Using Education to Create a Generation of “Agripreneurs”

ImageKatrin Glatzel from Agriculture for Impact was published on the Farming First blog this week, as she discusses the recommendations laid out by the latest report from the Montpellier PanelSmall & Growing: Entrepreneurship in African Agriculture“, launched on the 25th of June 2014 in London.


Click here to read Katrin’s blog “Using Education to Create a Generation of “Agripreneurs”


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

LAUNCH EVENT: New Montpellier Panel Report Highlights Opportunities for Entrepreneurship in African Agriculture

This morning, Agriculture for Impact launched its latest Montpellier Panel report “Small and Growing: Entrepreneurship in African Agriculture” (PDF) in London.

Co-hosted by the All- Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development (APPG), the event welcomed a panel of experts to discuss how investments in rural and food sector entrepreneurship in Africa can not only deliver food and nutrition security but also kickstart broader economic growth for all.Image

Lord Cameron of Dillington opened the panel session by congratulating the Montpellier Panel on their work and introducing the many opportunities for the sector.  He specifically outlined how smallholder African farmers could be on the cusp of a new era of higher food productivity and resilient livelihoods if supported sufficiently in doing so.

Building on this introduction, Sir Gordon Conway, Director of Agriculture for Impact and Chair of the Montpellier Panel, explained how this report is timely given the current attention being focused on market and value chain development in Africa.  “Many people incorrectly think that African agriculture is outdated, difficult and non lucrative,” Conway said, but instead he pointed to several of the success stories featured in the report.

One such example is Tuna, a young Ethiopian farmer who began working on a farm at age 15.  Eventually, he rented a water pump which allowed him to turn nearby idle plots into productive land.  Over time, he has built the size of land he farms to 25 hectares for fruit and vegetable production, and he employs 50 young people himself.

Jane Karuku, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Montpellier Panel member, stressed that these opportunities must be supported through facilitating better access to finance and business skills (e.g. arranging credit, drafting contracts). “Someone needs to unlock the sector’s value at the outset,” Karuku urged, noting that AGRA has worked with many entrepreneurs who “came from nothing to become very successful small and medium-sized enterprises.”

Daniel Gad, owner of Omega Farms, travelled to London from his farm in Ethiopia to share his experience first-hand with the audience.  “African agriculture is a $280 billion business,” he said, but also warned that “Africa has almost become its own worst enemy” by not fully modernising how food and rural value chains are managed.  He noted the rapid pace of urbanisation, fuelled in part by young people moving to find city jobs because of insufficient or undesirable employment opportunities in rural areas. However, Gad argued that investing in new training, technologies and institutional innovations – for instance, by organising farmers into rural cooperative models, creating commodity exchanges and collateralising land and harvests to access credit – could encourage young people into work across the agricultural value chain.

This view was further supported by fellow panelist Roy Steiner, Former Deputy Director for Agriculture at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He noted the huge opportunity of tapping into the talent and energy, especially of young people, to become entrepreneurs.  “The young are incredibly well-suited to entrepreneurship,” he said, yet he noted that the farming sector still uses technologies that are thousands of years old. He said that entrepreneurship requires a sustained effort to provide training in order to cultivate trust and a sense of community amongst actors across the value chain.

Learn more by downloading the new Montpellier Panel report (PDF) or watching the report’s launch video online.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Meki Batu Cooperative: Building resilience from the roots

By Stephanie Brittain

“To be resilient means to diversity and intensify”- stated Tegegne Wakoya the Project Manager for Self Help Africa in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, where a recent history of drought and extreme famine is still in the people’s memory, the resilience of smallholder farmers against shocks and stresses couldn’t be more important.

Last week, the Ag4Impact team met some of the farmers of the Meki Batu Cooperative a recipient of support from Self Help Africa. Before this project began, farmers suffered due to a lack of market and inputs resulting in low yields, low incomes and food insecurity. But in this ecologically diverse region, the farmers are defying the odds: against unpredictable rains they still manage to produce enough food to sustain their families and make a profit.

From going alone to going together

So how did Meki Batu do it? Simple as this may sound, it was a long and rocky road.

In 2002, Self Help Africa helped 527 farmers form 12 primary cooperatives in Meki town, 140 km Southwest of Addis. The primary cooperatives were then organized into a union through which the farmers gained access to credit and inputs. Self Help Africa also provided extension services to the members, teaching them good agricultural practices to reduce wastage and increase yield. This combined with the use of hybrid and certified seed, the farmers yields increased four-fold, from 1 to 4 tonnes of maize per hectare.

By bringing farmers together, they were able to provide extension services, training, and share access to tools and seed. The threat of food insecurity the region faced over the previous five years now seemed like another life.

Since then, the primary cooperatives have formed the Meki Batu Union which has experienced impressive development, growing ten-fold to nearly 7000 members, working 400 ha of irrigated land.

Growing markets and opportunity

Today, the Union continues to distribute high quality hybrid seed to its members. When the crops are harvested, the union is able to sell the crop at a better price and the profit is then transferred back to the farmers and reinvested back into the union.

The increase in yield isn’t limited to Maize either. With the use of improved onion seed, their production grew from 7.5 to 12 tonnes per ha. They are soon to have a trial shipment to Saudi Arabia and are also hoping to export to the Netherlands.

“We have the land, the lakes and know how thanks to extension services. It’s not production, but access to markets that is the big issue” explained Tewolde, the Marketing & Agronomy Manager. 

Despite this, the establishment of five retail outlets in Addis Ababa and of export links to Europe and Saudi Arabia are testimony to a remarkable decade of growth for Meki Batu.

Improving Livelihoods

So what does this success mean to the smallholder farmers? We were curious to find out and spoke with Abu Gada, a smallholder farmer with 1/2 ha of land and a founding member of the primary cooperative.

Tomato plants in Abu Gada’s farm

Before joining the union, he was food insecure, without access to credit for improved seed or irrigation despite farming next to Zaway Lake.

Abu Gada explained that the union facilitates access to credit that farmers cannot otherwise access. He used the credit to buy stakes needed to grow tomato plants, reduce wastage and set up irrigation. After one harvest, his yield had increased so much that he was also able to pay back his loan and buy an ox to help him plough.

Diversification of crops ensured that he was more resilient to market price changes, pests and drought. He grows tomato, cabbage and onion on rotation, to help to maintain the soil quality and health, but adds manure and compost to salty areas, equal to the recommended 100kg/ha.

“Since joining the union, my production has increased and therefore my income. With the profits from the recent harvest of tomatoes, I bought a house” he smiled.

Resilience on 1 hectare or less

So, is it possible for smallholder farmers with 1 ha or less in Ethiopia and be resilient? Tegegne thinks that it is.

“You build resilience by increasing income. We did this by establishing cooperatives and channelling inputs, access to markets and credit via these cooperatives, facilitating the ability of the farmers to intensify and diversify”.

Watermelons at a roadside market, Oromia

“You need to diversify and intensify to be resilient against climate change, fluctuating input and grain costs, pests and disease. The farmers of Meki Batu have done so and are now self sufficient, with no need for assistance from Self Help Africa. The farmers are much less likely to fall back into food insecurity in the future.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yes we can – but will we?

Katrin Glatzel

Mrs Happy Shongwe is a smallholder seed producer. Her story, as recanted by FANRPAN CEO and Montpellier Panel member Lindiwe Sibanda, goes like this:

Happy started producing seeds right after Swaziland was hit by drought in 2002. When the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) assisted the hardest hit communities with food vouchers, they also provided farmers with information on how best they can respond to the drought. Happy took the advice and started planting crops that are drought tolerant and moved away from planting maize that could not cope with the changing climate. This made Happy more resilient to weather shocks and resulting shortfalls in production and income.

Since then, her move has yielded excellent results, which motivated her to become a business woman. As a certified seed producer, Happy is also assisting fellow women by imparting the information and knowledge gained from the extension officers. She is helping her community to become more resilient in the face of a changing climate.


©Farming First

Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from shocks and stresses

I often envision resilience as a cushion or some form of airbag. The bigger your cushion, the more resilient and stress-resistant you are.

This cushion is primarily, though not always, a financial cushion. But access to finance for the most vulnerable – especially smallholder farmers, women and young people – is a key component of resilience.

Access to finance allows individuals to invest in their own or their children’s education and training; it enables them to acquire more land, better seeds and storage facilities as well as access to healthcare. What makes some people more resilient than others to shocks and stresses is their ability to fall back on a Plan B and use their cushion in case of emergencies.

Resilience needs to start at the grass root level whereby resilient individuals form resilient communities, and resilient communities and towns establish resilient economies.

With the Agriculture for Impact team I learned about many new aspects of resilience when experts from academia, NGOs, the private sector and government gathered in Addis Ababa for three days at the ‘Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security’ conference organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).


©IFPRI, 2014

Caution: Don’t let Resilience become the next big buzzword

It is essential that resilience does not just become a buzzword, but rather, that we pick up on the momentum and the enthusiasm that culminated at the IFPRI conference. Fascinating research and data has to be translated into policy and soon.

As if trying to find a way of how to produce enough nutritious, safe and diverse food to feed 1 billion hungry was not difficult enough, we also have to take into account that climate change and climate-related shocks make the most vulnerable even more vulnerable and the poorest people even poorer.

With the aim of including the elimination of hunger by 2025 as a goal in the post-2015 development agenda, we must go beyond discussing resilience as an abstract concept advocated by the research community. It needs to be translated into concrete policy proposals and implementation. One of the conference speakers sharply put it:  “What we need is a Ministry of Follow-up”. We also need a Ministry of Policy Action and a Ministry of Implementation if policy makers are to build and act upon the research.

If we do what we did, we get what we got

The example of Happy is proof that yes, we can. Yes we can reach greater levels of resilience.  We have all the information and tools necessary to improve levels of resilience. We can turn rhetoric into action.

However, Per Pinstrup-Anderson posed the question “what would we have done differently during the past decade if we had already incorporated the concept of resilience?”  His answer was “not too much, I’m afraid, but I hope I’m wrong”. I hope he’s wrong too.

Gerda Verburg, chair of the Committee on World Food Security, correctly concluded – “If we do what we did, we get what we got. We need a paradigm shift.” So, yes, we can – but will we?

Will we build on the momentum of the IFPRI conference? Will we ensure that great debates are followed by great policies? Will we be innovative in our approaches to enhancing levels of resilience to address food and nutrition security?

These and more questions go through my mind as I reflect on the conference. I don’t have the answers, but I believe that the joined effort by research institutions, the private sector and last but not least by governments will result in more effective policy interventions to achieve greater levels of resilience in the agriculture sector.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

In Uganda, coffee faces many uphill battles

By Lee Pearson

Many of us start every day with a cup (or three), so it is not too surprising that coffee is the largest global export after oil. As the top agricultural export in Uganda—generating roughly ¼ of all foreign exchange—and with some 3.5 million families reliant in some way on the industry, coffee is king.


                                                Figure 1: Collage of surveyed coffee growers 

Dr. Neil McRoberts and I travelled to Uganda to conduct a survey along with Ignitius Bwoogi, the director of the Rural Agency for Sustainable Development. We spoke to coffee growers in the districts of Buikwe, Mukono, and Kumuli this past December/January sponsored by a grant from UC-Davis. We asked farmers how they perceive and respond to the threat of different coffee pests and diseases.  Their answers help illuminate why the coffee sector in Uganda has struggled for decades to produce more than 3 million bags and meet quality standards.

Coffee growers in the Buikwe district reported a worrying trend for Black/Coffee Twig Borer (BTB/CTB) that confirms many of the stories emerging from the Ugandan newspapers about how the beetle is spreading rapidly and killing off entire trees. For nearly half of the farmers interviewed, BTB was always present on their plot throughout the year (see Figure 1). Unfortunately for growers, the self-reported severity of BTB was similar to the infamous Coffee Wilt Disease—a devastating fungal disease of Robusta Coffee that severely affected Uganda during the mid-1990s and periodically afterward


                                       Figure 2: Frequency of common pests in Uganda

A key finding insightful for us was that few farmers were implementing any of the good agricultural practices (GAP) recommended by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority, NAADS, or NaCCRI/COREC. Nearly 40% of farmers did nothing to treat pests or prune their trees, and only half used any sort of fertilizer. Additionally, fewer than 10% ever sprayed fungicides or pesticides. Why such low levels of effort on an important cash crop?

                            Figure 3: Black Twig Borer emerging from its gallery

We found that while coffee was most often the main cash generator, farmers diversified their income sources from a variety of farm and non-farm activities to meet the needs of their families. In fact, not a single grower surveyed specialized solely in coffee. Further, farmers in this area have a history of switching between different cash crops depending on market dynamics.

At a workshop held at the Rural Agency for Sustainable Development, we learned about previous experiences with vanilla. There was a tremendous vanilla boom in Uganda for a brief stint in the early 2000s when production was devastated by a cyclone in Madagascar, the world’s top producer. Farmers in Uganda rapidly switched to producing vanilla and just as quickly switched out when prices crashed within a few years. As a further example of this switching tendency, when one break-out group at the workshop suggested cardamom as a potential alternative cash crop to try out, only 1 out of the 30 focus group participants were currently growing it, but over 1/3 said they would consider trying it in the next five years.

Given farmers’ familiarity with switching crops and hedging bets out of necessity, producing better quality coffee and achieving higher yields will depend on the attractiveness of coffee to farmers.  Our preliminary analysis of the surveys, as well as conversations with stakeholders in the supply chain, suggest that it will be difficult to achieve high investment levels. Two reasons stand out: there is lock-in to the current system with a market for a variety of coffee quality and heavy pest/disease damage undermines individual investment in the coffee plot.

There is a market for most qualities of coffee, as exporters have put in high capital investment into colour and size sorting machinery, as can be seen in this video. They needed to do so as traders aggregate coffee from a wide variety of sources, producing a homogenous lot out of good and bad quality beans. It’s a cat-and-mouse game where traders profit from hiding bad coffee and exporters’ margins depend on keeping it out. This system has tremendous social lock-in and sunk capital costs. Even though our research uncovered that surveyed farmers received statistically different prices depending on how their coffee is dried (ground vs. tarp/platform), this difference was small at approximately 200 shillings/kg on average or a 15% bonus on the price received for drying on the ground. This may or may not compensate for the additional effort and loss of added weight from dirt.

Lastly, black twig borer—like coffee wilt disease that preceded it—is most effectively treated when your neighbour invests in control as well. Although everyone would be better off with collective action, inaction may be the optimal strategy in the event of non-cooperation, low price differential for quality, and high likelihood of pests destroying yields regardless of effort. This is a common problem across many crops, but made even more difficult as the control methods for BTB are still underdeveloped and the most effective sprays are prohibitively expensive. 

Breaking these barriers will be difficult. While we certainly don’t have the answers for the coffee sector, we do firmly believe that better understanding the incentives and decision making processes of farmers can help to inform more effective policy interventions by governments. More research is needed into low-cost, low-labour methods of BTB control adapted to Ugandan ecology. Additionally, more surveys to illuminate what farmers grow instead when they exit coffee, as well as what their outcomes are versus those that stay in it. The ability of the Ugandan coffee sector to increase production in aggregate, depends on the individual answers to these questions for each small-holder.

To learn more about the project, get touch via, Twitter, or Facebook.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

UN workshop points to technology for climate-resilient agriculture

By Helena Wright and Katrin Glatzel


Image credit: IISD

Last month, the UNFCCC Technology Executive Committee and the Adaptation Committee co-hosted the ‘Workshop on Technologies for Adaptation’ in Bonn, Germany.  The workshop highlighted a range of technologies for adaptation to climate change in agriculture; a sector that is extremely vulnerable to climate change and most commonly prioritised by countries in their Adaptation Technology Needs Assessments. 

Creating an enabling environment for climate-smart agriculture: institutions and technology matter

There are a range of “enablers” and “barriers” to climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector, with a lack of finance often identified as the key barrier by countries.  Market factors, such as food price fluctuations, are also commonly seen as an obstacle to food security under climate change.

Enabling measures in the agriculture sector must therefore include innovative financial products that enable farmers to access to finance, credit or loans to be able to invest in adequate technologies and to diversify production. For this to be achieved, political leadership and strong institutions are key.

However, technologies needed to adapt to climate change are not just ‘hard’ technologies (such as fertilisers or equipment) but also ‘soft’ technologies (the right farming practices, skills or institutions) as identified in the workshop background paper on “Technologies for Adaptation”.

The different forms of technologies can be complementary, for example, seed varieties require know-how to be used effectively, or an early warning system requires effective institutions. Providing seasonal forecasts for farmers, for example, will be key in making agriculture more resilient to climate change; precautions before extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts, can be taken, which will ultimately reduce the costs of damages to equipment, agricultural produce or livestock.  

These soft technologies can be just as important for climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector, as having the right ‘hard’ technology.

Recognising indigenous knowledge

The importance of technology justice, which is “the right of people to decide, choose and use technologies that assist them” has been widely advocated as an integral part of delivering a climate-smart agriculture. Communities, alongside governments and the private sector, must play a central role in technology adoption to ensure it is effective, sustainable and inclusive.

Knowledge held by local people is essential to identify and scale-up responses to different climate-related challenges. 

The ‘re-greening of the Sahel,’ a famous example when food security was improved for almost 3 million people, started when local farmers’ practices were rediscovered by innovative farmers and NGOs and then diffused by a coalition of different actors, including farmers, donors, private and public sector. The use of the Zaï technique (planting pits) by farmers to improve soil fertility and humidity was eventually scaled-up. Since then, along with protection of trees to provide fodder, firewood and fruit, the technique has been effective in rehabilitating degraded land and in protecting against drought in the Sahel.

Another example is the case of ‘floating agriculture’ in Bangladesh. This age-old practice of cultivating vegetables on a floating platform was promoted by NGOs in North-east Bangladesh. However, while the practice has captured the imagination of policy-makers, it was argued that more research is needed to find out whether the technology is in fact resilient under a changing climate. 


Community-based adaptation. Image credit: ARCAB/IIED

Learning from successes and failures

It is important to draw lessons from successes and failures for future projects and in the development of longer-term policies. For example, new climate-resilient crop varieties are increasingly being developed drawing on experiences from field-trials. ‘

Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa,’ supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was developed through conventional breeding methods and disseminated through capacity-building events and activities for maize breeders, seed producers, extensions workers, NGOs and farmer groups.

In this context, South-South cooperation and research will be vital to enable farmers to adapt to climate change. Governments need to ensure that research and innovation facilities are strengthened to encourage a new generation of researchers and entrepreneurs to meet the challenges of a changing climate.

It is generally more difficult to identify examples of failures than successes, perhaps because the success stories are widely promoted. It is important, though, to also look at the technologies and approaches that have not worked, in order to learn lessons and continuously improve technologies, soft and hard, to be able to build a climate resilient agriculture sector in developing countries.

There are, however, physical limits to adaptation, including physiological or bio-physical limits to heat tolerance in plants or animals. This highlights the urgent need to mitigate emissions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Innovation happens best when it happens together

Last week’s 5th EU-Africa Business Forum  sought cooperation between Europe and Africa to invest in an emerging Africa and rise-up to the challenges ahead. Hopes of forging strong partnerships between the public and private sectors between Europe and Africa and within Africa drew a distinguished cast of heads of state, entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, and researchers together.

As part of the Horizon 2020 Agenda – the EU’s biggest Research and Innovation programme worth nearly EUR 80 billion – the DG for Research and Innovation and COLEACP, a network promoting sustainable agricultural trade between the EU and ACP countries, brought a sub-set of these parties together to identify ways in which public and private sectors can stimulate and distribute innovations for food and nutrition security.

To borrow from the Montpellier Panel, innovation and bringing innovation to scale ‘requires that we go beyond sector silos in academia, business and government and think more strategically and holistically about how we can cope with interconnected issues that require integrated approaches and solutions; that we re-think our research and innovation systems to facilitate multi-disciplinary, collaborate research at a range of scales.’

I would also add that too often, public sector research is focused on discovery whereas private sector research seeks commercialization. Yet these differences in approaches can be overcome.  In fact, they’re surmountable with a little dose of collaboration.


At the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Kampala, Uganda, plant breeders are working side-by-side with private seed companies and farmers. Dr. Godfrey Asea, a maize breeder at NaCRRI and Masagazi Cliff-Richard the owner of Pearl Seeds (pictured right) collaborate through an AGRA-funded grant.

Both are recipients of the PASS programme that aims to increase income and reduce poverty through developing efficient, equitable and sustainable seed systems. One of the ways they collaborate is by carrying out seed breeding trials on land held by seed companies. This ensures that the crop varieties they develop at the NaCRRI research station get early buy-in from the earliest of adopters and future marketers.

Breeders at NaCRRI forge other instrumental links with farmers, the ultimate consumers of their innovations. Ssemakula Gorretrie a sweet potato breeder shows off her wares: sweet potatoes of different colors, nutritional value and starchiness. 


“The women, they like the driest varieties because they grind down the easiest for cooking.” Some varieties have the best yields, are the most resistant to rot, or the best for cooking, others are the most orange signifying that they are fortified with beta-carotene to improve malnutrition. Any way you look at it, she is developing a sweet potato for all her customers.

As Professor Sir Gordon Conway reminds us that “anyone can innovate in a bath,” the researchers, seed companies and farmers that take part in the AGRA PASS programme are innovating together with positive results. 


By Emily Alpert

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment