SNV’s Managing Director for Agriculture, Andre de Jager on the decisive influence of urban markets on the silent green revolution in African agriculture.
This interview was first published in Connect Magazine 2017. The complete publication is available for download.
Your experience with African agriculture is long standing. What big changes do you see?
A silent green revolution is taking place in Africa. Yields are increasing as smallholder farmers are implementing Good Agricultural Practices and using improved seeds and (organic) fertilisers. This revolution is less a result of government interventions or large-scale projects, but is mainly driven by changes in the market, particularly caused by the large-scale urbanisation that is taking place across Africa. Diets are changing; there is an increasing domestic market for processed agricultural products and consumers are becoming aware of food safety issues. African consumers have found their voice to which the agricultural sector has started to respond. Having said that, agricultural productivity in most countries across the continent is still very low. In addition, there is hardly any growth in other productive sectors. This means that a category of smallholders remains in agriculture production simply because they have no alternative. To raise agricultural productivity the role of technical services, input supplies, processing and trading will increase. This will create new jobs in services and added value rather than in primary production. SNV should ensure that this growth is inclusive and can benefit many.
What will this diversification from primary production mean for the majority of small farmers?
At this moment, African farmers are competing with cheaper products imported from countries with professionalised production chains. Both middle class and bottom of the pyramid consumers are looking for quality food at affordable prices. In order to be able to tap into these growing markets smallholder farmers need to produce efficiently and in an ecological sustainable way. As a development organisation, we want to equip farmers with technical advice, assist in functioning organisational structures and link them to the input and output markets. We don’t want small holders to be crowded out, but we will target those that want to take up farming as a business. Sectors like dairy and horticulture are for instance, very suitable for smallholder inclusion because they are labour intensive. For smallholders who don’t take that business direction, alternative opportunities will arise when the agriculture value chain further develops. In export commodities, many of these opportunities have already been realised. Every morning in Nairobi people are busy packing vegetables at the airport; in Ethiopia, the floriculture industry has created a high number of sustainable jobs in rural areas, in particular for women. But especially small and medium enterprises that focus on distribution and adding value in the domestic market have a huge potential to alleviate rural and urban poverty. Over the years, I have seen small enterprises repackaging milk, processing yogurt and opening milk bars in Kenya to serve rural and urban customers. Through these activities the accessibility of dairy products for the poor has increased tremendously and has created a sustainable smallholder dairy sector.
How do you see our future role as a development player?
The funding model is going to change. Traditional grants will most likely decline and we see growth in the roles of private sector investment, financial institutions and development banks that provide loans to small and medium enterprises. I see a lot of potential in combining targeted technical advice with blended finance products. SNV increasingly engages in these kinds of projects in partnership with financial institutions. Climate change has a growing impact on agriculture and requires prompt actions at various levels. SNV focuses on increasing resilience of smallholder producers and SMEs through practical and innovative interventions. For instance, smallholder farmers producing beans are given access to high quality short duration varieties, technical advice on integrated soil fertility management, inoculants to facilitate N-fixations and crop insurance; and cocoa farmers are assisted in replanting new varieties of cocoa under shade trees maintaining the forest cover. All this is done in close collaboration with the government and the private sector. As mentioned earlier, the agricultural sector is going through a silent green revolution to meet urban demands, feed a growing population and cope with climate change. The private sector and governments will play a leading role in further professionalisation. At SNV, we will work with all these parties, ensuring that smallholders will be part and parcel of that process.