KIGALI, Rwanda – In 2006, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) set out to solve the problem of farmers regularly losing their crop to various elements, among them poor soil conditions.
For this a $100m fund was set to develop resilient seed varieties, which were uniquely adapted to thrive in local conditions.
A decade later, 600 new seed varieties were launched and offered to the public. But next came the challenge of ensuring that the farmers had access to the new seed varieties.
“We initially thought that we could get the seeds to the farmers through private seed companies, but it later emerged that most of the farmers we were targeting, especially those from rural landscapes, were not buying their seeds from seed companies,” said Agra’s vice president Joe DeVries, during a plenary session at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Kigali, Rwanda.
The challenge drove DeVries and his team back to the drawing board, where they realised that they would have better access to farmers through partnerships with local agro-dealers and other local agencies, which already had known seed distribution platforms.
With this change in strategy, the uptake was tremendous.
“Farmers live and die by the value of their technology; they have an innate understanding that makes them clearly interested in things that will be of benefit to them,” said DeVries.
Similar partnerships, between private institutions, governments and local communities can be used to establish structures that make African farmers resilient against the vagaries of climate change, a crisis that is made worse by the fact that 95 percent of its farming is rain fed.
“Farmers whose production mainly depends on rain-fed strategies will certainly be underprivileged when it comes to resilience. But with proper public-private partnerships, these farmers can be helped to make transitions to better agricultural plans,” said Munhamo Chisvo, the CEO and Head of Mission, FANRPAN.
Shifts to irrigated systems have been slow as the majority of Africa’s farmers run small-scale operations with limited access to finance and information on global trends.
To mitigate this challenge, the World Food Bank CEO and Chairman Richard Lackey, says there is need for governments and private stakeholders alike to rethink their models for blended finance and come up with systems that work in the grassroots.
“When we talk about agriculture finance, most of the discussions are focussed on projects. But projects have limited success because there are other elements along the value chain that are ignored. Consequently we see a disconnect between the large national public-private partnerships and what we see in grassroots, which tend to be smaller,” said Lackey.
“There may be cause for institutions to rethink the models used in implementing financing through public-private partnerships.”
Dr. Charles Karangwa, the Regional Coordinator for the Forest Landscape Restoration, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), like Lackey, believes that for the achievement of set agricultural goals, strong public-private partnerships need to be effected across all sections.
“One of the challenges we have for smallholder farmers is a lack of extension services-services that were available in the past, but have now been dropped. To bring back these services, it is important that government leaders work with private institutions,” he said.
In the end, speakers at the forum agreed that structured public-partnership are an ideal entry point for financiers and other support providers, speeding the growth of agricultural transformation in the continent.
In this regard, Devries confirmed that AGRA was in the process of establishing a large agribusiness fund for the benefit of Africa farmers and producers.
“We are targeting people who have good vision, among them seed distributors, food processors and prepared food manufacturers. However, we are going to start small, with $50,000 to $100,000 loans, to those that meet the requirements,” said DeVries.