20th Anniversary of the Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education

Accra, Ghana

It is an honor and a pleasure to be a part of the 20th anniversary celebration of the Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education.

As a founding member of the Sasakawa Africa Association or SAA, I would like to begin by sincerely thanking all partner governments and institutions for your long-standing understanding, commitment, and contribution to both SAFE and the SAA. I also wish to express our gratitude to the directors and staff of SAFE for your relentless efforts and dedication toward developing Africa’s agricultural extension sector. It is truly a pleasure to see so many old faces here; all of your support has helped to make SAFE what it is today.

Ghana is a country I hold very dear to my heart because Ghana is where the first project of Sasakawa Global 2000 was launched; and where the first SAFE program for mid-career extension agents was established at Cape Coast University.

The Nippon Foundation’s early work here in Africa dates back to the 1970s and early 1980s, when an increasing number of African countries were struggling to cope with worsening hunger. The Nippon Foundation responded by providing emergency food aid for the people who were hardest hit. But it was clear to me that emergency aid can only provide immediate to short-term relief. Instead, I sought to find a sustainable solution to Africa’s food challenges; as the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This conviction is what led us to establish the Sasakawa Africa Association in 1986, joining hands with Dr. Norman Borlaug and US President Jimmy Carter to alleviate hunger and poverty in Africa.

In implementing SAA’s Sasakawa Global 2000 programs, we identified the frontline extension agents as key players who will be able to pass on the technologies of SG2000 to the smallholder farmers and to teach the farmers how to use them. However, it was soon recognized that many agents did not have sufficient knowledge of agricultural science and skills in extension communication to fulfill this role. Even if they had good knowledge and firsthand experience in the field, they were seldom able to rise to supervisory positions because they lacked the academic qualifications.

The SAA had already been implementing capacity building of extension agents through their SG2000 programs, but further efforts were made to find institutions that could take the agents in for academic retraining. However, most African universities did not have the experience in upgrading the skills of practitioners already on the job. Moreover, agricultural extension education itself needed to be greatly revitalized.

The SAA addressed these challenges by creating the Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education (SAFE). SAFE worked with the University of Cape Coast and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to develop needs-driven curricula for mid-career extension agents that reflect the current needs of African farmers; and the institutional door was opened to retrain practitioners who were already on the job. I can still remember the day of the program’s first opening as if it were only yesterday. It was an exciting moment for everyone.

Since then, SAFE has worked with various governments and over a dozen African universities. As more and more smallholder farmers succeeded in increasing their food production, this nurtured inside them a sense of hope and the aspiration to strive higher. This gradual transformation of smallholder farmers has driven SAFE to reassess and revise their curricula to reflect their evolving needs and to include necessary knowledge and practical methods to expand farmers’ opportunities for post-harvest and beyond.

As of now, more than 4,000 extension agents have participated in the courses, and are now working in the field to help farmers increase productivity, add value to their products, gain access to the market, and generate cash income. Among the graduates there are those who hold important positions in their agricultural ministries, and are working for the benefits of farmers from the national level by participating in policy-making.

Let me share an excellent example of how an extension agent has made a direct impact on a farmer and his family in Ethiopia. Ms. Almaz Tesfa, was an extension agent enrolled in the SAFE Bachelor of Science course at Hawasa University. She was conducting a field project to recommend apple seedlings to farmers and persuaded Mr. Mohammed to grow apples on his farm. Ms. Almaz supported Mr. Mohammed with both technical support and encouragement. The effort paid off and the apple trees that Mr. Mohammed planted produced 1,500kg of apples in 2012. He sold the apples at the market and earned $2,000. This success got him selected by the Ministry of Agriculture as the best model farmer for apple production in his district. So how has Mr. Mohammed’s life changed? His beaming smile and the smiles of his wife and children say it all. He has managed to greatly improve the quality of life for his family, the family’s basic needs are now being met, and his two children are attending private school. In 2012 alone, students like Ms. Almaz worked in rural communities to conduct 200 projects to solve various problems of farmers along the agricultural value chain.

These successful stories are what we want to see more of. We want to see fathers and mothers who no longer spend their days worrying whether their children will have enough food to eat the next day, but rather, are proud that they can now send their children to school and give them the nutritious meals and proper medical care they need to grow up healthy and strong.

And this is the life that I believe every subsistence farmer dreams about.

As stakeholders in Africa’s agricultural development, all of us here—governments, institutions, and NGOs—must work together to assist the farmers in making their dreams a reality. Going forward, let us continue to do our part and work together to nurture leaders in agricultural extension for the sustainable growth of Africa’s agriculture.