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Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could tap into a trillion-dollar market by 2030 if they can secure access to significantly more capital and infrastructure, including irrigation, to grow their food and compete in the global market. The new World Bank report, “Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness, calls for governments to work side-by-side with agribusinesses to link farmers with consumers in an increasingly urbanized Africa.

The report calls for a radical rethink on how to help Africa seize it agribusiness opportunity. Currently, agriculture and agribusiness together account for nearly half of Africa’s economic activity.

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Rich leading dance with kids.Spark Ventures’ Partnerships Trips to Zambia are part of our unique strategy of long-term international development. For the past five years Spark has been working alongside partner organization Hope Community School, which provides nutrition, education and healthcare for children living in extreme poverty in Zambia. Spark has strengthened Hope by investing human and financial resources to grow their capacity by 300% and increase their impact exponentially. In order to sustain this impact, Spark invested in a commercial business that Hope owns and manages, generating profit that supports programs for their children. In short, Spark believes that linking community programs with economic development is the best way to ensure lasting impact for children and communities in developing countries.

Poultry Farm 1

Each year, Spark hosts two volunteer travel trips to Zambia for Spark supporters and interested individuals to experience our work first hand. This year, Spark collaborated with another Chicago-based start-up, Groupon, who waived their fees and provided national exposure for these trips. January and February trips hosted a total of 30 individuals from around the country for a 10 day/9 night volunteer vacation of a lifetime. Participants spent a good portion of their week at Hope Community School, home to over 300 orphans and vulnerable children. Each day the travelers would spend time getting to know and reading with one of the students at the school. Other activities included home visits with traditional Zambian meals, time at the market, lessons on Zambian history and the HIV/AIDs situation and introductions to the economic development.

welcome program

The end of the week includes a visit to Lusaka, the thriving capital of Zambia and location of a commercial poultry farm that Spark helped to launch with an investment of over $100,000. Profits from this farm are allocated to the continuing operations of Hope Community School, providing a pathway to financial sustainability. The trip ends with a day in Livingstone to see Victoria Falls, one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, and a boat and land safari in Chobe National Park in Botswana where the group sees elephant, buffalo, giraffe, crocodiles and much more of Africa’s amazing wildlife.
While Spark is not primarily a volunteer travel organization, the commitment to these types of trips is in its DNA, as the three founders started Spark after a similar adventure in 2006 to Zambia. As a nonprofit organization, Spark is predominantly funded through individual contributions and currently has a budget just under $1M. Hosting 10 of these trips to Zambia in the last 6 years has yielded new contributors, advocates and volunteer leadership for Spark’s board of directors and advisory council. Recent relationship building with government officials at the Zambian Embassy in Washington, D.C. along with outreach to the corporate entities and multinationals in Zambia are also key to Spark’s resource development strategy.
Spark’s vision is to create sustainability for four international partners in ten years. A new partnership in Nicaragua was announced in November of 2012, but the current funding priority remains the scaling of the poultry farm in Zambia to sustain Spark’s first partner. For more information on Spark’s Partnership Model, Trips or events, visit www.sparkventures.org, or contact CEO, Rich Johnson, rjohnson@sparkventures.org or 773-293-6710.
Infographic.May 2012

Farmers Have their Say on Agriculture Investments

“We need to unite in order to face the challenges in African agriculture.” Djibo Bagna, the President of the Pan African Farmers Organization (PAFO) opened up the 2012 Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) Africa Forum with this rallying cry. “We will fight for the inclusion of African farmers,” said Bagna. “All stakeholders need to be included.” His remarks were fitting for the theme of this year’s CAADP Africa Forum, which was: “Farmer Organizations as the Vital Link to Equitable and Sustainable Agriculture Growth in Africa.” The Forum took place November 12-16 in Tunis, Tunisia.

CAADP is the agriculture program of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a program of the African Union (AU). It was established by the AU assembly in 2003 in Maputo, Mozambique. The aim of CAADP is to improve food security, nutrition, and incomes in Africa’s agriculture based economies by increasing public investment in agriculture to at least 10 percent of national annual budgets to achieve a 6 percent annual growth.  African governments sign a CAADP compact in which they commit to the 10 percent goal and then develop, through a consultative process, a CAADP investment plan to reach their goals. To date 42 African countries are involved in CAADP, of which, 30 have signed compacts, 26 have developed investment plans, 24 countries have held business meetings and one regional compact has been signed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Photo Credit: Katie Campbell/ActionAid

CAADP continued the tradition of its predecessor, the Africa Forum on Rural Development, and hosts a CAADP Africa Forum annually at either the continental or regional level. CAADP has, however, attempted to progress the agenda of the Africa Forum to one that is more inclusive and focused on the challenges of the people at the center of African agriculture: smallholder farmers, especially women. At the first Africa Forum, held in 1997, there were no farmers or farmers’ organizations represented only donors and governments. Over the years CAADP has increasingly attempted to integrate the voices of Non-State Actors including farmers and farmers’ organizations.

This year’s CAADP Africa Forum was the first to be entirely hosted by farmers’ organizations. The regional farmers’ organizations from eastern, western, central, southern and northern Africa all participated in planning and coordinating the forum.[1]  It was attended by more than 300 participants from 46 African countries, the majority of whom were farmers.

One of the participants, Amina Saida Angaya, a 26 year old woman smallholder farmer from Kenya attended the forum with ActionAid. She explained why it’s critical to involve farmers in agriculture policymaking in Africa: “Farmers need to fight for their rights as members of the agriculture community in their countries,” Angaya said. “We need to know which governments are giving less than 10 percent of their budget to agriculture. What makes them contribute less than 10 percent?”

As a woman smallholder farmer Angaya is quite familiar with her country’s agriculture budget as she is part of a women’s cooperative that is receiving training from ActionAid and our partners on tracking Kenya’s agriculture budget.  Women farmers empowered with the skills and knowledge to engage their governments have started reaching out to their officials, demanding, as Angaya said, “their rights as members of the agriculture community.” When I visited Angaya’s cooperative in western Kenya last summer I heard many stories from women smallholder farmers about the importance for them of understanding their government’s agriculture budget.

Leah, a woman smallholder farmer in Angaya’s group told me that usually smallholder farmers do not know how to ask the government for what they deserve, but that with this training they now will be able to advocate to their officials. “We hear of seeds that the government gives out but we haven’t been able to get them. We are now preparing ourselves to be able to engage finally.”

These women are just two of thousands of smallholder farmers that ActionAid and our partners are empowering to hold their governments accountable for increased and improved public investment in agriculture. They are joined by women from Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda as part of a campaign to encourage African governments to invest in women smallholder farmers.

In his opening remarks Bagna emphasized the importance of this kind of capacity building. “We need to strengthen farmer organizations to increase their participation in agriculture policymaking,” he said. ActionAid firmly believes that African agriculture can only benefit from more inclusion from farmers and farmer organizations. As the Senior Agriculture Policy and Investment Officer at NEPAD, Dr. Tobias Takavarasha, said: farmers are the true implementers of CAADP. Governments can invest 10 percent of their budgets or more but farmers are the ones who will take that investment and turn it into a harvest. It is also critical to remember that smallholder farmers invest more in their own farms than governments, donors, or the private sector. Therefore, it is critical that all other investments are aligned with farmers’ own investments. As Angaya said, “[farmers] can plant the seed that can make their country develop.”

In all of our work, ActionAid subscribes to the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Although it is not always the quickest and easiest route, investors in African agriculture, whether African governments, donors or the private sector, should include, consult and understand the needs and challenges of the African farmer, especially women smallholder farmers, if they want their investment to truly succeed. In ActionAid’s experience smallholder farmers want to be included and have the energy and the ideas to make their farms flourish. They just need the resources, the time and the opportunity to be included and recognized as what they are: the backbone of Africa.


[1] These organizations included: Maghreb Farmers’ Union (UMAGRI), Eastern African Farmers Federation (EAFF), Regional Platform of Farmers Organizations in Central Africa (PROPAC), Network of Farmers’ and Agriculture Producers Organization of West Africa (ROPPA), Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU).

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