Africa needs a ‘Farm to Fork’ vision to change its food systems in a more sustainable way and the EU can be at the centre of this transformation, according to a senior official of the United Nations fund for rural agriculture.
Dr Donal Brown is associate vice-president of the Programme Management department at the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). He spoke to EURACTIV’s journalist Gerardo Fortuna.
With its Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), the Commission aims to make the European food system a global standard for sustainability. Could this F2F model be exported in Africa too?
In Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how dependent the world is on small-scale farmers, while also highlighting the vulnerability of the food systems and of the lives and livelihoods of small-scale producers. A majority of them live in poverty and do not have food to put on the table.
Clearly, we need food systems in Africa that follow the Farm to Fork vision, that are sustainable, climate-adapted, that provide sufficient nutritious food for all, including those who produce it, and food systems that are efficient and resilient. Achieving this requires political will, knowledge and financial resources.
The Commission and the EU member states can be at the centre of the transformation of food systems in Africa providing leadership, transferring knowledge and nurturing local solutions, and providing ample financial resources to agricultural development, which would also contribute to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What challenges for African rural people come from the pandemic?
While the health impact of the pandemic has been limited in African rural areas to date, the economic impacts have unquestionably led to an increase in poverty and hunger.
Rural communities in Africa are particularly vulnerable, as people live hand-to-mouth without economic safety nets. Restrictions in movement and other measures to contain the pandemic meant that many small-scale farmers couldn’t sell their crops and had no income, while many day labourers and other informal workers lost their jobs. Women and young people were typically worst affected, as they are most often employed informally.
In this regard, what needs to be done to ‘target’ aid for the recovery?
While emergency relief agencies provide assistance so that hungry people can access food now, it is equally important to ensure that there are no more hungry people tomorrow. To respond to the challenge, IFAD provided assistance to small-scale farmers in Africa to access the inputs, markets, information and finances they need to keep growing and selling food.
But more needs to be done. It is essential to invest in building the resilience to shocks of rural people in the poorest countries in Africa so that they can get through this crisis, rebuild their lives quickly when it is over and weather future shocks. Without assistance, African countries risk a lost decade, hunger and poverty could trigger further conflict and instability and push millions of young people to migrate.
What are the main difficulties for financial institutions like yours in coordinating the international response for the COVID recovery?
There have been perhaps two particular challenges. The first has been to react fast, flexibly and effectively. To do so, we’ve simplified many of our internal procedures to rapidly repurpose our existing investment projects. And we have also mobilised additional funding under a Rural Poor Stimulus Facility – €74 million thanks to the support of Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland – to finance activities that enable small-scale producers to maintain their capacity to produce and market their produce.
A second challenge has been to understand precisely what the conditions are in remote rural areas and ensure that our efforts respond to the real problems faced by poor small-scale producers. Here, we’ve drawn less on data – because that simply hasn’t existed – and more on the local knowledge of our in-country staff and the managers of IFAD-supported projects.
What has been your experience of cooperating with the EU in Africa?
Over the last seven years, IFAD and the EU have joined forces in emerging areas of mutual and strategic interest, such as pro-poor agricultural research, remittances for development, support to farmer organization networks, public-private sector partnerships and agricultural risk management. As a result of the joint cooperation, there are 17 ongoing agreements for a value of €246 million.
Working together, the EU and IFAD are driving innovation in these areas, and have developed new approaches, particularly in Africa but also beyond. which are now recognised as critical to achieving the SDGs.
Can you mention one initiative of this kind?
One of the initiatives is the Yield Uganda Investment Fund, a partnership between public and private investors set up with EU funds through IFAD. It offers innovative and tailored financial solutions, using equity, semi-equity and debt, to small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises and farmer cooperatives, which are generating impact by facilitating the establishment of new companies or product lines in Uganda, creating markets and providing services to small-scale producers, while also generating employment for women and youth.
The EU and IFAD also cooperate in the Agri-Business Capital (ABC) fund in Africa. How is it going?
The ABC Fund is an independent impact fund investing in smallholder farmers and rural small and medium-sized enterprises which consistently encounter difficulties to access funding to develop their operations.
Since it started investing in late 2019, it has provided funding to three farmers cooperatives in Ivory Coast, three small-and-medium agribusinesses in Burkina Faso and Ghana and two financial institutions operating in Ecuador, Kenya and Uganda which on-lend to smallholders, for a total value of around €10 million across the various investments.
In Burkina Faso, for instance, the loan to a cashew nuts processor exporting to Europe and the US has ensured market access and premium prices due to organic and fair-trade certifications to over 1,200 producers, most of them women.
Which kind of agri-innovation African rural people require?
Small-scale producers need a whole range of innovations – from on-farm agricultural technologies to finance to market organization – to become viable market-oriented producers and rural entrepreneurs. They also need to be able to access information about these and develop the knowledge and skills to use the opportunities these provide. ICTs can play a critical role in providing this bridge.
Mobile phones – even those without access to the Internet – can enable farmers to access advisory services that offer tips on increasing productivity, keeping livestock healthy, and up-to-date weather information. Mobile money has opened up new ways for rural people to access financial services. The M-Pesa initiative has nearly 146 million active users in sub-Saharan Africa and accounts for a full 10 per cent of the region’s GDP flows.