Agricultural research for development, including the consortium of research centres CGIAR, is regularly assessed to ensure money is being wisely spent on effective measures to promote better lives for rural communities. 2014 is the African Union Year of Agriculture and Food Security and the 10th Year of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme, CAADP, which is also being reviewed for its success in improving food and nutrition security.
On 15th July, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture & Food for Development debated the impact of CAADP and how to ensure a sustainable future for African agriculture. The event, held at the UK Houses of Parliament, was chaired by Lord Cameron of Dillington and brought together a panel of experts including Dr Yvonne Pinto (Director, Agricultural Learning and Impacts Network (ALINe) and Colin Poulton (SOAS Centre for Development, Environment and Policy), co-authors of ‘African Agriculture: Drivers for Success for CAADP implementation’.
CAADP aims to raise agricultural productivity by at least six percent per year and increase public investment in agriculture to 10 percent of national budgets per year. Ten years on, 40 countries have successfully signed up to country-level agricultural policy and strategy commitments but only a few have followed through to investment.
What drives success?
Yvonne highlighted some key findings from their assessment of CAADP progress. Not all is doom and gloom. Success stories include Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigeria which are exceeding the 6 percent agricultural growth rate. Where this growth has been driven by higher yields, nutrition is also improving. Yvonne found that key drivers of growth included the use of farming inputs, better markets and better rural infrastructure.
This mirrors our research at ICRISAT, a member of the CGIAR consortium, which has found that even small doses of fertilizer when applied in the right way can significantly boost yields by up to 120 percent for sorghum and millet in West Africa. Farmer access to affordable inputs and training is a major factor and positive public sector fertilizer access initiatives such as the electronic wallet scheme in Nigeria will hopefully be replicated by the AU. Another driver of growth is increased farmer access to new technologies arising from public commitment to agricultural research which was particularly good in Ghana, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
Getting tools and technologies to farmers
What stood out most was the positive impact of extension services which meant farmers were able to use technologies that improved their yields. Ethiopia has made a huge effort to better extension services with 15,000 farmer training centres and one of the highest proportions of extension agents per farmer (one agent to 426 farmers). To put this in context, India has 1:5000 and China has 1:625. This farmer support coupled with the commitment to agricultural research for development has enabled farmers like Temengush Dhabi to achieve high yields with improved drought tolerant chickpea seeds – a partnership between ICRISAT and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. The Bhoochetana project led by ICRISAT, trained 10,000 progressive farmers as farm facilitators in the Indian state of Karnataka, to help overcome the lack of extension workers and get technologies to farmers in a cost effective and participatory way. A 2013 review of successful research uptake strategies including ten case studies concluded that locally adapted, appropriately trained and inclusive extension services have a critical role in farmer adoption of technologies.
Political will and action
It’s clear that countries where growth is happening also have a favourable political context where governments are investing more in agriculture. Colin Poulton has been studying the question of why some governments are willing to spend more on the rural farming sector. Ghana, Ethiopia and Rwanda are some examples of countries devoting at least 10 percent of the national budget to agriculture. Delivering broad based growth is central to government objectives and maintaining power e.g. previous regimes were overthrown in Ethiopia due to rural neglect. The challenge is whether state agencies have the delivery capacity to realise their promises for agriculture. Overall, Poulton et al’s review finds CCADP achievements to date are modest as commitments made in Maputo in 2003 did not translate into practical action. However, some of the CAADP countries have demonstrated strong leadership examples, which have delivered results. Rwanda’s increase in agriculture expenditure coincided with the signing of the CAADP compact. The government was driven by the realisation that agricultural growth would lead to poverty reduction when interventions are effectively delivered, which is what happened. Ghana also made a significant dent in extreme poverty by investing more (including a directed fertilizer subsidy programme in 2008) in the agricultural regions in the North where poverty was highest. Hopefully other countries which have shown weaker political commitment will see the tangible impact of agricultural investment and follow suit.
Smart consumption patterns will benefit smallholder farmers
At the event speaker Professor Thomas Reardon (Michigan State University) stressed that the prosperity of smallholder farmers in Africa depends on the supply to urban markets. Urbanization has rapidly changed food systems and we feel that CAADP must take on a role in influencing food consumption and urban diets. The African Union’s declaration in June this year highlights the concern about the growing dependence of our current consumption patterns on external factors such as weather, as well as endorsing climate smart agriculture.
This gives hope for much needed policy interventions to promote ‘smart foods’ such as millets and hardy legumes to encourage less thirsty farming and incentivize dryland farmers to grow these crops. Revitalizing their consumption particularly in urban areas will help re-create demand and attract investment for these hardy crops.
A major concern for ICRISAT and its partners, working with smallholder farmers in semi-arid and arid regions, is the lack of attention and investment in crops which are naturally better adapted to their ecosystem. There is an urgent need for policies and initiatives supporting traditional cereals such as millets including sorghum, and legumes like drought tolerant pigeonpea. These are nutritious and resilient yet have been sidelined in favour of more marketable crops such as maize (which is less suited to dryland regions yet farmed there due to the market demand, subsidies and support). Policies must be implemented to conserve farm and diet diversity currently under threat in many countries such as Malawi.
The AU decision also calls for increased consumption of locally produced foods including promoting innovative school feeding programmes that source food from local farming communities. Procuring from traders may be less expensive than procuring from farmer groups but the latter still needs to be favoured due to the positive effects on local economy and demand creation. The Home Grown School Feeding is a greatly needed part of CAADP and can help to regenerate traditional crops. This is already in place in countries like India where governments are encouraging the use of locally sourced millets in school feeding schemes in an attempt to boost climate-adapted millet production as well as child nutrition. We also need to scale up pilot projects like community education schemes in Mali where women are trained on local recipes using millets and legumes along with traditional ingredients like baobab and moringa to improve mother and child nutrition.
So what next?
To date CAADP processes have not given sufficient attention to implementing agricultural strategies and this is essential for future growth. Perhaps the success stories of African agriculture could guide the type of policies that need to be in place for CAADP to achieve some its ambitious goals and prove it can have a wider and more significant impact across more countries.