In the autumn of 2020, Vice Versa publishes a series of articles on transforming African food systems to provide sufficient and healthy food to the growing population, while at the same time generating income and employment for the increasing number of young people. Our aim is to generate debate on this important topic within the Dutch international cooperation sector, running up to the parliamentary elections in March 2021.
The series is an initiative of Vice Versa in cooperation with Solidaridad, IDH Sustainable trade, Wageningen University & Research and the Food & Business Knowledge Platform and AgriProFocus, merging into the Netherlands Food Partnership this year
Investments made by agribusinesses in Kenya, for example in French beans or mango production, are often dubbed inclusive: poor smallholders are assumed to participate and benefit too. However, research done by the Follow the Food programme shows that businesses tend to favour larger farmers and exclude smaller and resource-poor smallholders. Moreover, these investments tend not to have much effect on the food security of the households involved. Researchers James Wangu and Ellen Mangnus conclude that inclusive agribusiness can at best only be a partial answer.
Technically it is possible for many African farmers to triple yields, tells Professor Ken Giller in this interview. And this could make a major impact in providing food security for African nations. But many small-scale farmers have tiny plots and are stuck in poverty – unable to benefit from available technologies. Changing that needs a broad approach that should be led by Africans. ‘Aid and trade, or involving Dutch business in development, doesn’t solve the problem of hunger and poverty.’
How can the Netherlands contribute to improving nutrition in Africa in the coming decade? Retiring Professor Ruerd Ruben would like to see Dutch government policy informed by a food systems approach – with more focus on consumers, and an active role for Dutch embassies entering into policy dialogue with the government in their African host countries. Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag agrees: ‘The systems approach, where more priority is given to the environment and consumers, is now widespread. It will be high on the agenda of the UN summit in 2021.’
How can the Netherlands contribute to improving food systems in low and middle-income countries? This is the mission of the Netherland Food Partnership (NFP), which brings together civil society, knowledge institutes, government and diplomats, and the private sector to contribute to food and nutrition security. Vice Versa interviewed NFP’s brand new director Myrtille Danse and asked her about her vision and the organisation’s plans for the future.
The digitalisation of agriculture promises to bring major changes to the lives of farmers in Africa. But major threats loom too, such as new and greater potential dependency of farmers on multinationals. Scholar Ellen Mangnus dives into the world of data, apps, drones and sensors for agriculture and reflects.
The domestic sector needs much more attention, to unlock the potential of the horticultural sector in Kenya. Government policy on food safety and a local safe food label would bring opportunities to farmers, although not all farmers are suited to producing for this sector, according to Joyce Gema. ‘Our worries about inclusion should be about agricultural workers, not smallholders.’ The second of two articles on how diversification can increase farmers’ resilience.
Growing coffee can bring Kenyan farmers a good income, but it is also a risky business. COVID, climate change and volatile markets make resilience a higher priority than ever. Diversifying coffee production with dairy and food crops proves to be a good way to increase coffee farmers’ resilience. ‘Resilience is no longer a nice to have. It is necessary.’ The first of two articles on ways farmers can diversify.
Communities being able to participate on an equal basis in land governance is key to food security and inclusive development. How can securing land rights pave the way for responsible investments and what can we learn from experiences with the palm oil industry? To answer these questions we turn to West Africa where two activists are fighting for their communities’ right to land. ‘If we want to move forward, we need to share the wealth that the land brings.’
Smallholder farmers and small agrifood enterprises are key for sustainable food systems in Africa. They need access to capital, but banks consider it tedious, costly and too much of a risk to invest in them. Initiatives like the IDH Farmfit Fund and crowdfunding platform PlusPlus have been set up to try to break this deadlock. Can these new funds assist smallholder farmers and companies to become a commercially interesting opportunity for financial institutions?
All over Africa, people are consuming more processed food, and thus more fat, sugar and salt, while healthy vegetables and fruits are becoming more expensive. Yet Zambian researcher Namukolo Covic believes Africa has the potential to arrive at a diet that is healthy for people and planet. ‘Consumption patterns over the whole continent are in transition, this is the time to do things right. We can follow a different trajectory than high income countries and avoid the mistakes that have been made there.’
By 2030 more than half of Africa’s population will live in urban centres. How do you feed these ever-growing cities? And how do you make sure people not only have enough food, but that this food is also nutritious and sustainable? ‘We need to build a system that is not designed by the few but inspired by the many.’
A food crisis is imminent in many countries in Africa, aggravated by measures against the COVID-19 virus. Dealing with this crisis and ensuring access to healthy diets for all requires a broad food systems approach, many believe. But what exactly does that entail, and how should it be used? This article forms the introduction to a series of articles that Vice Versa will publish during the autumn of 2020, about food and employment in Africa, and how the Netherlands can contribute. The series aims to generate debate on this important topic within development cooperation, in the run-up to the Dutch parliamentary election in March 2021.