Africa has the potential to be an agricultural power. However, the components of the value chain are delinked from one another, and there is a lack of creative investments, which could have spark-plug and catalytic effects on rural lives.
As the earth moves towards 9 billion + inhabitants, both small and big farmers in Africa have to contribute their quota to global food security. However, African farming has unfortunately been viewed from the perspective of a myriad of problems, instead of solutions. Yet, Africa has solutions to the challenges standing in the way of sustainable food security, poverty reduction and rural development that have not been highlighted in most debates.
Interventions supporting farmers in many places in Africa are delinked, not comprehensive and sometimes piecemeal, showing lack of sincerity on the part of those who claim to want to support African farmers. If support is genuine they need to be responsive to the needs of farmers and be complete, not leaving out any vital elements, which will tend to be counterproductive to successful farming businesses.
Many well meaning interventions have ended up having serious missing links that have made the programmes fail. A business model is needed that is total and comprehensive, taking account of all relevant factors and elements necessary for successful farmers and rural entrepreneurs, farmers' organizations, farming businesses, rural enterprises, complete value chain development and targeting special populations including young people, women and rural entrepreneurial role models and mentors.
For this to happen there is an urgent need to develop strong farmers' organizations to mobilize and represent members. Such organizations are capable of advocating for policy changes in favour of farmers, and networking members and other farmers and agricultural interests to form a common front for farmers. They also provide capacity building and services for their members.
Farming businesses, rural enterprises and complete value chain development that work are market-oriented for Africa’s agriculture. Farms are not run as professional businesses. Farming needs to be run for the assurance of food security and livelihoods and as a profession of pride. This should be done without any complexities, based on the capacity of each farmer. Components in the value chain are usually delinked, leaving missing links that make the chain ineffective. Value chains should be complete without any missing links, especially on supported interventions.
Such delinked value chain programmes increase production without planning for market access, storage or processing, leading to glut and frustrating farmers. Successful value chains that work in Africa, such as the Coalition of Farmers Ghana (COFAG)’s Complete Value Chain Development (CVCD) have all the essential links such as: input/supplies, production, warehousing/storage/refrigeration, transportation/machinery and equipment, trading, processing/value addition, credit/rural finance and others identified by farmers.
The double coincidence is that farmers lack a mix of diversified incomes, and farmer and rural finance is trivialized. If we want to deal a deadly blow to farmer and rural poverty, then we should encourage multiple income sources for farmers and rural citizens, without apologizing. We have to stop touting that if a farmer has additional sources of income then he is not a bona fide farmer. This wrong idea has contributed to exacerbating the poverty cycle in Africa. In rural Ghana, in the Atwima Kwanwoma district of Ashanti region, among farmers who are members of the Atwima Kwanwoma Association-FAKA, we have found out that multiple income sources work better in dealing with poverty than only income from subsistence or small holder farming alone.
From a personal experience and from a role modeling and mentoring perspective, I have found that a mix of diversified sources of income works best for farmers to deal better with poverty round the year. Such sources include: on-farm income; off-farm income; off-season income; value chain related income; strategic income; spark plugs and catalytic incomes.
The point is that governments and development policies and programmes that genuinely want to assist farmers and rural citizens need to facilitate means for them to be able to have a flow of income from a mix of multiple and diversified sources. After all, many others who may be neither farmers nor living in rural areas may have multiple sources of income for their survival.
A related neglect is trivializing farmers' and rural dwellers' genuine need for an appropriate mix of diversified financing instruments and credit products and offering them what we have instead of what they need, as if they have neither the right to ask nor the sense to do so. Inclusive rural finance is also responsive to the needs and wishes of rural citizens.
Targeting and special interventions need to be aimed at promoting food security, dealing with rural poverty and making farming businesses and rural enterprises attractive professional activities of pride. First we have to be serious about targeting special measures for women’s productivity, profitability and capacity away from mere tokenism and lip service. Furthermore, the farming business and rural enterprise context should be made attractive to young people, with deliberate interventions, as they will not come automatically.
And rural entrepreneurial role models and mentors (RERMMs) have to be assisted as targeted interventions in our rural development and agricultural policies and programmes to assure food security, grow the rural economy, make farming attractive and provide role models and mentors for successful rural living. We need to support the vulnerable, but also the successful role models and mentors of farming businesses and rural entrepreneurship.
Those who take the risk in rural economies need to be encouraged so they do not become vulnerable and discouraged. They are usually innovative path breakers who dare to show the way to successful rural living, and taking steps that require a lot of courage. Their special needs should also be taken care of so they can be role models and mentors of especially young people, who do not find any hope in rural areas. Such people may be versatile and able to invest in typical rural businesses as well as creative investments which may have spark-plug, catalytic or even strategic effects on rural lives. There is a need for flexibility, especially in financing instruments for such social entrepreneurs so their investments have the required ripple effect that the rural economy needs in view of the interrelated problems in a vicious cycle of life.
We have to build foundations for managing our knowledge of workable practices and for sharing information, knowledge and expanding capacity of rural people. Areas that come to mind in this direction are: adequate and affordable agricultural and market oriented agricultural advisory services that take into account the changing trends in climate, water and environment, agriculture, farming businesses, rural enterprises and value chain development.
Photo credit main picture: P. Casier (CGIAR) / Pictures are from meeting with innovative farmer Joel Yiri, Jirapa Village in Ghana / CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)