[Column] Fatma Ben Rejeb: Coronavirus is a reminder that agriculture underpins Africa’s future
The coronavirus pandemic has reduced many of us to our most basic survival instincts: securing food and staying safe.
For the millions of African smallholder farmers who produce, according to FAO, as much as 80 per cent of the continent’s food, the ongoing health crisis has meant added pressure, particularly for the current season and harvest.
But in the medium and long-term, the urgency of the situation also presents an opportunity and impetus for Africa to demonstrate her potential and rise to the challenge of feeding her people.
Agriculture remains the most important economic sector in Africa and has made enormous advances in recent years, laying the foundations for surviving the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many of these developments will also provide the platform from which to transform productivity in the years ahead, capitalising on the creativity and ingenuity of agricultural entrepreneurs.
The first of these is what we call “capitalization”, or knowledge management. Thanks to dedicated support from expert organisations like the ACP-EU funded CTA, many African smallholders have started to embrace knowledge and information to realise their economic value and fulfil their potential.
CTA’s presence in Africa over the past three decades fostered long-term partnerships with both public and private sector organisations, all of which have helped African smallholders benefit from greater information. These benefits have ranged from more informed agricultural decisions to unlocking financial services to become “bankable” rather than excluded from the formal economy as a risky investment.
This has also included collaboration with the Pan-African Farmers’ Organisation (PAFO) to collect information about coffee farmers and their yields in Uganda in a way that not only provided quantifiable data about their productivity but also provided a level of traceability that allowed farmers to negotiate premium prices.
This evidence made it possible for members of Uganda’s coffee farmers’ union NUCAFE to secure prices from international buyers that were almost 25 per cent higher than untraceable coffee. This also helped unlock financial services to allow farmers to expand their enterprises.
A key part of achieving this relied upon detailed understanding of the African context, so that teams from CTA and partners could effectively explain the process and benefits to farmers.
Another key development that has brought African agriculture into the modern age and the modern economy is digitalisation. Smallholders were able to engage with the opportunities provided by new technologies, even as the market remains in its infancy.
This has included online tools such as eGranary services, developed in partnership with the Eastern African Farmers Federation (EAFF) as part of the PAFO-CTA partnership. E-Granary allows farmers to access virtual support, advice and training on the best agricultural practices throughout the farming season..
Meanwhile, farmers with even modest plots have shown interest in using drones and other new technology to adopt precision agriculture and increase their yields.
Finally, some of the interventions have become commercial services that have allowed them to be scaled up, enabling more smallholders to benefit from innovations.
Using the principles of data for agriculture as well as new and emerging digital tools, PAFO and CTA have been able to develop initiatives aimed at supporting greater market access for 50,000 farmers across Uganda, Kenya and Burkina Faso along with Samoa and Trinidad.
This partnership focused on profiling agri-businesses to develop B2B links as well as increasing employment in agriculture.