Our Perspectives

Turning subsistence farmers into market suppliers in Africa


woman farmer in UgandaDespite agriculture being a major source of income in Africa, smallholder farmers face many challenges. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

As I sat down for my first dinner in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after a bit more than one year since my last visit, I suddenly remembered that something is very wrong with food prices here. How can a simple margarita pizza with only cheese, tomato, oil and flour, be USD 20? How can local fish be USD 30? Admittedly I did not eat in the cheapest local restaurant, yet the prices are 4 to 5 times more expensive in comparison to similar dishes in Addis Ababa, where I live.

Indeed, food in the DRC is at least twice as expensive as the average world food price for basic commodities. Why is that?

A combination of poor farmer productivity, lack of infrastructure and a difficult business environment, mean that the cost of producing goods and taking them to markets is high, and imports are often more readily available or cheaper than local products. In 2008, Bralima, one of DRC’s leading brewers, sourced 16% of its rice from outside the country, due to its inability to source it from the local market.

With 80 million ha of arable land and 90 percent of it not cultivated, DRC offers huge untapped potential for feeding itself and even exporting some of its food products. Besides improving infrastructure and the business environment, the solution lies in harnessing the power of DRC’s six million small farmers by helping them to get access to existing markets.

Working with the NGO EU-CORD in DRC, Bralima managed to increase its local rice sourcing to 86%, benefiting over 58,000 households along the way. This resulted in a win-win situation with increased income and food security for those households and a more steady supply of raw materials for Bralima.

Experience from DRC thus shows that overcoming barriers that separate farmers from markets creates opportunities for farmers, off-takers and the national economy at large. And what is true in DRC is also true for most African countries.

This is the reason why UNDP African Facility for Inclusive Markets (AFIM) has just launched the African Agribusiness Supplier Development Programme (AASDP) toolkit and training manual. The AASDP supports small and medium-sized businesses and contributes to employment generation, income generation, food security and agricultural transformation. Several African countries including Angola, DRC, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa are being supported by AASDP.

In Kenya, AFIM is currently looking at ways to support edible oil producer BIDCO to increase its local supply, with the ultimate goal of having a positive and sustainable impact on farmers’ lives. Currently, BIDCO local sourcing of oil seeds is only five percent. In other countries, AFIM is doing similar work so that eventually it becomes possible for Africa to feed its people and for farmers to improve their livelihoods.

Do you know of other good examples in Africa where farmers and buyers have been able to establish positive relationship for mutual benefits? Please share them with us.

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