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December 23, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

What are the most useful technologies for small farmers in Africa

Here is a relatively short list:

• Drip Irrigation
• Treddle Pumps
• Mobile or other methods of helping communicate market prices.
• Crop Insurance (we don’t think about this as technology–I guess its more of a service, but its pretty important from what I’ve read)
• Preservation of rain fall. Rain collection in buckets and/or troffs
• Radio access to other agricultural education (US AID does this & a number of non-profits have radio programs as well. I’m sure access to these varies by region. I imagine its pretty easy to borrow that content if you have a radio station set up)
• Fertilizer
• Farmers collectives (again we don’t think about this as a technology, its more of a cultural technology or cultural innovation)
• Self-help groups (SHGs). This is another cultural technology. Its used by I believe all the micro-finance institutions for accountability & encouragement. I believe they are also used to share best practices.

Having a number of high impact and high leverage solutions is important. Its also critical to find solutions which fit the specific needs and contexts of the people on the ground–how they live and how they farm and how they sell their crops.

I think if you pick 3 or 4 of these…it can go a long way. IDE has been pretty successful with drop irrigation and treddle pumps (along with going after crops like strawberries). Also, you can partner with other organizations which provide complementary services. For instance the One Acre Fund provides services for other non-profits in the regions they work in. I believe all of the above can be used with small farmers.

Also if you Google “increase yields in Africa” or “increased yields in India” or whatever country you are interested in you can find some more answers. You might even look for “low cost ways to increase yields in (insert country, continent, or region)”

Here are some other resources:

• CGIAR (Consultive Group on International Agricultural Research)
• State of the Planet (Columbia) [no link]
• Nourishing the Planet (World Watch Institute) [no link]
• Facts About Agricultural Development in Africa (Gates Foundation) [no link]
• AGRA | Resources | Resources (the Rockefeller Foundation Supports AGRA and Bill & Melinda Partner with them as well)
• Building up small farmers (Super-cool article from the World Economic Forum that basically entirely answers your question I believe, while linking to some of the key lever points)
• International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

I highly recommend CGIAR. Its super-legit. They have like 14 global research centers. I haven’t read any of the research out of AGRA, but I’m going to assume thats its pretty legit given its support from Bill & Melinda Gates as well as Rockefeller. I’m also not as personally familiar with the International Food Policy Research Institute, but pretty important they are linked to by the World Economic Forum article. You might also check this thread which is titled specific to Africa but doest contain a number of key technologies for farmers: Africa: What are the most useful technologies or services for farmers in Africa?

In terms of Africa, this is a pretty interesting blurb, some of which echos what I said above:

“Investment in smallholder agriculture and rural development is the foundation for economic growth,” he said. “Having witnessed the capacity of African farmers to adopt new technology and make it work to their profit, I know that smallholder agriculture needs to be seen as a business.”

Agriculture remains a critical sector for African economies. It accounts for about 30 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product and a high portion of export value. In most countries, agriculture accounts for more than 60 per cent of employment. But despite this, African smallholder farmers are faced with a host of stumbling blocks to increase their yields and get their goods to market – such a lack of infrastructure or access to technologies – that are compounded by climate and food price shocks. In the Sahel, millions of people are facing hunger for the third time since 2005. Lack of rain, continued conflicts in the region and volatile food prices have made a bad situation worse.

“In order to create a transformation in African agriculture we need to put smallholder farmers at the center of sector exchanges by seamlessly connecting them to each other as well as local and regional markets,” Nwanze said. “They need access to market information, crop storage and transport. National and regional policies need to eliminate cross-border delays and regulatory stonewalls faced by small farmers to make it easy for them to get their produce from one country to the next.”

Nwanze said that the private sector, including buyers, can also improve the ability of smallholders to have access to local, regional or global markets through the right investments and through measures that incorporate rather than exclude smallholders.

“I am glad to see that the public and the private sector will sit around the same table at the AGRF – a step closer to helping smallholder farmers become commercially viable in African and beyond,” Nwanze added.

Africa has always been a major focus of IFAD’s work, and has traditionally received a large share of the Fund’s resources. In 2011, for example, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for about 43 per cent of IFAD funding.


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