SPECIAL REPORT: Faso Kaba, Bread Basket feeding future Mali and Ghana
Unfertile soils and low productivity seeds are part of the reasons why agricultural yield has over the years been low, creating situations of hunger in West Africa. Recently the rising insecurity in the area is also contributing to the problem. This year the sahelian region of West Africa has been grappling with famine. Across Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Chad, around 10 to 15 per cent of the population is already suffering from malnutrition. According to the WHO, between one and 1.5 million children under the age of five suffer from severe malnutrition1.
To address the situation, certain organisations and individuals are putting in place initiatives that in the future may be able to contribute in alleviating the situation of hunger. One if such person is Coulibaly Maïmouna Sidibé, a Malian woman entrepreneur driving the African Green Revolution in her own small way. As CEO of Faso Kaba Seed company (distributing seeds in Mali), Coulibaly is fast becoming an example of how African entrepreneurs are contributing to the African Green Revolution. In just two years Coulibaly’s company has grown into two main stores working with 150, mostly women, agro-dealers who in turn sell seeds to a total of 30,000 farmers across Mali2.
This Feed the Future driven project was initiated since 2008 and has been promoting the production and sales of improved seedlings for farmers within the country. The initiative has not only helped the production of improved seeds but has also developed the entrepreneurial skills of Maimouna Sidibe as there are outlets of Faso Kaba where the seeds are sold. According to her, the West Africa Finance Fund supported by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa has helped the initiative through investment in a seed cleaning and packaging assembly line to ensure quality standards and facilitate packing. The Feed the Future seed project has also helped in the development of the company through a business management training and International seed industry best practice.
After returning from training in India, Maimouna Sidibe said, “I want Faso Kaba to be able to train Malian farmers to become local seed entrepreneurs producing improved varieties. They could then supply the seeds to farmers in their districts, helping build local seed industries. Faso Kaba would ensure the supply of improved varieties, provide quality control, and help market the seeds.
In the aftermath of the 2007/8 hunger crises which affected many African countries, Ghana has been putting in place measures that would address such a situation in the future. The Bread-Basket Strategy is captured in the country’s agriculture development document entitled “Ghana Medium Term Agriculture Development Plan 2010-2015”. The strategy clearly identifies four key geographic areas of Ghana: the Northern region in the north and, Afram Plains, Accra Plains and Volta, all lying in the southern part of country where higher returns can be made on agriculture.
Ghana hopes that the strategy would generate revenues in the excess of USD 500 million and generate jobs in the region of 16,000. For a country still grappling with high levels of unemployment such a feat would see city centres continue to welcome more influx of people.
Delegates at the Alliance for a Green Revolution Forum (AGRA) in Accra, Ghana, are hailing the Bread-Basket Strategy as a solution that will create more success stories such as Coulibaly‘s. The Bread Basket Strategy begins by identifying and selecting geographical areas with potential for greater returns in agricultural productivity and then providing holistic support for the selected area. The rationale for these bread baskets emerged from the 2007and 2008 food crisis which severely affected many African countries. As Ghana’s Agriculture minister Kwesi Ahwoi puts it “the crisis really got us to start thinking about designing more home-grown policies”.
Agriculture ministers of Mali, Tanzania and Ghana announced at the forum that their governments have already developed comprehensive bread basket strategies. In the case of Ghana, the Bread Basket Strategy is captured in the country’s agriculture development document entitled “Ghana Medium Term Agriculture Development Plan 2010-2015,” Ahwoi announced.
The West African country is hoping that its current rice import bill of U$400 million annually can be significantly reduced through commercial rice production in the northern Ghana bread basket programme.
Sunil Sanghivi, Director of Mckinsey & Company, consultants working on Ghana’s Bread Basket Strategy, is optimistic about its prospects. He says “the important thing is that once the government is committed and gets something going… other partners will come on board”.
It appears that the Ghanaian government is putting words into action as it currently subsidies fertiliser by up to 50% and tractor machinery by up to 30% as well as guaranteeing farmers minimum prices for farm products they are not able to sell on the commercial market. “At the core our strategy is the small scale farmer, and the major challenge is to improve and sustain the productivity of the Ghanaian farmer,” Ghana’s agricultural minister emphasized to delegates at the forum.
For his part AGRA President, Namanga Ngongi said, “The bread basket strategy is not a new idea really, but what it brings to the table is how to turn agriculture into an investment opportunity for private sector, government and multi lateral agencies”.
Not everybody is however convinced about the Bread Basket Strategy. Some civil society groups present at the meeting wondered whether including large scale farmers in the Ghana Bread Basket Strategy does not have adverse implications for the small scale farmer in terms of land ownership as well as the environment. Others wondered why northern Ghana which has 30% (seven million hectares) of the land mass of the country was selected to pilot the strategy. They argue that several programmes implemented in that part of Ghana are yet to show any significant reduction in poverty in the region.
But George Ashiabi, Head of the country transformation team, argues that the choice was more of a response to “the opportunity that exists in the area than anything else.” With the strategy finally launched at the forum, the Ghanaian government can only hope that it will have more Coulibalys who will take advantage the opportunity provided by the strategy.