In Bamako, Mali, in 2006, the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) marked the 20th anniversary of the Sasakawa-Global 2000 (SG 2000) agricultural initiative in Africa. Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, SAA President, speaking in Africa for the last time, exhorted his audience “not to wait for perfect conditions or the perfect seed variety. Use whatever is available – and get on with it.” Borlaug died in September 2009.
|Targeting Africa’s women farmers|
Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa, Norman Borlaug, and former US President Jimmy Carter, founded the African Agricultural Initiative in 1986. Two organizations joined forces. The Sasakawa Africa Association and the Global 2000 program of The Carter Center. The SG 2000 program came in response to the devastating 1984 famine which killed more than one million people in the Horn of Africa and stretched all the way across Africa to the savannah and Sahelian areas of West Africa.
At a workshop convened in Geneva in July 1985, hosted by the Center for Applied Studies in International Negotiations (CASIN), recommendations were made which are still pertinent today. Essentially food aid was a short term unsustainable response. The research-based technologies needed to increase food production were already available. The challenge was to get the right technologies into the hands of Africa’s smallholder farmers – and ensure that farmers knew how to use them.
As a start, Ryoichi Sasakawa pledged that the foundation he chaired – later to be called The Nippon Foundation – would fund two practical smallholder agricultural development projects, under the leadership of Dr Borlaug, to explore whether an African version of the Green Revolution in Asia could be achieved. Ryoichi Sasakawa and his son Yohei, now Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, Dr Borlaug and President Carter, visited five African countries in January 1986. By May that year, agricultural projects had been established in Ghana and Sudan and, by September, in Zambia (with separate funding to Global 2000 from The Nippon Foundation).
Over the following two decades, driven by the indefatigable Norman Borlaug, the SG 2000 agricultural alliance operated country projects in 14 African countries. It was clearly and frequently demonstrated that the food crop technology existed in Africa to double and triple farm yields and that farmers were willing, able and eager to intensify production. SG 2000 worked with tens of thousands of frontline extension staff and several million farmers to test higher-yielding technology for maize, wheat, rice, grain legumes, and roots and tubers developed by African national research organizations, in collaboration with the international agricultural research centers.
SG 2000’s role was catalytic – working primarily with national ministries of agriculture to mount dynamic field demonstration programs, for farmers to be able to judge for themselves the value of these improved technologies.
A key part of the expansion of SG 2000 activities was Norman Borlaug’s hands-on approach and his philosophy of ‘get on with it.’ Never more happy than when he was in farmers’ fields, he incentivised colleagues and farmers alike. But he was the first to admit that his green revolution for Africa was far from a complete success.
Progress has certainly been made in SG 2000’s project countries in improving the productivity of smallholder African food production systems, but not anywhere similar to those achieved in Asia during the initial Green Revolution period of 1965-1990, which Norman Borlaug himself had inspired and which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. Formidable obstacles stood – and still stand – in the way of broad-based adoption. Limited availability of inputs near the farm gate, unfavorable cost: price ratios between inputs and output, the inherently risky rain-fed production environments, few irrigated areas, limited access to credit sources, and weak commercial market demand all conspired to keep as many as 75 percent of the smallholder farmers, who participated in the SG 2000-supported field programs, from adopting the recommended packages of technologies.
|The late Dr Norman Borlaug with former US President Jimmy Carter and Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, which has given strong and constant support to SAA over 25 years.|
It is therefore not surprising that the significant yield gains achieved by smallholder farmers who participated in the crop demonstration programs were seldom transformed into ongoing productivity changes.
Over the years many lessons have been learned. Today, there is a better understanding that productivity-enhancing technology will not be adopted by most smallholder farmers, even if inputs are available, unless farmers capture more of the value addition that exists higher up the value chain. To capture this added value, farmers need viable farmer-based organizations that can address postharvest and marketing issues and can engage a broader range of service providers and organizations, often from the private sector.
But to bring a value chain perspective to smallholder agriculture, a major capacity building effort is needed to broaden and upgrade the skill sets of extension specialists and frontline agents. Moreover, because budgets have been inadequate, extension organizations in Africa have rationed advisory services, with preference given to larger, better endowed, and more innovative smallholder farmers. This has resulted in only 20- 30% of smallholder farmers, and 5-10% of women farmers receiving training and technical backstopping.
Very poor farmers – often women – have insufficient physical assets to generate a reasonable livelihood and generally have been excluded from mainstream extension programs.
These are some of the fundamental problems being faced by SAA and which were addressed by Norman Borlaug a few months before he died when he wrote:
"If a vibrant, smallholder commercial agricultural sector is going to emerge in Africa, food supply chains must become more integrated. Local, national and regional markets must be more fully developed. The production and post-production quality standards of smallholders must rise to meet consumer expectations. And smallholder producers must become more attuned to market demands."
A different SAA has emerged today. Five strategic goals have been adopted and activities to advance these goals initiated in its four focus countries, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda. These are to:
Over the next five years, SAA expects to impact on some 400,000 farmers in its focus countries, 35-30 percent of them being women. These direct contact farmers represent households with around 2.4 million members.
SAA has segmented its target participants into three subgroups. The first group comprises 280,000 farmers, half of whom are women with low technical efficiency and who have not benefited from extension advisory services. The aim is to increase crop yields among those farmers by 50%. The second group comprises more commercially oriented smallholders willing to increase yields and adopt improved postharvest handling and storage facilities. Roughly 120,000 farmers fall into this category, with hopefully 20 percent women farmers. The third group are very resourcepoor farmers who lack sufficient resources for farming to ensure food security. Hence, SAA will assist 5,000 poor rural people, largely women, to establish off-farm agroprocessing and agriculture service provider enterprises.
SAA’s reformed management structure – a matrix management system – has now been in place for nearly two years. Five SAA Thematic Directors lead planning, programming and capacity building for their respective areas while four SG 2000 Country Directors drive implementation of the SAA strategic plan. The matrix structure provides for far better coordination – a weakness in the past – in areas such as technical quality assurance and best practice. At its heart lies the need to become an evidencebased organization, using baseline data and information on SAA interventions to assess performance, relevance, efficiency, impact and sustainability to guide decision-making.
In short the organization has been transformed with nearly 40% of professional staff now female – a change from the last Bamako symposium when only 5% were female. Today, SAA has one of the highest proportions of professional women staff in the NGO community in Africa – ensuring a better, deeper and wider reach to women farmers along the value chain.
SAA has a vision of a more food-secure rural Africa with increasing numbers of prospering smallholder commercial farmers. Its mission is to transform African extension advisory services to assure family food security, and more profitable participation along the value chain, while respecting natural resources.
As delegates gather in Bamako for the twenty-fifth anniversary symposium, they may reflect on the famine conditions which have once again struck the Horn of Africa and the difficulties caused, across the continent, by Africa’s changing weather patterns. The challenges remain – but perhaps Africa’s farmers are now better placed to confront them than when SAA first embarked on its long journey.