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    It has been a remarkably year, 2016, with its attendant successes and failures for peoples, industries and nations. More remarkably, it has been a year of great technological strides and achievements with technologies that provided avenues to solving big problems and opening up opportunities, ranging from self-driving cars to Advanced Robotics, Improved Data Science, Genomics, Improved Solar energy technologies etc.

    Agricultural stakeholders and technology enthusiasts in Africa also witnessed the introduction of the Zenvus Technology, a unique innovation from a team of highly talented individuals led by Prof. Ndubuisi Ekekwe driven to exploit the ever burgeoning power of technology and science to revolutionize farming output efficiency and productivity in Africa.

    4ecd56cc-c17f-46dc-aafb-a127af6f5006_111_20161212_foto1kl_Ghana maize afflicted by numerous stresses PhotoMarloes_van_Loon_WUR“Zenvus is an intelligent solution for farms that uses proprietary electronics sensors to collect soil data like moisture, nutrients, pH etc and send them to a cloud server via GSM, satellite or Wifi. Algorithms in the server analyze the data and advice farmers on farming. As the crops grow, the system deploys special cameras to build vegetative health to help detection of drought stress, pests and diseases. The data generated is aggregated, anonymized and made available via subscription for agro-lending, agro-insurance, commodity trading to banks, insurers and investors”, Prof Ndubuisi Ekekwe.

    The Zenvus technology among other things would allow farmers and stakeholders make informed decisions by providing real time data for the farmers and stakeholders thus eliminating guesses on timing, procedure and crops for farming. Indeed, as the American Data Scientist W. Edward Feming quipped , “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion” we have long continued to rely on opinions and poor forecast to make decisions on Agricultural investments and this has taken a toll on agricultural yield. The technology also provides data analytics that relate information on possible outbreak of pests and diseases in farms which usually reduces yield, allowing farmers to initiate preventive measures.

    This is a timely innovation for an industry that has been tipped to boost many economies in Africa with many African leaders pledging commitment towards Agriculture in the present and future. It is a peerless stride in an industry seldom associated with innovation in Africa. However, as continuous push is being made for a deeper penetration of mechanized farming in Africa, it is necessary to remind ourselves that Agriculture has remained an industry driven by innovation and technology in the developed societies. Agricultural yields have been maximized through innovation, technology and science as demonstrated by countries like Israel. In the economic account of Israel in their phenomenal book, Start-up Nation, the authors recounted that President Shimon Peres had asserted that Agriculture is ninety-five percent science and five percent work. This drove his underlying commitment for innovation in Agriculture which saw Israel increase its agricultural yield seventeen times within twenty-five years.

    The promise of this innovation is apparent and its impact is scalable and measurable. Little wonder that within months of its introduction, the technology was a finalist of the 2016 Singularity University Food Grand Challenge and have been featured in many leading technology reviews. The technology has also recorded noteworthy milestones within the last 6 months of launch, such as a grant support from Facebook to develop the artificial intelligence which will power farming decision making via Zenvus Bot which is on beta at the moment.

    The technology has also been quickly adopted by leading Agricultural stakeholders and policy proponent in Africa. For instance, Zenvus will begin piloting its technology for African Development Bank which wants to deploy it across all farms it is providing funding. The Bank of Agriculture, Nigeria is also adopting Zenvus as the technology platform to drive agricultural innovation in Nigeria. More recently, Zenvus have signed a contract with an African farm union to support 12.2 million farmers from 2017.

    Nonetheless, more commitment would be required by the government and its attendant social institutions across Africa towards delivering needed incentives that can encourage and support more farmers in integrating this technology to increase crop yield.

    As Professor Joel Mokyr noted in his book, The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress.

    …to encourage technological creativity and innovation in a society, …three conditions have to be satisfied,… there has to be a core group of ingenious and resourceful innovators who are both willing and able to challenge their physical environment for their improvement,… Secondly, economic and social institutions have to encourage these potential innovators by providing the right incentive structure and thirdly such society most encourage diversity and tolerance.

    The team at Zenvus technology has done an exceptional job in developing this technology; it would be great if such technological creativity comes under the aegis of the governments and agricultural stakeholders in Africa who can devote resources towards scaling this technology for farmers because of the positive impact on farm productivity accruable to this technology. This could hold the key to more productive farming in Africa from 2017 going forward.

     

    Kingsley Egbo, a Commonwealth Scholar writes from the UK

    Digital Media for Africa Agribusiness Magazine by Alex Hitzemann 

     

     

    By Nawa Mutumweno

    Zambia Sugar Company is reducing its sugar exports into the European Union (EU) to the regional market in view of the sugar reforms in the bloc to be effected in September 2017.

    The agribusiness company will this year reduce sales to the EU from 22 percent to 14 percent as it explores Africa’s regional markets, both traditional and new markets.

    According to managing director, Rebecca Katowa, this follows the sugar reforms that have impacted on the sugar regime and resulted in prices in the EU converging into global prices.

    The prices are below the cost of production and reflect residual markets and key players, namely Brazil, Thailand and India, who put sugar on that market with India’s sugar being subsidized.

    ’’The strategy is to move volumes away from the EU to regional markets because the regional market provides valuable alternatives. Shifting export sales away from the EU to the region is expected because realisations in these markets will continue to be influenced by exchange rate movements,’’ she elaborated at a stakeholders’ breakfast meeting in Lusaka recently.

    The prices of sugar are expected to remain above world levels within the region despite increasing levels of competition among regional producers, Mrs. Katowa added.

    The company is looking to expanding exports to the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other African markets.

    Meanwhile, Zambia Sugar will this month-end commission the over K500 million refinery which is projected to more than double sugar production to 90 000 tonnes annually, reaffirming the firm’s position as the largest producer in Africa.

    Currently, the sugar agribusiness company produces 40 000 tonnes of sugar per annum.

    ‘’The project was launched last year and will be on stream at the end of the month and contribute to our growth strategy,’’ she said.

    Meanwhile, the company’s Commentary for the Year Ended March 31, 2016 says a number of factors impacted adversely on sugar production in the period under review. These included dry climatic conditions in November and December 2015, power interruptions to irrigation and the outbreak of yellow sugarcane aphids which reduced sugarcane yields by 11 percent across the entire harvest area.
    This yield decline was partly offset by a 2 percent increase in area under cane delivered. Smallholder schemes supplied 10 percent of the total 3.102 million tons of cane crushed by the Nakambala mill. Consequently, sugar made was reduced by 10 percent from 424 000 tonnes achieved last year to 380 400 tonnes.

    ‘’The reduced sucrose in cane was partially offset by improved sugar recoveries in the mill. Refined sugar production also increased to meet growing demand. The season saw a significant improvement in factory throughput, reflecting the benefit of improved equipment reliability and preventive maintenance practices together with a sustained focus on continuous improvement initiatives,’’ the Commentary reads in part.

    Total revenue grew by 6 percent year on year, from K1.91 billion to K2.02 billion, largely due to continued growth in the domestic market where direct consumption increased by 7 percent and industrial consumption grew by 4 percent. In order to maximize revenues from reduced production, the sales mix was adjusted by reducing bulk EU exports by 45 percent. The remaining sugar was sold into Africa’s regional markets where prices remained under pressure from world market sugar.

    Prospects

    The factory commenced crushing in the third week of April and operations have quickly stabilized. Early season, sugarcane yields are at expected levels and should improve as the crop matures.

    Sugar cane yields and sucrose in cane are expected to remain relatively unchanged in the 2016/17 production season. The crop has been negatively affected by drought conditions, power shortages, the low water levels in the Kafue River and pest infestations due to drought stressed cane. Production is, therefore, expected to match the previous season.

    Sugar production is, therefore, expected to match the previous season. Reasonably strong growth is expected in the local market. However, margins in the regional export markets are expected to remain under pressure from surplus sugar stocks on the world market.

    ‘’Realizations in these export markets will continue to be influenced by exchange rate movements. The new expanded sugar refinery will help the company take advantage of the growth in the local and regional industrial sugar markets,’’ it adds.

    By Nawa Mutumweno

    Norwegian firm, Yara International has been officially launched in Zambia, taking over the operations of Greenbelt Fertilizers Limited at a cost of about $51 million.

    Whereas the transaction was first announced in December 2015, it was subject to approval by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

    Greenbelt Fertilizers is a leading fertilizer distributor for Zambia, Malawi and Zambia.

    Yara International says it has been motivated to acquire Greebelt Fertilizers Limited due to the investment-friendly policies introduced by the Zambian government which are conducive to business, thus attracting long-term investment into the country.

    Yara business unit downstream Africa chief executive officer, Bernhard Fonsenka, said by acquiring Greenbelt Fertilizers, Yara will be able to provide sustainable crop nutrition, increase crop yields and farmers’ incomes.

    ‘’We invested in Zambia because we were motivated by the investment-friendly attitude that we have witnessed through the process of this acquisition. We observed that investment authorities, regulators and partners, all have the determination to attract long-term commitment by easing the cost of doing business,’’ he said at the launch of Yara Zambia on May 4, 2016.
    ‘’While Yara boasts of its ability to deliver the world’s best agronomic practices and resources to local farmers, it will continue to ensure that the farmer remains at the heart of everything we do with the aim of sustainably increasing their profitability, thereby improving their livelihood,’’ he added.

    Speaking earlier, Agriculture deputy minister, Maxus Ngónga said the coming in of Yara in the agriculture sector will bring competition in the marketing of fertilizer.

    ‘’This investment has come at a time when Zambia is diversifying its economy and our commitment is not only to make Zambia the food basket of the region, but also attract investments that will help us achieve that dream.

    ‘’As a nation, we are delighted to have a new entrant in the fertilizer sector because this creates competition and helps to push the prices of the product down for the benefit of the farmer,’’ he elaborated.

    Norwegian ambassador to Zambia, Arve Ofstad is optimistic that Yara, as a commercial producer of fertilizer, will add value to the Zambian economy through job creation and better yields for farmers.

    By Nawa Mutumweno

    Zambia is among 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa expected to benefit from the newly launched Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project that will develop improved maize varieties with resistance and tolerance to drought and diseases affecting maize production.

    The varieties have been launched to help the region boost food security.

    The STMA project introduced by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), will help increase maize productivity by about 30 to 50 percent and provide 5.5 million smallholder farmers with improved maize varieties.

    According to the ProAgri latest report, other beneficiary countries are Benin, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

    STMA project leader, Tsedeke Abate, said the four-year project will improve maize production for over five million smallholder farmer households by the end of 2019 in the targeted beneficiary countries.
    ‘‘STMA will use modern breeding technologies that will confer the desired resistance to pest and diseases, and tolerant climate stresses like drought and heat to benefit farmers within their socio-economic capabilities, that often dictate their access to important farm inputs such as fertilizer and improved seed,’’ he said.

    The project will apply conventional breeding techniques to develop maize varieties and hybrids capable of resisting environmental shocks, including drought, low soil fertility, heat, pests and disease.

    ‘’The project also seeks to increase commercialisation of improved multiple stress-tolerant maize varities with gender-preferred traits,’’ he elaborated.

    STMA will also link up national and regional initiatives to develop strategies that bridge the yield gap and dramatically increase maize production at smallholder farm level.

    Continued collaboration with partners will enhance sustainable maize research and development systems in target countries through sustained variety release deployment and adoption which has been insufficient in many sub-Saharan countries, Mr. Abate added.

    STMA is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

    Story by Ray Mwareya

    When Stella Nzuma – 42 – was kicked off from her receptionist job of eight years, she obtained no pensions. Two years into her new job as a bee honey farmer, incomes have recovered, and her children can finish their education.

    “I’ve a new saviour,” Stella smiles, “my bees work for me. They fill 1000 bottles of honey every year. My profits climb to $2500.”

    Stella is part of 200 female honey bees farmers in eastern Zimbabwe who were trained by the International Red Cross in raw honey farming skills.

    And honey sales are shooting, and the market is healthy. In 2015 alone there is an enviable a 1,9 ton global demand for honey. Stella and her colleagues are joyful but cautious. “Every beehive of mine produces 20kg of honey. I sell a 500 grams bottle for $3.”

    Rural Zimbabwean farmers like Stella receive training in what is commonly known as the “The Kenyan Top Bar” beehive.

    “The Top Bar hive is unique beehive because it follows the natural shape of the honeycombs with horizontal bars laid across the top of the hive. These can be carefully logged out, one by one, without disturbing bees,” explains Miles Banda, a technician for the UK charity Practical Action that canvasses and purchases beehives for low income Zimbabwean families.

    “The Top Bar hive increases amounts of clean honey,” says Stella. “For a bottle of 100% pure honey our price increase to $4.”

    In the past, honey farming in Zimbabwe, was an enterprise shunned. Bees were feared in the urban settlements, and where they flourished, the honey was housed in unmarked bottles and the business was dominated by male farmers.

    That changed in 2010 when the state-run Standards Association of Zimbabwe agency began to to test farmers honey according to proper health and safety regulations.

    Ben Rimi – 36 – is one bee keeper who has gained from having his honey held up to safety measurements. “I lost my driver job in November 2014. Our textile factory sent home 700 workers. In February 2015 I joined a community owned honey processing centre in my village. I’ve never looked back. Authorities say the quality of our honey is superb and may be offered to local drugs companies.”

    Ben says the financial opportunities from his bees business are expanding. “For example wax, an unwanted waste product from our honey boxes is snapped up by companies that manufacture soaps and floor polishes.”

    Priscilla Dembetembe, the International Rescue Committee economic recovery coordinator for Zimbabwe agrees. “This is the best time to become honey bee farmer in Zimbabwe vs the country’s relentless jobs. Farmer’s honey is needed by supermarkets, hospitals kitchens, hotels and factories.”

    “Bee keeping is a life changing trade ,” explains Reggis Woyo an economist for the Zimbabwe Convention of Social Trade Unions, which provides free marketing and bookkeeping skills to honey farmers.

    He adds, “for just $90 a student bee honey grower can purchase a hive smoker to dull bees, protective overalls, sturdy boots and bee brush. Bees stockpile honey after three months. This is remarkable; the average farmers harvests 600 honey bottles a year.”

    Bee honey farming is a gift to Zimbabwe – a country grappling with vanishing forests. The regulatory Environment Agency of Zimbabwe credits bee farming with a 2% success in its forests replanting efforts. Severe climates, factory pollutions, and greedy tobacco processors are all blamed for the dramatic decline of honey bees species in Zimbabwe and elsewhere on earth.

    “Clever farmers leave some honey in the hive for bees to make more production. That’s what we insist on,” says Pious Godo, an ecologist at the Agriculture and Rural Development Agency in the country’s capital Harare. “Bees keep forests unspoiled.”

    Problems still persist. Zimbabwe, surprisingly, still imports 60% of its domestic honey needs. The industry is still overwhelmed by male farmers, shutting out women. An astonishing attack on Zimbabwe’s forests by tobacco farmers means some bees species are not thriving in the country.

    But farmers still press forward in earnest. “This is a priceless sector of farming. Honey buys medicine for my kids and feeds then when my crops wilt in drought,” concludes Stella the female farmer.

    (The writer Ray Mwareya is the Africa news correspondent for the Global South Development Magazine)

    Article by Alexander Hitzemann

    “China’s engagement with African agriculture represents perhaps Africa’s biggest opportunity in history. China’s partnership with Africa has evolved from the donation-aid model of assistance to a more sustainable donor investment engagement.”

    All across the African continent the effects of Chinese interests can be seen. Some journalist even jokingly refer to Africa as China’s second continent. In the last few years that seems to have become more true. This is mostly due to the large amount of money China has to invest in it’s own territories and across the world.

    Dealing with Chinese businessmen was not first choice for most Africans, the United States was the investment partner Africa would have rather had. However, western investors have failed to see the long term strategic opportunity Africa presents or have the equity to place in such a plan. China has experienced the same losses as other investors, except they have continued to partner with Africans in order to execute a much longer plan which could take decades to reach fruition.

    sfsdhajfhasjfhasdlRight now, China’s main business in Africa is the extraction of valuable resources. They have invested nearly $10 billion in these operations so far and they will continue. What separates Chinese operations from other extractive institutions is their national interest in forming continueing partnerships, in industries like agribusiness. Additionally, they “pay back” African nations for their resources by building infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, and university campuses. So far China has been a very subsitive partner for Africa,

    In order to learn more about how China’s involvement in Africa has affected African Agribusiness AAM met with scholar Donald Cassell. Cassell is a Senior Fellow at the Isoko Institute and directs the African portfolio of the Sagamore Institute, an Indianapolis based think tank. In recent years he has published on China’s Role in African Agriculture which analyzes the subject.

    Cassell states, “China’s engagement with African agriculture represents perhaps Africa’s biggest opportunity in history. China’s partnership with Africa has evolved from the donation-aid model of assistance to a more sustainable donor investment engagement.” (Cassel 33) The Chinese, themselves being a rising world power, bring their own experience of rapid development and growth to the African continent. They are almost presenting their own development as a model for African nations to follow. A proven model to follow, since it has eradicated more poverty than any other in human history. The Chinese come from a very poor background, like Africans, and have built their economy from almost nothing very quickly. Additionally, China has successfully solved its major food security problems in the last thirty years.

    ==FILE== Seneglese and Chinese workers observe a ceremony at the national theater construction site financed by China on February 14, 2009 in Dakar, during a visit by Chinese president Hu Jintao and Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade. AFP Photo / SEYLLOU_[24FEB2013 SUNDAY REVIEW BOOK REVIEW]

    Seneglese and Chinese workers observe a ceremony at the national theater construction site financed by China on February 14, 2009 in Dakar, during a visit by Chinese president Hu Jintao and Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade. AFP Photo

    However, how Africa manages how it does business with the Chinese is critical to maximizing the opportunities and minimizing the risks. This is the type of investment and involvement Africa has sought from other world leaders, but is now only receiving from China. Africa must be very careful dealing with the shrewd Chinese businessmen. Being the only region in the world that has seen no appreciable agribusiness development, Africa is in desperate need to reverse this decline. It’s hard to turn away Chinese investments in that agribusiness climate.

    Cassell explained that the nature of Chinese involvement in African agribusiness has been complex. However, overall China views Africa as a strategic development partner. China already has a significant presence in trade and national development. According to Cassell much of this has been done in the framework of the One China policy, cooperation based on respect for national sovereignty, national interest, non-intervention, and non-imposition of conditionalities. At the core of this business philosophy is mutuality, trust, partnership, and win-win cooperation. China realizes that its relationship with it’s allies in Africa were weak, so they are build relationships.

    Ghana is a good example of this Chinese model of cooperation. China sends excess skilled and unskilled laborers to Ghana for employment opportunities. Also, in Tanzania China has developed some of its most advanced agriculture experiments.

    China’s relationship with Africa is just the early stages of it’s going global strategy, really it’s still trial and error. As the Chinese enter Africa they will learn that to do business in Africa they cannot easily separate politics, religion, and culture. In order to create these types of partnerships, at least the business cultures will have to meld. We can see some of this happening especially as Chinese migrate to Africa and intermarriages begin to happen. Since this is a relatively new partnership, overtime more people will have interest as it develops.
    But China also has interest in its own food security needs. The FAO has determined that food production will have to increase by 70% to meet the worlds growing urbanized affluent population. At the moment china is meeting its own food demands by diminishing its own arable land. It sees Africa as a vast agricultural opportunity. China says that its interest is in global food security, not just to grow food and export it to China. However, there is already a high demand for African agricultural commodities in China.

    Changing people changes history. If people do not change, little else changes in the long run. The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character.

    Flag_of_the_People's_Republic_of_China.svgChina has done more to alleviate poverty in Africa than anything ever attempted by western colonialism or the initiatives of traditional partners. The Chinese engagement may be even more meaningful if the Africans do business carefully. So far China has really taken the lead, if the Africans can become more participatory it could become an even more lucrative relationship. Especially, if this could be done in the development framework.

    Why is China so interested in Africa? They see investing in the African people as having the possibility of infinite returns.

    Sources:

    Cassell, Donald L., Jr. “China’s Role in African Agriculture.” Marketplace: Liberia 2.1 (2013): 33-37.

    “Chinese Involvement with African Agribusiness.” Personal interview. 05 May 2015.

    For media and advertising inquired contact Alexander Hitzemann at alex@africaag.org

    By Skye Lawrence, Africa Agribusiness Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    AAM: Where is climate change effecting farmers the most?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Written by Rukondo Haam, CEO Rhamz International

    The Agribusiness Development & Management Centre in Uganda

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

    Why Organic Agriculture?

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

    What are the Facts and Figures?

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

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

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

    What is the Policy Environment for Organic Agriculture?

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

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

    Conclusion

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

    In 2012, while my country was the chair of the African Union (AU), and in my capacity as a champion of agriculture in Africa, I made the decision to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the Maputo Declaration by declaring 2014 “Year of Agriculture and Food Security”. In 2003, the then President in function and other African heads of State and Government committed to invest a minimum of 10% of their national budget to agriculture. Yet, 10 years later, less than 10 countries have kept this promise. At the continental level, too few investments are made today in agriculture. Therefore the agriculture sector remains under-developed and the circles of hunger and food insecurity continue to hit Africa and the 220 million fellow citizens who suffer from hunger every day. As an African Head of State, I think this situation is intolerable.

    In my country, Benin, I personally committed to the fight against under-nourishment and malnutrition. I am proud to say that the percentage of people suffering from hunger in Benin was more than 22% in 2002. It has since reduced to less than 8% in 2012. This exceeds the 11% MDG1 target well in advance of 2015. Benin has been rewarded for this performance by FAO in 2013, at the in conjunction with 19 other countries across the world. But I don’t want to stop here. Knowing that 8% of my fellow citizens still suffer every day from hunger is intolerable. I want to do more and keep on investing more in agriculture so that hunger disappears from Benin because hunger and food and nutrition insecurity are the first barriers to development in a country. To enable us to improve nutrition indicators, my government has put in place, with partners’ support, reforms and a coherent programme of fight against the causes and effects of malnutrition.

    By declaring 2014 “Year of Agriculture and Food Security”, I was willing to give a deserved homage to the courageous women and men that work in agriculture sector and so recognize their huge potential. Beyond nutrition and food security, the development of the agriculture sector can boost African economies, grow jobs for youth and lift millions of our fellow citizens out of poverty. Indeed, growth in agriculture sector is eleven times more efficient in reducing poverty than a growth in any other sector. So, agriculture can be the motor of our growth. Yet, with more than 400 million poor people, Africa needs more champions. Therefore I am calling my peers to join me so that the commemoration of the 10 year anniversary of the Maputo Declaration will show a change and so that our populations can see a lasting difference in their lives. We all need to increase our budget expenditures in agriculture and invest at least 10%. I would like this objective to be achieved throughout the continent. And it can be achieved. With 60% of our arable land abandoned, our continent has the potential to feed its entire population but also to feed the world. But this requires a strong political will from all the African heads of State and Government.

    In a few days, we will meet during the 23rd AU Summit of heads of State and Governments in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. I am really looking forward to working with you all so that the declaration calls for concrete actions.

    As a champion, I commit myself to bring the voices of more than 2 million Africans that have signed the petition “Do Agric. It pays” supported by ROPPA and ONE, to Malabo and present it to you. I also commit to present you the 10 joint policy recommendations of the non-state actors so they can guide our discussions.

    Together, we have the authority and the responsibility to ensure that Africa rises sustainably for everyone. This is possible through the development of agriculture sector.