Home Woman in Agribusiness

Interview by Papiso Matsau

In November 2011, Africa Investor (AI), an international investment and Communications group, named you the recipient of the Africa Agriculture Minister of the year award as part of their annual AI Agribusiness awards. In your opinion, what have been some of your ministry’s most notable accomplishments since you took office in 2009?

Our administration invested a lot of work towards the establishment and maintenance of domestic and international markets. Moreover, we sought to open new markets in regions like the South and Central America and the rest of Africa. The benefits of these engagements have been astounding. We have seen trade with countries like Mexico, Argentina and Brazil increasing significantly. Our membership of BRICS is also expected to lead to further gains in terms of trade and investment with countries that share the same philosophies and vision. BRICS represents a block of countries that are destined to occupy a higher ground on economic growth and development terms going forward and we intend to maximise the benefits of being part of that collective.

Another notable achievement is the success we have had in halting job losses in agriculture. In fact, Statistics South Africa, the national statistics agency of the Republic, recorded a 87 000 growth in jobs between the second quarter of 2011 and the fourth quarter of 2012. This is a remarkable achievement, especially at a time when global demand was still fragile due to the economic meltdown in many parts of the world. It is through our efforts to open up new markets in other developing countries and our commitment to supporting growth of the smallholder farmers in the country that we have managed to achieve these results.

Shortly before commencing my term of office, our country had drifted to becoming a net importer of food. This of course was a major cause of concern for the current administration as it would leave us vulnerable to unfavourable movements in global food markets and in so doing threaten our food security situation. Today, however, we are proud to say that we have managed to reverse that situation and have become, once more, a net food exporting nation.

Although I do not have the exact statistics at this point, allow me to also mention that we have gradually increased the number of black smallholder farmers in the country. This we have done through ensuring that they have access to technical support and finance. Access to finance has always been the smallholder farmer’s biggest constraint but, working with the Land Bank, a state owned development finance institution, we have ensured that financial products tailor made for the needs of these farmers were developed and made available.

In some instances we have worked with the private sector to foster partnerships that will further develop smallholder farmers into prosperous entrepreneurs. A case in point is the partnership with Walmart/Massmart, which has seen to the development of smallholder farmers in Limpopo. The farmers were equipped with skills, training, finance and access to markets. Similar projects are in the pipeline for other parts of the country where the retailing giant has operations.

Since 2009, we have signed memoranda of understanding with several countries in the African continent. This is in line with our objective of increasing trade and engaging in mutually beneficial development programs with other African countries. We signed the following: Centre for Coordination of Agriculture, Research and Development of Southern Africa (CCARDESA).The Memorandum of Understanding, the CCARDESA Charter, was signed in Pretoria on August 2011 and launched in Gaborone, Botswana July 2011. The purpose of this Charter was to provide Member States with a framework for the establishment of a sub-regional organization that will coordinate agricultural research and development (R&D) in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
Seed Harmonisation Regulatory System was signed in Windhoek, Namibia during the Council of Ministers meeting in November 2010: The purpose of the MoU was to regulate the movement of seeds in the region, seed certification and phytosanitary measures for seeds. It is aimed at providing member states with a legal framework to cooperate in the implementation of the system.

The Minister hosted, in Johannesburg, the African Ministers’ Climate-Smart Conference in preparation for the COP17 Conference that was to be held in Durban, South Africa. The Minister was also instrumental in the development of the African position on agriculture for COP17
Bilateral engagements include the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville): Heads of State Summit for the Three Rain Forests Basin held in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) on 31 May to 3 June 2011.An agreement in the field of agriculture was signed in October 2010, the purpose of the agreement was to maintain and strengthen their bilateral relations in the field of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Abuja, Nigeria from 8 to 10 March 2010: High level Conference on the Development of Agri-Business and Agro- Industries in Africa. The Minister met with her Nigerian counterpart and discussed the potentials of the two countries’ agriculture sectors, with Nigeria interested expressing keen interest in developing her agro-industries and agro-processing. South African agro-processing and agro-Industries are encouraged to invest in Nigeria.

South Africa is among the 26 nations to be signatory to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). The primary goal of CAADP is to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty through agriculture. In order to achieve this goal, the CAADP agenda aligns itself with the Maputo Declaration that called for African nations to increase public investment in agriculture by a minimum of 10% of their national budgets and to raise agricultural productivity by at least six percent. Has South Africa achieved this commitment? What would a 10% increase in public agricultural investment mean for the average South African farmer? What programs has this initiative funded? Can you briefly describe some of its successes?

The Department is currently undertaking a budget tracking exercise to determine allocations to agriculture and rural development across the three spheres of government. I am confident that this will reveal that South Africa is investing heavily in these areas, although the national budget of the Department does not constitute the 10% target.

While not contesting the target set through the Maputo Declaration, it should be noted that in the case of South Africa, the primary agriculture sector contributes between 2.5% to 3% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and it may therefore be difficult to justify an allocation of at least 10% of the national budget to the sector. The situation is made even more complex in a country that is still burdened by the legacy of apartheid that manifests itself in high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

The CAADP agenda outlines certain strategies that should be employed in order to actualize its goal of reducing rural poverty. Strengthening the capacities among the agribusiness community is listed as one of these strategies. How has your Ministry improved the agribusiness community’s ability to operate in South Africa?

Agribusinesses in South Africa are doing relatively well, although like all the other industries, they have also in some ways suffered the consequences of the global economic meltdowns of recent years. Within the CAADP processes, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries consulted with agricultural industry stakeholders to make inputs on how the CAADP agenda should be shaped in South Africa. There have been two consultation meetings with civil society organisations. The agribusiness community in South Africa is a vibrant one which adds significantly to the country’s economy. Various departments, such as the Department of Trade and Industry, have established incentive schemes to promote agribusinesses as part of building rural economies. We also strive to maintain acceptable turnaround times in our regulatory services to keep the costs of doing business as low as possible for agribusinesses in the country.

South Africa helped lead the way to the establishment of the Centre for the Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development in Southern Africa (CCARDESA). The stated goal of the CCARDESA is to secure regional food security through research and innovation. The Centre intends to focus primarily on improving the agricultural practices of smallholder and small commercial farms. What has been the impact of the CCARDESA on smallholder and commercial farmers, thus far? How does your Ministry ensure that the research findings and suggestions of the CCARDESA reach the average South African Farmer and the agribusiness community as a whole?

CCARDESA was only launched and implemented less than a year ago. So, it is too early for us to assess its impact. South Africa has been invited to serve on the board of CCARDESA through the leadership of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). A regional planning workshop is being conducted by the new board of CCARDESA to identify and agree on priorities for the year as well as to ensure clear alignment to CAADP multi-country productivity programmes through research.

While giving a speech marking the establishment of CCARDESA, Botswana’s Minister of Agriculture remarked, “the issue of food security is particularly challenging to our region because despite the various challenges we have, the region is endowed with reasonable resources, that if put to good use, can change the situation.” How far is South Africa from achieving food security? What role do you see for South Africa and its neighbors in achieving food security? Could increasing trade within the region assist all parties involved in reaching their agricultural needs? Do you believe increased regional agribusiness related trade and investment could provide more jobs to South Africans?

We are on the verge of taking a Food Security Policy to Cabinet, which will respond to both national and regional concerns about food security.

South Africa is food secure as a country, however up to 13% of citizens experience food insecurity for a number of reasons, including lack of income due to the high levels of unemployment, inadequate storage facilities and distribution networks. It is with this realisation in mind that we have embarked on programs aimed at increasing household food security in the country. In this regard, we are actively assisting smallholder and subsistence farmers, particularly in the former homeland areas with potential for production. Our target is to put one million hectares of land with potential for agricultural production, into production within the next few years. This year farmers will be harvesting the first crops from this programme, which has proven to be successful and well received.

Agriculture and agribusiness have been identified in the New Growth Path as key jobs drivers, and the National Development Plan envisions up to 1 million new jobs in these sectors by 2030. Regional trade development is part of this, as is expanding trade especially with Brazil, Russia, India and China in the context of BRICS.

Leading up to last Novembers’s global climate-change meeting in Durban, your Ministry fought hard to ensure that agricultural issues occupied a main part of the meeting’s agenda. The Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper, quoted you as stating, “Feeding our people at a time of climate change is the real challenge. As long as agriculture is the sector that is most vulnerable to climate change, we will always have a responsibility to mobilize the rest of the continent.” How has your Ministry promoted sustainable agricultural practices in South Africa and on the continent? How has your Ministry acted to prepare for climate change events in terms of food security?

We are currently conducting research which installs bio-digesters on farms owned by small-scale and subsistence farmers in the rural areas of one district in the country. The project enhances household food security and job creation and promotes rural development by providing alternative sources of energy. The project has training and capacity building components to it that are aimed at improving its sustainability in the long run.

We have legislation and policies that are aimed at addressing the sustainability of agriculture in the country. Chief among those is the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA) 43 of 1983, whose objective is to conserve agricultural resources. A number of programmes focusing on the maintenance of the production potential of the land are implemented. The LandCare programme is aimed at optimising productivity and sustainability of natural resources to enhance greater productivity, food security, job creation and better quality of life for all and identifying measures to address issues of LandCare including mitigation and adapting to climate change. Under this programme we are encouraging best farming practices such as diversification, selection of crops with shorter germination period and shorter growing season as well as developing new breeds for livestock and crops in order to adapt to the changed environment particularly in dry land farming areas.

We are currently conducting a climate change research project which analyses an ensemble of present day and future climate simulations with the aim of determining the crop suitability of selected crops for the South African region. This analysis has the potential to identify regions where temperature related events can negatively impact crop production.

Agricultural production is risky as it is very sensitive to the extreme weather and climate conditions. The sector continues to be affected by the impacts of natural hazards due to the frequency of extreme weather and climate events. The expected impacts of climate change make it even more vulnerable. It is in that light that among the Departmental programmes early warning system for natural hazards disseminates warnings and advisories in line with the expected weather and climate conditions for prevention and mitigation of disaster risks in accordance with the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002. The disseminated information includes the suggested strategies for day to day farming activities including sustainable agriculture. We continue to raise awareness on the impact and benefits of climate change to minimize the impacts of climate change in agriculture, forestry and fisheries production and productivity due to unexpected climatic hazards. We are currently developing a climate change adaptation and mitigation plan which puts emphasis on adaptation and mitigation measures that can assist to adapt and reduce vulnerability to climate change and improve productivity.

How has your Ministry worked with potential private investors? Have you had any investors that you would like to mention and do you have any stories of their successes?

The National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) works closely with private investors such as farmers, exporters, farmer organisations, retailers, and agro-processing firms, on a number of issues that call for collaboration. Mention has already been made of the partnerships that have been created with Walmart/Massmart. There are other similar partnerships that we are actively pursuing with various private sector partners that we may not divulge for confidentiality purposes at this stage. The Walmart/Massmart project addresses everything that smallholder farmers require in order to be successful and have sustainable businesses.

The Department also participates in a public private partnership, which is led by the office of the President of the Republic of South Africa, President Jacob Zuma. This PPP promotes food production, especially in rural areas and on under-used communal land.

Can you recommend any agribusiness related activities in South Africa that would be open to private investors and that would be profitable and most beneficial to South Africa’s people?

South Africa is full of opportunities. There are many agriculture related opportunities that one can think about. One that I can think of is increased capacity in the soybean value chain. This is in line with the fact that South Africa produces and exports soybeans while importing soybean oilcake. The second to consider, which is more long term, is increased capacity in the mohair and wool value chains considering the proportion of raw wool and mohair that this country exports. Increased production of products such as paprika, cotton provides good opportunities to investors.

There are many such opportunities, and the area of aquaculture already mentioned is just one of these. Other areas of development include bio-fuels industry. The promulgation of a blending mandate will offer huge opportunities for the development of this industry.

On February 28th, 2013, you gave a speech on the occasion of BRICS provincial Road show in Kimberley, Northern Cape Province. In this speech you mentioned many of the international trade advancements and knowledge sharing South Africa is making with fellow BRICS members. You mentioned taking inspiration from urban gardens in Brazil; how much of South Africa’s food needs do you think an initiative for urban farming could achieve?

There is great potential in this regard, although it will not, on its own, solve the problems of food insecurity. What it does do is provide fresh food, mostly vegetables, which are often the missing ingredients in a nutritional sense. It also serves to develop among children an interest in agriculture, which will help build the next generation of commercial farmers.

During the February 28th speech, you also mentioned South Africa’s work with China via the Understanding on Agriculture Cooperation and the Cooperation Exchange in Aquaculture Mechanization agreements. Do you see South Africa’s growing relationship with China as a key to achieving food security and economic growth? In the long run, how do you see this partnership growing?

In 2012 we hosted a delegation from China and among the issues that they were interested in, is agro-processing. Their visit was coordinated by my department. This year, our colleagues will reciprocate that visit by travelling to China. This is to make sure that we create a platform for forging a clear understanding of each other’s capacities and to learn as much as we can, where possible.
In your BRICS speech, you also noted South Africa’s strong brand recognition in fellow BRICS nations. Do you see this brand awareness in other non-BRICS countries? How has your Ministry worked to promote the South African brand abroad?

The Department has offices in non BRICS countries such as the USA, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland as part of ensuring that South Africa is part of the global business network in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. Part of the mandate for these offices is to promote the SA brand whilst pursuing market access for our agricultural, forestry and fisheries products. We hope to open more foreign offices as part of our broader ambition to become active players in the global marketing chains.

What do you see as a role for Western-based agribusinesses in South Africa? Is South Africa open to Foreign Direct Investment and partnerships between local and foreign companies in its agribusiness market? Can you briefly describe any such current arrangements?

I suppose that a number of direct foreign investments in the food industry are viewed in perspective of their agricultural potential. The deal regarding Walmart/Massmart and its small scale grower scheme should be considered in this light. Foreign direct investment is always a good indication of the environment (country’s prosperity) and is accepted regardless of the country of origin as long as it will be customised to assist government deliver on its socio-economic commitment to the people of our country. We always encourage joint ventures between local and foreign companies whenever such possibilities arise.

Thank you very much for your insights.


“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. But teach a woman to fish, and everyone eats for a lifetime,” says Ritu Sharma, turning the popular adage on its head. And that’s exactly what she is doing for women living in poverty all over the globe. Sharma helps them turn the wind vane of their lives and point it in a new, more prosperous and fruitful direction.

Ritu Sharma is the President and Co-Founder of Women Thrive Worldwide (WTW); a Washington D.C. based non-profit and leading advocacy organization established in 1998, raising the treble of the myriad of issues affecting women living in poverty across the globe. From poverty to economic opportunity, hunger, education for girls, and violence against women, WTW champions these women, bringing them and their own personal voices directly to Washington, D.C. and to the attention of local and global leaders and decision makers. Having traveled to more than 30 countries in the service of human rights, democracy, and opportunities for women and girls, at the heart of the Sharma’s conviction is that empowering women is the most effective and long-term solution to world poverty.

Sharma and the team at WTW have helped advance the status of and improve the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest women, many of them subsistence farmers. Through the work of WTW and its Global Partners Network of more than 112 partners in 34 countries representing over 40,000 grassroots individuals in poverty, the organization has been at the forefront of influencing and shaping U.S. and global policy to give both women and men an equal voice and freedom from fear and violence. The goal? Transformative change. Change that will impact lives, globally.

March 2012 saw the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) launch a new Gender Integration and Female Empowerment Policy, a policy that had not been updated in 30 years. The modification of this policy, long overdue, is an acknowledgment that women are indeed the missing link in the global value chain of economic development and prosperity. You’ve heard it again and again, read it in study after study—gender equality is “smart economics.” Integrating women and girls is an essential component of effective international assistance across every sector, be it food security, health, climate change, science and technology, democracy and governance or humanitarian assistance.

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, created by Hillary Clinton in 2009 and now headed by Ambassador-at-Large Catherine M. Russell, recognizes and addresses the contributions women all over the globe are making that often result in better outcomes for entire societies and promotes women’s full engagement in both the economic and political spheres. The World Bank launched a four year “action plan” aimed at improving women’s economic opportunity, focusing on women’s increased access to jobs, land rights, financial services, agricultural inputs and infrastructure. According to the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) 2012, a given countries productivity could be significantly improved and development outcomes achieved if women’s skills and abilities were incorporated. You’ve even heard some version of it quite recently from U.S. President, Barack Obama when he proclaimed August 26th “Women’s Equality Day” in celebration of the 91st anniversary of the Constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote.

In developing countries, women farmers are most often not adequately equipped with the all of tools they need to be successful. Whether it is savings, physical tools such as tractors, or simply education, they can remain at a standstill. “Access to knowledge is a lot of it,” Sharma says, “it’s an important first step. They come up against all kinds of road blocks and brick walls,” she continues. “One of the important things to keep in mind is that there are barriers and challenges every step of the way. They may learn that the government is giving out free seeds and then when they get there, the guy says ‘Oh they’re all gone’ since they are competing with men for the seeds. Or there could be no way for them to get there. And if it demands yet more time from a 17-18 hour workday, they’re not going to go get the seeds. There are lots of barriers.”

As a result of these many barriers WTW stresses the importance of women taking collective action. “It is a powerful mechanism for them,” Sharma says. “When women can get together and form associations and cooperatives, they have more collective power.” In addition to forming them, however, Sharma says they need training on how to run them effectively and efficiently. Yet, even with this scenario, barriers can exist.  There may be no money for transportation or childcare. “It’s the behind the scenes stuff that can hold them back,” she states, “You’re left with the question, so how is this thing going to operate?”

Women Thrive Worldwide works to help these women develop solutions to improve the condition of theirs and their family’s lives. As Sharma acknowledges in blog post account of an experience in Burkino Faso (as part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction), many of these women aren’t looking for a handout.

A subsistence farmer named Mariam took me in and taught me that women can do AMAZING things with just a little bit of support. A small private donation I made to her community’s women’s association jumpstarted a very successful soap making business. Women like Mariam don’t want a handout. They want friendship, respect, and a little help getting started. They don’t sit passively waiting for the world to help them. Sharing the burden can make things easier. Mariam reminded me often of the important role that men play as allies, even in cultures that do not share American mores. Her husband has two wives — not uncommon in her village — but he has worked hard to help her become more powerful, more independent and more successful.”

 Women Thrive doesn’t claim to have “the recipe” for women smallholder farmers but rather believes “it depends on how you ask and who you ask,” says Sharma. “You can, for example, bring together a group of women from a community who’ve never had the opportunity to sit and meet together and ask them what barriers they face. Of course, they’re not going to be able to articulate that. They’re not going to be comfortable using their voice especially if men are standing around. But if you take that same group of women and put them together with a facilitator who will take them through a process, asking them questions, employing participatory techniques, you’ll have much more success.”

Some organizations may take too simple an approach and simply sit with these women and take a survey that may not provide adequate or even very actionable information.  Sharma says, “it’s not that the women don’t know, it’s that they don’t know what you want to hear.” She rather believes that it’s a process of helping the women go through their own analysis and helping them figure it out for themselves, which in her view makes for longer lasting development results.

One woman, who’s been very active with Women Thrive Worldwide, whom they also trained in advocacy (read Sharma’s training guide “Introduction to Advocacy”), and who has helped build and bond communities of female farmers and fishers is Lydia Sasu from Ghana. Lydia is the founder and Executive Director of the Development Action Association (DAA) and one of WTW’s strongest partners. DAA was established in 1977 and represents rural women farmers in Southern Ghana in more than 50 communities. Lydia has visited the U.S. on a number of occasions  (most recently for the 2013 World Food Prize). Sasu has dedicated her life to improving the lives of women smallholder farmers. She’s helped build cooperatives where the women work together, share their ideas and are self-sufficient. Fifty-four groups make up her organization, roughly 2,000 members. Lydia Sasu might in fact serve as an ideal example of what can happen when you teach a woman to fish.

Ritu Sharma’s recently completed book, Teach A Woman To Fish: Overcoming Poverty Across the Globe, chronicles her travels and intimate interactions with women. She writes of her experiences in Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka, Honduras and Nicaragua. Available June 2014, Sharma offers the reader a first hand account of how women can and are overcoming the forces that keep them in poverty, be it lack of property rights, government corruption or the scarcity of basic infrastructure. As Sharma shares the details of her experiences, she also questions what broader systems might act as barriers preventing women from escaping poverty. How do issues such as a lack of property rights, government corruption or the scarcity of basic infrastructure such as roads constrain women and how can America be conducive in furthering women’s upward mobility. Teach a Woman to Fish, from a Washington insider’s perspective, looks at women in poverty, how US policy making works and suggests ways change can really happen because when women thrive, we all thrive. To learn more about Women Thrive Worldwide visit their website at http://womenthrive.org

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

WomanFarmerWithSeedsIt is a widely agreed and accepted fact that Africa is a continent positioned for growth as never before. As the second largest continent on earth, and home to more than a billion people, it boasts a vast and highly varied plethora of fertile ecosystems, including mountains, grasslands, lakes, savannahs, tropical rainforests and volcanic calderas. Africa now heralds itself as the newest beacon of explosive economic growth and prosperity.

Only last month, U.S. President Barack Obama met with leaders from four African countries: President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Joyce Banda of Malawi, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves of Cape Verde. They met to discuss strengthening democratic relations, increased good governance, sound management of public funds, transparency and accountability from elected officials and much more. In general, the big picture was focused on promoting economic opportunity on both sides of the water and African leaders heartily supported doing so, not just in their own countries, but also across sub-Saharan Africa.

While it is also agreed that the continent presents a unique set of challenges, as Angelle Kwemo tells us in “Cameroon – the gateway into the Gulf of Guinea region,”  she also reminds us that “there are many policy challenges and institutional barriers to overcome.” There are, however, also many Africans now enjoying a certain degree of economic liberation and hopefully, these numbers will soon be increased. Yet, we also know, that there remain many who are not. With regard to agriculture, many famers could stand to win big and reap plentiful benefits by increasingly learning to better leverage their resources when entering this new market-driven economy—and especially women.

Africa is booming but in terms of agriculture, the noise seems to be getting a lot louder. Additional proof? The World Bank’s recently released “Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness.” This 120 page report predicts that Africa’s agricultural sector could command a US$ 1 trillion presence in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 if African farmers have increased access to financing, new technology, irrigation and fertilizers, and can upgrade their techniques and practices.

According to the report, “agriculture and agribusiness together account for nearly half of GDP in Africa. Agricultural production is the most important sector in most African countries, averaging 24 percent of GDP for the region.” They see a growing demand in both domestic and global markets, in spite of Africa losing out competitively against countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand.

Yet, realizing even the most basic benefits for Africans such as increased food security and health, (along with income and prosperity) also means realizing the importance and necessity of inclusion for all stakeholders in this vast sea of changes taking place today.

If Agriculture is taking center stage, who’s at the center? Smallerholder farmers. Who’s at the center of the center? Women. Women are the backbone of African agriculture (and of the world, in general). Women are major stakeholders and their voices should be included in the discussion forming the policies that will directly affect them.

A key challenge and recurring theme, and especially for women farmers, has been one of inclusiveness, after all, women farmers do make up 70% of the smallholder farmers in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda as recently reported in AAM by Katie Campbell, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA in “Farmers have their Say on Agricultural Investments.”  Ms. Campbell reports on the 2012 annual CAADP Africa Forum, the theme of which was “Farmer Organizations as the Vital Link to Equitable and Sustainable Agriculture Growth in Africa.” Attended by more than 300 participants, from 46 African countries (mostly farmers), it was the first to be hosted entirely by farmer organizations.

Recently CAADP, joined by women from Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda as part of a campaign, encouraged African governments to invest in women smallholder farmers. When referring to women farmers, Campbell reveals that smallholder farmers “usually…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. As one female farmer reported, “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.” Women are reaching out, engaging and asking their elected officials the what, where and how of ways they can succeed.

This is where governments and investors can truly get involved in bringing about the changes they want to see, giving birth to ideas that can bring to fruition to the many initiatives surrounding food insecurity, improvements in health, decreases in poverty and the overall well being of the peoples and the continent. And there is also that extra-added benefit: There happens to be a lot of money to be made in the process.
Another organization working assiduously to help educate and engage women farmers is ACDI/VOCA, a U.S. development organization specializing in broad-based economic growth. As you’ll learn from their article in AAM, “Sell More For MoreTM: A Clear Path For Helping Farmers Access Better Markets and Earn More Income,” [Link to article] ACDI/VOCA shows how crafting this system of innovations engaged impoverished farmers by developing their farming skills and helping them access profitable markets.

Sell More For More™ shows how training 60,000 farmers in Rwanda in post-harvest handling and storage, resulted in quadrupled income for some: “Suddenly, for the first time in her life, Odetta had more money than she needed.”  Sell More For More™ was recently awarded a Best Practice and Innovation award by InterAction, a large alliance of U.S.-based NGOs.Opportunities Industrialization Centers International (OIC International), an organization founded in 1970 and headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, operates both in the U.S. and several African countries and also offers a number of programs which work closely to advance the prosperity of women farmers. Their goals include improving production and sustainability, helping provide women farmers with better seeds, improved livestock and in obtaining the much-needed skills needed to start their own small businesses. As ActionAid USA, OICI and many others firmly believe, African agriculture only stands to benefit through including farmers, farmer organizations, and especially women as true stakeholders into this unfolding dynamic. If investments are truly to succeed, for all involved, inclusion is key if not mission critical.

As Angelle Kwemo, President at A StrategiK Group LLC (and former Legislative Counsel for Congressman Bobby Rush), notes during a recent interview with African Connections, a U.S. Department of State podcast channel, “Ten years ago, nobody had the data to really determine the impact of the role of women in the economy, but it’s clear that if you empower women they have a direct impact on the community. Eighty-five percent of their income goes to the family compared to men, which is only 40 percent.”

Ms. Kwemo also offered the following advice toward further growing women’s roles: “You have to train them, educate them. Many people don’t know this, but 85% percent of the cocoa farmers in Ghana are women. Give them the tools and the technology and help them learn how to manage their farms, their accounts, their budgets and even the micro loans.” There are an abundance of organizations that have initiated and developed powerful and successful programs dedicated to advancing farmers and women. They are zoning in with a laser-like focus on forming new partnerships for future development opportunities with Africa that will help the country further harness its potential and empower the next generation of leaders. It may go without saying, but increased prosperity and well being for women means increased prosperity and well being for all.

How can and will you play a more integral part in this evolving process of increased economic prosperity—for the continent, for women and for all?

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).