Whether it’s corn in Tanzania or potatoes in Kenya, agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is a diverse range of crops and terrains – as are the farmers producing these crops. Everything from subsistence farmers to smallholders and even agribusinesses exist across the region. What sub-Saharan farmers have in common is the lack of access to best practices, inputs, finance and markets. And these gaps have resulted in massive under-development in agriculture.
Closing the Gap
According to Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA), a private-public consortium co-founded by Bayer and working in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the continent has 60 percent of the world’s arable land, yet African crop yields are five times lower than the global average. FtMA organizers explain that only six percent of Africa’s land is irrigated, and the average fertilizer use in Africa is 14 times less than in rest of the world. Further, says FtMA, despite having the potential to be a net agricultural exporter, the continent imports 35 billion US dollars’ worth of food annually. All of these challenges are particularly severe in the sub-Sahara.
This region particularly continues to struggle, overall, to reach its potential, adds Stefan Heinke, Senior Sustainable Development Manager at Bayer. The reasons, Heinke cautions, are diverse. “The factors include lower levels of modern agri-technology adoption. Modern inputs are often not available. The farmers also face significant post-harvest losses, often have not received a lot of training, and they do not have access to fair markets. Frequently they need to sell at very low prices immediately after harvest because they are in desperate need for cash and don´t have means to store their product,” he adds. “Additionally, adverse weather and natural challenges of pests and diseases continue to be a considerable challenge.”
But there are other special factors that complicate the efforts of some sub-Saharan farmers, adds Sten Guezennec, Business Development Manager Africa. “Macro policies lead to lack of liquidity in the market. In sum, the farmers do not always have sufficient access to the markets to be compensated fairly for their efforts.” And since in some of these countries farmers cannot own land as they might in other countries, banks are unwilling to lend these farmers money for investment. These factors, Guezennec adds, can lead to a vicious circle, where “low profits lead to reduced investments, and people cannot find work in agriculture. More people end up leaving farming to find work in cities. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, many of the cities are unable to provide jobs. The overall combined loss of money, investment funding and human talent leads to a system that gets, in effect, stuck.”
In sum, the farmers do not always have free access to the markets to be compensated fairly for their efforts.
Sub-Saharan agriculture – an uneven success story
“Unfortunately national governments do not invest enough into rural areas. Often, the agriculture supports 70 percent of the population but only a fraction of the state budget is invested into agriculture,” says Heinke. Therefore, private or public-private initiatives which work to alleviate the many bottlenecks which small farmers are facing are particular important. Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA) and Better Life Farming are two of them.
FtMA: Supporting Tanzanian Farmers
Even for a farmer with years of experience, it hasn’t always been easy for John Mwesongo, a 31-year-old husband and a father of two living in Eastern Tanzania. He’s one of the many smallholders living in Dihinda village in Turiani district, Morogoro region. Born and raised in this rural area, he’s also one of the 160 members, and the secretary, of UVIWADI – the Dihinda Farmer Group Union. “We had many problems and challenges, especially in our income,” he explains. “My harvest was not enough to make a living, so I had to start a small shop, selling maize to help my family. But even with that job, we just managed to get by.” Access to marketplaces, to sell his crops, and loans to invest in his farm were among the biggest challenges for small farmers like him, he explains. Most of them “did not know where they could get access to markets, and we had minor chances to borrow loan inputs or sell maize at a higher price.” But in 2016, things changed: The UVIWADI began working with Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA).
Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA)
Farm to Market Alliance (formerly known as Patient Procurement Platform) is a public-private sector led consortium of organizations, including Bayer, seeking to transform food value chains in emerging markets by building a demand-led value-chain based on long-term linkages between suppliers (farmers), buyers and other key market players such as suppliers of finance, inputs and technical expertise. The aim is to actively engage smallholders, increase their productivity, profitability and resilience and their strength as reliable market players.
FtMA, a consortium of seven public and private organizations including Bayer, helps smallholder farmers unlock new opportunities and engage in formal markets, explains Shanoo Saran, FtMA Chief Operating Officer. Working with farmers in Tanzania and three other sub-Saharan countries, “we offer mechanisms for smallholder farmers to receive the appropriate information, investment and support from seed to market that they can gain the capacity to produce and sell marketable surplus and increase their incomes,” she explains. “Simultaneously, FtMA is encouraging market actors across the value chains to engage with smallholder farmers in a sustainable and commercially viable manner.”
“Prior to the support of FtMA, I had four hectares of land and could only produce 59 bags (each 100 kg),” explains John Mwesongo. “But after putting our training from FtMA into practice – learning how to plant seeds, and by using improved seeds – we could harvest 47 bags on just one hectare.” FtMA connects smallholder farmers with markets and buyers, allowing them to negotiate better in selling their harvest at a higher price. Previously, farmers from Dihinda village were only able to sell their maize at a range between 280 – 328 Tanzanian shillings (about 12 – 14 US cents) per kilogram through a middle man. However, through FtMA, Mwesongo was able to sell at 478 Tanzanian shillings (21 US cents) per kilogram for the whole season. That’s not the only good news. “We were told we can expect a higher price if we can improve quality next year,” he adds.
We offer mechanisms for smallholder farmers to receive the appropriate information, investment and support from seed to market.
Better Life Farming: Encouraging Independence
According to Diana Gitonga, Smallholder Farming Manager Bayer Kenya, the focus on people and communities is evident. “Across Africa, we have so many diverse cultural practices, we speak so many languages and each country has their uniqueness that you can only see by interacting with the people. However, the farmers face similar challenges – lack of access to quality inputs, finance, knowledge on modern farming technologies and access to markets,” she explains. As opposed to Europe and North America, low yields and low quality crops are very common.
Better Life Farming
Bayer, International Finance Corporation (IFC, a member of the World Bank Group), Netafim, a leader in drip irrigation technology, and the insurance company Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, launched a global alliance, Better Life Farming, to provide holistic and innovative solutions for smallholder farmers in the developing world to enable them to grow their farms into sustainable businesses. Together with multiple partners, the alliance will offer a comprehensive approach that covers planting seeds, precision irrigation, crop protection, finance and insurance – all tailored to the specific local and cultural needs of those who farm less than two hectares of land.
Gitonga puts a lot of effort to improve the livelihoods of smallholders in Kenya; she is enthused about the possibilities. “Sub-Saharan Africa’s landscape supports the production of a very wide variety of crops. We have very fertile, untapped arable land that could be used for crop production, but the farmers lack the capacity to cultivate this land properly. Smallholder farmers dominate the agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa, and they form the backbone of any agricultural intervention.” She’s well-aware of what’s at stake: “Most of these farmers live and work on less than two hectares of land. Half of the farmers are women. Overall, in most of the sub-Saharan Africa, the population lives from less than two US dollars a day, and poverty is common.”
Bayer has joined forces with the International Finance Corporation, the global insurance company Swiss Re Corporate Solutions and Netafim, a leader in drip irrigation technology. Together, they formed the “Better Life Farming.” This partnership has identified specific country and crop challenges to develop tailor-made solutions to these challenges. Wherever the location, the Bayer team responsible for smallholder farming in sub-Saharan Africa has a basic principle: The solution has to work for the farmer and has to be sustainable. The intention is to help the farmers ‘walk on their own’ in the future, and all solutions must be addressing the long term. “We engage with farmers to see what can be developed locally and what can be contributed from global partners’ strengths,” Gitonga adds.
Currently, the partnership runs pilots in Kenya, Ghana and Zambia, and has expanded to Ivory Coast, explains Gitonga. “We’ve received results from two pilots in Kenya, which provided valuable lessons that were used in designing other pilots.” Gitonga also expects to engage more with local and international partners to ensure that smallholder farmers’ challenges in the region are addressed. “I am happy that Bayer is taking a leading role in supporting smallholder farmers.” She adds another point: “I believe that by getting together a mix of local and international partners to formally commit to working towards improving the lives of smallholder farmers in Africa should be a success story in itself.” For Lino Miguel Dias, Global Head Smallholder Farming, the opportunities to improve their work, and our shared world, have just begun: “Smallholder farmers can have a big impact when it comes to eliminating hunger in ways that respect their communities and the environment.”
Smallholder farmers can have a big impact – an exponential impact – when it comes to eliminating hunger in ways that respect their communities and the environment.
Fully Harnessing the Potential
Dr. Josef Schmidhuber is the Deputy Director in the Trade and Markets Division of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). He explains what makes agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) unique and which tools help farmers in this area optimize their productivity.
What would you say unique about sub-Saharan Africa’s landscape and agriculture?
What is unique in SSA is the relationship between nature and culture and hence “agri-culture.” It is more tilted towards nature than in any other region, save perhaps parts of Latin America. Farming in SSA is known for being embedded into rich wildlife, with high levels of biodiversity. Another defining feature is the high pest and disease pressure that agriculture has to cope with. A well-known example is the Fall Army Worm (FAW) currently affecting the maize crop in large parts of the region. Given its location, SSA is also largely tropical agriculture, making the region suitable to the production of “cash crops” such as cocoa, coffee, tea, cotton or hard fibers such as sisal.
What are some of the greatest needs among farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to optimize productivity?
Agricultural productivity in SSA is low, in fact, much lower than in other regions. Cereal yields, for instance, hover around 1.5 t/ha, compared to 4 t/ha in Latin America or 8 t/ha in the US. Technology is a key driver for higher agricultural productivity in all regions, including in SSA. But for technology to be adopted, it needs to be adapted to the local conditions. Simply put, farmers need applications they can handle and finance, and they feel comfortable using and applying. FAO tries to help here, for instance, by providing training to farmers in farmer field schools, offering access and know-how for appropriate technologies, notably for pest and disease control.
Going forward, farmers in SSA will also shift to more productive varieties and breeds, which will eventually require better equipment, machinery, irrigation and working capital. In tandem, farmers in SSA will need better market access, better physical and marketing infrastructure as well as appropriate market intelligence and information systems. These companion measures will ensure access to better and cheaper inputs and provide efficient channels for selling their produce at remunerable prices.