Last week, Kigali hosted the fourth ‘cracking the nut’ conference that sought to find ways various countries can improve rural livelihoods and guarantee food security. The conference attracted over 400 delegates from over 40 countries who shared best practices that have pushed them forward in trying to achieve food security.
Anita Campion, the president of AZMJ, a global consulting firm offering services on how to foster international development and build local capacity, stood out among a panelist for both her firm’s experience and involvement in pushing for food security and her knowledge attained through working in various countries.The New Times’ Collins Mwai and Madeleine Otto sat down with her to get insights on how the country can achieve food security and improve the livelihoods of the rural population. Below are the excerpts.
What was the aim of the conference?
We began the ‘cracking the nut’ conference four years ago to provide technical assistance to improve rural and agriculture development through easing access to finance. There are many people joining the agricultural sector and this calls for increased sharing of ideas and innovations. We have lessons we can learn from each other.
The world population is estimated to grow to 9 billion by 2050 and we need to operate at a sufficient level in terms of agriculture to be able to feed the population when we get there. We need to share knowledge as well as highlight key issues that are emerging and begin to tackle them.
We discussed food security in detail. Rwanda is a good example of a country that has achieved much in terms of agricultural progress, although the financial sector has a lot to do in terms of facilitating the agricultural sector.
The majority of farmers in Rwanda are smallholder farmers who still use traditional methods of farming. What model would you recommend to increase output from such farmers?
The main thing that will foster growth is aggregation, which involves the merging of smallholder farmers so that they are seen and felt in the market. By agreeing on how to achieve quality, farmers can attract investors who prefer working with large scale farmers. But investors are slowly learning that they are not as many large scale investors and are shifting focus to small scale farmers. Aggregation requires a cohesive and consistent group that is efficiently run. The group should be able to supply to larger markets and influence prices of agricultural produce.
With aggregation, many stakeholders are willing to work with small scale farmers because it is like working with a large scale holder.
Are there opportunities or ways we can ensure that financial institutions are brought on board?
Traditional banks tend to be more conservative but we are working with micro-finance institutions. Micro-finance institutions are more likely to use a cash flow methodology, whereas banks require that their loans be fully collateralised.
There is also a tendency of people looking at themselves as poor and fearing to invest. They even think less of how to improve their income.
Aren’t we getting it wrong by encouraging farmers to export food rather that concentrate on our own food security?
Because Rwanda is small, I do not think the main objective should be to provide food for its own borders. There is need to broaden the scope and open borders to ensure that people not only have enough food but also have a balanced diet. Food security is not only about food production but also income so that people can afford to buy what they do not produce.
That is how livelihood comes into play. We need to keep producers motivated. I think the government of Rwanda has got the right approach by making the environment as investor friendly as possible.
Would you advise on specialising on particular agricultural export rather than have a little of everything?
Looking at how Rwanda coffee is doing internationally, Rwanda has managed to build a brand name which has even generated interest in the global market.
There have been efforts by government and other stakeholders to build on specialty high quality coffee because there are people willing to pay for it. That brings about the issue of certification to protect the reputation of the brand.
Do you have specific crops in mind?
A broad range of horticulture could be wise. Horticulture crops generally are the ones that provide nutrients required for balanced diet. What is good about horticulture is that you can do it in green houses and eliminate risks related to weather.
Youth make up a large population in African countries, yet they are not interested in agriculture. How can we ensure that more of them play part in it?
The best motivator is showing that more money can be made out of the sector. With that, even if they had plans for white collar positions, they can end up venturing in agriculture. They have to be convinced. As we show by demonstration, it will get easy with time.
It is important to communicate to them in a way that appeals to them. An example would be by governments’ commitment to support their projects.
There is going to be a lot of opportunities in agriculture, by looking at population statistics. It will go down to different countries’ policies in attracting the youth who are the most productive. When people realise the power of the youth, they will invest in them. A bank in West Africa is doing it. The bank reached an agreement with the government of Mali to offer financial services to student to open savings accounts, provide financial literacy and entrepreneurial training for the youth. The aim is to build customer royalty.
The government of Rwanda, through the Ministry of Agriculture is keen on engaging the private sector to achieve food security. What challenges and emerging trends should they brace for based on your previous experience?
The impact of climate change. We are seeing already that weather patterns are not predictable. That means that we do not know ahead of time the trend of the elements which affect productivity.
We will need some buffer systems to help people in the sector and protect against losses.
The youth are also realising that those who made the most money in the past are those who worked with the government, but now those jobs are fewer.
So the government will have to encourage entrepreneurship from an early level for the model to be effective and to ensure there are numerous investors.
Improved communication is vital to make farmers in rural areas aware of market information. How can we improve it?
The more market information they have, the better, but there is a question of who will avail the information and create necessary channels. Is it the donors, governments or the rest of the market player? Investors can use that as a motivating factor as farmers are likely to do more when they expect good returns out of it.