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By James Kabue
1. What, in your opinion, should African governments and other development agencies do in order to effectively combat the food insecurity problem in Africa?
African governments need to increase their allocation on public expenditure to the agricultural sector and research. Many African countries have rallied to the call of the Maputo Declaration where they agreed to commit 10% of the total government expenditure to the agriculture sector. Countries that spend more in this sector have grown to have middle income economies. Increased spending would help to address the infrastructural gaps that provide enabling environment for agriculture.
The national agriculture research institutions need to be adequately funded so that they address relevant problems and provide home grown technologies that can therefore more easily relayed to smallholder farmers. Again there are many technologies that exist that can make a difference to productivity but farmers are not in a position to access them. Development agencies bridge this gap by transferring technologies to farmers and building capacities of farmers on the utilization of the technologies. Governance and accountability issues in public and private sectors need to be spearheaded by government since they are important prerequisites for investment, which spurs growth, as part of an enabling environment. No one wants to put their money in country that is unstable, corruption rife and where regulations are thwarted. These add unnecessary transaction costs. Government departments including the agricultural ones need to be overhauled and managed efficiently to be competitive and provide required services, since they tend to impede rather than enhance service delivery.
2. Is FCI adopting any unconventional approaches to enhancing food security in Africa?
FCI utilizes private sector approaches and works across crop and livestock value chains to address challenges that smallholder farmers encounter. Innovations and solutions are custom built to the needs of smallholder farmers. Farmers are introduced to market led production which enhances food production and supply for households and markets. As smallholder subsistence farmers begin to earn income from sales of their produce, they are motivated to expand production and also reinvest in agriculture through using agro inputs. This increases productivity and sales of produce to markets, availing food to others who buy from the markets. Small holder farmers consequently receive more disposable income. At this point FCI brings in a training package for farmers to help them save from the increased income and secure it in the formal banking sector. This enables farmers to access credit for reinvestment. Through nutrition marketing, FCI builds the image of crops that farmers grow but do not consume or traditional foods considered as a ‘poor man’s food’. FCI introduces the foods anew to producers and consumers, encouraging them to make them a part of their diet. Thus by stimulating consumer demand for the foods, producers find markets for their produce is created providing a market for the produce. Traditional crops provide other advantages in that they are more adapted to the local environment and do not require as much inputs.
3. Having spent 10 years on the forefront of smallholder livelihood development… what are some of FCI’s concrete outcomes for food security that result from our work?
FCI has been involved in the transformation of villages into commercial trading blocs though supporting farmers, and access agro inputs, extension, technologies, financial services and markets. Increased incomes, savings and investment have occurred in commercial villages. Households now consume more nutritious diets having been trained on preparation of nutritious diets. Farmers have realized increased agricultural output that has enhanced household food security and nutrition. Through engaging with the markets farmers have enjoyed increased incomes from sale of agricultural commodities. Increased trade has occurred for smallholders as they sell through organized groups to traders, formal and institutional markets. Traders have been able to lower transactions costs due to sourcing aggregated produce from commercial villages.
4. What are the challenges that hinder efforts of curbing the food security problems in Africa and how do we develop lasting solutions to these problems?
Variable climate conditions of irregular rainfall patterns, floods and drought due to climate change affect smallholder farming because they are dependent on rain-fed production. Countries that experience drought cycles need to identify farming areas that can be brought under production through application of irrigation technologies. Thus suitable financing arrangements to finance technologies for this and other technologies required across the value chain to enable acquisition by smallholder farmers. There is also need to curb food losses experienced during gluts through processing, pests and disease management, scheduled crop production for the market. Thus farmers require to be linked to service providers who can build their capacity on this.
5. As we close, what are FCI’s what are 3 surprising insights that you can share from your work as a food security/nutrition expert? Any interesting lessons you could share?
The kitchen garden is well known in Kenya and has been promoted for many years, till it may be relegated to the backseat and not regarded as an intervention of choice. However FCI experience indicate that it remains relevant to smallholder farmers today because it not only contributes to household food security but is also instrumental in introducing market led production to subsistence farmers, as neighbors begin to buy surplus vegetables from the gardens.
FCI VISION :Commercialized smallholder communities with increased incomes for improved, stabilized & sustainable livelihoods in Africa and beyond.