BOSTON, Massachusetts — On Sep. 30, 2022, The Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) and the Regional Centre of Excellence against Hunger and Malnutrition (CERFAM) signed a joint memorandum to enhance food security and nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. This memorandum of understanding (MoU) will offer sustainable solutions for vulnerable smallholder rice farmers.
CERFAM and AfricaRice are African-based organizations specializing in hunger research and intergovernmental policies. Their shared goal is to advance Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 for “zero hunger” and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. SDG 2 is one of the United Nations’ 17 goals for the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” which aims to support and educate millions of malnourished people. The Agenda 2063 (“The Africa We Want”) aims to transform Africa into a “global powerhouse” through social and economic development.
To accomplish this goal, CERFAM and AfricaRice will address current problems among smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 80% of Asian and sub-Saharan Africa’s food supply comes from smallholder farmers. However, many farming families live below the poverty line, which has caused long-term malnutrition and food insecurity among farming communities. In an Oct. 3, 2022 press release, Patrick Teixeira, interim director of AfricaRice, stated that this new partnership aimed to “[strengthen]national and regional rice chains” and improve the nutritional value of rice in consumer diets.
Rice is a staple and a primary mode of survival for communities across the world. Unlike most other crops, rice can be stored for long periods after harvest and sustain consumers for years. More than 100 million people depend on rice as a dietary staple in West Africa and it is the third most important crop in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, rice takes extensive knowledge and patience to cultivate. It thrives in wet fields and is sensitive to extreme temperatures, and improper farming techniques and can be a hotbed for disease. If the crop survives, it will take about 200 days to mature. Afterward, workers must hand-harvest it, thresh the grains, and mill and hull the seeds until it becomes rice. The labor-intensive crop is difficult enough to grow on a commercial scale, but many smallholder rice farmers do not have the resources to start anew if their crop dies.
Furthermore, rice is a primary source of income for more than 35 million smallholder rice farmers in Africa. To AfricaRice, mobilizing and educating farmers in the rice sector can be “a pathway out of poverty.”
Working Together: South-South Cooperation
The joint effort between AfricaRice and CERFAM has been described as a “South-South cooperation” project. The United Nations defines South-South cooperation as “the technical cooperation among developing countries in the Global South.” Organizations at the local, national and international levels use this strategy to enact social and global change.
Within the South-South cooperation, countries examine the political, economic, social and cultural factors that contribute to food insecurity. It is a method of exchanging knowledge to help achieve a common interest through a collective effort on multiple levels. According to the United Nations, it is also helpful when accomplishing SDGs or improving international solidarity and communication.
AfricaRice’s strengths lie in local outreach and on-the-ground research, which has already garnered a network with 28 African countries. While also specializing in minimizing food insecurity, CERFAM has more of an international background, partnering with the World Food Programme to achieve the United Nations’ 2030 plan. These two institutions can leverage their strengths, learn from each other and create an ideal result to help smallholder farmers.
Social and Economic Benefits
Though smallholder farmers usually work independently, they collectively leave a significant impact on the social and economic landscape. Smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa make up more than 60% of the population, and the agricultural sector makes up nearly a quarter of the region’s GDP.
Currently, smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa hold untapped potential for Africa’s economy. Researchers at McKinsey & Company determined that a two to three-time increase in Africa’s cereal and grain production could add to the global stockpile by 20%. Yet to reach Africa’s agricultural potential, there will need to be a “significant investment” in three sectors: inputs (such as seed and fertilizer), infrastructure (such as water and transportation) and markets.
Though the details of AfricaRice and CERFAM’s MoU are not publicly available, both companies pledged to collaborate on specific activities and improvements in “scientific, technical, and programmatic interest.” To improve the marketing sector, they also aim to strengthen national and regional rice value chains.
– Anna Lee