Four Paths Toward Progress
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has jeopardized food security around the world. Nowhere is the crisis more acute than in Africa, where nearly 60% of the population already faced moderate or severe food insecurity, the highest proportion in the world.
The cost of food–which already made up roughly 40% of the average African household budget–has climbed a shocking 80% in just two years. And fertilizer prices have increased by 30% since the start of the year, after an 80% surge just the year before.
We asked TechnoServe’s three Africa regional directors for their take on the impact on the ground; the outlook for the future; and any potential upsides to the current crisis.
[Here’s part I of that conversation.] Today in part II, the regional directors examine the hidden opportunities and ways out of the crisis, sharing four key recommendations for progress.
1) Boost Local Food Production to Reduce Export Dependence
Usually where you have problems, you also have opportunities.
If we take the wheat situation, countries like Nigeria are net importers of wheat. Attempts have been made in the past to grow wheat in certain parts of the country. And we can actually grow wheat in northern Nigeria, northern Benin, northern Ghana, northern Cote d’Ivoire, in the Sahel area.
But for several inexplicable reasons, those countries have never been able to grow sufficient wheat to feed into the supply chain systems of the millers.
[The current crisis] has resulted in some of these companies now beginning to look at a local wheat development program. So TechnoServe Nigeria for example, has actually started talking with the Flour Millers Association of Nigeria with the objective of seeing how we can work with them and approach donors to have a local wheat development program.
Now, of course there will be lots of issues around the quality of the wheat, there will be issues around inputs and all that.
But if we can get the farmers to grow wheat, even if the quality does not really match what comes from Europe or North America, we have the technical expertise from our food processing practice to help food processors to utilize the quality of what they will get from West Africa.
2) Build Up Buyers for Local Farmers
In southern Africa, we work with small businesses, typically processors, and we encourage them to source from smallholder farmers. We look at the total value chain of that business, but with a focus on…trying to enable smallholder farmers to supply high-quality, consistent products into the big processing plants of these organizations.
So with everything that’s happening, we feel like a place where we can be impactful is to double down on [that]–work very strongly with small businesses that are doing processing so that they are more efficient, number one for their own benefit and for their own growth. But also so that they can buy more from farms and benefit the farmers.
If we can ensure a market for the farmers, I think it will encourage them to continue to grow and continue to apply our practices.
3) Strengthen Local Supply Chains
Gone are the days when we stick to only one group of clients. We need to look at the entire value chain and so we need to look at an ecosystem approach…and truly deliver those market-based solutions that we always talk about.
I think we need to strengthen supply chains as much as we can in the areas in which we work. Because of logistics issues, fuel issues, poor road networks, transport–wherever we’re working, we need to be really thinking carefully about where supplies are coming from and how we can work with the players in the supply chain to make sure that they reach the right people–whether it’s food reaching markets or inputs reaching farmers.
…I also think we need to continue the work we’ve been doing where we aggregate farmers in order for them to benefit–whether it’s benefiting from negotiating and getting better prices or it’s aggregating the sale of their produce.
I completely agree with what Pam said. The aggregation and creating that formalized system so that our farmers can benefit both from access to markets and also coming together to bargain for inputs and services from others, I think is really important.
If you take East Africa for example, we have a lot of projects in micro-retail, and they are key for this part of the world. They are key for that last-mile distribution–and how do we penetrate that into the rural areas also? How do we help [micro-retailers] again have a voice and aggregate and come together with their demands and then have better negotiating power with the traders and with the suppliers? I think that’s very key.
4) Expand Regional Trade
I think one thing we [in Africa] do not do well is sell to each other in the region. But with the problems that we are faced with, we really, really have to say: “export” doesn’t mean to Europe. “Export” can be regional, and how can we enhance that?
One thing that I think TechnoServe has a huge potential to influence…is regional trade. We don’t trade amongst each other that well. There’s sometimes maize overproduction here in Ethiopia, but you see the Kenya, Uganda governments importing maize from Ukraine.
So how do we work within our countries to encourage trading [between] them?
…And how do we align standards? For example, I think one of the key barriers to internal trade is that different countries have different quality and safety standards. How do we bring those together, align them, and have one standard, so that it’s easier for countries to trade amongst each other?