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Rolling out agricultural resilience

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The Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) is a ten-year, CA$35 million partnership (AUD$37 million) between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). CultiAF funds applied research aimed at improving food security, resilience, and gender equality across Eastern and Southern Africa.

Across Eastern and Southern Africa, research teams from the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund are enhancing food and nutrition security, women’s empowerment, youth agripreneurship and smallholder livelihood resilience. In the face of the global pandemic, scaling up their work could not be more pertinent.

Four teams from the Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) – a 10-year, CA$35-million partnership between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) – are rolling out business training schemes and agricultural financing to African smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs, and promoting nutritious products to the wider populations. The local impact on issues such as agribusiness profitability and sustainability, as well as women’s empowerment, has been significant. To reach more beneficiaries, the projects have been scaled up, but this has not been without its challenges during COVID-19.

Scaling nutrition security

In Kenya and Uganda, the CultiAF precooked beans project has been working to enhance food security and reduce malnutrition through the increased supply and uptake of its fast-cooking, iron- and zinc-fortified bean product. As the most affordable and available source of protein, beans are a staple food item among poorer households. During the second phase, the initiative has leveraged its public and private partnerships to enhance local impact and reach more beneficiaries. For instance, the nutritious bean-based products have increased from one to five and include a ready-to-eat bean snack bar, a quick-cooking bean flour, bean noodles, and bean “chunks” – an ingredient used to make bread snack bars and flours. The project is also working with five bean-processing companies (up from one company in phase one) and has scaled out production of the bean grains to work with more farmers in 15 new districts in each country.

However, with movement restrictions and the closure of formal and informal food markets under COVID-19 lockdown measures, farmers involved in production of the beans struggled to access the required inputs. The project responded by providing bean seed varieties to farmers on credit via local input suppliers, enabling the producers to continue their operations and earn a living under lockdown. New partnerships are also being negotiated to increase distribution and consumption of the nutritious bean products, as healthy food items became more difficult to access during the pandemic.

Training East African entrepreneurs

Also working in East Africa and assisting farmers in lockdown is the INSFEED project, which, in its first phase, trained 3,000 farmers in all aspects of black soldier fly farming. As a result of this training, smallholder farmers are tapping into the emerging market of insects for animal feed by rearing and processing (drying) insect larvae to sell to feed producers. In its second phase, the project has been scaled up to reach more than 7,800 farmers and has diversified into new products including a frass fertilizer, made from the remains of organic waste used to feed the larvae. Women have been targeted with this scheme and, during lockdown, have been earning an additional income by selling the fertilizer to local vegetable and maize farmers.

Another innovative training scheme is being provided by the CultiAF youth agripreneurship project, which was set up by the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. This project is rolling out its course of agribusiness training and mentorship, coupled with links to financing, to 492 entrepreneurs – up from 60 in its first phase – to ensure youth-led success in the agriculture sector. The monthly sales of these enterprises have increased by more than 10,600 Kenyan shillings (approximately CA$120), enabling the agripreneurs to invest back into their businesses and offer employment opportunities to more than 490 other youths.

When the pandemic hit, the project was no longer able to provide face-to-face mentorship and training to the youths, who struggled to adapt their businesses under lockdown. The project pivoted its approach and moved online, using Zoom for webinars and lectures. The project also negotiated with private telecommunication companies to provide cheap internet bundles, which enabled the mentors and young entrepreneurs to maintain online communications.

Financing fish for women’s empowerment

The profitability of enterprises in Malawi’s fish value chain is also being enhanced, thanks to a CultiAF project working to scale improved fish processing technologies. Through an innovative partnership with FDH Bank Limited in Malawi, the project is providing flexible loans to processors so they can afford to purchase improved processing technologies, such as solar tent dryers and smoking kilns. These technologies have been proven to reduce post-harvest losses, improve product quality, and enhance the incomes of fish processors.

As women typically have less access to business resources than men, they are given a preferential reduced interest rate. So far, 19.6 million Malawian kwacha (approximately CA$31,890) have been distributed, enabling six awardees (three men and three women) to construct six solar dryers, five smoking kilns, and two warehouses in which to store their processed fish products.

To continue to roll out the loan, as well as awareness raising activities to women processors during COVID-19, the project has been bringing together small groups and providing them with adequate personal protection equipment, such as face masks.

Learn more about these innovative and exciting projects, and their impact on the livelihoods of the communities they engage, here.