Ukama Ustawi: Diversification for resilient agribusiness ecosystems in East and Southern Africa - Proposal

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The impacts of climate change in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA), detailed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (2021), are already well known to farmers in the region. In this climate hot spot, agricultural production worth over USD 45 billion is at risk from higher temperatures, shorter growing seasons, more extreme and frequent droughts and floods, and increased water scarcity, with little accessible data to support preparedness or responses. These risks cascade across food systems, heightening the incidence of disease and pest outbreaks, affecting post-harvest storage and transport, jeopardizing businesses and supply chains, and undermining livelihoods.

Maize production is particularly vulnerable, projected to face not only 15% climate-related declines in yield without adaptation but also challenges from diminished cropland suitability and poor agronomic inputs and management; degraded environmental bases with declining soil fertility and degraded water systems are already apparent. Given that maize-mixed systems cover over 75% of the cropping land in many places, it is critical to build climate resilience and de-risk through diversification. Production is low due to poor-quality seeds, suboptimal input use, poor agronomic management, and pest and disease outbreaks, among other factors. Yet maize is the primary source of calories for people in most ESA countries, within and beyond the current areas of production.

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. Women play a key role in ensuring family nutrition and food security and provide more than 50% of the agricultural labor force. They are more economically active as farmers and entrepreneurs than women in any other region of the world. Women grow most of Africa’s food and own one-third of all small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Yet agriculture continues to be a key driver of gender inequality in Africa, with significant gender gaps in productivity, wages, and entrepreneurial opportunities. Africa is also at the cusp of a youth bulge. The majority of around 100 million young people entering the workforce in Africa over the next 10 years will find work in agriculture. One of the region’s competitive advantages is its people.

Developments that transform the ESA agrifood system thus not only need to bring sustainable intensification (SI) to maize-mixed systems and crop diversification to de-risk other systems, they also need to a) empower more women and young farmers, agribusiness owners, and value chain actors; b) promote healthier diets; and c) protect the natural environment from further degradation. Systems transformations can diversify not only cropping systems, but also the markets and value chains, investment sources, and enable value chain actors to deliver at scale. Currently there are significant hurdles to farmers and market systems realizing these ambitions. These include access to inputs, advisories, capacity, and finance; youth unemployment and a lack of interest in agriculture; social inequality that hinders equitable growth; tensions over owning or using scarce resources; and challenges to collaborative governance. Newly developed innovations, capabilities, and support environments can tackle these barriers. The agribusiness ecosystem, particularly SMEs, has been identified as a critical engine for agricultural and economic development, for climate change adaptation in ESA and for achieving strategic gender gains and youth re-engagement in agriculture.

Agribusinesses help create a “pull effect” for products and services. And while many solutions already exist from CGIAR programs, the challenge is deploying and rapidly scaling these actions through business models and blended capital investment in a coordinated and inclusive way to engage the “hidden middle.” The next decade will be critical in strengthening food, land, and water systems in ESA: the rationale is clear for Ukama Ustawi (UU).

Jacobs-Mata, I. and Girvetz, E.

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