Promoting the adoption of Climate-Smart Agriculture in southern Africa

Southern African countries have joined the rest of the world in declaring their commitment to developing resilient food production systems under progressive climate change and variability.

One option that has been introduced in several countries is Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA), a concept that comprises a set of practices and technologies that can enhance the climate resilience of farming systems. CSA is gradually gaining prominence due to its capacity to sustainably increase productivity, enhance resilience to climatic stresses while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Worth noting, however, is the fact that despite the continued experience of climate change-related challenges and the likely benefits linked to CSA, recent studies have indicated a considerably low level of CSA adoption by farmers in several countries.

Adoption of agricultural innovations is generally influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic factors, which may also be classified into biophysical, socioeconomic and institutional factors. Among the above, institutional factors (policies, programmes, regulations, etc) are critical in creating an environment within which stakeholders make investment decisions. A conducive environment will allow, for instance, the public and private sectors’ participation through the provision of quality and affordable inputs and equipment, finance and the capacity-building of farmers.

Off-takers would provide reliable markets for products, reducing the high transaction costs that smallholder farmers generally have to contend with.

In an effort to address policyrelated bottlenecks, SACAU will in the next four years implement a project titled “Promoting the Adoption of Climate-Smart Agriculture on a Wide Scale in Southern Africa”.

The project, which is financially supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), seeks to advocate for conducive policies for wide-scale uptake of CSA in southern Africa.

Its specific objectives are to (i) enhance the capacities of national farmers’ organisations (FOs) to advocate for better CSA-related policies and investments; (ii) increase the influence of SACAU in CSA policy and related processes at regional and global levels; and (iii) increase the influence of Zimbabwe Farmer’s Union (ZFU) in CSA policy and related processes in Zimbabwe.

The project will commence with a baseline study to provide background information and benchmark values that will serve as the basis for monitoring progress and future evaluations that will establish the extent to which it has achieved its stated objectives. SACAU appreciates the financial support extended by NORAD to implement this important project.


The future farmer: Disrupting Agriculture


By Ishmael Sunga, SACAU CEO

Right now, in southern Africa, there are numerous young farmers doing extraordinary things. They are ambitious with a healthy appetite for growth, and they want to achieve this growth through the creation of profitable agribusinesses that will deliver a quality of life comparable with other professions. They are just not visible. What we see at events like the recent African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which took place in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, during 4-8 September 2017, is merely a microcosm of a larger pool of agripreneurs.

The next generation of farmers So there are already a significant number of young agribusiness leaders who are driving change. However, their success stories do not often serve as examples of motivation and leadership so that they can provide strong role models for ambitious young agripreneurs in the early stages of their careers. Their stories really need to be disseminated on a larger scale so that we can catalyse more mentorship schemes and drive the agenda towards transformation in African agriculture more vigorously.

Agriculture is becoming more complex and dynamic. It is now information and knowledge intensive; it is now science and data-driven; and it is now ICT-enabled. New technology allows farmers to do much more with much less as the environment now demands. Knowledge is no longer predominantly about how to grow a crop – it is less practical and handson and occurs more on the mental plane, focused on strategic thinking and planning. Farming has become increasingly abstract and data-driven.

increasingly abstract and data-driven. This requires a different type of farmer with different aptitudes. Farmers need the right level of education that will enable them to comprehend this level of complexity. More opportunities now exist, but we really need to improve farmers’ skills and aptitudes with targeted education and training. This requires the modernisation and professionalisation of farming, as well as the opportunity for farmers to gain competitive rewards for their hard work so that ambitious and capable young entrepreneurs are attracted to working in the sector.

Innovative policy This new generation of businessminded farmers promise excellent prospects for the future of African agriculture.

However, the policy environment needs to be improved as it has the greatest and most far-reaching potential for impactful change. Policymakers need to be more innovative in their approach to agricultural policy so that it really helps young farmers and facilitates all stakeholders in the sector to unleash their economic potential. Let’s take an example: just playing around with the fiscal and monetary policies and instruments can have a fundamental impact.

For instance, cutting out import duties and VAT on key agricultural equipment/ technologies will benefit stakeholders across the agricultural value chain; tax rebates on agricultural enterprises and start-ups can also make a big difference; even subsidising data that allows farmers to access more climate information will significantly improve the sector’s resilience.

A particularly important role for policymakers is to subsidise investments in the expansion of mobile network infrastructure so that farmers in all corners of the continent have access to mobile phone coverage. Technology allows farmers to cross over areas where there are no roads, where there are no bridges. It is having a massive disruptive impact, and positive disruption for that matter. It is critical in creating an agricultural sector that is more business driven.

But more importantly, technology allows for the democratisation of the sector because it removes information asymmetry to some extent. It connects everyone to markets and allows them to access knowledge and learning. However, without the infrastructure to connect with this technology farmers cannot exploit it. They are socially and geographically, as well as economically isolated, which limits the modernisation of the sector as well as their ability to improve their own livelihoods.

The combination of intelligent policy, an expansion of ICT infrastructure and an entrepreneurial approach to agriculture will cause a massive explosion. It will trigger the revolutionary change we have all been waiting for.

First published in Spore magazine: opinion/the-future-farmer-disruptingagriculture.html.

SACAU’s progress in making climate resilience a reality for farmers


The ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) in partnership with SACAU hosted a meeting in September 2016 in Johannesburg to launch a flagship project that seeks to promote climate-resilient cereal and livestock farming in southern Africa.

The meeting was also aimed to build partnerships and synergies with stakeholders in the implementation of the flagship project and for technical validation of the proposed scaling up-strategy. The project will provide support towards the adoption of four solutions by cereal and livestock farmers in order to build climate resilient systems in selected countries in the region.

These solutions are around stress-tolerant germplasms, ICT-enabled climate information services, diversified livestock-based livelihoods and weather-based insurance. In line with the outcomes of the meeting, SACAU has since prepared a project proposal which is currently under consideration by CTA.

The project focuses on ICT enabled climate information services and weather based-insurance, and implementation is expected to start in the first half of 2017. It will be implemented in three countries, namely Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe in partnership with members and an insurance company.

The project’s specific objectives are to increase the uptake of weather based insurance by farmers, to support a regional approach for the development of whether based insurance and to improve access to weather information by farmers through ICTs.

SACAU kicks off the process of establishing an agri-agency unit

From 19th to 23rd September, a team from Agriterra comprising of Dr Kees Blokland and Mr Jan Breambroek and Mr Benito Eliasi of SACAU secretariat held consultations with the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union (ZFU) and Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) of Zimbabwe. The consultations were conducted as part of SACAU’s assessment as it prepares to establish an agri-agency unit as mandated by the 2016 Annual General Meeting (AGM) that was held in Swaziland earlier this year. The consultations focused on management and operations of the two organisations and their perception regarding different roles of SACAU as a regional apex body of farmers’ organisations (FOs). In addition, the mission investigated the capacity needs of the two organisations as well as their interest to receive or render advisory services to other SACAU members.

The two organisations pledged their support to SACAU as it is going through this process. They were also in support of skills exchange programmes among SACAU members and indicated that to a lesser extent the concept is being applied in Zimbabwe. It was also interesting to note that efforts of uniting the advocacy activities of the two organisations are at an advanced stage and so far three FOs in the country have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to start working together on common issues affecting farmers in the country. They both foresee possibilities of merging into a single union in the future though currently each will maintain its autonomy while modalities of merging are being discussed. The mission commended both organisations for taking such a bold decision which in the long run will benefit all farmers in the country.

One of the topics that was discussed at length with each FO was resource mobilisation. This was identified as a very critical issue by the two organisations and they both are working hard to devise mechanisms of increasing their financial resources base. They both consider the idea of an agri-agency coordinating and linking provision of services among national FOs in the region to be one of the mechanisms that will assist organisations to raise funds through offering services to other organisations. ZFU and CFU also indicated that they would want SACAU to continue playing a greater role of lobbying and advocacy on regional matters. In addition, ZFU appreciated the training its members and management team receive from SACAU on various issues.

Similar assessments are scheduled in November and December 2016  in Malawi and Namibia respectively.

Grain stakeholders talk structured trade

Over the course of history, world grain trade has developed from the stage where grain was only shipped as incidental cargo to its grand status today; an industry in which thousands of tons of grain are moved daily, across the world. Interestingly, as a share of total consumption, traded grain has risen from less than 0.03% in the eighteenth century to more than 10% today, making the sector highly profitable for those who are involved and have the capacity to adapt to changes and shocks which global trade contends with. Structured trading is how most grain is traded in the developed world, and is now expanding in Africa. With sophisticated trading systems already in existence for niche export commodities such as coffee and cut-flowers on the continent, it is ironic that given the growing challenge of feeding a population which is growing exponentially, such systems are still in their infancy for staple commodities in most African countries.

With the highest per capita consumption of grains on the continent reported to be in the north Africa region; Rabobank predicts that Sub-Saharan Africa will eclipse North Africa’s grain demand by 2025 and this presents a significant opportunity for grain suppliers as well as producers in the region.

It is against this backdrop of a high growth potential in our region that SACAU, through support provided by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), organised training for members of the Southern African Grain Network (SAGNET) on Structured Commodity Trade Finance Training. SAGNET is a regional network of grain value chain stakeholders from Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The three-day flagship training was facilitated by the Eastern Africa Grain Council’s (EAGC) specialised training and capacity building division, the Eastern Africa Grain Institute (EAGI).

The training provided participants with a unique opportunity to understand the prospects and risks under regional and international export/ import financing, with special attention paid to warehouse receipt financing. Furthermore, participants learnt how market information systems work to support the growth of the commodity trading environment. Through the use of case studies depicting real life experiences on the success of structured trade finance, the diverse group of individuals contributed to vibrant discussions, further expanded upon by their personal work experiences.

The area of international and regional trade policy was well enjoyed by participants, some of whom expressed the expectation of being in an improved position to influence policy and effect change upon their return to their respective countries. A session on trade contracts and dispute resolution was covered on the last day, with trainers and legal experts challenging opinions and sharing detailed experiences; a session which was truly insightful for all.

The course not only covered theoretical elements, it also encompassed a practical component for which a field visit to AFGRI’s silo in Bronkhorstspruit was organised.

The participants were received and welcomed by the silo manager, Mr Willie Pieters and his colleagues who took the participants through various operations at the very well-equipped and technologically enhanced silo. Only nine individuals run the plant visited and the company’s 84 silos and bunkers in southern Africa are all housed under the AFGRI Grain Management business which is a grain storage facility and handler. They however do not own or trade any of the products they handle.

The specific operations which were seen at the silo included grain receiving and sampling, which was noted as the single most important step in the process. Samples from every load of grain which is stored by the silo is tested thoroughly upon arrival and following departure. Offloading and stacking was also illustrated and participants were taken through the intricate process of caring for the grain during storage. AFGRI has perfected their grain storage operations and the handling thereof is a seamless process which is optimised by technology which provides on-the-minute reporting and risk management, backed by decades of experience and a staff complement which has truly earned their proverbial stripes in the industry.

The global explosion in trade volumes has been supported heavily by communication and technology, which has made it possible to share information from virtually anywhere globally on which grain is available to buyers and sellers alike. Africa currently accounts for nearly 30% of world-wide grain imports and the demand is still growing, with grain imports in sub-Saharan Africa expected to increase by 50% in the next ten years, also according to Rabobank.

The training on Structured Commodity Trade Finance has equipped recipients with information and a new-found understanding of the subject area which will assist them to steer through the highly specialised and complex transactions involved in commodity trade, amidst the disruptions which food production systems are facing which have unfortunately undermined confidence in global trade as a reliable mechanism for the delivery of food security.

Young agripreneurs extend networks, sharpen skills at conference

October 2016 will be a memorable month for three young agri-preneurs from SACAU who participated in the Pan African Agribusiness Incubators Conference and Expo that was held in the capital city of Ghana, Accra, from 4th to 6th October. The conference whose theme was “turning science into business – inclusive agribusiness incubation for vibrant economies in Africa”, exposed young farmers to different technologies and innovations that are likely going to change the landscape of agriculture in Africa. Delegates extensively discussed the future of African farming and agribusiness and considered emerging opportunities for youth in the development of the sector. The three young agri-entrepreneurs from SACAU who participated are Ms. Manes Nkhata from Malawi, Mr. Sibusiso Gule from Swaziland and Ms Magdalene Shirima from Tanzania. They were accompanied by Mr. Benito Eliasi from the SACAU secretariat.

The three-day conference involved plenary and group discussion as well as well as displays of various new innovations, technologies, services and products that are developed through the incubation programs. The event brought together more than 700 delegates from around the world from various segments of the economy including academia, policy makers, researchers, investors, development partners and incubators and incubatees in the continent. One of the youth, Mr Gule said that “what interested me most were the discussions around commitments of stakeholders to engage the young generation in promoting “value chain transformation’. This is a way to go if the sector is to attract the youth. “Looking at the enthusiasm of participants, especially the youth in this conference, I think Africa has a bright future in agriculture” added Ms. Shirima.

Also commenting on the conference, Ms. Nkhata said, “this conference has extended my horizon in business and has created greater awareness on agribusiness incubation, trade and investment options in Africa and I will definitely utilise the knowledge gained at this conference when I go back home to Malawi”. “The conference offered me opportunities to exchange information on best practices and lessons in managing agribusiness, establishing agribusiness and incubators, development and commercialisation of agro-technologies and innovations and improving agribusiness education”, said Ms. Nkhata.

On her part, Ms. Magdalene Shirima indicated that the conference has enabled her to link with partners for business opportunities. “Young agri-preneurs should love reading business books and I was impressed when one of the panellists encouraged us young people to read”, said Ms. Shirima. “I will definitely come back to Ghana for business linkages,” she continued.

Overall the conference was worthwhile and the African Agribusiness Incubation Network (AAIN) was commended for the effort they are making in Africa in incubation though some incubatees that drop out of the program. Delegates advised AAIN to consider different options of funding streams for the sustenance of the program. “AAIN should strengthen their coordination mechanisms with partners in implementing the incubation programs”, commented one participant from east Africa. Another delegate emphasised that agriculture cannot survive from lending opportunities only, thus there is need for strategic partnerships for funding the entire value chains, and in the process enable stakeholders to identify missing gaps especially for youth inclusiveness. The SACAU delegates attended the conference with support from the Technical Center for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA).

Agriculture and food security affected by climate change

Agricultural production and food security are already being affected by extreme weather temperatures and drought, without urgent action it will put millions of people at risk of hunger and poverty, says Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

A report commissioned by FAO titled The State of Food and Agriculture 2016, indicates that the greatest vulnerabilities to climate change impacts are people of low income and smallholder farmers.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015, represents a new beginning in the global effort to stabilize the climate before it is too late.

It recognizes the importance of food security in the international response to climate change, as reflected by many countries focusing on the agriculture sector in their planned contributions to adaptation and mitigation.

FAO has estimated that in order to meet the demand for food in 2050, annual world production of crops and livestock will need to increase by 60 percent.

The agricultural sector can benefit much from the introduction of sustainable agriculture practices such as cultivating heat-tolerant crop varieties, water harvesting, drip irrigation and precision agriculture.

SACAU supports farmers to tackle climate change

Southern African farmers are supporting global drives to ensure that agriculture meets the challenges of climate change in a quest to achieve zero hunger by 2030.

“Farmers’ organisations (FOs) play a critical role in ensuring that the complex and dynamic developments that lie ahead don’t leave smallholder farmers behind, so that they can manage the risks, and opportunities, that come with the future,” says Mr Ishmael Sunga, CEO of SACAU as the organisation marked Global World Food Day on October 16th under the banner “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that agricultural production (crops, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture) will have to increase by about 60% by 2050 to feed a growing global population.

In order to feed a growing global population in a changing climate the world must adopt to more resilient and sustainable forms of agricultural systems such as Climate smart agriculture (CSA) that can offer a strategic approach in transforming the future of agriculture and promote food security.

“The modernisation of African farmers’ organisations needs to include the use public-private partnerships, improvement of logistics, and the use of digital solutions for issues such as training, so that it becomes more accessible at a lesser cost,” explains Mr Sunga.

The negative effects of climate change are undermining food production and farmers’ productivity and sustainable agricultural practices are therefore essential to address these challenges.

“Climate change means it is no longer business as usual. We need fundamental change, a revolution in the way we farm in Africa”, says Dr Theo de Jager, the President of SACAU.

SACAU Newsletter, September 2016

Click here to download the SACAU News, September 2016

SACAU attends the 2016 African Green Revolution Forum

SACAU participated in the sixth African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) which was held from 5th to 9th September 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya. SACAU is a co-organiser of the AGRF; a multi-stakeholder forum that brings together a diverse range of influential leaders and change agents from across the African agricultural landscape and around the world. An encouraging consideration at the forum was the emphasis on scaling up successes in order to transform African agriculture. This resonated well with the 2016 theme “Seize the Moment: Securing Africa’s Rise through Agricultural Transformation”.

One of the highlights for SACAU was the participation of the CEO, Mr Ishmael Sunga, at the Ministerial Roundtable where he shared some of the organisation’s commitments and how it is positioning itself in the agricultural transformation agenda. Commitments delivered by Mr Sunga were signing up half a million farmers per year on a digital platform to enable them to access value-added services and for them to aggregate and have the “muscle” to do business with others as well as signing up one million young business farmers on a virtual digital platform. This was over and above the establishment of a Development Fund which will make up to 20,000 agribusiness opportunities available for young farmers.

SACAU also co-hosted a side event titled “Data Revolution: Enabling Smallholder Farmers through ICT Innovations” which sought to understand when and how digital platforms can be relevant to smallholder farmers as well as to identify “do’s and don’ts” when establishing platforms for smallholder farmers. SACAU was also a speaker at this side-event and shared some of the experiences from work done in this area. Mr Sunga remarked that ICT is going to leapfrog Africa and pointed out the need to harness innovations to increase scale as one of the answers to the “double squeeze” of high inputs costs and low output prices that farmers, particularly smallholders, face. Some of the interesting points in the session were from Ms Sara Menker, Founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence; wherein she explained that Africa is now where the United States was in the 1930s, however with technology, Africa does not have to follow this trajectory. Mr Uziel Zontag, Co-founder/ Director of AgriLift Rwanda emphasised the importance of knowing the sizes of farmers’ plots and he noted that in Africa, more than 70% of farmers do not know the size of their plots. “We need to know what is grown in the plots. Agriculture is a spatial issue”, he said.

The 2016 AGRF which brought together more than 1500 delegates including global business leaders; African Heads of State; ministers; farmers organisations; private agribusiness firms, and financial institutions provided great networking opportunities. Through this, SACAU made good contacts, particularly around the application of ICT in agriculture, some of which have already translated into collaboration arrangements.

For decisions and commitments from the event, please refer to the AGRF communique here.