World Bank has praised some projects in Africa it says could significantly
boost food production in the near future. Africa is in the midst of a farming
crisis and experts are warning that little money is being invested in the
continent’s agriculture sectors. With developing countries in Asia reaping the
food-generating benefits of a so-called “green revolution,” Africa’s the only
continent where per capita food production is declining. But a World Bank
initiative has identified and rewarded several projects set to improve the
lives of smallholder farmers and citizens in Africa.
Governments in developing regions and international donors are providing little
funding for agriculture, so the World Bank has turned to social entrepreneurs
in an effort to combat the negative fallout from food shortages, devastating
food price hikes and lack of investment in the sector.
social entrepreneur is someone who focuses on helping the poor and the
disadvantaged people in society. That’s what motivates them and sets them apart
from your typical businessperson. They’re a special breed of entrepreneurs who
focus on social change,” explains Juergen Voegele, the bank’s director of
agriculture and rural development.
Voegele, who has worked to improve agriculture in the
developing world for almost two decades, is a key figure behind the World
Bank’s Development Marketplace initiative. The program gives start-up funds to
projects it thinks will ultimately reduce poverty in some of the world’s
Voegele says social entrepreneurs are the “primary
elements” in the initiative’s success.
generally tend to be ambitious people. They really want social change; they are
social champions and they take things on that most people would consider very
difficult to do. Social entrepreneurs are not driven by money or power
generally; they want to make the world a better place.”
Recently, the Development Marketplace’s expert evaluators
selected 100 finalists – out of about 1,700 entries from around the world – to
showcase their ideas aimed at improving agriculture in developing countries.
Farmers, academics, students and scientists were among those trying to win World
Bank funding. Almost 40 percent of the entries came from sub-Saharan Africa,
says Theresa Bradley, Development Marketplace team leader.
“This surprised us, but sub-Saharan
Africa has a rich community of organizations that are really on the cutting edge,
that are really trying to find creative solutions that can be unique for the
challenges that Africans face…. A lot of innovation is happening in Africa, so
we tend to get a lot of good ideas from them,” she says.
After a rigorous process, Bradley’s team awarded 22
projects – five from Africa – grants of about $200,000 each, to tackle
challenges in agriculture at a local level.
African entries impress
says he was struck by the quality of ideas emerging from Africa.
of them are focusing on energy efficiency and also smallholder farmers who
can’t get access to markets. Those are both big issues for poor smallholder
farmers in Africa.”
of the winning entries from Africa was from William Kisaalita, a biological and
agricultural engineering professor at Uganda’s Makerere University and the
University of Georgia in the United States. His project transforms devices that
are used to cool beer in Europe. The adapted technology is to be used by
Ugandan small-scale dairy farmers to allow them to transport milk that would
otherwise have been wasted to distant markets.
winner was from Tanzania. There, businesswoman Christine Adamow, assisted by a
team of East African scientists, discovered that oil pressed from non-edible
nuts from the indigenous Croton tree could be used as biofuel in diesel
engines and generators. Adamow is encouraging Tanzanian farmers to plant the
tree, to provide them with extra income and give the region a valuable new fuel
One of Voegele’s favorite projects was a similar winning
entry from Senegal.
“It uses locally-produced biofuels for outboard motors,
so fishermen and farmers can get their produce to the market without having to
buy expensive diesel,” he tells VOA.
In Senegal, as in many other African countries, farmers
and fishermen can’t sell their produce because markets are often too far away
for them to walk to. They’re also too poor to pay for truck transport and roads
are often in disrepair. In addition, transport along waterways is extremely
limited. But in Senegal, says Voegele, a project is using a technology that
heats raw, unrefined seed oil, “straight from the press and into the fuel tank,
without any extra processing.”
The World Bank official describes the Senegalese effort
as “really quite unusual.”
“This was a couple of young Senegalese guys who said, ‘we
want to do something that everyone tells us can’t be done.’ And they did it.
And (that’s) phenomenal, and we’ll provide them with a significant amount of
support to take this to the next level. They’ve proven the concept, they’ve
shown it can be done (and) it’s relying on local resources. It has both the
business foundation, but it also has the potential to be scaled up on quite a
hopes the funding provided to the winning projects will “ultimately put them in
a position to scale up what they have invented – either initially on a smaller
scale, but also eventually on a countrywide, national or regional level. What
they will use the money for really depends on the individual project.”
says such initiatives typically use the money to recruit international experts
to refine their ideas, to train their employees and to buy more raw materials.
Agriculture neglected in Africa
states that African agriculture faces “numerous” obstacles.
great difficulty for the smallholder farmers in Africa to have access to seeds,
inputs and fertilizers…. And then there is the huge challenge of bringing their
products to the market. Access to markets is a phenomenally big challenge.”
adds that African farmers also often lack the information necessary to enable
them to progress.
don’t know what the market wants, they don’t know where to get seeds from, they
don’t know what is the best management practice, etcetera, etcetera,” says
Theresa Bradley’s confident that many African innovators in the field of
agriculture are confronting the challenges “head on.”
longstanding, traditional problem in agriculture is access to markets, from
rural to more urban spaces. We focused on this area, looking for cutting edge
solutions to enhance access to markets…. And many of the projects delivered
with regard to this,” she says.
Voegele is disappointed with what he terms the “neglect” of agriculture in
amounts of money that are being spent on agricultural research have been
declining; the amounts of money in national budgets of governments that are
being used for investing in agriculture…have declined. This is a trend that we urgently
need to reverse,” he warns, and elaborates: “I mean this in a broader sense;
not only with regard to agricultural production, but also with regard to access
to markets, market development, supply chain development, infrastructure
development, information services development….”
Voegele says the recent food price increases, and related
“volatility” in agricultural markets, are a “wake-up call, for people at the
international level, and in places like Africa, that new investments must be
made in agriculture.”
He says he’s encouraged that African authorities are
“finally” beginning to acknowledge this.
emphasizes that it’s of the utmost importance that governments, whether in the
developed or the developing world, consider the effects that their policies
have on agriculture.
countries have trade policies that either make it difficult for products to be
exported or difficult for products to be imported, you will always have a
problem,” he says.
have to be confident”
acknowledges that it’s “particularly concerning” that Africa’s the only
continent where per capita food production is decreasing. There are several
reasons for this, he says.
is really the issue of not being connected to global markets, there is the issue
of not having access to the inputs, there is the issue of not having a
conducive environment in many African countries for private sector investment –
and of course not enough funding.”
the main reason, Voegele maintains, is that “priorities have shifted away from
agriculture. There has been this notion that agriculture is not really
important for economic growth. But the fact of the matter is that it’s
extremely important for economic growth, particularly in Africa.”
the World Bank’s most recent report on global agriculture says that for every
dollar invested in the sector, the return is up to three times higher than the
same investment in other sectors in Africa.
says he’s encouraged, though, by growing numbers of “innovators” emerging from
Africa who he hopes will counteract lack of agricultural development there.
have to be confident. I believe that what happened during the last year, with
food prices going through the roof, that…there’s now a lot of energy and
enthusiasm to get agriculture back on a good path.”
says there are now “hundreds and hundreds” of people in Africa who are
dedicated to improving the situation and he sees “a lot of positive things”
working on more efficient fertilizers, more environmentally-friendly technology
and…we see a lot of big private companies now taking a more socially
responsible approach and trying to link their sourcing of raw materials
directly to smallholder farmers. And people are working on innovative ways to
get information technology into the marketing chain, into the supply chain.”
acknowledges, though, that it’s not going to be easy to resolve all the
challenges facing agriculture – especially in Africa.
of us involved – governments,
development agencies, the people themselves – still have a long and hard road ahead of us.”