On Tuesday, August 27th, Bountifield International was proud to host and co-present, along with Global Minnesota, a roundtable discussion with experts on emerging agribusiness opportunities for smallholder markets in Africa. We talked about a range of topics including the role of small-scale technology in markets, challenges to scaling and new opportunities in agro-processing.
It was an exciting turnout, including individuals from large and medium-sized global companies who understand grain markets and supply chains. Also, in the room were some of our MN-based non-profit partners doing inspiring work to help the rural poor in Africa. Representatives from the MN Trade Office and the Department of Commerce were there to listen and learn from our experts, including African diaspora partners from every region in Africa, who are now living here in MN.
Bountifield’s CEO, Alexandra Spieldoch, kicked off the discussion, which focused on a wide range of issues and challenges facing Africa’s agricultural sector. She pointed out that the Continent’s population is projected to nearly double and grow to over 2.8 billion by 2050, meaning the need to strengthen food systems now is critical. Just this year, countries across the continent signed the Africa Free Trade Agreement, which is slated to open new markets across the continent. Africa has the potential to double or even triple the production of grains and cereals, which would add 20 percent more to the current worldwide supply. However, today one-fourth of the Continent is food insecure. Until African countries can develop their agricultural sector, it will be a major challenge for them to meet their economic potential and ultimately to address problems with hunger and poverty in the rural sector.
Ms. Spieldoch introduced the roundtable experts and the discussion itself was moderated by Lee Wallace, Bountifield Board Chair and owner of mission-driven company Peace Coffee, and Mark Ritchie, President of Global Minnesota, a nonprofit that connects individuals, organizations, and communities from Minnesota to others around the world. The roundtable included three global experts:
- Brian Dotson, a leader on scaling technology targeted to smallholder communities in West and East Africa.
- Charity Hanif, a specialist on grain markets and agribusiness for small-scale farming systems.
- Martha Hirpa, a leader on gender and agriculture and strategic partnerships for scaling projects in international development.
Each discussant was asked a series of questions. One of them was ‘why Africa?’ Brian Dotson shared that though other regions have been able to develop with investment and infrastructure, “Africa is the last market to develop, and it has been a major challenge to reach Africans for wider impact.”
Today, much of sub-Saharan agriculture is organized in small-plot farms with little innovation and access to markets. Of its 51 million farms, 80 percent are less than five acres in size. Across Africa, 230 million people suffer from undernourishment and smallholder farmers are more likely to be hungry. One of the biggest challenges is to open up new opportunities to them by investing in strategies for market growth through agribusiness.
Charity Hanif talked about how similar farmers are around the world in terms of their needs. She stated, “I can have the same conversation with a rain-fed farmer in Iowa that I can have with a rain-fed farmer in Africa,” said Hanif, “the difference is the access to technology and information.” Martha Hirpa also talked about how important small-scale technology, particularly postharvest processing innovation is for Africa, stating that, “what Bountifield is doing represents huge potential.”
All three discussants talked about how strategic it is to invest in women and youth in African food markets. Women smallholders are responsible for the majority of the postharvest processing in sub-Saharan Africa, yet they lack tools and access to productive resources. “Women, quite literally, carry African agriculture. They do all the work. They’re the best businesspeople. Anything we can do to help them and to help free up their time, that has a disproportionate impact,” said Dotson. Closing the ‘Gender Gap’ and achieving global gender parity in access to agricultural resources could result in 150 million fewer people living with hunger every year, according to the United Nations. Ms. Hirpa also stressed the importance of finding employment opportunities for young people so that they have a future that is filled with hope rather than despair.
While much was discussed during the evening, there was much more to be said. “I think what it means is that this is the first of many conversations like this in the future,” said Ritchie at the close of the roundtable.