The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) shut down its activities in December 2020 at the end of its mandate. The administrative closure of the Centre was completed in November 2021.

“The private sector is the driving force of sustainability”



Robert Zougmoré

Robert Zougmoré – regional programme leader of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) – explains what is needed to bring about sustainable climate-smart agriculture projects.

According to Sustainable Development Goals, it is time to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food. Are there any practices/technologies in particular that you think are enhancing the sustainability of food systems in ACP regions?

Instead of just focusing on existing situation-specific practices and technologies, the overall approach to the transformation of these systems should be revamped in the light of climate change patterns. At CCAFS, we propose a six-component strategy which is a bottom-up approach. The first step is to review the way the farmer/consumer organisations and their networks function to ensure that their voices will be heard by policymakers and the private sector. Secondly, digital technology must be embedded in food systems. In Africa, mobile phones – which had an 80% market penetration rate in 2017 – serve as a tool to facilitate information exchange in real-time and the dissemination of good agricultural and food practices, which in turn build the capacities of farmers' and consumers' organisations. Third, there is also a need to foster low-emission climate change resilient practices. In ACP countries, especially in the Sahel, farmers decide on the most appropriate cropping practices based on climate information, thus averting production failures. Fourthly, all of this must be supported by an innovative financing system that specifically targets private sector investment. Otherwise, the private sector is hesitant to invest as there is little evidence that a positive return on investment is possible, so research is essential to demonstrate that it is. Reliable data is also lacking, as is the case with climate-risk insurance. So, fifth, the whole supply chain, including retail, marketing and purchasing, must be reshaped. Indeed, the private sector is the driving force of sustainability but it’s up to the public sector to create a conducive investment environment. And finally, sixth, we must not forget to promote gender equality, capacity building and enabling policies and institutions, which are recognised as driving forces for the effective adoption of innovations, and the deployment of all that I just mentioned.

What are the challenges that policymakers face in bringing about more diverse and resilient production? How can global partnerships help to address these challenges?

Policymakers in African countries are not always able to make well-informed decisions around agricultural production, so national databases must be developed to inform them based on simulations and forecasts. In the West African countries where CCAFS is active, all ministerial departments have focused on climate change work in isolation. There is no dialogue between stakeholders when a cross-cutting issue is at hand. In each country, it is thus essential to set up science-policy platforms that bring together researchers, policymakers, farmers' organisations, the private sector, etc. All of these actors should meet regularly and jointly define, for given issues, actions to be taken according to information provided by researchers, thereby ensuring that decisions are based on sound scientific knowledge. In Ghana, for example, a national climate-smart agriculture plan has been developed by the stakeholders of the platform as an outcome of their collective work.

Digital technologies are clearly having an impact on the nature of agriculture in developing countries. What is needed from the private sector to scale digital projects to enhance smallholder climate resilience?

Scaling digital climate-smart projects is exactly where the private sector has a key role to play. In northern Ghana, CCAFS is working with the Ghana Meteorological Agency on the development of climate information services to help farmers make decisions on crop choices, sowing times and when to apply fertiliser, weed fields and harvest crops. This information has been beneficial to farmers, but we wondered how the initiative could be scaled. After subsidising and testing the project, we contacted a private digital platform – Esoko – which operates its own call centre. Esoko now provides the same information to farmers who pay US$0.6 (€0.54) a month to register on the platform. They receive the information on their mobile phones and have access to call centre experts who speak the local languages. They also get information on food prices or potential buyers' contact details. Esoko was therefore able to upscale its services by involving public sector organisations – CCAFS, weather agencies – in the development of its business model.