractive. Not only does the technical assistance improve performance at the firm level, it is also helpful in strengthening the local staff of venture capital funds to incorporate analysis and support that goes beyond mere accounting and financial factors for success.

Despite the popularity of entrepreneurship-focused development programming over the past decade, insufficient attention has been paid to the sustainability and scalability of efforts. Active collaboration with the world of venture finance can help stakeholders put their time and money where they will be able to make a real difference in the economy. Venture capital funds with investments in emerging markets will in turn see improvements in their returns as the supporting environment for innovative, risk-taking entrepreneurs across all sectors is steadily improved.

This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of VEGA and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

About VEGA:

VEGA, the world’s largest consortium of economic growth volunteer organizations, with 23 member NGOs has assisted 140 developing countries & mobilized more than 25,000 experts to promote economic growth activities over the past 5 decades. VEGA’s track record includes over 36 programs worth more than $275 million. VEGA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and was founded in 2004 by the US Agency for International Development through a Leader with Associate (LWA) award cooperative agreement. Find out more: www.vegaalliance.org

 

7985761450_2e10dcce4b_zGiven the current political situation in Somalia, do you believe it is a good place to potentially invest?

There is an incredibly dynamic investment climate in Africa which I think we completely underestimate in our understanding from this side of the world.  Even a place like Somalia is good at making miracles out of stone.  Somalia exports more than five-million livestock—which  is more than double many other African countries.  The animals come from Ethiopia, Kenya, etc and head out.

They have been investing in sesame production that passes through Dubai on to Europe…this is produced in a very high quality way because it is produced for bakeries in Northern Europe.  They are doing all of that near the conflict in South Central Somalia.

Where do you see the livestock industry headed in Somalia?

There is quite little of transformation in Somalia which could be done quite more.   Just the transformation of meat as opposed to live animals would be quite interesting just in terms of technology, know how, and business opportunity—especially to the Arab states.  This is becoming more and more of a business opportunity especially because a couple years ago meat from Australia was not able to export livestock…There is an increasing demand of live animals in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia but still there is a huge market for processed animals.

How about Somalia’s fisheries, do they have potential to propel Somalia’s growth?

There are a number of agreements that are not being utilized properly.  The current problem with fishing near Somalia is that the existing laws are not easily enforced.  Somalia only gets ten percent for the value of the fish as far as licensing fees.  Somalia’s exporting fleet is poor but for large vessels this would work quite well. “In the North of Somalia there are coastal towns so something there is feasible.

Somalia was recently awarded 1.3 billion US dollars, from the UN, for development.  How much of this money is anticipated to go to agribusiness activities?

Under twenty million US dollars, or 10% will go to agriculture.  The government plans to intervene with substantial support for the small producers which are in need of more capacity and we help the big producers with the proper legal framework to help them invest properly n the area where they want to invest.  Most of the 20 million will go to the poorest of the farmers.

What is currently happening in Somalia to protect the livestock farmers already have?

Every few years there is a high risk of major disease for livestock…we are on the last year of an initiative which covered sixty percent of sheep against PBR, which is a pest, and was very important for protecting the small producers which for us as an international agency is more important.

 Do you think that in the future Somalia could greatly benefit from free trade, how so?

We are working out free trade on a regional level.  There are quite a lot of needs and opportunities to be made inside the region and that should be done tax free.  Imagine sugar, where Sudan makes enormous amounts of sugar, Somalia which is a he importer of sugar, and Kenya which fluctuates”.

What is being done to ensure Somalia is prepared to deal with famines?

During the last famine, we decided as a way to intervene, to use cash for work program.  Basically, we convinced the poorest not to emigrate from rural areas.  By giving them cash for a few weeks and later cash for work.  This work consisted of excavating 1/3 of a cubic meter per day, of dirt, for a canal.  To increase their productive capacity later on.

How were these workers able to purchase food if there was such a critical shortage?

Well, I kind of shocked the system by gong to Dubai and setting up a deal to get food to retailers in proper quantities relative to the paid workers.  It was just information sharing.

There has been some criticism about humanitarian assistance hurting local farmers, how does the international community adapt to these complaints, are they valid?

We realized there were a number of agencies trying to target the same people.  The three biggest agencies of the UN decided to work together on this concept of resilience.  Most of our resources were used on that objective and sequencing the different types of intervention with the proper logic.  Going local when we can and international when it can’t be done locally.  Because that is what the community needs.

How has Somalia’s food security improved?

Since last year’s drought the food security situation has improved a lot.  We have moved from 4.2 million in extreme need to 2.12 million.  However, we are still talking about 28% of the population.  A large amount of the population is flat on the poverty scale—where a small thing can push everyone into a serious problem.   This is why we need to focus on resiliancy of people.  Without a state, the people are losing their communities and we need capacity to keep them up to a certain level.  Internationally we need to help the government strengthen. Need sustained support for two or three years to prevent the people from collapsing.  When it gets better we can start to pull out and they can go ahead.  Give them some support and they can be strong and pick themselves up.

What advice would you give to potential investors?

As far as investment areas in Somalia, there is quite a lot that can happen in livestock and fishing.  Agriculture is weak but things could change quite well.  Unfortunately, a solid legal framework to protect investment is missing.

Honestly, I would be ready to invest in most of Africa.  Look at how much GM is investing in Africa, and they are getting a humongous amount of money.  China’s investments, even in places like Sudan, which you would not expect to be good, are huge.  Furthermore, China does not add conditionality to their investments and they support and protect local governments while the West adds too much conditionality.

ACDI/VOCA Learning Event Reviews 50 Years of Learning in Development

The Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU) in Ethiopia—the birthplace of coffee—is the largest organic coffee exporter in the world. The union collects six types of high-quality, organic Arabica coffee beans, all with distinctive and highly desirable flavor characteristics, from more than 250,000 farmers across the Oromia region.

In only 15 years OCFCU’s exports have grown nearly a hundred­fold, with sales of $40 million, making it the largest coffee producer and exporter in Ethiopia. Key to the union’s success has been to link Ethiopia’s smallholder farm­ers directly to export markets. The prior central auction marketing process did not allow for quality distinctions.

Beginning in 2000, ACDI/VOCA, a nonprofit development organization, aided the young cooperative union under a USAID program, training cooperative members to improve coffee quality and productivity, and working with farmers, processors, export­ers and others to strengthen the overall coffee value chain in Ethiopia. Improvements included creating a system of traceability to guarantee coffee quality from farm to cup.

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

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

Tadesse Meskela: The key to success is promotion. As soon as Oromia was organized as a cooperative union, the challenge was getting the market.

With support from ACDI/VOCA, we came to San Francisco in 2000 [for a Specialty Coffee Association of America conference] with 146 kilograms of different coffees.  Roasters took the coffee for free, cupped it and found that our coffee is the best.

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

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

This is all because of the feedback we got from coffee roasters and the training we gave to our members to improve quality.

What are some of the current challenges for the cooperative?

Mainly finance.

We do have banks [OCFCU recently created its own bank, a great benefit to its members for much-needed preharvest financing] but still to capture the value chain, cooperatives have to receive all the product from their members, which would be facilitated by access to finance.

The other thing is capacity building. We have to train farmers from year to year. It’s not a one-time job, it has to be continuous. ACDI/VOCA supported us in the beginning. We have done a lot with ACDI/VOCA, but these trainings have to continue. It’s a dynamic process—training, awareness creation for farmers to get organized to come out of poverty—it’s very important. This is has to be accompanied by finance; they have to come together.

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

The way we communicated to members at the beginning of ACDI/VOCA’s intervention was through bringing in volunteers [ACDI/VOCA’s expert volunteers serve on short-term assignments that complement long-term projects] to talk to the farmers; so that has to be there.

We also use video classes on cooperatives to change the minds of farmers to enable them to come together, because we used to have bad cooperative experiences during the socialist regime, where farmers had no control over the product or pricing. So by the time we started with ACDI/VOCA, we had to educate farmers and show them how to change their lives through cooperatives by capturing the value chain, the comprehensive process of producing, processing and exporting.

You mentioned in ACDI/VOCA’s learning event that cooperatives receive 250 percent more by participating in OCFCU as opposed to selling to middlemen. Can you give an example of what the price difference would be for an individual coffee farmer operating alone?
Especially during the time of the coffee crisis, 2000, when the price was at a three-year low, 4 cents a pound, [by participating in the Oromia Cooperative Union] farmers were getting more than double what they could get on the local market. Even now they are getting more than double because we certify the coffee organic fair trade and trace all of it to the cooperative. So the certification creates an additional price over the quality. We are also given a quality premium from our customers because our coffee is always top of the top. These together give our coffee a higher price and make us able to give back dividends to the unions. So this is how the lives of the farmers change.

And also through the fair trade premiums [an additional payment above the market price that must be spent on social and economic development in the producing communities], we build schools and other infrastructure. We’ve built 14 elementary schools, 10 high schools and more than 100 clean water supply programs. All in all, we have done about 226 different projects from the fair trade premium—success we got by creating quality and sustainability and supplying good quality coffee to our customers.

Our relationships with our coffee roasters and buyers, who started buying coffee from us in 2002, are now family-like. They visit us every year or every two years. We visit them. They give us feedback and based on the feedback, we train farmers. Our relationship is very strong.

What do members do with the extra money?

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

What do you think are the current constraints in the Ethiopian coffee sector?
The government needs to support characterizing the different coffees in the country. This has to be given a big emphasis, so that the country—and we—can win in delivering the high premium prices in the international market.

The biggest concern is agronomic. In most of the rural parts in the country the coffee is getting older, and there should be a stronger extension activity around agronomic practices. In the 1980s we had a coffee improvement project funded by the European Union for maybe eight years. That brought a drastic change to the Ethiopian coffee industry, with nurseries to raise coffee trees, training for farmers and stamping the old trees. This really has helped the industry. But since the culmination of the coffee improvement project, these programs are not there. So we have to work harder now.

 

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

250px-Mpumalanga_in_South_Africa.svgThe sun-drenched province of Mpumalanga in north-eastern South Africa is one of the country’s burgeoning agricultural hubs, and as thousands of emerging cattle, sugarcane, citrus and wheat farmers pop up across the region, an urgent need has emerged for viable financial structures to support them.

With the South African government punting the formation of co-operatives as a key strategy for economic growth, the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) have heeded the call. They have kick-started the development of a revolutionary co-operative bank which the association says will benefit more than 300 000 farmers operating in the small but fertile province.

Established in 2011 after a year-long consultation with developing farmers country-wide, AFASA now has over 11 000 members from all nine of South Africa’s provinces, and has placed the needs of emerging farmers on the top of their priority list.

mpumalanga-car-rentalOften struggling to establish themselves due to lack of funding and formal financing mechanisms, little access to market information and poor money-management skills, emerging farmers find themselves swimming in the deep end of South Africa’s agricultural pool. AFASA’s plans are to lift them out.

“The goal is to establish a bank which will be strong, sustainable, independent and supportive of farmers, enabling members to have easy access to affordable banking services,” says AFASA Mpumalanga President Dr Job Mthombeni, who is head of the bank’s newly formed 15 member board.

With support from the Cooperative Financial Institute of South Africa (COFISA) and the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration (DARDLA), the operations of the bank are scheduled to begin by the end of October.

Discussions regarding the bank commenced in April and focused on mobilizing farmers and co-operatives to join hands in establishing the institution. In order to build the initial capital for establishment, prospective members have been encouraged to invest R600 ($59) each after which time they will have full access to the comprehensive range of services that the bank will offer.

“With an experienced board of directors and a well trained staff complement, the bank will have on tap a wealth of agricultural specific financial expertise for members to utilise. A thorough understanding of the challenges facing emerging farmers and how to solve them is what makes this bank unique,” Mthombeni explained.

AFASA have recognised the need for easily accessible branches for all members, the absence of which has historically been a major cause for the failure of numerous co-operative banks formed in South Africa.

“The bank will launch branches in all the districts of the province, depending on which area is more active as a matter of which one will start first.  It is expected that not less than 300 000 farmers will be able to benefit in the next five years within the province,” Mthombeni added.

Through proper organisation of co-operatives and holistic support of smallholder farmers, AFASA aims to follow the path of countries such as Kenya, Italy and Brazil, whose co-operative movements are widely recognised as the most successful in the world.

From a global perspective, the importance of co-operatives can be highlighted by figures from the International Co-operative Alliance which show that their combined turnover totals some US$2 trillion annually, and in August 2005 a new Cooperatives Act (No.14 of 2005), based on international cooperative principles, was signed into law by the South African government.

The Act sees a major role for co-operatives in promoting the economic and social development of South Africa, in particular by “creating employment, generating income, facilitating broad-based black economic empowerment and eradicating poverty”, a sentiment which is at the cornerstone of AFASA’s constitution.

History demonstrates that white co-operatives played a significant role in the South African agricultural sector during Apartheid- in 1993 there were about 250 of these cooperatives with total assets of R12,7 billion ($1.26bn) and a total turnover of R22,5 billion ($2.2bn).

“Black farmers did not receive the same form of support, and this has led to them not being able to meaningfully participate in the mainstream economy,” said AFASA Secretary-General Aggrey Mahanjana.

“Therefore servicing these people and co-operatives while equipping them with the financial support they need to make a living for themselves and meaningfully contribute to the economy is a top priority for AFASA and South Africa as a whole,” Mahanjana added.

Mahanjana believes that provision of finance should not be the only support mechanism for smallholder farmers and presents what he terms “the wagon holistic approach” to farmer support and development.

“The approach places land and infrastructure at the centre and lists other support mechanisms such as logistics, market intelligence, business knowledge and networking to maximize profit and growth,” he explains.

With the right support, a lucrative potential market lies in wait for the developing farmers of Mpumalanga, who are delighted at the concept of the new bank.

Johnson Mtshali, who owns eighteen cattle on a farm in the Western Mpumalanga town of Emalahleni, believes that the institution will give him the financial support he needs to get his cattle-farming venture off the ground, while giving him access to the market.

“I have been struggling here and don’t have the right business knowledge to make a success of my life. I need a place where I can go to for financial support and to learn from people who have been successful in the farming industry so that I can achieve my dream of becoming a prosperous farmer. It has been very difficult to understand everything I need to do to get to that dream,” Mtshali said.

Dennis Nkuna, a farmer from the Nkomazi Cotton Farmers Association in Steenbok, highlighted the independence of the new institution as a major advantage.

“This is a great idea. We will be able to have ownership, access finances and loans in our own co-operative bank; I believe this is a remarkable step to greater things in the agricultural industry,” Nkuna said.

With AFASA’s innovative concept of a bank fully dedicated to assisting co-operatives and facilitating the province-wide boom of developing farmers, they seem to have tapped into something truly special, and much more importantly, sorely needed.

As Mahanjana concludes: “We cannot remain subsistence farmers. To contribute to food security in this country, we will have to become commercial producers.”

Mpumalanga

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

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

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

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

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

What is open data?

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

What is the significance of data within the agricultural sector?

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

What implications would open data have on Africa? 

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

What challenges does this initiative face?

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

Manchester_Free_Trade_HallManchester Trade has had two decades of successful business in Washington, DC, providing strategic trade and business advisory services to domestic and international clients in areas such as trade negotiations, export development, investment promotion, and legislative advocacy. Their Principals and Associates work closely with clients to advance domestic and global business and policy interests in the U.S. market and abroad. Stephen Lande is the President of Manchester trade and is a distinguished international trade expert in the United States. Mr. Lande has been involved in international trade since the 1960s He had a twelve year career with the Office of the United State Trade Representative as the Senior Trade negotiator and the first of a long-line of Assistant USTRs. Mr. Lande has negotiated many bilateral and multilateral trade agreements on behalf of the US Government in Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean.

Welcome to the interview Mr. Lande. I would just like to start by asking you what AGOA is?

Lande2AGOA: African Global Opportunity Act. It is considered a flagship program of the U.S. in terms of our economic relations with Africa. It was developed, actually, by the Clinton Administration, in the last century! As an old program, an in one sense maybe not, it went into effect in the year 2001, it has received bipartisan support; meaning support from both Republicans and Democrats. It is mainly a Tariff Preference Program. Tariff preferences are generally available to developing countries. It is usually subject to conditions and limits. The U.S started a goal with the theory that we should designate every product for duty free. We didn’t quite make it. We missed a couple products, but particularly some agricultural products that we can discuss later.

I recently read a document stating that Manchester Trade has some recommendations to improve AGOA. What might those be?

Well, a lot depends on how you define AGOA: If you define it as a program that provides market access, obviously we have several recommendations but they are more limited. If you describe AGOA as being the US approach to Africa, then we can go beyond market access to include provisions which promote U.S investment, which supports regional infrastructure, which a real necessity in Africa as you know that now. (And) We support regional integration and relationships to developing pre-trade agreements common markets, giving Africa the required economic space to operate.

As far as improvements go to AGOA. Using the same standard I will explain a few. For the market access provisions we basically suggest three proposals. We suggest that AGOA be extended indefinitely. Meaning, the trade preferences be extended indefinitely for two reasons: number one, when the provisions are allowing Africa to use fabric or to incorporate fabric, produced in the Far East, which is only available- no other country can do that. A lot of people can import apparel to the U.S duty free, but they all have to use their own FRAVRIC. Very few can use the very competitive Far East Fabric. That was to expire, if I remember correctly, in October 2012. And it took us up until the last second to get it renewed. Well, by that time people cancelled their orders, they said “Wait a minute, I have a Christmas order coming in on December, I don’t know whether to pay Duty or not… How can I import those products?”. So you had what was called the ‘cliff’. What we argue is that we should make things permanent so that we don’t have the ‘cliff’.

Also, what happens when you negotiate a free trade agreement (negotiate reciprocity), you don’t increase duties, you keep your zero duties in place but you get paid for them. That’s what is called reciprocity; the other country reduces duty. So, at the end of the day you have a free trade agreement where there is no duties on either side. So that is why, by extending it duty free indefinitely, but also saying that we are going to give you a hiatus of ten years because of your development, because of the fact that in order to negotiate as a group, you have to be unified. That takes ten years to put (together) the reasonable economic communities. The African Union has a proposal for a continental free trade agreement. The Abuja treaty, which kind of regulates economic integration within Africa as an African common market, also to be completed at the end of the decade.

So what we basically say, is let us first extent the duty free treatment indefinitely. Let’s give Africa ten years so it can complete its own regional integration and then Africa should be strong enough as a group to negotiate with the U.S. Since duties don’t go up, the permanent duty free remains in place, the only difference is that Africa gradually gets to begins to provide the same rights to U.S duty free imports. 

Can we talk a little about the Trans-Atlantic South Partnership?

Well, that is one of our ideas, we appreciate the question. As you may know, the Obama administration has two major trade initiatives: One is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is designed to bring, I believe 18 countries that boarder the Pacific, not necessarily right on the border because some of them are inland but we still use that language. And this specifically based countries either in Latin America; so we include countries ranging from Chile, Peru, on up to Mexico. Canada now has joined too. To countries in the Pacific area including going as far as inland as Malaysia. But these countries have got to a Free Trade agreement.

Similarly, we are negotiating an agreement with the Europeans, called by what you had said the Trans- Atlantic South Partnership, in short we call T-TIP. So, we have TPP negotiations and T-TIP negotiations. Well, I looked at the map the other day, I didn’t have anything better to do, and guess what I discovered? That the Atlantic is a big ocean, but to be honest, it’s only the North Atlantic that separates the U.S from Europe, and the South Atlantic separates the United States from Africa. So, we said, “Okay, I’m very happy so let’s call it what it was, I would call T-TIP, TN-TIP, but I don’t wanna go there because that name has already been given by people, so they can keep it… so, why don’t we then put together, well, Manchester Trade said, why not put together something we call the Trans-Atlantic South Partnership. Which, in fact, if you look at the growth rate of the country is probably more economic promise in the Trans-Atlantic South than there is in the Trans-Atlantic North, or the U.S/ Europe Free Trade Agreement. So we say, “what should we include in it? We are not ready yet for Reciprocal Duties, We are ready for making AGOA permanent, we are ready, certainly,  to work together with the country to eliminate barriers to U.S trade. ” So, there is a number of things we can do in the TASP which are similar to perhaps a little more development, perhaps moving into a few more areas than the T-TIP, but certainly not having yet the free trade component that we have, or the Custom Union support.

The document states that the EU is part of a problem to this reform. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

You did read the document, I’d like to point that out, that you asked all the right questions. So, this is the challenge, and it’s a hard challenge. The problem with trade policy and the reason it puts everyone to sleep, the concepts are not very hard- it’s not nuclear science, it’s just that you have to go through all these long tedious stories to explain what happened so you can get to where we are today. Many years ago, two things occurred: number one, the Europeans, back in the 1970’s, they decided that they were going to come up with an agreement with their former colonies, which took place at the Lome Convention, where they were going to get back reciprocity. They were going to give them duty free treatment. And the U.S said “no, no, no, no that’s not how we picture it, these preferences should be given unilaterally, you’re not supposed to get a special position, or a special foothold in your market so that it gives you an advantage over everybody else, and so on.” So, we had a big fight with the Europeans, and we won. What we agreed was that one would have a system they called the Generalized System Preferences (GSP) where you would include all preferences, all products to the extent necessary, all developing countries that meet your criteria and you would not ask for Reciprocity. There would be non-Reciprocity.

This system worked well until the beginning of the century. Because, in the meantime, the Central Americans were very upset, because the Europeans had a number of “Regional Agreements” and the agreement with the African-Caribbean Pacific states were not subject to GSP. The old GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) was really a general agreement to talk and talk because there was no way to enforce a decision. If you found someone that was violating it then, big deal. I remember, when they formed the WTO after 1994; according to those dispute agreements, even if the people disagreed with you, but if you lost a case you were out or you would have to change your trade law or be subject retaliation. So, the Europeans kept losing the trade laws because ACP is not a generalized system it was only available to former African colonies and specific colonies of Pacific Africa and the Caribbean. The U.S wanted to do something for Africa so we got a WTOA, but the Europeans didn’t want that so the Europeans told the ACP countries that they either had to sign a Reciprocal agreement (not outlawed by the WTO), or they would lose preferences. Based on that history the Europeans were able to sign with the Caribbean countries possible because there were no Least Developed Countries (LDC) in the Caribbean, except for Haiti that had its own special interests, but they couldn’t sign with Africa!

Africa has two types of countries; they have those which do rely on the special preferences of loamy????, but there is another group of countries and I probably should have been done with that in my introduction, which are called Least Developed Countries, counties with a General Per capita income of less than 1400 bucks, they had to have a certain low on the human value poll and so on. There is a way to measure it. You had to provide duty free treatment for all LDC’s countries. So, you end up with this problem, on one hand you have some African countries that are going to lose market access but are not least developed. The Europeans end up saying “if you do not sign, they put a date on it- 1st October 2014- , if you do not accept agreements with us by that date you’re going to lose preferences.” So, we feel “wait a minute, that’s crazy. Since you are a common market and you hope to be a single market, you are moving in the right direction, you are partial already; why are you telling Africa it has to sign an agreement ahead of time?” We are saying to the Europeans; “forget it, you wait- give Africa ten years to form their Customs Union or their Free Trade agreement and then then they can negotiate with you as a group.” The Europeans are saying, no, we have to finish by this given date. We asked for a WTO weaver, we got it, they never asked for a WTO weaver.

Part of the tactical approaches that you’re looking at to further the Trans-Atlantic South Partnership is reconstructing the market access provisions, promotion of U.S investment in Africa and Regional integration. Can you tell us a little bit more about those approaches?

One idea I would like to put on the table is that we should renew AGOA; renew the preferences permanently but indicate that after a ten year period, if they are to continue, there has to be some kind of Reciprocity when you negotiate with Africa as a whole. I said when we began, that some things you can say are AGOA measures and some things you could say are beyond AGOA. I always like to say you need a coordinator, I don’t care if it’s with AGOA or not, that’s just wording. [They have various committees]. I don’t care if we have separate legislation or not, you may need it, it’s the requirement of the system, every committee has legislation, every committee has its jurisdiction. But what I do care (about) is that you coordinate this on the top. Maybe by the speaker himself, maybe by ranking leader of the majority, I don’t know. Maybe you do it with the Committees themselves, with the Chairman and the Ranking Member, the ranking member means the person from the other party that has the leadership role. Republicans control the House so every single chairman is Republican, and the Ranking Member would someone the Democrats have chosen to kind of be the alter-ego, so that’s what I mean by Ranking Members. So, again, what we have basically argued is even though there are different pieces of legislation they should be coordinated; either by the Committee Chairmen as a group or by the Speaker of the House, open issue and so on.

The U.S doesn’t have much money, but we do have off budget funds which we call Export/Import Bank. OPIC- Overseas Private Investment Corporation, we have these funds and the U.S Trade Development Agency. OPIC is the most exposed to Africa. What we are basically saying is what can we do in our program to increase the amount of money that can be loaned and the effectiveness of that money. So that is one important ingredient. Another agreement I mentioned is that we don’t want the Europeans to keep pushing their Free Trade agreement because they will get a Free Trade agreement other countries will be piling on. I mean, you’ll never have to have an independent African trade agreement anymore. So part of our proposal is that you work within the T-TIP framework and you try to develop agreements like I said earlier.

We have a big emphasis on working with equity funds, because we think that that is where the investment is coming in from for Africa. That is what now collects money from small to medium sized investors, so we have that possibility as well. We have been arguing very specifically for agriculture. There are three products that Africa produces in great number which are currently subject to Tariff Rate Quotas. Which means that if your traditional supplier, within the traditional amounts, you can chip inside the Tariff Rate Quota. However, with your new supplier you have to chip outside the Tariff Rate Quota. The problem is, and I will use tobacco as an example, that in tobacco if you are an AGOA beneficiary you ship for nothing under the Tariff Rate Quota. If you have to pay a duty it is about 6%, meaning for people that don’t have AGOA benefits but they get it. But if you’re an importer, like an African importer that doesn’t have a tradition of being in the market, they don’t a market share of the Tariff Rate Quota, they have to pay a duty of 350%. So, that is a very specific example, the same is true for sugar, the same is true for ground nuts or peanuts. What we would like to see happen, is that we would like these products of interest to Africa to be granted duty free treatment just as if they were an LDC. 

Would you like to make any comments about Regional integration?

We touched a little bit on it earlier because we did mention the need for the Europeans to give up on reciprocity, to try to push the Europeans, and to try to energize the Africans to finish these agreements. One thing people have to realize is that there are two things involved when it comes to Regional integration, one is easier than the other: The first thing is the absence of obstructions –you can’t have tariffs every ten minutes along the way- you can’t have arbitrary import charges you’re not expecting to be levied on you. So we have been pushing for negotiations that eliminate the tariff barriers between countries and addresses the non-tariff measures. We include this as an AGOA approach. The challenge is the EU is asking for Reciprocity. We have argued, and we are suggesting, is that the way you solve the problem is like I said that under my task you negotiate under the context of the T-TIP a common approach to Reciprocity in Africa with the Europeans.  And that is how you begin to solve the problems; that is what we are recommending.

We have spoken a little bit about the shortcomings of AGOA and the tactical approaches that Manchester Trade plans to implement; I was wondering if you could comment about any foreseeable challenges?

Well, we have got a lot of challenges: number one is the Congressional agenda which is always full, so it is very hard to include these ideas. Number two is the fact that some people who have current benefits are nervous they are going to lose them even though there are only four or five countries who export apparel under AGOA. South Africa is the only country that is in many different product groups which is representative of its development level. On the whole, countries are not benefiting from AGOA. It’s not bad, it delivers a message to the importance of the private sector, it delivers messages for good governance (you have to have them in order to be eligible), but it’s not generally as effective as Chinese program. So we are trying to convince people that they should push it.

I don’t know how the AU is going to come out, but I think what is very important is that President Obama, on two occasions, while he was in Africa, talked about the need to improve AGOA. So, that is already on the agenda. The question is what ideas do you need to improve it, and I think that is what will be researched and available well before. When President Obama was speaking to the Africa press or the African young businessmen, he looked at Froman, his USTR (United States Trade Representative), and said “Mike over there is going to begin this process of the AGOA forum.” The AGOA forum begins in August 2013 in Addis, and that is why it is so important that the Africans get together a position and they propose it in that particular meeting.

In your opinion, do you see a bright future for the African Union playing a positive role in this?

Yeah, because the movement, the evolution is from small to larger groups, that is what we saw happen in Europe. A lot of resistance was in the beginning when they had six members. Now, it has 28 members and growing and certainly with power. There are always all kinds of fringe issues but there is no question that the AU will increasingly become more enhanced.

You mentioned that you are particularly interested in agriculture; why that sector more than any other?

Well, I have two answers for you: first, even though by 2023 the actual population in the rural areas will is going to be less than the population in urban areas, there is this movement going on and it does call for increased productivity in the agricultural section because we have less people working there and yet there will be more demand. That is why I think we need to keep on focusing on agriculture. Two, you have these three strange items which because of the Trans operation of the TRQ system Africans are denied benefits. That does not make sense. Obviously AGOA is designed to modify, during a period when something happened domestically, but there is no right to just say I can permanently give it to you. So that is what are arguing for. The U.S hasn’t said “no, they won’t do it.” We are just arguing and we will see what happens.