Saturday, 15 November 2014

The "Open" Secret of African Agricultural Transformation

Over the past three months, I have been in my first semester of Masters training in agricultural and applied economics, and I am yet to optimize the functions of maximizing my blogging passion and maximizing my grades all subject to a time constraint. 

After reading the transcript of a classic interview between the McKinsey Quarterly and Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow I thought I should come back to the blogging after a long period of silence and share what I dubbed the "open secret" of African agricultural transformation. You will realize by the end of this blog why I have called it an open secret. But first, let us start with a question:  
What really determines the differences in productivity between nations, sectors and firms?
Just as background information, Prof Robert Solow is internationally recognized for his contributions to the theory of economic growth and development. In the 1990s he worked with the McKinsey Global Institute  in some sector level studies across the globe. From the interview transcript, his view in response to the question I have just paraphrased above was that, the difference in productivity (across countries, sectors and consequentially firms) is not technology, and neither is it capital accumulation; rather, it is management, organizational behavior, how decisions are made, how tasks are allocated and I would add, how risk is managed.
Prof Robert Solow remarks in the interview:
"...the idea that everybody is everywhere and always maximizing profits (turns out) to be not quite right..." (emphasis mine)
Part 1 of the "open" secret: "To assume that all economic agents are naturally maximizing profit, or acting rationally is incorrect... the open secret is that 'competition' is actually the factor that spurs economic agents to do more... we have to acknowledge that competition is healthy if we wish to transform African agriculture." 

While this sounds a little like going hard on our so-called "poor" farmers and entrepreneurs whom we at times view a little too much as victims, it could be part of the secret behind a brighter, robust and sustainable growth path for our beautiful continent. But perhaps, the question in context could be, just how does competition result in transformation?  Prof Robert Solow also explains in the interview how "trailers" in an industry, nation or region actually move up to realize that inert potential and become trendsetters:
Part 2 of the "open" secret: The exposure to the competition of other players who are applying right practices (i.e. using the right tactics in the game), spurs "trailers" to do more and thus into higher levels of productivity.
Prof Robert Solow remarks again in the interview: 
" trade serves a purpose beyond exploiting comparative advantage. It exposes high-level managers in various countries to a little fright. And fright turns out to be an important motivation..."
Some might wonder, can African farmers stand global competition? Well, yes, African farmers can be very competitive. I have shared a few insights in this post that might be of interest in this subject. You can also learn a lot from this report. African  small farms have the potential to offer great value, for instance in supplying niche markets for healthy and more nutritious foods produced under intensive small scale management. Local agribusiness firms such fertilizer and input suppliers also benefit from healthy competition among themselves. Exposure to the practices of other firms within and beyond the country or region will spur local firms to be more efficient and produce better quality products and services.
Part 3 of the "open" secret: The primacy of the agriculture sector; a "productivity tipping point" 

On this point, I believe there is a lot we can learn from Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon one of the world's largest e-commerce companies. But before we get into the details, let me explain the last nugget from the classical interview between McKinsey Quarterly with Robert Solow in relation to our discussion. The McKinsey Global Institute studies in which Prof Solow was academic adviser, also found that wholesaling and retailing were the strongest accelerators or decelerators of productivity growth between nations and were at the time of the studies, low productivity growth sectors. However, entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos managed to see the opportunity in these low productivity sectors and struck gold; not only for themselves but for the American nation and the world at large today. Wholesaling and retailing could have been "slow"sectors in most developed countries but also these sectors employed large proportions of the population, and this was the growth dividend, summed up by Prof Robert Solow in this way: 
"...a little improvement in the productivity of these sectors would make a large contribution to national productivity..."
Conclusion: Enhancing agricultural productivity; taking Africa beyond the tipping point

It is no longer a "hidden" secret today that the agriculture sector in Africa faces the challenge of low productivity, but in principle still employs the majority of people. When most people hear the word agriculture today, they think of either the few large scale commercial farms and estates. These have great potential as well but that is not where all the money is! Agriculture employs 65% of Africa's labor force, and where is that mostly? In small and medium scale farms whether in the rural areas or around growing rural towns and bigger cities. I would like to rephrase Prof Robert Solow's statement and say: a little improvement in the productivity of African smallholder farmers would make a large contribution to national and continental productivity, and by the way, you could make millions like Jeff Bezos did in transforming retailing in America and now in the world. Have you ever wondered what Africa's richest man is doing? Among three things, he derives his wealth from sugar and flour business, the third is cement.

Now is the time for Africa to go beyond the tipping point. Development and transformation is about growth in total factor productivity and the driver of total factor productivity is not capital accumulation, labor or natural resources. The distinction in total factor productivity between countries or firms is the spur to do more; the motivation to put the best tactics to use, i.e. leadership, management, organization, managing talent, managing risks. And the spur to do more comes from exposure to competition.

Now is the time for Africa to be bold enough to foster healthy competition, locally and externally, it is an "open" secret. It is time for African entrepreneurs and governments to see how agriculture will catapult the continent's economy from dormant potential beyond the tipping point. There is opportunity for nations and entrepreneurs in transforming African agriculture. Committing to the CAADP and creating conducive environments for competitive agribusiness to grow is key. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

You want to know more about the role of agricultural innovation in creating food security in Africa?

"Agricultural innovation lies at the heart of striking the opportunity lying between agriculture’s demand-side incentives and supply-side constraints. Innovation is a subject of great importance because it stimulates sustainable growth in a highly competitive market"

A snapshot of the Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa (FARA) website

Hi guys!

The Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa, FARA just launched an essay writing competition for young agriculture academics. I have submitted my essay and our essays are in the public evaluation stage where we need to mobilize many votes through Facebook. If you are on Facebook, please help me win. My essay gives a clear picture why "innovation" should Africa's priority in a dynamically changing world, marred by its challenges but full of its unique opportunities. Regardless of being food insecure and suffering from supply-side constraints, Africa has demand-side incentives for agriculture. It however takes the eyes and guts of innovators to realize the gold lying between these two "rocks".

To read and vote for my essay click on this link:
It will take you to my essay on the FARA facebook page.
At the end of my essay u will find a box to vote, just click in that box and cast your vote!

The main link to the FARA facebook page is right here:
You can also search for my essay by going through the essays on the page, but if we are friends on Facebook, just click the button that says "friends" and my essay will appear.

Remember you have one vote to use "everyday" to vote for your favorite essay! 
Also remember you can share this with your friends and encourage them to vote as well.

Many thanks!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

What distinguishes a good life from a sustainable and bright future

We have entered now the era of Sustainable Development, where the focus is not only on ensuring that people from the most marginalized parts of the world have a good life, but that they also have aa sustainable and bright future.

To help understand how a sustainable and bright future future is different from a merely good life, I thought I should remind our "valucentric" readers about the relationship between economic growth and sustainable economic development.

Defining economic development

The term development means a change over time, typically involving growth or expansion. According to (Norton, et al., 2006), development is a process with many economic and social dimensions. It is a dynamic process including not only changes in the structure and level of economic activity, but also increased opportunities for individual choice and for improved self-esteem. In the first Human Development Report, UNDP defined development as expanding people’s choices. 

Economic development therefore refers to a process of economic transformation; involving more efficient resource utilization as well as expansion of productive capacity accompanied by a sustainable and equitable distribution of the gains from such growth. 

Several theories of development such as the Mercantilists, the Classicalists, Stage of Growth proponents and Capital Accumulation theorists converge to the belief that: economic development is a transition from traditional society to a modern commercial society with improvements in people’s standards of living. 

Economic development is thus a multi-faceted phenomenon involving both growth and productivity gains as well as social and distributional efficiencies. 

Contrasting economic development with economic growth

PHOTO CREDIT: Mabel Munyuki Hungwe (PhD)
The term economic development is often used interchangeably with the term economic growth. The two terms, however related, have different connotations. Economic development requires economic growth. Economic growth is often measured by metrics such as per capita GDP growth rates. However, measuring economic development is a combinations of both measures of growth and measures of the actual distribution of wealth. Indices like the Gini inequality coefficient, or the gender disparity index, are often combined in composite measures of economic development. 

“Economic growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition for economic development.”

The difference between economic growth and development can be illustrated by the recent findings that the early 2000s have been Africa’s decade of unprecedented economic growth. For instance, six of the ten fastest growing economies globally in the early 2000s were in Africa; including Angola, Niger, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique, and Rwanda who registered growth of over 7%. However, this unprecedented growth has not delivered the jobs and poverty reduction that Africa has been seeking. 

Africa is off target on achieving MDG 1 of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. This may be seen to resemble “economic growth” without “economic development”. 

Economic development focuses on concepts which include, though not limited to:

  1. productive capacity of resources and productivity of both self-employment and wage-employment 
  2. equity of income and asset distribution 
  3. social protection

To a sustainable and climate smart future post-2015!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Zimbabwe Research and Intellectual Expo (RIE) Week, 3rd to the 6th of September 2014, Part 1: All we have is what we have…

Resource efficient and portable small scale rural brooder heating system

This week has been a great week for Zimbabwe’s Sunshine City, Harare. Despite the fairly cold mornings lately, this week we have been warming up ourselves with some “hot” ideas at the Research and Intellectual Expo (RIE) currently underway at the University of Zimbabwe. The RIE is an initiative of Zimbabwe's Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education that seeks to showcase the various innovations taking place in the country's universities and colleges.

I decided to dedicate most of my time strolling through the exhibition stalls, sniffing around for some agricultural innovations, especially those that do not kill the “golden egg goose.” My search today was quite successful as I made a stop at the Midlands University stand and met one inventor showcasing what he calls the “portable brooder heating system.”

showing of the brooder at RIE exhibition
The witty inventor, Mr Chiwishi, shows off some
happy chicks in his portable small scale brooder heating
system at RIE on Thursday

The mortality challenge

.For most rural African families, commercial breeding of chickens could be a viable but yet very risky enterprise. In Zimbabwe commercial chicken breeding has become a popular urban backyard enterprise, whilst in countries like South Africa, it is a commonly large scale commercial farming business.

As a way of broadening income sources for the smallholder farmer rural farmers, commercial chicken rearing could be one avenue to increased incomes. However, some of the major challenges faced by smallholder rural farmers include poor access to markets and high mortality rates, especially those related with low temperature and high humidity. 

A resource efficient and environmentally friendly solution

While urban and more sophisticated farmers use electric heating systems, in rural areas, farmers often use fire braziers where they burn pieces of firewood in an open steel drum. The brazier initially burns outside the brooder until only red ambers are left; then the brazier is placed into the brooder.

This conventional process has negative impacts on the environment and is quite wasteful of the earth’s scarce resources. The heavy reliance of the braziers on firewood means we destroy more trees and, the fact that the brazier is initially heated out of the brooder means that some heat energy is wasted. We need a more efficient and environmentally friendly technology because for most rural farmers “all we have is what we have” and hence we need to make the most out of it. As Ghandi said in one of his famous quotes: 
“there’s enough in the world for everyone’s needs, but not enough for everyone’s greed” 
Mr Chiwishi's small scale brooder heating system is an innovation is driven by the need to come up with a “mortality reducing” and environmentally friendly solution for smallholder commercial chicken growers. According to Mr Chiwishi, mortalities of chicks can exceed 50 percent in cases where prolonged cold spells are experienced and the absence of electricity in rural areas only exacerbates this challenge. 

While the conventional braziers make use mostly of firewood, the portable invention makes use of firewood, cow dung and maize cobs.

a lump of cow dung burns with sacks of more
A lump of cow dung burns in the “drum furnace”
(i.e. the cylinder with an open cap)
of the heating system. More cow dung and maize cobs
are besides the system.
the drum furnace is where the fuel (cow dung,
firewood, cobs) is combusted.

The benefits

1. An 80 percent energy save!
The small scale brooder heating system is also said to use about 12% of the energy used by the conventional method of the braziers. There however would be need to estimate the level of emissions as well just to be certain how “Climate Smart” this technology is

2. Just wake up once...
According to the inventor, the farmer would ordinarily fuel the burner once before going to sleep and then would wake up usually once just to check and adjust the temperature. 

So in a simple way, smallholder farmers reduce mortality rates, find alternative income sources and “warm” out of poverty!

3. No fans needed, just the wind will do...
To increase the temperature, the farmer does not need any fan or complicated mechanism. The farmer simply opens the cap on the drum furnace to allow more wind and air to pass through the system. This increases the combustion and heat is transmitted through a round piping element into  the brooder. Any smoke from the combustion is transmitted safely out of the brooder through a little chimney.

The system is currently designed more smallholder farmers rearing more or less than a 100 birds.

Keep an eye on upcoming posts on the RIE...

By the way, on the market challenges, I still have a date with the “rain maker ” who will take us through how he is overcoming the market hurdles by merging digital and physical at “Mbare Musika”, (i.e. Mbare market in English). So we will definitely have that covered in one of the forthcoming blog posts, so make sure you hit the RSS button to follow this blog.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The "60 percent" game changers for youth in developing countries and the "golden egg goose": Power Points for the Youth

The Climate Smart Journey Has Just Begun...

I have been doing some research on Climate Smart Agriculture and the youth and I thought I should just share a few "power" points today on "why the world needs more climate smarts", like you and me. I have called them the "60 percent" game changers and the "golden egg goose."

The "60 percent" game changers

"As the world needs to feed more mouths, it needs to create more jobs; this convergence of events is making agriculture not only an option for youth employment and entrepreneurship, but a very viable one"
In my research I bumped into three 60 percent statistics that point to possible game changers for the youth in developing countries. I have summarized them in the phrase above and I call them the three "60 percent" game changers.

Food demand growing by 60 percent

Picture by Mabel Hungwe
First, it is estimated that agricultural production will have to increase by 60 percent by 2050 to satisfy the expected demands for food and feed.

Youth make up 60 percent of developing regions' population

Accompanying this first 60 percent, is the second observation that 60 percent of the population in the 48 least developed countries, most of which are in Africa, are under the age of 24, and 40 percent are under 15. Sub Saharan Africa for instance, is considered the “youngest” region though the majority of this younger population remains unemployed and their skills and capabilities under-utilized.

Not only 60 percent of the population, but also 60 percent of the unemployed!

Third, it is also predicted that 60 percent of the continent’s unemployed are aged 15-24 years  and about 40 percent of Africa’s workforce is under the age of 23.

60 percent of total marketed food in Africa is the local urban population

Transporting food to the market: Image by IFPRI

Fourth, it is predicted that 60 percent of total marketed food in Africa is local reachable market for these bubbling young agropreneurs.

Now for today, I will leave the food in the thoughts for the climate smart entrepreneurs to find the opportunities embedded in these "60 percent" game changers. But let me dash to the story about the golden egg goose before this blog becomes too long and boring!

The golden egg goose...

The late Dr Steven Covey narrates an interesting story in his book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." The story which most of you might know, is about an old man who had a goose that would produce golden eggs. With much delight and excitement that grew everyday about the golden eggs coming from the goose; this old man eventually killed the goose to take more golden eggs "out of the goose." But we all know the unfortunate part that after killing the goose, he didn't find any golden eggs in the goose. In pursuit of the product, he killed the production capacity, the goose!

Now I will leave the majority of the food in this thought for the climate smart environmentalists, but here is a short line:

In our attempt to grow more food, feed more people create more jobs, we could easily get carried away with increasing the production, while we endanger our very production capacity, our land, people ecosystems.

This is why we need Climate Smarts, i.e. global citizens who are smart about the impacts of their present day actions to produce (P) on the resilience and capability of communities and ecosystems to produce more (PC)

Winding up...

In conclusion, the youth are the main "60 percenters", i.e. they are a central part of the subject in all "60 percent" game changers. Youth are the most critical respondents to the world's Climate Smart Agriculture challenge.In spite of the food security challenges the world may face today, the youthful population in developing countries can offer a growth dividend for these regions given their dynamic and fast learning capabilities much needed in a globalizing and digitalizing society and economy.

Future food supply relies heavily on the youthful developing country populations and it is clear that agriculture in these regions must transform to meet the increasing demands.According to the WWF Pan African Youth Strategy on Learning for Sustainability :
“it is the youth who will inherit whatever problems as well as opportunities that the current generation of decision makers leave behind, the current young generation is also better equipped and more motivated than previous generations to play a role now in accelerating sustainable development approaches.”

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Together we can make the world a better place... Launching Climate "Smarts" Perspectives

The Climate Smart Challenge

We have all heard by now that global food demand is increasing and that food consumption worldwide is expected to increase in 2018 by nearly 30 per cent over 2005 figures! This is driven to a great extent by a growing middle class in emerging markets fueling an increased demand for non-staple crops such as cashews, tree nuts, chocolate, and coffee. 

This trend also comes on the backdrop of complexly changing climatic conditions evidenced by increasing floods, deforestation, and soil erosion which has had a disproportionate effect on agriculture, especially in developing countries because of their high dependence on agriculture. In some cases these effects have been catastrophic.

You should be thinking climate smart by now

In the face of an increasingly hungry population (an estimated 870 million people, one in eight of the world’s population, were undernourished in 2010–2012) and a rapidly transforming transforming population (annual cereal production will need to rise to about 3 billion tonnes from 2.1 billion today and annual meat production will need to rise by over 200 million tonnes to reach 470 million tonnes) we face two big challenges to meeting future needs:
  1. Scarce and in some cases, inequitably distributed factors of production (e.g. land, labor, capital, scientific knowledge, indigenous technical knowledge); and 
  2. Ecosystem services degradation 
The challenge to meet food demand in the future is not only a challenge for agriculture. Actually as the food equation has become more complex to solve in the recent past, other fields such as electronics and ICT, engineering, structures and design, renewable energy, finance, biotechnology have all become more relevant to and intertwined with agriculture.  
In July, I visited Kenya as a Social Reporter for the Fin4ag Internantional Conference. During the field trips, I learnt that being climate smart is not only about cropping but also has to do with livestock. Here a smallholder farmer demonstrated to us how their recycle chicken manure to make "good" dairy feed out of it. They then use the dairy manure to fertilize napier grass as well as supplying bio-fuel for household energy. Relying less on industrially manufactured dairy feed as well as the utilization of bio-fuel is an integrated and climate smart approach to farming and reduces Carbon emissions for a more sustainable future.
Reportedly, most climate models indicate that the agricultural potential of developing countries may be more adversely affected by climate change than the world average. 

While citizens of developing countries are the most vulnerable to climate induced food insecurity; climate "Smarts" have better sure be a part of the agricultural transformation phase. And that is why I launched the Climate Smart Perspectives recently at a meeting with three people in Harare, Zimbabwe.

What is Climate Smart Perspectives

Climate Smart Perspectives is a voluntary initiative to engage young people in more climate smart dialogue and action.

The initiative also seeks to identify and scaling the voices of youths who are climate smart, i.e. "climate smarts." I have learnt that "climate smarts" are not necessarily farmers, climate smarts are also engineers, software developers, actuarial scientists, biotechnologists, marketers, graphic designers, researchers... virtually people in any profession with any skill who know how to employ their skills to ensure a climate smart future. 
The model we use is very simple:

Climate Smart Talk

We invite a Climate Smart professional or researcher who spares just an hour to talk with young people in schools and colleges. The talk is not meant to be a lecture but a two way interactive discussion where young people get to know more about the trends such as those I have shared in this post and basically where are our world is going in terms of sustainable development.

Share your Climate Smart Perspective with the world

Following the talk, we want to know whether the perspective of the young people involved in the talk has been changed and what they are going to do to contribute to a climate smart world. We therefore ask them to share their story of their Climate Smart perspective and their climate smart contribution through a blog post to be featured on this blog or their own blogs (or both).

Progress so far

Well the first thing is that my small "Climate Smart Movement" has declared our two main digital territories, i.e. our two sites and strictly climate smart zones! Meaning our dialogue on these sights is climate smart.

The second is that we are in the process of negotiating with a university in Zimbabwe to give our first University Climate Smart Talk. 

The third thing is that we have been invited to join the formation of a sustainable development initiative called the Preserve Trust Zimbabwe. We look forward to greater partnerships with you and other people. If you feel like joining the Climate Smart Perspectives Initiative feel free to contact 
Knowledge exists only at the point of action
Barefoot Education for Afrika Trust

Monday, 4 August 2014

And they lived dairy ever after...

The Story of Kiambaa Rural Dairy Cooperative

The Fin4ag International Conference held in Nairobi from the 14th to the 18th of July 2014 set in motion a number of evolutionary processes, especially among young people whose impact on agriculture in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific is going to be revolutionary. A recent news article by the main organizers of the conference, the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) supports this. 

As a young African agriculture enthusiast, one of my encounters with destiny at the Fin4ag conference was during the field trips when we visited Kiambaa Rural Dairy Cooperative and met two happy couples that are living "dairy ever after" in rural Kenya, Mr and Mrs Nyaka and Mr and Mrs Njeka. 

The two couples shared their life stories and how dairy farming through the network of a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) is impacting positively on their families and communities. I was astonished by how these humble and hardworking farmers have an intrinsic understanding of the markets. 

Members of the Kiambaa Dairy Cooperative share a lighter moment as they demonstrate to Fin4ag Field Trip 1 participants how they carry out milk quality testing at their milk colletcion depot
During the trip, Mr Nyaka explained to us that African agri-food markets are growing relatively fast and the growing, modernizing and diversifying population in Kenya and beyond will need to be fed, especially with dairy products. "I'm in the right business!" Shouted the optimistic look on his face as he explained to the startled crowd of Bankers, Policy makers and investors standing around his field of napier grass.

The impact of Saving and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) on rural farmers

The SACCOs are creating communities of dynamic service oriented farmers who I believe that with the right support will be able to feed the growing local, regional and even global population. 

In particular, the Kiambaa Dairy Cooperative comprises of about 2,500 smallholder dairy farmers and produces about 16,000 liters of milk per day. Through the SACCO, the farmers have organized themselves, trained themselves to save, by providing the incentive to borrow once you have consistently saved for about 3 months. As such, the small scale farmers have been gradually expanding their operations and profits. 

In addition, through organization, the farmers have been able to access services,  and benefits such as agricultural extension, transportation, refrigeration and processing that would have otherwise been inaccessible to individual farmers. In our language, they have over come infrastructural bottlenecks. 

The Kiambaa Dairy Cooperative Society has evolved over the years to become a viable "business model" for and driven by smallholder farmers themselves. Currently, the society enjoys a "big brother" relationships with big market lenders such as Kenya's Cooperative Bank. 

Here are a few more interesting achievements at Kiambaa:
1. They employ their own support staff for extension, administration, milk testing etc.
2. They have their own yogurt brand, "Dafina Yogurt"
3. They  contributed tosuccessful advocacy towards a
Value Added Tax exemption on dairy feeds!
4. There is a dairy cow insurance scheme that specifically services them

Isn't that impact...

The sustainability lessons

One of my teachers and mentors, Prof Mandi Rukuni often says, "Development is about people, helping people help themselves." This principle, first taught to me about 2 years ago, I believe, is the mantra of resilience and sustainability. 

The Kiambaa Dairy SACCO is a model of how rural farmers have been able to help themselves, they have organised themselves; and have leveraged that to negotiate better input and output prices, to create relationships with bigger banks and dairy processors.

The Kiambaa SACCO has evolved from a simple grouping of organized farmers into a fluid and functional system with default rates on credit of less than 2%. The SACCO is therefore now a safer and high potential haven for additional investment and greater partnership, for instance to access higher level technology to enhance their processing capacity so as to penetrate higher level markets and create more jobs.

Development partners, governments and private sector should invest time and resources in learning from models such as the Kiambaa SACCO so as to scale them up for sustainable and broad socio-economic development. 


I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation CTA for awarding me the opportunity to contribute to the online coverage of the Fin4ag International Conference in Nairobi, Kenya from the 14th to 18th of July 2014. It was through this conference that my resolve to continue sharing and disseminating knowledge on sustainable solutions such as what I have shared was strengthened. 

It was also during this conference that I got the wonderful opportunity to meet with some dynamic and inspiring smallholder dairy farmers iin Kenya such as Peris Njeka and Gladys Nyaka, togeter with their supportive husbands and families, wishing them continued success in feeding their families, country and whole world.

Find more interesting articles on  

Monday, 2 June 2014

Just to give you All a BIG THANK YOU!

"Lack of gratitude is as the sin of witchcraft" - 
(My Translation of a common Shona Proverb)

Sometime back I asked for your support in the YoBloCo , Young Agriculture Blogger Competition. 

I would really like to thank all those who voted for this blog, and all those who found time just to look at my blog and read the posts. I know time is expensive for you all to make detailed comments on each posts, BUT I also know that you read my blog, because the number of views has kept on increasing to over a 1,500 views now!

I am very pleased to share with you that even though the Barefoot E-ssue did not make it into the top 12 Blogs, we sure did get a special mention from CTA! Check out the News item here

In the same regard, I would also like to extend my warm gratitude to the Technical Center for Agricultural  and Rural Cooperation (CTA) for organizing the Web 2.0 Training that introduced me to blogging and birthed the Barefoot E-ssue.

By the way, I started the Barefoot E-ssue as part of a class assignment in the Web 2.0 for Development Training and have just loved blogging since then.

All your support and encouragement (to everyone of you) is greatly appreciated from me and my writing "imaginative" partners in my mind here at the Barefoot E-ssue! 

Lastly, meet us at the Fin4Ag International Conference in Nairobi from 14-18 July 2014! See you there!


Let's do a little bit of Math... The Sustainable Food Future Equation

Sustainable Food Future = grow more food (with less resources) + grow more people who love to grow more food (in a more sustainable way)

I am quite happy to be communicating with the world again after a significant period of silence. Things have been a bit hectic but pretty exciting. I have had the privilege of joining a group of representatives from one my country's largest farmer representative body (you can check 'em out here) in visiting their farmers  around the country.

Young people are the dominant drivers of African agri-food markets
transformation- Picture by Mabel Hungwe 
The most intriguing aspect of the visits I was privileged to join, is the evidence of young innovative and resilient agro-preneurs that are emerging across the African rural and rural-urban food markets landscape. From the far country side to the budding rural towns, ant-army like busy groups of young agriculture entrepreneurs are producing and moving food in a manner we have not seen as much in African history.

Gradually more young people are taking over the mantle of food production and food trade in Africa and these young girls and boys are faster, sharper and have a variety of tools that their predecessors did not have (like ICTs, vehicles etc.) at their disposal.

Just to cite a little bit of research to give my discussion a bit of legitimacy.

A paper by Michigan State University, International Food Policy Research Institute and Harvard University experts titled “Harnessing Innovation for African Agriculture and Food Systems: Meeting Challenges and Designing for the 21st Century” shares their findings that "seemingly largely 'under the radar' of the development debates - there is emerging a 'Quiet Revolution' in supply chains, with 10’s of 1000s of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) in trucking, wholesale, warehousing, cold storage, first and second stage processing, local fast food, and retail, making major investments (in agriculture) in recent years" (Reardon et al., 2013).

Further, their research reveals that post farm-gate segments of the supply chain – the midstream segment (processing and wholesale/transport) and downstream (retail and food stalls) - together form 50-70% of food costs to urban Africans.

My bet is that young Africans are the invisible driving force behind this Quiet Revolution of African agri-food markets; moving agri-food commodities from point X to point Y relaying back non-food commodities, cash or even agro-inputs from either to point Y or point Z.

Well they are the only ones who could have such energy!

This transformation has numerous implications and leads to a number of development perspectives.
For instance:
1. Young people could be finding a critical economically profitable role to play in the transformation of African agricultural markets. Though at a small to medium scale, the efforts and returns are spread out leading to broad based growth in rural areas and rural towns in Africa. - POSITIVE!

2. While the participation in agri-food markets has increased and the monetary value of agri-food economies circulating between African rural and urban environments has increased, the majority of agri-food business value is still retained in post-farm-gate activities. - ... NOT so positive... (at least in my perspective)

Any Options?
Let us build on and find new ways of raising the amount of monetary value earned from on-farm/production activities.
What could this entail?
1. Innovative post-harvest technologies
2. Shifting value addition to rural on-farm
3. Creating a conducive food production environment
Raising the returns of the producers in the food supply chain makes food production a more attractive venture.
Yes, most young people are better of shifting food from here to there, but while this positive shift is happening, we need to be growing more people who love to grow more food at the same timein order to secure a sustainable food future.

What do you think? Share your perspective!

Sustainable Food Future = grow more food (with less resource) + grow more people who love to grow more food (in a more sustainable way)

Monday, 31 March 2014

Retelling the tale of "two-speed economies" - inclusive growth imperatives

Picture of Zimbabwean children working in a field
by Mabel Hungwe
Trustee, Barefoot Education for Afrika Trust
One third of the world's people depend on small farms for their livelihoods. This is a key development statistic. Inclusive smallholder agriculture driven growth should be a central part of our development priorities. Africa has experienced trends of impressive economic growth, improved governance and improved human development over the past decade. 

However, the pace and pattern of recent growth in Africa has not delivered the jobs and poverty reduction that Africa has been seeking. Africa's rural communities have been left behind in its “positive” economic growth. 

This is the “two-speed” economy tale told by the McKinsey Global Institute in a Mexican report titled "Growth and prosperity in a two-speed economy." The report shares how Mexico, a modern, fast-growing economy, with globally competitive multinationals and cutting-edge manufacturing plants exists amid a far larger group of traditional  enterprises that really do not contribute to growth. You can read the McKinsey report via this link

After reading this report, I got interested in unpacking the black box of the disparity between the developed minority and underdeveloped majority, I began to study more about Mexico. I learned that, in the rural areas of Mexico, 61% of people lived beneath the national rural poverty line in 2010, according to World Bank data. Given that the country’s rural population was estimated at about 25 million, this means that more than 15 million people in those areas were living in poverty.
A picture of a Zimbabwean farm worker in a Rose greenhouse
Picture also by Mabel Hungwe

I related this story to our homeland Africa, where we are similarly going through a trend of “two-speed” economies. Therefore inclusive growth is an imperative... not just for Africa... It is an imperative, no matter where in the world you are!

Last year I was working in an African agriculture organization. It so happened that one of our experts was engaged to assist in developing an issues paper for a renowned annual African agriculture event. 
Inclusive growth is an imperative... not just for Africa... It is an imperative, no matter where in the world you are.
It is at this time that I began to dig deeper into the world of "inclusive" economic growth and development. I came across a variety of materials, interacted with a variety of scholars and researchers, networks and platforms such as the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), The World Economic Forum and the Barefoot Education for Afrika Trust (BEAT).

In a nutshell, this is why Inclusive growth is an imperative for the African century:

Africa and other developing regions have millions of smallholder farmers who are settled on some the world's scarce arable land. These are potential producers to feed the world. Africa also has millions of youths with untapped innovation potential as entrepreneurs to drive the emerging food markets. With a growing population, Africa carries billions of people who are huge consumer market.  

Given Africa’s unique resource endowments and demographic features, inclusive, innovative, smallholder-centered business models are the entry point to the transformation that Africa is seeking.

The future of African agricultural development means making rural farming and entrepreneurship broader, deeper and stronger; also creating more economically viable non-farm activities linked to the growing rural farm activities to meet the emerging demands of a changing population.

Africa's Bottom of the Pyramid have the will, the qualities, the opportunity  to “lead” development in Africa as long as the right incentives are in place. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The YoBloCo Youth Blog Competition Public Evaluation has opened.. Vote for this Blog!

Exciting news! 
The Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition (YoBloCo Awards) is now open! 
After an initial selection that followed the blog submission, 145 blogs (out of 194 submissions) have met the minimal requirements of an eligible blog and have been qualified for public evaluation.
Guess what...?! 
This blog, "Afrika's Barefoot Agriculture E-ssue" is one of the pre-selected individual blogs!
There are 121 blogs in the individual category and 24 blogs in the institutional category. 
If this blog happens to be one of your favorite blogs, please do not hesitate to vote for it NOW!

Here is the procedure:
1. Click on the link below to go to the voting page:
(By the way you are supposed to vote for the two best blogs of your choice)
2. On the website of the YoBloCo Awards, you will find my blog's profile listed as "The Barefoot E-ssue". You should see something that looks almost like this:
3. Click Vote on my blog and then select the second blog you would like to vote for.
4. After this, A dialogue box will appear on the right of your screen indicated by the two red arrows in the picture
5. You will then be asked to enter your email address before the "Vote" button becomes active. 
6. After clicking the "Vote" button, an email will be sent to you... Go to your email and confirm the votes you would have just made
(Note that your votes will not be counted until you confirm them through the email sent to you).
7. That's it!

Many great thanks for your support, and see you on the vote counts!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

My best 2 minute lecture on Agricultural Development so far...

"When we invest together, good things grow"
IFAD, 2014

I have never heard it expressed in a simpler and more powerful way before.
I happened to bump into one of IFAD’s videos on the Year of family farming, and I must say, this short video is one of the best lectures I have had on agricultural investment and development so far.
You can watch the video here (right click to open it in a new tab or new window).
A screen shot from the video
Below, I share with you three main insights from the video and my short homework exercises on “what I learnt.”

Insight Number 1:

One third of the global population have their livelihoods dependent on small farms, that’s approximately 2.3 billion people and they work extremely hard for long hours every day, struggling to feed their families and educate their children.

What I learnt:

  • I realized just how important productivity and profitability increasing technologies are to helping change the world.
  • The need for more advanced seed, more effective, efficient and environmentally friendly technologies became more apparent to me as these could potentially raise farmers’ productivity.
  • I also learnt that profitability can also be improved for instance by interventions that result in enhancing the ease of doing business for the world's small family farmers.
  • This could be inclusive of lowering transaction costs and improving logistics and post-harvest technologies to reduce post-harvest loss.

Insight Number 2:

The Ultimate goal of agricultural development is about “Investing Together” to ensure that rural farmers get the resources they need to grow more and sell more.

What I learnt:

  • On this, I really liked the idea of “investing together” or pooling investments. On that note I realized that agricultural development is not a one person, one organization, one country issue; but must be a coordinated effort driven along the lines of a shared vision with clearly defined priorities.
  • I realized that agricultural development is really about “getting the fundamentals right, i.e. giving farmers access to NOT only resources, but the resources they REALLY need.
From having a first-hand experience and appreciation of rural farming as a young African boy my agricultural investment wish list would look something like this:
In order to help farmers grow more and sell more, there is need to invest in,
  • Number One: Research & Development that allows for co-creation of knowledge with farmers by combining word-class competencies with intrinsic indigenous knowledge and experience to boost plant and livestock performance effectively within African environments and also identify new niche markets without compromising humanity’s environmental stewardship.
This will help farmers to first, know what is best for them to grow (through market research), and then second, be able to grow more of it (through production research)
  • Number Two: Sustainable and flexible financial vehicles and instruments for rural farmers.
This will help farmers grow more by allowing them to access to enough working capital
  • Number Three: A well maintained, strategically linked transport/road network (perhaps something like growth corridors, that move along nodes of developing rural towns and growing cities linking rural producers to rural, urban and even export buyers). In my mind it could look something like this:

My simple illustration of how transport networks should link the rural farmers to more business
Improved transport networks will help farmers to sell more
  • Number Four: Reliable energy infrastructure.
A wide range of technologies have been developed to help farmers make the best of their farming and agribusiness experience. However, most rural farmers are still faced with the challenge of trading off between the best technological functionalities and limited energy supply.
Reliable energy infrastructure could significantly help rural farmers to sell more
Farmers also need energy to harness other natural resources to their advantage like water for irrigation, or gas and or solar for storing, refrigerating or processing their produce to ensure they get the best value for money.
  • Number Five: Efficient ICT infrastructure
I believe now is the time that governments and the agricultural development fraternity MUST have dedicated strategies towards leveraging ICT for agriculture e.g. for accessing market information and learning new production techniques. Agricultural ministries especially in Africa specifically need to have dedicated strategies towards making the most of emerging technologies especially to engage youths into agriculture

Insight Number 3:

Farmers, local leaders, national governments, private sector, donors make a great team, and “WHEN THEY INVEST TOGETHER, GOOD THINGS GROW, things like better nutrition, better schools and secure communities.” (IFAD, 2014)

When we invest together, good things grow, IFAD, 2014

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

What does Development mean to you (Part II)... "Aiding Aid to work better for Africa"

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article entitled, "What does development mean to you... Never miss the value for the money"

I know and understand that the post was not that popular because it carried a little bit of mind-boggling issues. My apologies, but the whole idea is to trigger thoughts outside the box and to foster dialogue, so that at the end of the day, we all get the fundamentals right and we are operating on the same wavelength.

By the way, we are still celebrating the "Year of Agriculture and Food Security (I usually call it the YoAFS)" and the "Year of Family Farming." And I am becoming really excited by the increasing amount of YoAFS "multimedia traffic" I am encountering in the digital space.Was just having a look at the AU page for the YoAFS, and check out a glimpse of it below:

Anyway, before I get carried away, let me talk about what I really want to talk about. In my earlier "Development Perspectives Article" I raised a number of issues, like whether the world is making the right investments in Africa, developing the right skills, making the right policy and regulatory decisions and so forth. Of course, I talked about aid subtly, but today, I want to share a few thoughts on aid after reading and learning quite a bit from the 2014 Bill and Melinda Gates annual letter. One of the most optimistic notes from the letter is that 7 out of 10 of the fastest growing countries today are African, so forgive me if I tend to maintain a bias towards Africa.

Aid, don't just "add" the Aid
First I would like to clarify that this is not argument against aid. One of the most crucial lessons I have learnt about a "barefoot" approach to learning and development, is that "Development essentially is about People". Hence the question is really not, "is Aid good or bad?" I guess the more fundamental question today is, how can we better use Aid to advance and positively transform people's lives. What are the critical investments and development pathways that we should channel Aid to so as to develop a complete, healthy, productive and self-reliant person. 

In as much as aid has contributed to significant health breakthroughs like malaria and polio and has provided a fall back for the vulnerable in times of severe crisis or disaster, I still believe that aid could do better if focused on addressing some specific, critical bottlenecks to personal and community empowerment such as infrastructure, markets, technology, networks, energy, education etc. While there is much being done in pockets of projects, there is more that could be achieved if these projects could be scaled and dealt with at macro levels. 

If we believe in helping build a prosperous Africa in the next 50 years, there might be need to revisit our approach to aid from "adding" more Aid to "aiding" it to work better. Africa needs more focused and empowering investments. 

There is potential for greater returns from aid if more Aid is spent not on doing things for people, BUT helping people do things for themselves. Africa has a great potential and this potential will only be realized through partnership, yes partnership even with foreign aid, but these partnerships can only be effective if Aid is focused onto the right spots in the right quantities, at the right time, and there should be no compromise.

This is not only an issue for the donors. Recipient countries of aid need to know for themselves the most effective areas or targets for Aid. 

Inequality: Africa's development Cancer 
I really like to acknowledge B&MG's allusion to the issue of corruption and aid. And I am in full agreement with their view that advances in ICT will also help curb corruption in the future. My take is that, this is one of the ways of aiding Aid to work better: Channeling Aid towards the fight against the drivers of inequality such as corruption. 

Corruption disempowers, the low income-earners who often do not have the bribes or the right "political relationships" to access better services and richer opportunities. Corruption concentrates wealth around a certain minority rather than distributing it among the majority.

Though B&MG express a certain degree of comfort by claiming that corruption is an insignificant tax on aid, the impact of corruption in Africa in the public and private sector is a big Cancer to Africa's development goals and will continue to do so in the next decades and may hamper the optimistic predictions of a better life if not curbed effectively. 

I was reading an ActionAid report that revealed that in a certain African country, one Member of Parliament estimates that perhaps 20% of the agriculture budget goes missing. In another African country, a leading public policy institute estimates that 20–30% of the agriculture budget goes missing, regardless the government's pledge to fight corruption. 

Corruption fuels/drives inequality, and inequality stifles development. The 2013 Human Development Report states that "It will be neither desirable nor sustainable if increases in the Human Development Index (HDI) value are accompanied by rising inequality in income..." Sub Saharan Africa still has the highest inequality in health according to the same report. 

Improving ICT, improving the quality of education and civic engagement will contribute to fighting corruption and can aid Aid to work better for Africa.

Well, that's my take, what do you think?

Friday, 17 January 2014

Make the first 90 days of the Year of Agriculture and Food Security count!... Trust me, It will change the game...

90 days

89 days

88 days
... and counting

Well, we all got really excited when the leaders of Africa in 2012, declared 2014 the year of Agriculture and Food Security.

Well I could be seen by others to be asking or expecting too much if I say, what I am about to say, but I will say it anyway...
"We have not managed to make the first 17 days of 2014 as Africa's Year of Agriculture and Food Security (YoAFS) effectively count, and hence we need to roll up our sleeves and increase momentum..." 

This statement does not mean that our leaders are doing nothing. Certainly not. I know there are a number of high level meetings taking place on the continent and beyond deliberating how the YoAFS can be the dawn of Africa's century.

But, while the high level technical meetings are happening; for instance, while our leaders are preparing for the 22nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union which will run from the 24th to the 31st of January 2014, under the theme, "Year of Agriculture and Food Security," what is happening "on the ground"??? A couple of decades ago, "on the ground" could have meant something a little different from what I want to investigate today. This is what I mean; in the first 17 days of 2014, YoAFS, to see what is happening "on the ground", I dived into the "Social Media" sea to see what's treading and what's happening... That could be today's meaning of "on the ground"...

Well, I started with Facebook... looked for a "2014 Africa Year of agriculture and food security" Page...Found nothing...

Then went on to Twitter; typed #yearofagriculture... Yeah... something came up, but the most recent #yearofagriculture tweet was on November 6, 2013 by @ONEinAfrica... No tweet #yearofagriculture tweet in 2014;

Then Google; the latest post on Google + related to "Africa 2014 Year of Agriculture and Food Security" was by Harrison Manyumwa on December 30, 2013... Haven't seen anything as yet in 2014.

Guess we all got some homework to do.

But I would really like to commend people like Emmiekio who have started with the Blogging. I have just checked out your blog, and I really like it!!

I believe as African individuals, we should commit from all spheres social media, high level technical, youth, civil society, basically everyone, everywhere has to be engaged in a plans for the first 90 days of the YoAFS to create the momentum and the drive: otherwise; the YoAFS might never count and might simply pass away like all other years have passed away.

If we all care so much and believe so much in focusing on achieving our biggest goals in the first 90 days of the year, or the first 100 days of our Presidential careers... doesn't the same also apply for our national, continental and global goals?

Spread, Share, encourage an African to make the first 90 days of the YoAFS count... Trust me, this will change the game!!