Simon Winter

Partnering to Improve Food and Nutrition Security in Africa

Transforming poor people’s food and nutrition security is proving to be, as expected, a massive challenge. As we approach a slew of global meetings that will address this topic in the coming months, the German Marshall Fund (GMF) has released a new report that showcases the need for and complexities of multi-stakeholder partnerships in support of this goal in Africa. Indeed, the bolder the goals and the greater the extent of the desired transformation, the greater the complexity of the partnership.

A recent blog exchange on the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), one of the partnerships highlighted in the GMF report, demonstrates this complexity. Porter McConnell of Oxfam America believes that before further public funds are committed to such endeavors, the multinational corporate partners need to show their willingness to invest. Chris Isaac of AgDevCo responds by saying that it is the paucity of catalytic financing from public sources that is holding back private investment. Which is the chicken and which is the egg? And how can a new dynamism be injected to break this cycle of slow action?

The GMF report highlights examples of other partnerships that are doing just that. One such case, profiled in the report, is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported Ethiopia Coffee Initiative, which brings together a range of local and international organizations from the Ethiopian government to NIB Bank, the IFC and coffee exporters and roasters, with implementation led by TechnoServe.

One breakthrough factor was taking a sectoral, or value chain, approach related to a very specific market opportunity. In this case, it was the potential to catapult some of Ethiopia’s less accessible and well-known coffee regions to the front line of the rapidly growing global demand for high-end washed arabica coffee. Other important factors included rigorous analysis of the benchmarks to be achieved and an implementation approach that was based on a shared vision of how to overcome identified gaps – namely, through targeted capacity development (around the processing models and agronomy) and linkages to leading global buyers and financiers. And critical to success was an approach that generated early achievements that helped to showcase the opportunity and further align incentives of the partners.

In all of the examples provided in the GMF report, a critical early-stage role was played by catalytic “soft” money of some kind, whether philanthropic or public-backed grant monies. The Ethiopia Coffee Initiative example would not have happened without earlier investments in Tanzania by USAID and a range of private donors. These investments enabled testing and learning to take place with small-scale Tanzanian coffee farmers, various arms of the Tanzanian public sector and private companies, dating back to the early 2000s.

Among the many sound recommendations detailed in the report, those that offer the greatest potential to drive accelerated impact on food and nutrition security include:

  • Ensuring programs are driven by evolving market demand and include private-sector partners and sensibilities early;

  • Creating mechanisms, such as those offered by the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture, that provide opportunities for public, private and civil society stakeholders to engage and listen to each other;

  • Promoting a level playing field linked to profitable models for farming and farmer engagement (such as outgrower schemes) – representing a move away from the “handout” mentality of some agencies that encourages persistent dependency;

  • Taking a careful approach to increasing formalization of land tenure security (mitigating risks of land grabs);

  • Producing higher-quality data, monitoring and research in order to support adaptive learning-based approaches to program implementation;

  • And finally, finding sources of well-focused catalytic funding to build the base of knowledge and soft and hard infrastructure that will encourage private risk-taking, innovation and investment.

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