I have long believed that a business-focused approach to agricultural development can address the related challenges of poverty, food and nutrition security – at scale, in an enduring way, and with subsidies and development assistance falling away over time.
There is a myth that poor farmers do not interact with markets. Subsistence farmers do not have the credit and storage to survive an entire year without selling their produce at harvest, and their labour later. They need money to pay for food, school fees and medical emergencies. Farmers who grow surpluses want to sell their produce to get money for these needs.
Here is how, based on proven practice, we believe this situation can be turned around. It starts with understanding why poor farmers do not get full value from their crops. Let us use, as an example, East African mango farmers, whom TechnoServe works with as part of Project Nurture, a partnership with The Coca-Cola Company and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These producers grow varieties that are not well known in mature markets, and they lack access to information and finance to improve farming practices. They do not work together to access markets by aggregating their fruit and channeling their produce to the right buyers.
Assessing these challenges along the chain, from the farm to accessible markets, reveals gaps and needs that can be addressed. A plan can be developed. Partners who bring expertise, financing and markets can be mobilized. In the case of Project Nurture, the partners are helping more than 50,000 small-scale farmers to double their fruit incomes. Producers help to improve farming practices, while collective businesses offer improved access to helpful input and finance, and more reliable output markets such as that provided by Coca-Cola’s East African bottler SABCO. The investment in initiatives like Project Nurture results in improvements that can endure on their own.
As we work to boost incomes, producers should also be encouraged to save, to improve their resilience and invest in off-farm activities, as well as grouping together to form well-governed, professionally managed businesses. Improvements across all these dimensions can help bring about business solutions to global risks.
The real work happens on the ground, but these initiatives need support at the highest levels. We need to apply the lessons from programmes like Project Nurture to raise incomes at a much greater scale and to achieve transformative improvements in rural communities.
This is where institutions such as the World Economic Forum come into play. By bringing together large funders, corporate investors and non-profits, the Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative is creating an opportunity to recognize and promote business solutions to food and nutrition insecurity.
Farsighted leadership across government, corporate and civic organizations, extensive human and financial resource commitments, and access to information from experience – together with an unrelenting will to collaborate – are all needed to realize the full potential of initiatives like Project Nurture.
Author: Simon Winter is Senior Vice-President for Development at TechnoServe.
Image: Women buy ripe mangoes and other fruits at a stall in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, July 8, 2013. REUTERS/Feisal Omar