Project improves food security in six African nations

Women carrying hands of bananas
Women carrying hands of bananas Copyright: Panos

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  • Initiative helps 20,000 smallholders in six African countries improve farming methods
  • The project promotes uptake of information provided by extension agents
  • But access to information on markets is still a challenge for smallholders

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[NAIROBI] An initiative in six African countries has helped improve farming methods and food security.

Launched in 2012, the project funded by the government of Finland and called FoodAfrica Programme has helped improve the security and quality of food supply in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Uganda.

During a meeting held this month in Kenya (7 March), the programme leaders said that the initiative that ends in June this year is centred on sustainable food production, food safety and nutrition, market access and agricultural extension.

“This is a good initiative that has helped increase our knowledge on farming methods such as grafting.”

Peter Katumbu, Eastern Kenya

Mila Sell, a senior specialist, Natural Resources Institute Finland, says that African soils are generally poor in micronutrients, which is a big challenge because smallholders have insufficient money to buy fertilisers.

“Small-scale farmers, especially in the rural areas, have the weakest access to information,” says Sell, adding that providing information, especially on land preparation and proper use of inputs to these farmers, can increase yields.

According to Sell, Africa offers enormous diversity of unused edible plant species that could help foster food security. These species, she notes, could be used by involving women in decision-making at household and national levels in matters of agriculture, especially food and nutrition.

The programme, the experts noted, has been able to engage volunteer farmer trainers (VFTs) to help increase the reach and sustainability of agricultural extension services. It has trained 20,000 farmers and improved the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people.

In an interview with SciDev.Net, Steve Franzel, an agricultural economist at the Kenya-headquartered World Agroforestry Centre, which is one of the project’s implementing partners, said that although organisations are increasingly recruiting voluntary farmer trainers, proactive measures such as targeting women’s groups are needed for recruiting female farmer trainers.

He added that VFTs are highly neglected and inadequately funded even though they play an important role in increasing trust to adopt new technologies. “This is a positive indicator for sustainability as seen in dairy farming in Western parts of Kenya,” explains Franzel.

But Peter Katumbu, a smallholder from Masii in Eastern Kenya says that smallholders still need help to access information, especially on markets. “This is a good initiative that has helped increase our knowledge on farming methods such as grafting,” Katumbu tells SciDev.Net.

Katumbu, who plants mangoes and oranges, says that access to markets will help smallholders get value for their produce and invest more in farming, thus increasing agricultural productivity and food security.

Since September last year, smallholders in Masii have realised over 60 per cent losses as their mangoes rot because of lack of markets, he adds.

Being a trainer of fellow smallholder farmers, Katumbu says that it was easier for him to persuade farmers in his locality using vernacular language and show them what to do practically. “I am now a pioneer farmer in this area, helping smallholders improve their farming methods,” he explains.

According to Sell, the programme has mostly been about research where good farming practices have been developed and tested. She adds that recommendations have been given to farmers and policymakers.

The next step is to put the learning into use and assess the initiative’s impact on food production.

According to her, because of the initiative, in Senegal cattle farmers incomes rose eight times because of more effective farming methods and cross-breeding.

She adds that the adoption of improved post-harvest methods including mobile dryer combined with tarp drying, farmers have reduced aflatoxin contamination by 80 per cent.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.