AGRA President Dr Agnes Kalibata says that contrary to narratives that farmers are invariably resistant to adopting technology, nine in ten smallholder farmers engaged with AGRA programmes have adopted one or more technologies within one planting season.
Africa’s strongest route towards the Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating hunger lies in helping smallholder farmers to access capital and supporting governments to promote policies that enable the farmers to adopt technologies and increase yields.
Statistics indicate that by 2050, about four in five people living in extreme poverty will be concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where food insecurity is already a major challenge as a result of rapid population growth. To ensure food security in the future, experts say current food production levels will need to be increased by at least 70%.
With studies showing that growth coming out of the agricultural sector is eleven times more effective at reducing poverty than growth coming out of other sectors, Dr Kalibata says AGRA has been pursuing three strategies to unlock the potential of Africa’s smallholder farmers, who produce 80 percent of the food the continent eats.
“We are working with the governments across Africa to prioritise agriculture, supporting the enabling environment to benefit smallholder farmers and to make it possible for the private sector to provide services to smallholder farmers by reducing the real and perceived risk associated with the agricultural sector. We are also supporting farmers to access technologies that enable them to increase the yields and incomes while developing resilience to pests, climate change, droughts and floods,” she says.
Dr Kalibata credits the Strengthening State Capability pillar of AGRA’s approach as the most transformational in driving scale, pointing out that functional government policies are key to success.
“For example, the provision of early generation seed is usually driven by government institutions. If they aren’t functioning well, it makes it impossible for the private sector to function and farmers to access improved varieties of seeds. If markets don’t function, and they quickly revert to subsistence farming, which perpetrates the poverty cycle,” she says.
Through technical assistance and grants, AGRA has helped to make capital more accessible to farmers, while delivering incentives to the private sector to invest in smallholder farmer systems, to shore up an agriculture sector that currently receives less than 10 percent of private lending.
Apart from finance, AGRA is supporting resilience and sustainability for smallholders especially in response to challenges brought on by climate change. For example, in semi-arid areas of Kenya, AGRA is working with governments and the private sector to conserve, protect and enhance natural ecosystems.
“With the judicious use of appropriate fertilisers and with the right seeds, farmers are able to triple, even quadruple their yields, says Dr. Kalibata.
“Ending hunger is a solvable problem. AGRA has learned the hard way that if you’re going to be serious about pulling farmers out of poverty, you need to support reforms of policies and support programmes that can help reach millions of farmers. If Africa smallholder farmers become prosperous, they will change the continent forever,” she says.