Food production and marketing systems throughout East and Southern Africa continue to perform poorly, affecting the ability of smallholder farmers to participate in trade and discouraging private sector companies from investing in the sector, perpetuating cycles of food insecurity and price volatility. Over a two day gathering in June held in Nairobi, Kenya, FoodTrade ESA held its first ever regional grantee meeting to help identify opportunities that exist to promote regional trade of staple food surpluses
The focus of the regional grantee meeting was geared towards sharing progress and milestones and discussing gaps, opportunities, areas of convergence, further collaboration and a way forward for the remaining project period. The forum brought together grantees, smallholder farmers, private sector organisations, development partners, relevant programmes and projects doing similar/ related work, financial institutions, and input suppliers including seed companies.
Key highlights from the meeting included showcasing the major achievements from the programme, including unlocking private sector capital worth £17,455,463 in the past four years of implementation. In addition to this, grantees have been able to open up access to improved seed for smallholder farmers, which in turn has increased their yields, output and revenue. There has also been a significant increase in linkages and cross border trade between farmers and private sector organisations that purchase produce directly from smallholder farmers. The use of technology has also been used to disseminate more reliable information to farmers. In addition to this, more women have been integrated in regional staple food value chains and empowered to actively take up agriculture as an enterprise.
Opportunities and gaps were also unpacked, and notable takeaways included an emphasis on youth involvement being critical to agricultural progression, especially in relation to technology uptake. Technical assistance for private sector companies was also identified as a big need to facilitate scale up of their businesses and increase their demand for commodities produced by the smallholder farmers. Constraints such as financing, proximity to service providers and the cohesion of information were highlighted.
Expounding lessons learnt was a pivotal part to the convening. Additional opportunities to develop regional staple food value chains were discussed. They included a greater involvement of the private sector in the process of seed harmonisation; more lobbying for specific regulatory and policy issues affecting grantees; greater engagement with financial institutions; better use of information technology to increase cross border marketing; leveraging the policy platforms constituted by the programme to advocate for policy changes and finally, deeper partnerships.