What’s happening on our food security debates?

Food Security21 Feb 2013Evert-jan Quak, Karlijn Muiderman

The Broker started several online debates on the Agri-Hub Forums in Rwanda and Uganda and on different LinkedIn Groups. Read here the update of what happens on these online platforms.

Two reactions on LinkedIn on The Broker’s final report from a managing consultant based in the Dominican Republic and previously working for USAID, CNFA and PADF.

“Appreciate thorough presentation. You may want to explore:

a. Health and nutrition. Even when food is available, water-borne diseases may block their nutrient absorption.
b. Food insecure population is usually income insecure groups. Increasing positive net revenues–entailing total immediate cost awareness–reduce malnutrition. Farmers usually do not have a rigorous idea of non-monetized costs.
c. I have learned to be careful with innovations assuming labor is plentiful in the rural areas. Usually, it is not.
d. On the hunger issue, many confuse lack of western style goods and services with hunger. In many backward regions there is plenty of food, but no income to buy much beyond the few pennies needed to meet local needs (similar to most of the world a few centuries back).
e. Rural hunger and poverty have been, properly, linked to continue decapitalization of financial, social, and knowledge capital. Thus an accumulation dimension should be added to any viable intervention. This may mean following the farmers wives’s priorities instead of those set by the program. Very few field operations are approved with this flexibility.
f. Often energy poverty is the root cause of human misery. Many technologies, from flow of the river miniturbines to biodiesel motors can help breach this yawning gap. There is no way to spring the rural poor out of their traps w/o more energy serving them. d. Property rights–conventional, tribal or modern–are important. Contemporary ICT should play a key-supporting role on this theme–always adapting to the institutions or smart lawyers will take the land away from traditional holders.
e. Do not assume people do not change because they do not know better–often they do, but those who hold the real power will not change or introduce any threats to their status quo. f. Information and communication technologies are vital to foster inclusiveness–uplink as important as downlink.
g. Occasionally, millions are spent on improving varietal yields, while the real waist (effective marketed productivity) occurs beyond the farm gate in the value chain.
h. Keep government authorities away from harvesting, selecting, grading, cleaning, packing, and shipping–especially if cold chains could be breached.
I. Viable solutions are seldom found in the small plots (intra-farm), but in the system where those small plots are embedded (exo-farm). Too many resources have gone into increasing yields in the farm, and not overall systemic productivity that the farm family can capture.
j. Do not treat farm families as beneficiaries. They are clients with voice on the quality of services received and the nature of the assistance offered.
I. We have enough know how (seeds are know how packages), and water to feed seven billion now, and seven billion more in the not too distant future. But our institutions are bound by the past and have not evolved to serve the future. The role of local groups, families, traditions, and power hierarchies should occupy “pride of place” in any food security effort.”

After that he send in a second comment on what partnerships are needed to link the private sector with smallholders for an inclusive and resilient food market.

“Just ensure the farm-family and their communities are linked to sound networks, supported by civic organizations (e.g. municipalities, religious groups, NGOs, political associations, professional groups), media projects their challenges and opportunities and the response to their efforts, and shrewd advise and hand holding on how to present their case, as aggregated across communities as possible, to those who could win from them.

If someone in power can profit from the proposed change, find and work with them. I know this may sound ideologically driven, but I have never seen more prosperous ventures than those where people profit from them. Others, as soon as the allocated funds are consumed, disappear.

Value chains could help break out of isolation…but be careful. They tend to become overambitious (cover to0 many links in the chain). As usual, do not let “wise men” experiment with the poor, there is no room to fall down even more. Even if you are accused of working with the rich farmer, introduce new varieties, practices, and the like in their field. They can take it (it took over ten years to move the green revolution from the less poor farms to the smaller plots).

Crucial, weed out from any project non-performers and non-performing activities. Too many times, specially with donor funds, the witches’ apprentice keeps pouring buckets on the overflowing tank.

If change can take place, if the powers who are allow it, then move on. Technology, ICT, organization, marketing and above all increasing productivity will do the job; deep poverty will recede. Keep your eye on costs, revenues and margins left to the farm family–no theoretical, but in cash.

If the big powers block change, then run. W/o change the poverty traps holding so many hopeless cannot be broken in situ. Just get out.”


From our lively debates on the Agri-Hub Forums in Rwanda and Uganda.


The Broker started a debate on the Agri-Hub Forum in Rwanda the discussion on how the Dutch agribusiness can extend their efforts for partnerships with local farmers in Rwanda based on ownership and equality?

Pascal Murasira answered the question:

“Please find my personal views to the latest questions from the Broker:

1. Are Dutch agribusinesses valuable for enhancing access to food, employment and local economic development in Uganda/Rwanda?

Indeed the Dutch agriculture expertise is much valuable for both our countries (Rwanda and Uganda). Despite employing 4% of the labour force, the Dutch agriculture sector provides large surpluses for the food-processing industry and for exports. The Dutch rank third worldwide in value of agricultural exports, behind the United States and France, with exports earning $55 billion annually. A significant portion of Dutch agricultural exports are derived from fresh-cut plants, flowers, and bulbs, with the Netherlands exporting two-thirds of the world’s total. The Netherlands also exports a quarter of all the world’s tomatoes, and trade of one-third of the world’s exports of chilis, tomatoes and cucumbers goes through the country. The Netherlands also exports one-fifteenth of the world’s apples.

Considering the size of the Netherlands (only 41,543 km2) with a density estimated at 405.7/km, we almost share the same demographic constraints, reason why our countries can learn allot from the success of the Dutch agribusiness sector.

2. How can Dutch agribusiness extend their efforts for partnerships with local farmers in Uganda/Rwanda based on ownership and equality?

Although the Dutch agribusiness expertise is much needed in our countries, we should not deny the fact that there is still a huge gap in the level of professionalization between local and Dutch agripreneurs.

Our regional agriculture sector is still relatively small scale based and our agro-market systems are still pushed by the production instead of the markets pulling the production (demand and supply elasticities).

To realize profitable economies of scale and still include smallholders, it is important to work in well organized value chains. To ensure the effectiveness of such chains, local farmers may need chain imbedded services, but also hold their share of responsibility towards the success of such kind of partnerships; reason for a need to work with organized farmers.

3. How should Dutch agribusinesses work together with governments in Uganda/Rwanda for sustainable rural development and stable food prices?

Our Governments are represented by the Embassies in the Netherlands. These Embassies represent the views of our Governments towards foreign investments. They also serve as One-Stop centers for investment opportunities and priorities in our respective countries.

Both countries have also set up specific agencies in charge of providing all necessary information to potential investors (Rwanda Development Board: and the Uganda Investment Authority With the above contacts, the support from Dutch Embassies in Kigali and Kampala, and insights from pools of professionals such Agri-ProFocus; Dutch agri-businesses can establish sustainable relationships with local Governments and positively contribute towards the eradication of rural poverty.

Note that, it is also important for Dutch investors to consider getting an overview of the protocols of the East African common market; as in a way or another, they also have an impact on how the business environment is evolving in all partner states.”


The Broker asked on the Agri-Hub Uganda Forum: How can we better include informal food markets for food security?

Kyeyune Alex answers on the Agri-Hub Uganda Forum: ‘These will combine both formal and informal farmer which will help both markets connect and produce safe and fair food for the industry. There will also be cooperative training for these farmers, which in turn increase food security and food production.’

Wasswa trevor robert writes: ‘I hope there is a way. The infomal markets should be clearly organised and should be allocated or organised at sub county or parish levels where many people can access them.such places tend to secure and convenient to many people.’

Juma Bruno Ngomuo answered: ‘By identifying and promote these areas (Market places) with their unique features such as quality and quantity of products will help to pull so many customers. But all that can be done by carefull design and provide a room where farmers and consumers will be involved in siting the place how ever the responsible departments of trade, agriculture and health are crucial for this so that the administration and rules such as taxes and security should be taken to consideration so that all consumers or buyers will come to market and buy. The other way for this market to perfom better there is a need to provide room for farmers association so they can develop brands and do a sort like collective markets to control prices so they can earn more income.’

The Broker asked on the Agri-Hub Rwanda Forum: “Are cooperatives the solution for buying machines?

Pascal Murasira answered: ‘Indeed coops can be a solution to asset-poor farmers willing to buy machines needed to improve their farm operations. The weak bargaining position of individual small farmers vis-à-vis much larger suppliers has been one of the main reasons for farmers to set up cooperatives. By purchasing machines jointly, the bargaining position of farmers is greatly enhanced. The necessary funds may come from different sources: members, retained earnings, and external finance. However, it is important for the coop to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before purchasing any type of machine. Such processes help in determining whether the coop needs to buy machines or if it is wiser to hire/lease them.’

The Broker asked: should donor countries be looking more at regional transport, trade and tariffs, rather than at production?

Muhimbise John writes on the Agri-Hub Uganda Forum on the issue of regional trade: ‘If donors were concentrating on production, then there would be a lot of food lying around and rotting in the villages unsold because of poor transport infrastructure. The current situation is that we aren’t producing that much at the moment for various reasons. We depend on rains which are erratic, the soils have lost fertility and there are no funds for fertelisers, we still use hand held hoes which scares away potential farmers especially the youth whose influx to urban centres has led to innumerable challenges. Even where production has improved, the benefits have been compromised by high fertility rates of about 9 children per family in rural areas and about 6.7 nationally. To solve these challenges, a holistic approach that improves transport infrastructure, enhances production by introducing fertlisers, water-harvesting, irrigation, improved seeds etc and encouraging family planning will eventually address the issue of food security. If donors and other stakeholders focus at one intervention at the expense of others, they will realise that the problems of food security remain. The solution is in striking the right balance when coming up with interventions!’

Robert M. Kintu writes on the Agri-Hub Uganda Forum on the issue of regional trade: ‘The ability for the farmers and traders to participate in the regional market is limited specially for Uganda, due the fact that the country its citizen are not geared in the respect for the law. It is clear that even if the standards are in place, the market in the regional will still be far from the value chain participants in Uganda. We need to start with the government attitude towards, respect of procedure, reducing red tape, eliminating corruption and taking a step to punish the corrupt or corrupter. The current standard should not increase the cost of the suppliers if the suppliers are not forced to take our brides or pay more.’

Emmanuel Dieudonne Harerimana writes on the Agri-Hub Rwanda Forum on the issue of regional trade: ‘This issue is also one of impediments for food distribution but today there is two others new angels which are hindering as much as food is concerned.I can hereby mention biofuel and land grabbing in many developing countries which enrich corporates from different developed countries on detriment of farmers in . We can think about how many farmers immigrate from their land, how much local resources are embedded in this kind of agricultural production which at the end doesn’t serve the local communities (food sovereignty).’

Frank Bakx writes on the Agri-Hub Rwanda Forum on the issue of regional trade: ‘Looking at Rwanda and similar poor developing countries with a dense population and scarce resources (soil, water), I do not agree with Ian that these should focus on just infrastructure and free trade. The three main constraints to agriculture in Rwanda and Burundi are soil productivity, soil productivity and soil productivity. Rwanda is an expensive producer of food and cash crops, cannot nourish its own population and does not have the funds to keep on importing food. So better focus on increasing per acre yields than importing cheaper maize from Uganda and Kenya. Yes, there are non-tariff barriers and undue standards that prevent bringing down production, processing and export costs. Attention has to be paid to those as well. But never forget productivity! At global scale too land and water are becoming scarce but need to feed an increasing and more wealthy population over the next decades…….’

Bahat Kandidussi Tweve writes on the Agri-Hub Rwanda Forum on the issue of regional trade: ‘This issue is real important to focus on. As a real small farmer in rural Africa, for me to touch a profitable marketing to market my products, this developed countries should look on improving these long term goals for food security policies, which will make this small farmers to improve the productivity and make them to gate more income than the way they do now, and this can not make this small farmers to immigrate from their fields, to resolve this it needs these chain of marketing to be improved that is even the transport, and all the infrastructures, since we see this lets now look the way this small producers can meet at list last consumers then the extra will be in the foods security goals and the communities will benefit.’


From our discussion on LinkedIn. We posted the question: should countries be looking in their food security policies more at regional transport, trade and tariffs, rather than at production?

The Broker received three answers, which suggest that production has the focus, but in a ideal world all the aspects should be included.

From a Canadian consultant: ‘I work with smallholders in Eastern Africa and have to tell you the “harmonized agronomic standards” would be WAY down the list for most of them. Ways of reducing post-harvest losses is, generally, a far more significant issue. Of course in an ideal world we would work on all positive change simultaneously.’

From some one who works with civil society organisations in Italy: ‘I agree, governments should look at building infrastructure and cross-border protocols between African countries as trading partners. I think that credit and rural infrastructures are also pivot points for farmers producing for the market at local and national level. But to me there is an important point to clarify: food security policies (FSP) are mainly aimed at reducing food insecurity of the poorest people in rural and urban areas with the aim of granting them the access to enough food all the time. So, food security policies are not agricultural development policies, but a tentative to provide food insecure people with some assets improving their livelihoods. In Central America (where I worked for several years) FSP have a strong element of social assistance and health care for undernurished children.’

From an American Consecutive Interpreter: ‘They should include trade, tariffs and production in their food security policies in my opinion.’

From our discussion on LinkedIn. We posted the question: how can you implement better pricing mechanisms in the market to give farmers an incentive to adopt resource-saving technologies?

The Broker received one answer from an American agricultural entrepreneur: ‘I feel these better pricing mechanisms will come from the end user of the commodity (food processor) a go directly to the grower. Farmers will start selling directly to the processors for premium prices, there will not be as many middle-men involved (if any).’