In this interview, the Vice President for Programme Delivery and Innovation, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, Aggie Konde, explained why her organization supports African farmers to access modern technologies for food production as she spoke on other issues.
What has been Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, doing to assist smallholder farmers to get access finance and other materials in their business?
Farmers prefer to bank (mainly keep savings) with their local financial institutions like savings and credit cooperatives, which are often owned by farmers with services at affordable costs. AGRA supports those local rural financial institutions in digitisation, which helps to improve the speed of service delivery, reduce fraud and cost of services delivery, and helps data build-up that allows farmers to strengthen their viability for credit.
We also assist these institutions to access funding (from national development finance institutions like the Kenyan Agricultural Finance Corporation, the Tanzanian SELF, the Uganda UDB and impact investors like ABC fund where AGRA is a shareholder).
We have supported product development with agricultural finance products that are affordable and adapted to the farmers’ cash flow cycles and repayment capacity. Examples are the income smoothening product offered by Mucoba Community Bank in Tanzania.
We also facilitated access to insurance. The biggest deterrent to investment comes from a high but sometimes overrated risk associated with the agriculture sector. In the past, we have designed risk-sharing facilities for governments that allow farmers access to funding.
As a major development partner in the agricultural sector, how have you been engaging with the private sector in Africa to invest, build capacity, and boost food production?
AGRA supports governments to optimise the SME policy and operation environment while at the same time investing in better SME capacity to grow by providing technical support, creating platforms, coalitions, and convening that improve the business environment and create opportunities for investments. Every year at the AGRF Forum, there is a deal room that showcases investment opportunities across SMEs.
Why do some critics say AGRA does not promote unsustainable agricultural practices including farm inputs for farmers?
What is not sustainable is for anybody to think that African farmers will continue to depend on using more land, more forests, and more wetlands to produce food. Extensification still accounts for 30 per cent of the increase in food production across many countries in Africa.
The use of inputs to increase yields is still very low by all standards and the bigger threat is encroachment and degradation of habitats due to poor productivity now being made worse by climate change shocks. Given the adverse impacts of low-yielding subsistence agriculture on hunger, poverty, and the environment, can we afford to deny African farmers access to methods/technologies that increase yields?
Can you clear the air on allegations that AGRA has been on a high input approach to farming and as a result smallholder farmers cannot afford such?
Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, has one simple brief that Africa farmers however small, deserve the same shot at productive farming as the rest of the farmers in the world.
We look at affordability from the kitchen and egg situation and what comes first – where a farmer with poor yields will never be able to afford inputs that are critical to raising yields and incomes and therefore condemned to perpetual poverty.
We work with local Micro Small and Medium Enterprises and Small and Medium Enterprises to ensure African farmers have choices of seeds and fertilisers available as near as possible in their village shops.
Why have your organization being in the forefront of promoting use of chemical fertilizers?
AGRA recognises the need to build the resilience of people and the environment and the need to avoid mistakes made in the past on fertiliser overuse. However, many studies have shown alarming nutrient losses in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that in the past 30 years alone, across approximately 200 million hectares of cultivated land in 37 African countries, Africa’s soil fertility depletion averaged 660kg nitrogen, 75kg phosphorous, and 450 kg potassium on a hectare basis. Removal of nutrients without replacing them is a guaranteed route to poor yields, environmental degradation, and ultimately poverty.
Crop residues contain only up to 4.2 per cent of the six primary and secondary nutrients (most of the rest is carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen). Poultry manure, the richest type of manure, has only up to 15 per cent of nutrients. Compare that to the concentration of nutrients in a bag of urea, Triple Superphosphate (TSP), or Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) which contain between 46 percent and 64 percent pure nutrient.
But the real issue is not why the use of fertilisers. The issue is how much? Africa’s fertiliser use rate, even with all the efforts put in, has moved from 4kgs to 14kg/per hectare in the past 20 years. Compare this to an average fertiliser use of 320kg in China, 120kg in the US, and 200kg in Europe. Judging by these numbers, you might argue that Agra and African countries are not doing enough. AGRA is not interested in making any environmental mistakes; we will use the late comer’s advantage instead to focus on learning from others’ mistakes as we support African countries.