Diversification in East and Southern Africa


East and Southern Africa is a climate hotspot, with more than US$45 billion in agricultural production at risk from higher temperatures, shorter growing seasons and more extreme droughts and floods. Maize, a staple crop covering up to 75% of cropland in parts of the region, is particularly vulnerable and is projected to face yield declines of 15%, among other climate impacts. Many of the affected areas already have serious levels of hunger and malnutrition, with the highest burden experienced by women and youth from marginalized, vulnerable communities. Therefore, if these systems are sustainably diversified, they could contribute to stabilize the regional and global agrifood systems. 

The next decade will be critical for strengthening food, land and water systems in East and Southern Africa. The region’s agribusiness ecosystem has been identified as a critical engine for agricultural and economic development, climate change adaptation and gender and youth empowerment. Investment in innovation, capabilities and supportive environments will be essential for driving sustainable growth that benefits all.


This Initiative aims to support climate-resilient agriculture and livelihoods in 12 countries in East and Southern Africa by helping millions of smallholders intensify, diversify and reduce the risks in maize-based farming through improved extension services, small and medium enterprise development, supporting governance frameworks and increased investment with a gender and social inclusion lens. 


This objective will be achieved through:

  • Diversifying and sustainably intensifying production by assessing needs and options for the introduction of crops, livestock, mechanization and irrigation, applying innovations in value chains and building capacity while scaling to larger farming communities. 
  • Reducing risk and digitalizing value chains by co-designing and delivering “Innovation Package” bundles of digital agro-advisory systems and research management products — including mobile apps, TV programs and social media — to build resilience and improve productivity.  
  • Supporting and accelerating value chain business enablers in maize mixed systems by using CGIAR’s expertise and partner network to unlock access to funding, investment and tailored technical assistance.  
  • Promoting the governing and enabling of multifunctional landscapes for sustainable diversification and intensification with a focus on strengthening the evidence base for decision-makers.  
  • Empowering and engaging women and youth in agribusiness ecosystems by mapping challenges and opportunities to address gender and social inequality and applying inclusive and coordinated interventions for transformative change. 
  • Scaling innovations and coordinating CGIAR and partner activities in the region through a scaling hub that uses the “scaling readiness” approach to inform, activate and bring to scale innovations that respond to regional or country demand.


    This Initiative will work in the following countries: Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Lessons with regional and global relevance will be shared. 


    Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

    1. At least 30 agribusinesses (40% run by women and 40% by youth) scale climate-smart solutions supporting diversification, intensification and risk management of maize mixed systems through at least US$5 million of new finance in debt, equity and grants. 
    2. At least 50,000 farmers, value chain actors and consumers (40% women and 40% youth) in maize mixed systems start to use climate-smart intensification and diversification practices with improved water and land management. 
    3. Investments of US$100 million enable, and two strategies/policies help support, collaborative governance and management of multifunctional landscapes. 
    4. At least 1 million farmers and other value chain actors (40% women and 40% youth) access bundled digital agro-advisory and agricultural risk management products and services that support their response to climate risks and management of land and water systems for climate resilience.


          Projected impacts and benefits include:



          Climate adaptation and mitigation will be supported through the scaling of climate-smart agriculture, including the introduction of innovations such as stress-tolerant crop varieties, updated soil management and irrigation practices, mechanization, digital agro-advisory support services, and an enabling policy environment, at national, regional and continental scales, benefiting 11.3 million farmers and their families. 


          Crop diversification, including the introduction of nutrient-dense, climate-resilient crops, livestock and fish, will bolster food and nutrition security, and stabilize food production in East and Southern Africa, benefiting 11.3 million farmers and their families. 


          Fostering an agribusiness ecosystem that serves farmers, with a focus on women and youth, will reduce poverty and bolster livelihoods and jobs for 11.3 million farmers and their families. 


          Women, youth and other marginalized groups will be supported with targeted technical, financial and entrepreneurial capacity building and support, including from the public and private sectors and civil society, in order to promote their engagement, ownership, employment opportunities and incomes in agribusiness, thereby benefiting 1.1 million individual women and bolstering development for the entire region. 


          Environmental health and biodiversity will be supported through collaborative management planning and integrated policy implementation at landscape scales, with an ongoing community of practice on water, food and climate security and resilience in East and Southern Africa, bringing 798,000 hectares of land under improved management. 


          Projected benefits are a way to illustrate reasonable orders of magnitude for impacts which could arise as a result of the impact pathways set out in the Initiative’s theories of change. In line with the 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy, Initiatives contribute to these impact pathways, along with other partners and stakeholders. CGIAR does not deliver impact alone. These projections therefore estimate plausible levels of impact to which CGIAR, with partners, contribute. They do not estimate CGIAR’s attributable share of the different impact pathways.


          Header photo: Cutting fodder at Simon and Sylvia Kiruja’s dairy farm in Meru, Kenya. The family is among those who have received training and new technology like the Brachiaria fodder grass varieties to improve milk yields. Photo by G. Smith/Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.


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