Realizing the Potential of African Agriculture

“We don’t eat potential, we need to realize it”  – President Goodluck, Nigeria

What a couple of days well spent last week in Abuja, Nigeria, where my colleague Elly Kaganzi and I were honored to be invitees to the centennial celebration of the Rockefeller Foundation. The Foundation chose Nigeria, a huge country with vast potential to transform agriculture in Africa, as the venue for the celebration of this important milestone. The theme of the celebration was “Realizing the Potential of African Agriculture”.

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Elly Kaganzi  and Laté Lawson-Lartego pictured at the Centennial 

 My first day I encountered a young man from Kenya, Joseph Macharia, who over breakfast explained that he is an awardee from the Rockefeller Foundation in Kenya and five months after launching his ACLECOPS platform, he has mobilized over 15,000 young women and men, who are involved in farming as business. They are eager to connect over social media to share their work, to get support, and to come together driving value in agriculture. Who said young people are not interested in agriculture? Youth are innovators and social media is a powerful tool to mobilize and engage them. This breakfast enlightened my day and I was very much looking forward to the conference to see what other exciting things I would learn.

During the conference, we heard from the President of Nigeria, Dr. Jonathan Goodluck, who offered the opening remarks and discussed agriculture in a panel setting with the prime minister of Togo and the president of the Rockefeller Foundation. Dr. Goodluck elaborated on his vision and some of the key actions his government is taking to transform agriculture and to support women and young people in this booming sector. He stated, “Agriculture should no longer be seen as a social sector. It is a business, an economic development engine.” Technology is at the heart of the Nigerian government’s plan to cut corruption. They are using e-vouchers in the input distribution to allow smallholder farmers, especially women, to redeem government subsidies such as seed, fertilizer, and other agriculture supplements with their mobile phone. The government is determined to increase the food production by 20 million tons by 2015 and to create 5 million jobs in the agriculture value chain. They are already well on their way and are determined to grow more food locally given Nigeria’s vast land and varied ecosystem. This resonated very much with the work we are doing in Pathways and other agriculture value chain initiatives to promote technology such as the use of mobile phones to collect and analyze data and to bring efficiency in our monitoring and evaluation system.

Another key theme of the conference was unlocking the potential to scale up innovation across the continent.  Some worth mentioning are:

  • Cassava mobile processing unit spearheaded by a Dutch company in Mozambique and expanding to other countries
  • Agriculture insurance and the work Swiss-Re is doing with weather insurance
  • The dairy hub in Kenya, urban agriculture in Uganda; and seed multiplication in Burkina Fas

Others innovations can be found here. Areas discussed that are still in need of more innovation include: empowering women, youth in agriculture, agriculture value chain financing, property rights, use of technology, research and development, public and private partnerships, enabling environment, agriculture as business, etc. Most of our programs, particularly Pathways are designed with most of the same issues in mind. Our partnership with Landesa in the Pathways program to find solutions for women’s equitable access and ownership of land is an example of CARE’s contribution in this space. Building on our vast network of village savings and loan associations (VSLAs) and linking the female members to other sources of suitable financial services via mobile phone and other means is another critical element worth highlighting about CARE’s innovation.

Coming out of this celebration, it is clear in my mind that CARE’s work in agriculture value chain development using a market based approach to empower women and youth is well in sync with the world view and current trends. One thing that struck me is the fact that nutrition was not widely discussed at this conference, which is an area CARE has been focusing on through our food security work. Pathways, in fact, integrates nutrition activities in its agriculture programs. We must continue working on innovation as the world is looking at solutions ready to be taken to scale. Our work at CARE and in the Pathways Program, in particular, with women and youth, engagement in business, and VSLAs are good contributions  we bring to the table.  Harvesting learning and innovation from our work and sharing it through  various platforms, including social media, to inform our policy & advocacy engagement should remain top priority!

I am grateful to the Rockefeller Foundation for the invitation and for their catalytic role on the continent. Thanks also to Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE USA, for making the connection.

Contributor: Laté Lawson-Lartego, Director, Economic Development Unit, CARE USA

Photo credit: 2013 CARE USA