Scientists say farmers must be linked to markets to combat Africa’s food woes

Poultry seller in Mozambique

Poultry seller at the morning market in Chokwe, Gurue, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

From dairy cooperatives, text messaging and grain storage to improved credit, transport and trade initiatives, a new book presents ‘high-payoff, low-cost’ solutions to Africa’s underdeveloped agricultural markets and chronic food insecurity.

As a food crisis unfolds in West Africa’s Sahel region, some of the world’s leading experts in agriculture markets say the time is ripe to confront the ‘substantial inefficiencies’ in trade policy, transportation, information services, credit, crop storage and other market challenges that leave Africans particularly vulnerable to food-related problems.

‘We can’t control the weather or international commodities speculators, but there are many things we can do to improve market conditions in Africa that will increase food availability and help stabilize food prices across the continent,’ said Anne Mbaabu, director of the Market Access Program at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which has invested US$30 million over the last four years to improve market opportunities for Africa’s smallholder farmers.

AGRA and the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have just released a book that features a range of studies that collectively make a compelling argument for embracing agriculture-oriented market improvements as crucial to not only avoiding future food crises but also for establishing a firm foundation for rural development and economic growth. The research was originally prepared for a conference in Nairobi in which 150 experts from around the world discussed how to ‘leverage the untapped capacity of agricultural markets in Africa to increase food security and incomes.’

Its publication comes as international aid groups are rushing assistance to Niger and other nations of the African Sahel—a narrow but long belt of arid land south of the Sahara that stretches across the continent—where a combination of high food prices and poor weather has left some 14 million people without enough to eat. The food problems in the Sahel are emerging just as African governments and aid groups say they have stabilized a food crisis in the Horn of Africa that at its peak in Somalia had left 58 percent of children under the age of five acutely malnourished.

But while volatility in international commodities markets is being widely cited as a major cause of the food shortages in the Sahel, there is growing evidence that at least some of the food price fluctuation in Africa is caused by domestic factors.

Recent research—led by Joseph Karugia, Coordinator of the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for Eastern and Central Africa (ReSAKSS-ECA) at ILRI, and colleagues at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA)—examining food price volatility in Eastern Africa suggests domestic factors are playing a role as well. The researchers found that over the last few years, even when global prices have receded, domestic prices in the region have remained high. For example, while global maize prices declined by 12 percent in the last quarter of 2008, in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia and Rwanda, they increased.

The study finds food price volatility in these countries is at least partly due to barriers and policies impeding the flow of food among markets in the region and between the region and global markets.

‘We need to consider what can be done within Africa to reduce our vulnerability to food-related problems,’ said ILRI’s interim deputy director general for research Steve Staal, an agricultural economist with expertise in smallholder farming systems. ‘Improving regional and sub-regional agriculture markets is one way we can increase food security and the impact of even minor improvements could be impressive. Just as it doesn’t take a big rise in food prices to tip millions of Africans into poverty, it does not require a sharp move in the other direction to generate huge benefits.’

The book from the markets conference outlines a number of ‘high-payoff, low cost’ initiatives that combine ‘innovative thinking’ and ‘new technology’ along with policy reforms to give farmers an incentive to boost production—and the means to make their surplus harvests more widely available and at an affordable cost.

For example, the Smallholder Dairy Project, a collaborative project between ILRI and research and development partners in Kenya, catalyzed some 40,000 small-scale milk vendors to generate an extra US$16 million across the Kenya dairy industry by seeking policy changes and providing practical training that made it easier for them to comply with national milk safety and quality standards. Prior to the initiative, smallholder dairy farmers were not realizing either their production or income potential because complex and costly food safety standards reduced participation in formal milk markets.

‘Smallholder farmers and herders in Africa need a combination of investment in infrastructure and services, along with regulatory changes to take full advantage of growing agriculture market opportunities,’ said Staal. ‘And since smallholders produce most of the milk, meat, vegetables and grains consumed in Africa, improving their participation in agriculture markets—particularly as populations gravitate away from rural areas to urban centers—is key to the continent’s food security.’

For example, a warehouse receipt program operated by the Eastern Africa Grain Council and Kenya’s Maize Development program is offering farmers two things they previously lacked: a place to safely store surplus harvests and easier access to credit. Research has shown that on average, 25 to 50 per cent of crops produced on African farms spoil in the fields and in East Africa alone up to USD90 million worth of milk is lost per year due to spoilage.

Lack of credit is also limiting the ability of African farmers to produce and sell more food. One important aspect of the warehouse receipt program is that it allows farmers to get credit using the deposited grain as collateral. They can use the credit to purchase such things as farm inputs for the next planting or meet immediate cash requirements.

‘We understand that credit is crucial for expanding production on African farms—as it is everywhere in the world—which is why AGRA is working with commercial banks to unlock millions of dollars in loans for smallholder farmers across Africa,’ said Mbaabu.

AGRA’s partnerships with Standard Bank, NMB Bank (Tanzania), and Equity Bank (Kenya) were modeled on an initiative by the Rockefeller Foundation in Uganda that had only a 2 per cent default rate. ‘This shows that investing in African farmers makes good business sense,’ said Mbaabu.

The book also discusses initiatives that are using post-harvest processing facilities and information technology to improve market opportunities. An analysis of processing facilities in Tanzania that make chips and flour from cassava—a crop many smallholder farmers can produce in abundance—found that they were profitable even when dealing at 50 per cent of capacity. Research in Northern Ghana found farmers were getting 68 per cent more for their harvests after using a service that provides a steady stream of pricing, market, transportation and weather information via text message.

On the policy front, the market experts see an urgent need to confront the ‘hodge-podge of tariffs’ and the numerous export restrictions and customs requirements that make it hard for areas of Africa where there are food surpluses to serve those in food deficit. Critically, they recognize that private investors are in many cases playing the lead role in new investments for market development and services.

Policy-makers need to shift emphasis from a traditional regulatory approach to one of co-investment to leverage private sector activity, supporting appropriate infrastructure and information systems,’ says Staal.

A recent report from the World Bank on trade barriers in Africa recounted how in Zambia, the grocery store Shoprite spends USD20,000 per week securing import permits for meat, milk and vegetables. And its trucks carry up to 1,600 documents to meet border requirements. Overall, the Bank report estimates African countries are forfeiting billions of dollars per year in potential earnings by failing to address barriers to the flow of goods and services.

‘When many people think of a food crisis in Africa, they picture crops withering in the field or dead or dying livestock, but rarely do they think about the market issues that are part of the problem as well,’ said Namanga Ngongi, president of AGRA. ‘African farmers face many challenges in the field and pasture but they will continue to lack the means and the incentive to boost crop and livestock yields if we continue to neglect our underdeveloped agriculture markets.’

The book, African agricultural markets: Towards priority actions for market development for African farmers, and synthesis document are available for download here.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
is a dynamic partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. AGRA programmes develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment. AGRA advocates for policies that support its work across all key aspects of the African agricultural value chain—from seeds, soil health and water to markets and agricultural education.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
works with partners worldwide to help poor people keep their farm animals alive and productive, increase and sustain their livestock and farm productivity, and find profitable markets for their animal products. ILRI’s headquarters are in Nairobi, Kenya; we have a principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and 13 offices in other regions of Africa and Asia. ILRI is part of the CGIAR (www.cgiar.org), which works to reduce hunger, poverty, illness and environmental degradation in developing countries by generating and sharing relevant agricultural knowledge, technologies and policies. This research is focused on development, conducted by a Consortium of 15 CGIAR centres working with hundreds of partners worldwide, and supported by a multi-donor Fund.

 More on the book

Download the full book or individual sections

Researchers call for regional approaches to deal with high food prices

Malawi, Nr Dedza, Khulungira village

Researchers in eastern and southern Africa are calling for a new regional and integrated approach to address high food prices associated with global food shortages. They are doing this to help prevent a repeat of the global high food price crisis of three years ago.

Under the leadership of the Association for Strengthening Agriculture Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), a regional body that seeks to transform agriculture and improve livelihoods, a team of researchers from key national, regional and international organizations in eastern and southern Africa (ESA) have determined that a ‘regionally coordinated response . . .  is potentially more effective in responding to the food price crisis than individual country responses.’

This is one of the key findings from a 2009 study that investigated food-price changes in the national and regional markets in eastern and southern Africa, which would provide an ‘evidence base for effective policy action.’

Joseph Karugia led a core team of researchers who were coordinated by the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System-East and Central Africa (ReSAKSS-EA), which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Karugia says that ‘Regional blocks can become effective avenues for policy creation and implementation because they offer a much wider and stronger platform to address the challenges posed by the global food price crisis and to exploit the opportunities that high food prices may offer.’

Between 2007 and 2008, most countries in the region (and across the globe) experienced a rise in food prices that threatened the livelihoods of many of the region’s poor. Causes of the rise in prices were attributed to rising incomes and growing uses of food grains for bio-fuel production and animal feeds. In addition, an increasing world population and urbanization, coupled with high agricultural input prices, reduced world stocks of food staples and exports. Declining agricultural resources also contributed to the low supply of food.

Unlike past food-price spikes, such as those in the mid-1990s, where only a few commodities were affected, the recent rise in prices saw substantial increases in the price of the world’s key cereals, oilseeds and dairy and meat products.

For resource-poor farmers and consumers in Africa, high prices translated into higher costs of living occasioned by the increase in the prices of basic foods and staples such as maize, rice and wheat. Prices of different foods across many countries in the region went up by between 11 and 50 per cent between March 2007 and March 2008.

In the wake of the crisis, ASARECA brought a team of key researchers together in a study to find out ‘the magnitude and implications of food prices’ in the region. ‘One of our key aims was to come up with practical short-, medium- and long-term options for governments and other stakeholders for addressing the problem posed by the crisis,’ Karugia says.

The researchers analyzed trends and outlooks in individual countries as well as the region and presented evidence about the regional food situation. They also explored connections between high domestic food prices in this period and global food prices and examined regional and national dimensions of food-price increases and how they related to food security in the region.

From the study findings, presented in a paper, ‘Responding to the food crisis in eastern and southern Africa: policy options for national and regional action’, researchers argue that the considerable scope offered by regional blocks such as the East Africa Community (EAC), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) provides an opportunity to create and implement regional policies and strategies to improve food production, distribution and availability in ways that individual countries could not handle alone.

The findings of this research suggest that new ways of approaching food distribution can improve food security in the region by for example, enabling improved regional trade that would allow easier movement of foods, especially ‘non-tradeable’ commodities such as bananas, shipped from countries where they are readily available to countries where consumers face food shortages. This model of food distribution could effectively deal with challenges that result from failure of staple crops such as maize. This way, the report says ‘the income effect of rising food prices could be dampened if it is relatively easy for the household to substitute one staple food whose price is already rising with a cheaper food product that is nutritious and as easy to handle as the previous one.’

Findings from this study provide thought-provoking perspectives useful to policymakers and governments in managing the frequent food crises in the region.

The findings highlight the important role of regional trade, Domestic food prices are, to a large extent, determined by local and regional demand-and-supply conditions; if policies on informal trade were improved, this region’s food security would also improve. The researchers note that an inability of households to find alternative cheaper nutritious foods would lead to ‘lower resource allocation towards non-food items’. This would then affect other sectors, such as education, health care and water and sanitation, with the ‘eventual deterioration of human capital and overall household welfare.’

Although rising food prices are contributing to food price inflation, the researchers note that the domestic markets in the ESA region are resilient and are not always directly affected by global events. Arguing that the best way to address the food price crisis is to do so regionally, they say policies should aim to ‘increase household purchasing power, have no negative impact on food supply response and should not reduce income of poor food sellers.’

This study calls for paying renewed attention to the agricultural sector, which is essential for improving production. It also notes that high food prices provide incentives to the private sector to invest in the agricultural sector. However, productivity increases will require significant and sustained investments in agricultural research and extension, as well as development of agricultural and general infrastructure along with credit and risk-management instruments.

The complete findings of this research can be accessed on http://mahider.ilri.org/bitstream/10568/184/1/resakss%20workingpaper27.pdf

For more information please visit the websites of ResaKSS and ASARECA.

Three ways to tackle Napier grass diseases in East Africa

An ASARECA-funded Napier grass smut and stunt resistance project held its final workshop on 2 and 3 June 2010 at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It gathered 30 participants from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, UK, and Ethiopia.

During the workshop, participants shared three main ways to tackle these diseases that attack an important feed for cattle: One is to identify alternative forage species. The second is to raise awareness of the disease and better management methods among farmers. The third is to control the vectors causing the diseases or to breed disease-resistant grasses.

It all started in 2007, when ASARECA – the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, the International Livestock Research Institute, Rothamsted Research, Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, National Agricultural Research Organisation (Uganda) and the National Biological Control Programme (Tanzania) launched a three year project to examine the problems.

The project brought together scientists from national and international institutes to find ways to halt the spread of the diseases that affect Napier grass – an important feed source for dairy cattle in the region.

The project aimed to determine the extent of the disease problem in areas where smallholder dairy is important, to collect Napier grass clones that farmers select as more resistant to the diseases and to identify best management practices used by farmers to reduce the impact of the diseases.

With the vision and financial support of ASARECA, this project has characterized Napier grass clones, developed diagnostic techniques for use in the region, and formed local partnerships to share information and management practices.

During the two day meeting, participants set out different approaches to fight the disease. One is to identify other alternative forage species.

“Before we were growing Guatemala grass, says Peter Ddaki, workshop participant and farmer in Kitenga, Uganda. It was less tasty and hard to cut but we could go back to it because if this disease is not fought, we go to poverty”. “It is true violence to me”, he adds. “From my cows, I have three things: urine, milk and manure. Well, they have all reduced. My suggestion to researchers is to think about Guatemala grass or other forages in case Napier grass dies away.”

Jolly Kabirizi, senior researcher at the National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NaLIRRI) and project partner from Uganda is one of several researchers in the region looking more closely at other forages, such as the Brachiaria hybrid cv Mulato, and investigating feeding with crop residues. Jean Hanson, ILRI Forage diversity team leader, explains: “In this project we made the choice to focus on Napier grass and looked for a disease resistant variety of the same species because it is very difficult to find anything as productive as Napier and for farmers to change to other grasses for cut and carry systems. Guatemala grass does not have the same palatability as Napier grass, and Brachiara Mulato produces less biomass. We also carried on with research on Napier because its dissemination with cuttings is much easier than with the other grasses.”

Another approach is to raise awareness among farmers. Presentations showed that in the districts where the diseases were studied, over 80% of the farmers are now aware of the disease symptoms and adopt recommended best management practices. The incidence and severity of stunt especially, is really dropping (decline of 20 to 40% in Uganda and Kenya, more in Tanzania where it is an emerging disease) even though there is still a need to raise awareness to avoid spreading the disease. As Peter Ddaki puts it “don’t leave supervision of your garden to children or people who don’t know about the disease; use clean material when planting, or stunt will wipe out your entire crop.”

In Uganda, manure application seems to be the most effective control measure as it reduces Napier stunt incidence but also improves fodder yield. Similarly, in Tanzania and Kenya, a critical research area is the development of Integrated Pest Management.

A third approach is to look at the causes of the diseases and find ways to control the vectors or to breed disease-resistant grasses. Scientists from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), Charles Midega and Evans Obura explained the importance of analyzing the biology of the disease and its vector. “Kenya is so far the only country where we identified a leafhopper vector (Maiestas (=Recilia) banda) transmitting Napier stunt disease”, says Evans Obura, Doctoral research fellow with ICIPE, “there could be other insects. We are at the moment working on identifying a phytoplasma (cause of the disease) resistant Napier grass cultivar and also studying the genetic diversity of Recilia banda in eastern Africa.”

But as Charles Midega pointed out: “if the resistant variety has high levels of resistance to the vector, where will the vector move to in the future? Food crops? And will food crops such as maize and millet be susceptible to phytoplasma?” This scary thought triggered numerous comments in the discussions.

On a positive note, Margaret Mulaa, senior researcher at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), has identified 28 clones that are not showing symptoms and appear disease resistant in the field in an area of high stunt incidence. These still need to be tested by farmers to confirm their yields and disease resistance before further distribution.

Fishbowl session at the Napier Grass diseases workshop Besides presentations, the workshop used participatory methods such as Fish Bowls and World cafes to encourage discussions. Facilitated with brio by Julius Nyangaga and Nadia Manning-Thomas, these lively sessions were sometimes new to participants and much appreciated. They particularly helped the project team interact with decision makers and regional stakeholders.

It was clear from the group discussions that the project created awareness, trained scientists, mentored graduate students, plus identified materials and set up efficient networks.

Alexandra Jorge, Coordinator of the Global Public Goods Project, commented on the progress made in the three year project: “It is amazing to see the amount of knowledge people have accumulated when you compare the first meeting I attended in 2007 and this one! I also notice the ownership and commitment participants feel about their work” and she adds “I was impressed with how much people involved did at all levels in only three years…”

In her closing remarks, Sarah Mubiru from ASARECA shared a story illustrating the power of collaboration: In her story, a man brought to God asks to see Hell and Heaven. In Hell, people have bowls of soup but spoons that are too long to drink with or eat from. In Heaven, people with the same bowls and long spoons feed each other. The first results in chaos, the second in harmony.

She said that ASARECA similarly prides itself on its partnerships, carrying out fruitful partner-based research that improves livelihoods. ASARECA funds projects that “work locally” and have regional impact through linkages and dissemination.

She concluded that this project has achieved that goal with strong national teams addressing local issues, working together across the region to support each other and using the website to make the project results available world wide.

These sentiments were reflected by ILRI Theme Director Shirley Tarawali: “The strong collaborative nature of this project will hopefully last after the end of the project”.

More:

View presentations, posters, reports and outputs from the workshop and the project

Read an article by Nadia Manning-Thomas on the knowledge sharing processes used in the workshop

Visit the project website

View photos from the workshop

East and central African countries meet in Addis to address climate change regionally

Here water is life,

The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) is holding a conference—Climate Change Adaptation Strategies, Capacity Building and Agricultural Innovations to Improve Livelihoods in Eastern and Central Africa: Post-Copenhagen—in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 7–9 June 2010.

Joining ASARECA for this 3-day sub-regional meeting are representatives from the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research; the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which has a principal campus in Addis Ababa; the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), based in Syria; and other regional and international partners.

Participants of the ten countries that are members of ASARECA are being presented with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and implications for African countries of the resolutions of last December's climate conference in Copenhagen. The participants will assess the relative vulnerability to climate change of its ten member countries, as well as the impacts expected from climate change and the national agricultural adaptation strategies developed in those countries.

The agricultural innovations and technologies already available for responding to climate change and variability will be assessed for their ability to improve livelihoods in the region's arid and semi-arid areas. The participants will recommend optimal ways to negotiate and facilitate implementation of international climate change agreements in the region as well as ways simultaneously to reduce the impacts of climate change and climate variability while improving livelihoods of dryland peoples, who are particularly vulnerable to a warming planet.

Overcoming the Napier grass disease threat to East African dairy farmers

Also called elephant grass, Napier grass is planted on farms across East Africa as a source of feed for dairy cows. Farmers cut the grass for their livestock, carrying it home for stall feeding.

It is the most important forage grass in the region, constituting 40 to 80% of forages used by smallholder dairy farmers. In Kenya, half a million smallholder dairy producers rely on Napier grass to feed their cows. In Uganda, 90% of farmers rely entirely on Napier grass as fodder for their improved dairy cattle.

The livelihoods of these farmers are threatened by outbreaks of stunt and smut diseases affecting the Napier grass. To tackle the threat, the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) funded a three-year project to determine the extent of the disease problem, to collect disease-resistant Napier grass clones identified by farmers, and to identify best management practices used by farmers to mitigate the impact of the diseases.

After three years researching the problem in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, project researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute, Rothamsted Research, the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Uganda) and the National Biological Control Programme (Tanzania) will meet with colleagues from the region to share results and recommendations, promote good practices and draw other scientists into the project.

The workshop will be held at ILRI Ethiopia from 1 to 3 June, 2010.

More information:

Project website

Project outputs

Project news item from Kenya

Collective action ‘in action’ for African agriculture

Household takes refuge from the rain in central Malawi

Collaborative agricultural research in Africa gets a welcome boost; village farm household in central Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

In recent months, an,  initiative of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) called the Regional Plan for Collective Action in Eastern & Southern Africa (now simply called the ‘Regional Collective Action’) updated its ‘CGIAR Ongoing Research Projects in Africa Map’: http://ongoing-research.cgiar.org/ This collaborative and interactive map will be launched in the coming weeks through fliers, displays and presentations at agricultural, research and development meetings that have Africa as a focus. Although much of Africa’s agricultural research information has yet to be captured in this map, 14 centres supported by the CGIAR have already posted a total of 193 research projects and much more is being prepared for posting.

The newsletter of the Regional Collective Action—Collective Action News: Updates of agricultural research in Africa—continues to elicit considerable interest and feedback. Recent issues reported on the CGIAR reform process (November 2009) and agriculture and rural development at the recent climate change talks in Copenhagen (December 2009). The January 2010 issue reflects on the achievements of the Regional Collective Action since its inception three years ago (http://www.ilri.org/regionalplan/documents/Collective Action News January 2010.pdf).

Several high-profile African networks, including the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), are helping to disseminate the newsletter of the Regional Collective Action as well as information about its consolidated multi-institutional research map. Coordinators have now been appointed to lead each of four flagship programs of the Regional Collective Action.

Flagship 1 conducts collaborative work on integrated natural resource management issues and is coordinated by Frank Place at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
Flagship 2 conducts research on agricultural markets and institutions and is led by Steve Staal of ILRI.
Flagship 3 conducts research on agricultural and related biodiversity and is led by Wilson Marandu of Bioversity International with support from Richard Jones of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
Flagship 4 conducts research on agriculturally related issues in disaster preparedness and response and is led by Kate Longley and Richard Jones of ICRISAT.

These four flagships programs of the Regional Collective Action are expected to play crucial roles in advancing collaborative discussions and activities in the new CGIAR, which is transforming itself to better link its agricultural research to development outcomes. ILRI’s Director of Partnerships and Communications, Bruce Scott, represented the CGIAR Centres at the December Meeting of the ASARECA Board of Trustees.

‘ASARECA continues to value the work of the CGIAR Centres in this region and welcome the Regional Collective Action,’ Scott said. With the four Flagship Programs off and running, the interactive Regional Research Map live on the web, and Collective Action News reporting on regional agricultural issues regularly, collaborative agricultural science for development in Africa appears to have got a welcome boost.

Milk–the perfect food: South-South East Africa-South Asia symposium


A South-South Symposium to Improve Safety and Distribution in the Dairy Sector
1 – 4 December 2009, Nairobi, Kenya

South to South

In both India and East Africa some 80-90% of milk is handled by the informal, un-organized dairy sector. We usually associate milk with cattle, but domesticated ungulates such as sheep, goats, yaks, water buffalo, horses, and camels are other primary milk producers in developing countries. The largest producer and consumer of cattle’s milk in the world is India.

Milk provides the primary source of nutrition for young mammals before they are able to digest other types of food, and carries the mother’s antibodies to the baby. It can reduce the risk of many diseases in the baby. The exact components of raw milk varies by species, but it contains significant amounts of saturated fat, protein and calcium as well as vitamin C.

The food value of an animal killed for meat can be matched by perhaps one year’s worth of milk from the same animal, which will keep producing milk—in convenient daily portions—for years.

Despite the importance of this simple, opaque liquid, there has been little education in the handling of such an important nutritional substance nor to the organization of its distribution.

In Kenya, which has the largest dairy herd in Africa, including South Africa, about 1.6 million rural smallholder households depend on dairy production for their main livelihood, and dairy is the largest agricultural subsector by contribution to GDP, larger than horticulture, tea or coffee. Again, the large majority of these producers depend on the informal sector market, which employs over 30,000 people along the supply chain. Despite their immense contribution to livelihoods, informal milk marketing systems have historically suffered neglect and opposition from decision-makers and development agents, often because of concerns over quality and safety.

In East Africa, key players have been meeting regularly over the last three years to share lessons on these issues under an association formed to facilitate exchange of new approaches and to harmonize policies, the East Africa Dairy Regulators Association Council (EADRAC). With the nascent development of awareness in India of possibilities for upgrading informal markets, an event to allow the sharing of lessons with key players in East Africa engaged in similar milk marketing systems would be of immense benefit to both sides and the researchers involved.

To this end, a symposium is proposed that would bring together the key researchers and decision-makers from East Africa and northeast India concerning the informal dairy sector. Key outputs will be shared experiences and demonstrations of innovation through structured field visits and presentations of approaches and evidence. This will support the dissemination of new approaches for managing the informal sector that will improve the livelihoods of millions working in the informal dairy sectors of both regions, as well as consumers of milk and dairy products.

Case studies on these topics will be presented and specific strategies and recommendations developed. Participants will be dairy decision-makers and researchers from India and East Africa. The symposium will be linked to a regional EADRAC meeting to be held in East Africa and is provisionally planned for 1 – 4 Dec 2009 in Nairobi, Kenya. The symposium is being organized by the International Livestock Research Institute and the Association (ILRI) for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.

Programme:
Days 1-2: Representatives from EADRAC, India, ASARECA and ILRI will share and discuss case study presentations.
Day 3: Synthesis of lessons
Day 4: Field tour

Collective action on food crisis

“Food Needs to Move!” Especially across national borders.
“The levers to solve this problem are in our own hands.”—Joseph Karugia

Collective action on food crisis

New research showing how the global food price crisis is playing out in 17 countries of eastern and central Africa was presented at a roundtable discussion in Nairobi 22 July 2008.

The research results show that the regional food situation differs significantly from the global one, largely because of this region’s exceptional diversity. That regional diversity provides these countries with opportunities to turn the volatile global and local food situations to their advantage.

By integrating markets and simplifying trade within the region, policymakers can efficiently link areas with food deficits to areas with food surpluses. This integration will help the region’s small farmers get better prices for their crops and livestock while also helping the region’s urban consumers get reliable year-round access to staple food items.

The July Roundtable on the Global Food Crisis was organized by the Kenya country offices of the World Bank and World Food Program and the Nairobi-headquartered International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Fifty key decision-makers in agricultural and rural development met on ILRI’s campus to discuss interventions that governments, development agencies, research organizations and nongovernmental organizations could make to help poor people cope with the rising prices of staple foods.

Joseph Karugia, a Kenyan agricultural economist, provided an overview of the regional food situation. Karugia coordinates a Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for Eastern and Central Africa (ReSAKSS-ECA). His review was based on a study led by the region’s leading agricultural research group, the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA). Under pressure by policymakers needing to take action to address the food price crisis, a team of 26 researchers within ASARECA and several centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) that work in this region, including ILRI, with study activities coordinated by ReSAKSS-ECA, conceived and executed the study together and with speed.

“Our regional food prices have generally risen much slower than global ones,” Karugia said. Even the countries within the region are being affected differently by the global food prices, largely because of their different “food baskets”. Kenya’s main staple is maize, but in Uganda it’s plantain, in Ethiopia it’s teff and in Rwanda it’s beans. Those countries that deal in non-traded commodities are buffered from the rising prices of globally traded staples. “Rice and wheat,” Karugia said, “two hugely important staples globally, are relatively trivial in this region. Moreover, most of the region’s maize needs are met outside the global markets because most people in the region obtain their maize in locally, in informal as well as formal markets.”

One result is that while the food price index (FPI) of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which captures trends in major food commodities, rose by 56% between March 2007 and March 2008, the FPI increases in this region were all below 40% and in most cases significantly lower. The FPI increased by 39% in Ethiopia, 20% in Burundi and Kenya, and just 11% in Tanzania. In several other countries in the region, including Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia, the increase was less than 10%.

It’s not only the staples of these neighbouring countries that differ. Their climate and rainfall patterns differ, and consequently their planting and harvest times differ, too.

These within-region variations give policymakers a powerful lever for transforming a global food crisis into a regional opportunity for farm producers and urban consumers alike.


“The spatial and temporal distribution of production and staggered harvesting
in the countries of eastern and southern Africa offer large opportunities for trade.”

By integrating the region’s food markets and simplifying its food trade regulations, Karugia said, the region could link up food-deficit to food-surplus areas and thus provide its citizens with staples in an given season. A truly integrated regional market would provide farmers with remunerative prices and alternative reliable markets for their produce while also providing urban consumers and rural net buyers of food with a variety of reasonably priced food staples throughout the year.

Most of the trade in food in this region is informal. It is wasteful not because it is informal but rather because of the many obstacles the informal traders have to face. Karugia explains: “At the border between Kenya and Uganda, trucks laden with sacks of grain and other food staples are unloaded, reloaded onto bicycles, bicycled across the border to be reloaded onto trucks on the other side. This is not an efficient way to move food!”

It would be a shame, Karugia said, quoting the economist Paul Romer, for the eastern and southern Africa region “to waste a good crisis”. “This global food price crisis provides the 19 countries of eastern and southern Africa with a golden opportunity to promote agricultural-led development through increased domestic production, regional trade and integration.”

The ASARECA research presented at this roundtable discussion was a demonstration of this new networked science. Diverse scientists from ReSAKSS-ECA, ASARECA and the CGIAR worked together for months amassing data from country and regional organizations and consulting with key experts and partners within governments, policy think tanks, research institutions, emergency relief agencies and the private sector. Although their individual perspectives on, and interpretations of, the data they collected vary considerably, the research group reached consensus on several points.

The poor in this region are spending 40 to 70% of their income on buying food.
The poor are being hit hardest by the rise in food prices, especially the rural net buyers of food.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the farming households in the rural areas are net buyers rather than net producers of food if price rather than volume of food is considered. Poverty forces them to sell their grain and other crops at harvest time, when prices are at their lowest, and to buy grain again, several months later, when the households run out of the staple, often at two to three times the price at which they sold their grain.
Prices of agricultural inputs are increasing across the 17 countries of the region. (The price of fertilizer rose 200% in Kenya in the last year.)
Yields of staple food crops are stagnating or decreasing in 17 of the 19 countries of Eastern and Central Africa (only Egypt and Mauritius are increasing their yields) because farming is moving onto increasingly marginal agricultural lands, causing yield aggregates to fall.

One other salient fact leaped out of the data—the region cannot continue to spend less than 10% (and in some cases as low as 2%) of its national budgets in a sector that provides 25% of the region’s gross domestic product, 75% of its citizen’s livelihoods, and food for 100% of its people. ‘We have neglected our agriculture, our farmers and our food markets for decades,” says Karugia. “This is the result.”

Karugia and his many colleagues in this multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary, and multi-commodity project asked themselves one central question: What levers can we pull to take advantage of the higher food prices? The two conventional answers—increase farm production and control consumer demand—were deemed by the group to be too slow to be useful. This regional group of scientists concluded that a regional strategy for exploiting the food price hikes offered the best opportunities for the most numbers of people: “Exploit the regional diversity by facilitating regional trade”.

Priority actions for such a regional strategy would include the following:
Markets: Remove export bans, eliminate non-trade barriers, simplify trade regulations and upgrade infrastructure along the region’s main trade corridors.
Farmers: Reduce the high cost of fertilizer and other agricultural inputs and facilitate their trade, widen use of best-bet agricultural technologies, pilot innovative risk-management strategies such as index-based insurance schemes.
Institutions: Strengthen market information and intelligence as well as frameworks for preparedness, response and learning.

Addressing these issues in these ways, with evidence-based policy options, is thus feasible, say the study team, and should lead to lowering the prices of food staples while also raising farm productivity and agricultural livelihoods.

In summing up the day’s roundtable discussion, host Carlos Seré, who is ILRI’s director general, said that it’s not only food we should be moving within the region but also the agricultural technologies that allow greater and more sustainable food production. The current food price crisis also has that silver lining: “When you have high food prices, you can move those technologies for improved food production. And you can get attention for neglected alternative crops, such as cassava chips for livestock feed. Which become viable as the price of grain staples rise.”

“This is something happening now,” Seré said. “We need smart interventions that target the region’s poor consumers and farmers alike. We need to get fertilizers into the region’s high potential farming areas. The key thing is to work with markets—to arbitrage across countries and across the region. We must reduce trade barriers within the region, which will greatly improve the efficiency of its markets.”

“We must also think through new crop portfolios for this region,” he continued. “How, for example, could we continue to support maize production in Kenya without penalizing those farmers pursuing a more diversified system that includes sorghum or millet?”

Seré concluded: “Climate and other fast-evolving changes affecting developing-country food production will make our problems worse in future. Finding the institutional frameworks for addressing these problems in collective action is our challenge.”

Welcome address by ILRI director general Carlos Seré

In welcoming participants to the roundtable forum, ILRI director general Carlos Seré said: “Global analysis of the food situation is relatively simple. We need to bring the discussion and analysis down to regional levels to increase the specificity, the granularity, of our information.” . . . Read more
Read profile of Carlos Seré

Interview with Ravi Prabhu, a member of the study team and coordinator of a CGIAR initiative called Collective Action for Eastern and Southern Africa

Let’s take a look at what we heard today from Joseph Karugia and his ASARECA, ReSAKSS-ECG and CGIAR team.

We heard that have opportunities to exploit regional food heterogeneity, capacities and systems that we are not doing a good job of exploiting . . . Read more


The latest version of the ASARECA Food Crisis Report is available: http://www.asareca.org/resources/reports/resp2food_pr_main.pdf

Further Information Contact:

Joseph Karugia
Coordinater, ReSAKSS-ECA
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Nairobi, KENYA
Email: j.karugia@cgiar.org
Telephone: +254 (20) 422 3016