“Let us put our MONEY where our mouths are, let us invest in commercializing smallholder agriculture”

1)    Let’s start with some background on the Sasakawa Africa Association and the work that you do, there is a proud history there:
Sasakawa Africa Association (herein after referred to as SAA), was established  in 1986 and registered in Geneva, Switzerland as a Swiss NGO, with its administrative headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. Together with the Carter Center’s Global 2000 Program SAA has been working with smallholders farmers under the program named SG2000 Agricultural Program in Africa (SG 2000). The Co-founders of SAA are Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa (succeeded by his son Mr. Yohei Sasakawa), Dr. Norman Borlaug (the renowned scientist who led the Green Revolution in Asia) and former USA President Jimmy Carter.

Since its inception, Sasakawa-Global 2000 (SG 2000) agricultural projects have operated in 15 sub-Saharan countries. However, after the restructuring in the mid nineties’, SAA decided to reduce the number of countries in order to focus for greater impact. Thus, SAA is currently operating in four countries of Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda.

SAA’s mission has remained the same throughout the years; it is to help sub-Saharan African governments to reduce poverty, enhance food security, and protect the natural resource base through the accelerated adoption of productivity enhancing agricultural technologies.

2)    Which current projects are you particularly excited about at the moment?
Honestly speaking, all SAA projects are quite exciting; it is always gratifying to see happy smallholder farmers jubilating after they have achieved a good crop, after they have adopted our various technologies and techniques to increase productivity and production, and having improved quality of their produce using our various postharvest and agro-processing techniques. In the four countries the core project, funded by Nippon Foundation of Japan directly addresses our mission; then we have numerous extra core projects funded by other donors and they are different for the four countries. All our projects address issues along the entire agricultural value chains. Agricultural commodities vary from place to place but the approach (VC) is the same.

3)    What in your view are the main challenges facing the agri sector in Ethiopia? And East Africa?
The main challenges:

1.    Agronomic practices
-    Too much focus on inorganic fertilizer use without similar focus for the use of organics (compost, etc) which help to rejuvenate the soil.
-    Less emphasis on other potential entry points (such as, combined nutrient and water management, smart fertilizer types and application methods, and water use and irrigation technologies, weed/striga control etc.)
-    Lack of site specific fertilizer recommendations
-    A need to boost commercial development, and fully implement the value chain and “farming as business” concept.
-    Weakening/lack of reliable and viable extension network systems: weakness, high turnover and unreliability of national extension networks directly involved with farmers
-    Poor integration of extension work into the entire research-to-adoption continuum, hence limited access to evidence-based and latest spelt out production technologies for farmer demonstration activities

2.    Climate Change (late start and establishment, and irregular distribution of rainfall or floods, pests and disease infestation, etc.)

-    Severe drought threatened millions of Ethiopians. In January 2016, UN reported 10.5 million in need of food assistance
Eastern and Southern Africa
-    A regional drought affected Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia as well as Zimbabwe from 2015. Some states declared state of disaster as a significant number of the population faced food shortages.
-    SAA has proactively embarked on scalable and cost-effective climate-resilient production technology promotion using integrated soil fertility (combined used of soil amendments and fertilizers), and efficient water, nutrient and crop management practices. We are piloting simple and affordable small-scale irrigation equipment and facilities as adaptation to climate change, including:
•    Unground water harvesting and storage facilities (hand dug wells)
•    Simple irrigation equipment (Treadle pumps, drip irrigation, on-farm excavated farm ponds etc.)

4)    Any success stories/case studies that you can share?
Too many to mention in this interview but available on our Website: http://www.saa-safe.org

5)    What is your vision for the industry?
As stated on our website, our VISION is: A more food-secure rural Africa with increasing numbers of prospering smallholder commercial farmers.

6)    What surprises you about this sector?
The enormous potential that the African agricultural sector has to help solve most of problems related to food security, commercialization, industrialization, employment and overall improved livelihood for the majority of the people., Adequate investment is required to unleash that potential

7)    You are a featured speaker in the programme at the upcoming Agribusiness Congress East Africa, on “Profitable participation in commercial activities along the value chain” – what will be your message at the event?
Let us put our MONEY where our mouths are, let us invest in commercializing smallholder agriculture.

8)    What are you most looking forward to at Agribusiness Congress East Africa?
An Action Plan to support agribusiness through rural entrepreneurs along agriculture value chains

9)    Anything you would like to add?
I look forward to the Agribusiness Congress 2017.