As Communications and Public Affairs Director at Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), one does not expect to get less from Sylvia Mwichuli. In this chat with Jimoh Babatunde, she speaks on the plans of  AGRA  to turn around the fortunes of smallholder farmers in the continent, the roles of civil societies in the work of the body and the position of women in agriculture in Africa.  She insisted that Africa can feed itself if the right policies are in place . Here is an excerpt

On what  AGRA stands for:
We are a partnership-based organisation that works across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. African-led and Africa-based, AGRA develops programmes aimed at implementing practical solutions to significantly boost smallholder farm productivity and incomes while safeguarding the environment and promoting equity.

Our programmes and partnerships are comprehensive in that they address challenges all along the agricultural value chain: covering seeds, soil health, water, markets, and agricultural education.

AGRA advocates for policies that support this work: from access to seeds to securing land tenure, from fair trade to affordable finance.

AGRA’s partners include organisations of farmers, research scientists, the private sector, national leaders and institutions, civil society, and multilateral organisations. We seek to foster pro-poor agricultural development for small-scale farmers, the majority being women.

On AGRA’s distinctive vision of an African Green Revolution:

We believe that an African Green Revolution will succeed when itdevelops and implements home-grown solutions; is led by African farmers, governments, scientists and civil society; focuses on smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women; protects the environment and crop biodiversity and expands the choices available to smallholder farmers through a joint focus on technologies that meet their needs and supportive, pro-poor policies.

AGRA puts the African smallholder farmer at the heart of the Green Revolution, thereby ensuring that policies and programmes are responsive to their needs and ambitions. AGRA aims to work with farmers to double or triple their productivity and thereby dramatically reduce poverty and spur rural economic development. Our solutions-oriented approach empowers farmers and implicitly supports good governance.

AGRA’s approach depends on partnerships. Instead of duplicating current efforts by seeking to build its own capacity, AGRA backs the endeavours of capable partners to address agriculture as a comprehensive system, thereby triggering a process of analysis and action that will deliver sustained gains.

On AGRA’s  main programme areas:

We focus on a set of programmes that constitute a comprehensive and integrated approach to the transformation of African agriculture for smallholder farmers: Policy Programme  engages national governments and donors to establish an enabling environment for achieving a green revolution in Africa.

*The Seeds Programme (Programme on African Seed Systems- PASS) addresses capacity development, agro-ecology-based crop breeding, the development of a vibrant, competitive African seed sector, and the widespread commercialisation of appropriate and well adapted improved crop varieties through village-level agro-dealers.

*The Soil Health Programme focuses on a rapid dissemination of locally adapted and environmentally sound integrated soil fertility management technologies.

*The Markets Access Programme promotes efficient and profitable output markets to assure higher returns to technology investments by farmers. This will be achieved by lowering transaction costs, reducing risks, improving market information systems, and enhancing value addition through processing.

*New efforts on Extension, Water, and Youth programmes are being developed.

AGRA currently supports nearly 100 programmes and partnerships in 13 African countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. We are exploring programme possibilities in Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Sudan, and Madagascar.

On reason for the focus on smallholder farmers:

Africa will only achieve significant increases in food production by improving agriculture on small-scale farms that provide 70 to 80 per cent of agricultural production, not by supplanting them with industrial farming. Opening opportunities and achieving equity for Africa’s poorest farmers is AGRA’s focus.

Unlike the Green Revolution in Latin America, which mostly benefited large-scale farmers because they had access to irrigation and were therefore in a position to use the improved varieties, AGRA is developing programmes specifically geared to overcome the challenges facing smallholder farmers.

Achieving equity requires paying special attention to women farmers, who often have unequal access to land, farm inputs, financing and education. They shoulder a majority of farm labour with a minority of resources, while raising children and running households. AGRA’s programmes work to empower Africa’s women farmers.

Achieving equity means expanding the opportunities open to smallholder farmers, whether that is through access to improved seeds, to organic farming techniques, to entering cash-crop production, or to a host of additional options designed to be environmentally and economically sustainable.

On  land tenure

Smallholder farmers should not only be able to aspire to prosperity, but to achieve it. Critical to this effort is ensuring that farmers have secure access to land.

tenure is both a right and a stimulus for smallholder farmers to invest in technologies, as it provides added assurance that farmers will benefit from their labour.

AGRA’s Policy Program includes supporting policies that secure farmers’—especially women farmers’—rights to land.  AGRA will work with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on advocacy issues to promote equitable access to land. The work of many CSOs to champion the rights of land tenure should be supported.

On how  farmers participate in AGRA

AGRA’s grantees work closely with farmers every day in the field, developing and testing improved crop varieties, collecting and conserving crop varieties, and learning from indigenous knowledge.  AGRA’s partners and grantees include farmers’ organizations, women’s organizations and NGOs.

Our work with farmers occurs in the course of participatory crop breeding (for more on  this, see question XX), through the practice of integrated soil fertility management, and through daily contact with agro-dealers who supply farmers in remote areas with affordable farm inputs such as improved seeds and appropriate fertilizers.

On how AGRA  work with the public sector

Both the public and private sectors play vital roles in Africa’s Green Revolution. AGRA builds partnerships among both sectors that serve the interests of the poor and promote equity.

But the private sector and markets alone cannot solve Africa’s food crisis. The public sector and civil society are vital to securing Africa’s food security and self-sufficiency.

The public sector role includes support for the development of agricultural infrastructure such as roads, irrigation, and electrical power. And the public sector is also responsible for strengthening institutions that serve smallholder farmers, including agricultural extension, public education delivering policies that support smallholder farmers, from ensuring land tenure to delivering smart subsidies.

AGRA has been in the forefront of advocacy for African governments to deliver comprehensive support to smallholder farmers, and to develop evidence-based, pro-poor policies. AGRA energetically partners with the public sector—working with heads of state and government on all levels—in these efforts.

On  the role of agricultural subsidies in an African Green Revolution

As part of African governments’ comprehensive support for smallholder farmers, AGRA advocates for ‘smart subsidies’ – making available improved seeds and fertilizers that are subsidized by governments and delivered through the private sector to poor farmers.

Without such support, many smallholder farmers are simply unable to grow enough food to feed themselves and their families, and instead are left hungry, sick and dependent on food aid or food imports.

While smart subsidies alone are not a long-term solution, they are an important aspect of the support needed to increase food production and income generation in rural communities. AGRA is working with the governments of Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania to promote such policies and programs.

Why is does AGRA consider agricultural sector financing such an important issue?

Lack of access to credit for Africa’s smallholder farmers, input suppliers, farmer cooperatives, or agro-processors is a major impediment to increasing productivity in sub-Saharan Africa. AGRA is working with financial institutions to make low-interest loans available to key agro-dealers, fertilizer wholesalers, and seed companies—and to make financing available for warehouse receipt systems, farmer groups, and agro-processing facilities.

On how AGRA work with Civil Society Organizations

Many AGRA grantees work directly with CSOs. AGRA would like to further strengthen its ties with civil society organizations, and we plan to develop more formal mechanisms for regular consultation. We welcome suggestions on ways to engage with CSOs.

On approach to trade issues that affect African farmers

AGRA believes that it is critical for global trade regimes to offer fairer and expanded access to markets for African farmers. We support the prioritization of the interests of African smallholder farmers in the Doha rounds and the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade from African farmers.

Expanding intra-regional trade within Africa is also important for expanding market and economic opportunities for African farmers. Intra-regional trade is hindered by high tariffs and other barriers within Africa itself.

Through its Policy and Market Access Programs, AGRA will work with regional economic communities in Africa to remove barriers to intra-regional trade.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.