Monday, 2 June 2014

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)

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate the comments I got to this post on Twitter. And with the comments, we refined the equation a bit. @nawsheeh commented via Twitter, "I think if we are talking about sustainable food future, the part on sound natural resource management should also be there..." Very valuable comment !

    I realized from this that the Sustainable food equation is more than just a simple linear addition ("marry this with that") issue... No.. There are very important factors (which have a multiplying or rather compounding effect) on how far we will go with feeding the world and sustainably ending hunger.

    And one of these factors is "sustainable intensification" Hence with the help of @nawsheenh, we have a new equation:

    Sustainable Food Future = grow more food (more efficiently, i.e. with the same or even less resources) + grow more people who love to grow more food (in a more sustainable way) !