After a decade of hard work, the foundations are in place for substantive progress within African food systems. New tangible partnerships are emerging that combine focussed intent, long-term commitment and significant ambition. For anyone asking when African agriculture will deliver its long-touted potential, these partnerships offer the best hope for change at scale.
When will Africa’s food systems fulfil their promise?
The 2008 food crisis awoke public and private sector leaders to the long-term neglect of African agriculture. The sector’s productivity was a fraction of other regions, despite the agronomic potential to be a global breadbasket. With most Africans depending on agriculture for their livelihoods and food security, growth in the sector offered great hope for progress on poverty and hunger, as well as job creation, nutrition, gender equality, political stability, and climate change.
A decade ago, the dominant view was that African agriculture was a development activity, and not commercially attractive outside a few cash crops. Governments, business leaders and donors had low engagement with the sector, and had few channels for communication and planning with each other. Since then, we have much to celebrate.
Individual investments and initiatives have demonstrated there is real commercial potential for farmers and investors alike. Off-takers, hub-outgrower schemes, input providers, traders, processers, ICT providers and financial institutions are all learning how to make their business models work on a continent dominated by smallholder production.
At a continental level, and often at national-level, there is a new quality of cross-sector leadership. CAADP, the AU’s plan for African agriculture, has created the architecture for key protagonists to set goals, align their activities, and track progress. Whilst quality is variable, many countries have established National Agricultural Investment Plans, Ag Sector Working Groups, M&E frameworks, Cooperation Agreements, and Joint Sector Reviews. These elements are mirrored at the continental level through AU instruments. Major African institutions and initiatives have aligned ambitious programmes of support – notably AGRA, African Development Bank, and Grow Africa.
However, there is simmering frustration at the scale and pace of progress. Agricultural growth rates have improved, but rural economies are not yet providing the aspired commercial and developmental returns. Producers and agribusinesses continue to find their operating context – value chains, market systems and the wider enabling environment – to be highly inefficient and unreliable. For all the talk in capital cities, and for all the pockets of success, they are asking when will Africa’s food systems fulfil their promise?
A next generation of agricultural partnerships
Hope lies in a new generation of partnerships that are emerging. They are more focussed, more ambitious, and more committed, than anything we’ve seen before. They are coalescing strong, influential partners to strengthen key food systems at a scale that is substantive, tangible and commercially viable. Examples include:
This next generation of partnerships is possible because of the last decade’s work. They tap in to the cross-sector leadership networks now in place, and harness learning from more isolated success stories. Importantly, they bridge between the local and continental to offer change at a scale that is both concrete and transformative. These are partnerships focussed on action and investment, rather than talking and connecting.
There are common elements across such partnerships:
Time to commit!
Over the last decade, Wasafiri has worked extensively on Africa’s agricultural transformation agenda – particularly for CAADP and Grow Africa. These initiatives have brought together new partners from across institutional boundaries – public and private bodies, domestic and international companies, varied value chain actors etc. These now understand and value each other better. Encouragingly some new-found partners are committing to each other, because they realise they have a collective opportunity to reshape the systems in which they operate.
For example, through the AU’s Malabo Declaration, Heads of State have committed to forging inclusive value chain partnerships for key crops in each country. AGRA has a highly ambitious strategy for transforming food systems. And under Akin Adesina, AfDB aims to use its financial might to de-risk agricultural finance. All these are focussed on this meso-scale of catalysing substantive long-term partnerships capable of sustaining inclusive growth in the food economy.
By committing to long-term partnerships, companies have a strategic collective interest in nurturing a system that rewards all stakeholders from smallholder to investor. It also gives a great incentive for effective environmental management. At last, the sector is moving beyond the high-risk, short-term investment horizon that only works for extractive, exploitative commercial strategies.
This new generation of partnerships is vital, and Wasafiri wants to support this next important phase of Africa’s agricultural transformation. Our expertise on how to navigate complex change combines with a rich contextual understanding of African agriculture. Please get in touch if you need support with strategy or project management for transformative partnerships.