The human body requires a certain daily caloric intake to keep itself alive. In many parts of Africa, food production is so greatly impacted by drought and other climatic conditions that ensuring even this minimal food supply can be a challenge at times. Sasakawa Global 2000 was created to alleviate regional reliance on food aid, and build agricultural self-sufficiency in sub-Saharan Africa through increased productivity and improved incomes.
In August, Uganda and Ethiopia are awash in the green of ripening crops, and to all appearances, the countries are abundant agricultural economies. But the precipitation patterns are divided sharply between the dry and rainy times of the year. Food supplies depend greatly on how much rain falls during the rainy seasons when crops can be grown.
Food Supplies Can’t Keep Pace with a Swelling Population
Africa’s population continues to grow at an astounding rate. It’s not unusual for a single household to have six to eight children. The UN Population Fund’s State of the World Population report for 2011 says that the population of Africa in 2009 surpassed the one-billion mark, and it forecasts that the population is likely to double to two billion by 2044, just 35 years later. Yet this growing population is still constantly threatened by the specter of famine due to drought and failed harvests. These people at risk are especially vulnerable to climate change, which can bring with it extended droughts and overlong or unseasonal rains. When food supplies are inadequate, the affected nations are forced to rely on international food aid. Stabilizing food supplies in Africa and improving productivity to keep pace with the steadily growing population is an urgent problem, with no easy solution.
Urbanization and mass migration also are having a profound impact on the demographics of Africa. As people relocate, society-wide consumption patterns change. Processing and transporting food to large numbers of urban consumers poses a new challenge, especially as these urban consumers begin to demand more variety in their diets. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince sufficient numbers of young people to continue to work in agriculture over the long term. Some 60 to 70 percent of the ever-growing population of Africa is under 25 years of age, and many of these young people aspire to techno-centric urban lives. If these young people remain completely disinterested in agricultural technologies, accomplishing and maintaining real food security may prove hard to attain.
25 Years of Supporting African Agriculture
The Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) was founded in 1986, near the end of the great famine in Ethiopia. Confronted with the massive human costs of the famine, the founding chair of the Nippon Foundation, Ryoichi Sasakawa, contacted Norman Borlaug, the “Father of the Green Revolution” and a leading agricultural researcher, and Jimmy Carter, the former US president and democracy advocate. Together, the three founded the SAA as an international agricultural development NGO, and set it in motion.
The organization focused its attention on the hidden potential to be gained from the food production experience of Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Smallholder farms dominate African agriculture, and most of them continue to employ traditional cultivation techniques. The SAA approaches the problem of food security by looking at the full length of the value chain. That means supporting producers by improving productivity and processing, and increasing market access as a means of enhancing added value and fostering farmers’ income.
The Sasakawa Global 2000 (SG2000) program is tasked with realizing these goals. Its strategic approach is broken down into five different themes, allowing agricultural specialists to focus on coming up with solutions to diverse problems.
Theme 1: Crop Productivity Enhancement
In order to improve productivity and increase yields, the SAA makes use of demonstration plots to share cultivation skills and agricultural technologies, including enhanced seeds and fertilizers.
Theme 2: Post-Harvest and Agro-Processing Efforts
In order to decrease post-harvest losses, the SAA promotes mechanized processing and improved storage techniques and technologies. The goal is to produce processed goods of sufficient quality to market.
Theme 3: Public Private Partnership and Market Access
The SG2000 program assists farmers who are unable to access agricultural inputs according to the limited resources small-scale farmers possess and helps small-scale producers by organizing farmers associations to bundle the products of multiple farms together for sale to high-volume buyers through collective marketing. This theme involves a multifaceted approach to marketing and branding for producers.
Theme 4: Human Resource Development (Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education — SAFE)
The goal of theme four is to foster local human resources by improving the skills and expanding the influence of agricultural extension workers. The SAA works with universities to build effective curricula that provide extension workers with strong theoretical knowledge and meaningful hands-on experience.
Theme 5: Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning, and Sharing
The SAA’s diverse programs are spread across a wide area. Theme five involves ensuring that the SAA’s resources are optimally allocated through objective, quantitative analysis. Evaluating and monitoring SAA activities helps the association to understand and address the producers’ needs and priority issues, and facilitates knowledge sharing both within SAA and with outside organizations and governmental bodies.
The work of the Sasakawa Africa Association is unique in several ways. The SAA works and learns together with farmers at the individual-plot level, and unlike other programs, it works with farming communities over a period of several years. It is unique also because the SAA works with and through government institutions, developing their capacities and influencing their approaches to extension. The SAA’s focus on developing human resources ensures lasting change as well. The association’s chair, Dr. Ruth Oniang’o, points out that education and organization offer the greatest potential “to lift people out of poverty and to provide not only food but also job opportunities,” and she emphasizes the following: Most agriculture in Africa is done on very small holdings. So it is vital to support the small- and very small-scale farmers who form the backbone of African agriculture. We can’t just leave farmers to do this on their own.”
Over the years, the SAA has been active in 14 African countries, but is currently active in only 4 countries. Country director for Ethiopia, Dr. Aberra Debelo Napo, says his country “has completely changed its approach for technology demonstration and transfer” and that “the government now formulates much of its agricultural policy based on the SG2000 approach.” The agricultural methods pioneered by the SAA have influenced Ethiopia and other African countries to focus on disseminating technology and agricultural skills to farmers. Yet there remains much room for improvement in many regions when it comes to agricultural technologies. Dr. Aberra warns that “Ethiopia has not attained food security. We say that about several million people are food insecure out of the total population of 86 million. For this reason the SAA activities are still very much needed to help Africa, and the constant support and contributions provided by the Nippon Foundation remain extremely important.”
Photographs by Hisayoshi Osawa