Interview of Africare's Senegal Country Director, Gwen Young, in view of the AgriBusiness Forum 2012.
EMRC: What is Africare’s main role in Africa and what have been your most significant achievements in the continent?
: Africare’s main role in Africa is to work directly with communities and local, national and international actors to create better futures for people living across the continent. Concretely, this means creating sustainable, community led programming in health, agriculture, education, finance and governance that builds up incomes and livelihoods and creates health-prosperous communities.
Working across the continent for over 40 years and in over 36 countries, Africare has achieved many successes. Africare’s achievements include being recognized two years in a row by InterAction’s Best Practices Initiatives for our work in Mali with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Project and our work with Angelique Kidjo to provide hand pumps and clean water to girls in Benin. The Mali SRI Project is a demonstrated success for Africare in natural resource management and adaption to climate change.
With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and generous support from the Better U Foundation, the Timbuktu Food Security Initiative (TFSI) Project is working with rural smallholder farmers to end the cycle of relief-based food aid distribution by building sustainable, resilient food security systems at the local level. Through a highly participatory approach, this project experimented with the construction of community-managed Village Irrigated Perimeters (VIPs) and the adoption of SRI. As integrated components of a larger, holistic food-insecurity intervention, VIPs and SRI empower smallholder farmers to identify local solutions to food production, access to value-added market linkages and eliminate household hunger. After four years of SRI implementation, the project has successfully:
- Tripled average rice yields from 3 metric tons/hectare to 9 metric tons/hectare;
- Reduced water requirements by up to 40%;
- Reduced reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides;
- Decreased input-associated costs such as labor and capital investments by about 23%; and
- Increased income generated per hectare (up to 68% gains per household unit)
EMRC: You will be partnering with EMRC for this year’s AgriBusiness Forum. How significant is this year’s focus on partnership, investment and technology at the AgriBusiness Forum? What role does each element play for the future of Africa’s agriculture?
GY: Africare works on developing agribusinesses at the community and local level across Africa. Partnerships, investment and technology are critical to building the capacity of small and medium enterprises to transform local producers associations into fully functioning entities. Africare’s role is to facilitate the interaction between development partners, financial sector organizations, technology providers and rural producers associations. Without adequate financing or access to buyers, producers associations are not able to sell their products to increase their incomes and bolster their livelihoods. Furthermore without knowledge of the markets, they are unable to secure the inputs and technology needed to increase production.
Producers need a clear market and demand before they can make firm investments in increasing income. They also need new technologies such as drip irrigation and water pumps, which allow them to spend more time on downstream value-chain activities such as marketing and processing their goods.
EMRC: You will be sponsoring 6 people to attend the forum. Why is this sponsorship important and what were your selection criteria?
GY: This sponsorship is a part of Africare’s role in creating viable and sustainable small and medium enterprises. By sponsoring these associations’ attendance at the conference, we are providing them with access to a new set of partners. We are also increasing their knowledge about the types of services, investments and technologies that are available to them.
On the service provider side, Africare is increasing awareness of the realities and needs of small producers associations and businesses.
The sponsored enterprises were selected based on their current rate of literacy and financial viability as well as their ability to sell products on a regional level with Senegal. These associations are those that are truly ready, in terms of capacity and production, to access additional services, technologies and investments.
EMRC: As a partner at the forum, what will be your driving message and what are you expecting to gain from your presence?
GY: Africare expects to deliver the message that investments, technologies and services need to be designed considering the needs of small-scale farmers, particularly women, and delivered to small-scale farmers, not simply to large agribusinesses. Across Africa, it is the small entrepreneurs and businesses that drive community livelihoods and national economic development. Furthermore, agricultural development drives the economies of numerous African nations, and investments in agricultural services, finance and technologies need to be targeted at small-scale farmers and developed with their needs at the forefront.From our and our partner small enterprises presence we hope to demonstrate both the innovative work being done at the community level as well as the financial, technological and service needs of small enterprises in Senegal. We also hope to demonstrate the role each of the small enterprises play in driving community livelihoods and national economic development.
EMRC: What role do you view civil society playing for the future of the continent’s agricultural sector?
GY: Africare believes that advocacy for a better policy alignment will lead to improved access to more competitive markets for smallholder producers. These producers will need a good understanding of current agricultural practices and the opportunities for improvement; knowledge of the market systems to facilitate sustainable private sector linkages; and the capacity to strengthen farmer-based organizations to improve their voice in the policy arena; and foster growth including institutionalization of best practices and approaches to sustainably build resilient livelihoods.
EMRC: What is your long-term vision for the agricultural sector in the next 5-10 years and how will it impact communities across Sub-Sahara Africa?
GY: Climate Change is global, but it affects Africa more acutely. It demands climate-smart, resilient strategies for sustainable production and enhanced adoption of improved production practices that rely on access to competitive markets and income.
Therefore, in the long-term, Africare’s vision is to cultivate a better understanding among all stakeholders on linkages to enhance sustainable food and nutrition security. This is realized through strong partnerships with local and international research institutions that provide clear access to knowledge and improved technology; continuous improvement at the farm and market levels; continuous access to market information, high-quality seed of improved varieties, fertilizers, safe chemicals and other technology; and capacity building services that are an extension on agronomy and business practices.
Africare’s projects assist communities in Sub-Saharan Africa in moving toward sustainable, prosperous futures. It is our mission to continue doing so for years to come.