CTA has played a key role in asking – and answering – critical questions about the future of agriculture and sustainable development in ACP countries. Leveraging its expertise in agricultural knowledge, innovation and technology, the Centre effectively contributed to pushing these issues higher up the policy agenda.
“The reach and the multiple topics that CTA has dealt with over the years really makes it stand out among a lot of other organisations, particularly given its size,” states Ousmane Badiane, Director for Africa at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “CTA really tracked down the topics which were on the pulse across the ACP landscape,” agrees Leonard Mizzi, Head of Unit at the European Commission (EC), Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development. Agricultural extension services, agricultural value chains and finance for agriculture were among the specific themes covered by conferences organised by CTA in collaboration with partners. And whilst CTA primarily focused on development challenges relating to ACP regions, many were also of global interest and, at times, CTA was able to lead the way in mainstreaming important issues.
Ahead of the game
The urgent need to sensitise policymakers in Brussels about the importance of agriculture and push it higher up the policy agenda is what inspired CTA, along with the EC and the ACP Group of States, to launch a series of policy briefings in 2007. For more than a decade, the Brussels Development Policy Briefings have provided an inclusive policy dialogue forum involving some of the world’s leading agriculture development experts. For over 15 years, CTA’s Agritrade portal, a key information source on international trade negotiations, also provided critical information needed to support ACP countries in their negotiations.
“Not only is it a unique space, but it’s also a unique skill set that you need to fill that space, and in my 10 years it was not as if CTA only dominated that space, they were alone in that space.” Theo de Jager, President, World Farmers’ Organisation
In 2013, CTA organised the first international conference on ICT for agriculture in Kigali, Rwanda, at which time there had been little previous activity in the sector. CTA was able to demonstrate it was ahead of the game. “This conference really resonated with partners,” states CTA Director, Michael Hailu. “A lot of partnerships came about from the results of this event and innovative ICT approaches linking to youth, including our hackathon initiatives supporting young digital entrepreneurs.” Agnes Kalibata, the then Minister of Agriculture in Rwanda who co-hosted the conference agrees: “CTA encouraged countries to think about digitalisation, its role in the agriculture sector, and how to use and capitalise on the opportunities.”
Bringing youth back into agriculture
While technology is no silver bullet, CTA recognised that digitalisation could be a game-changer in making value chains more productive, efficient, profitable and – crucially – more inclusive. CTA also acknowledged that the future belongs to young people (under 30), who make up more than half of the populations in ACP countries. By combining digital opportunities with the drive and enthusiasm of young people, CTA has provided training and mentorship to start-ups offering e-agriculture services through its annual Pitch AgriHack competitions. To date, finalists have raised more than €2 million and reached at least 1 million farmers and agricultural stakeholders with their services.
CTA’s Eyes in the Sky, Smart Techs on the Ground project has also supported African enterprises, largely youth-led, that offer drone-based services in the agricultural sector through technical training in drone piloting as well as data acquisition and processing. Prior to 2016, use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in agriculture in Africa was virtually unknown. Nevertheless, CTA recognised its potential and established pioneering activities in this area; CTA-supported enterprises are now playing a crucial role in developing national regulations for the responsible use of UAS. By the end of 2019, 60% of Africa had some sort of regulatory framework addressing the use of drones.
To capitalise on the growing movement in digitalisation for agriculture (D4Ag), CTA and Dalberg Advisors demonstrated the promise of D4Ag in their landmark report The Digitalisation of African Agriculture Report. The publication maps out more than 390 digital solutions in African agriculture that are already benefiting 32 million smallholder farmers. “This report now serves as a reference manual for many institutions that are working within the digital agriculture space to design projects and to inform governments about the numerous potentials that digitalisation presents,” says Edward Mabaya, Manager of Agribusiness Development at the African Development Bank.
A critical focus on climate
CTA also promoted the uptake of bundled digital services to help farmers adapt to climate change. Activities included developing innovative approaches to online weather insurance, such as combining it with funeral insurance in Zimbabwe and championing web-based climate finance. In Southern Africa, the model of digital weather insurance implemented by CTA’s flagship project on climate-smart agriculture is being adopted and built upon by the Government of Zambia as it rolls out nationwide agricultural insurance.
“CTA understands that, without innovation, it will be a challenge to deal with climate change.” Harry Kimtai, Principal Secretary for Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya
However, recognising that agricultural transformation will not be achieved through digital solutions alone, CTA events have also showcased climate adaption and evidence-based, climate-smart farming practices. For example, at the 17th meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in June 2018, CTA co-organised an Agriculture and Rural Development Day, which brought together over 500 scientists, policymakers, farmers, media professionals and environmental activists. The role of agriculture in finding a solution to the climate crisis was acknowledged by the negotiators of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice at this event and was selected for discussion at the subsequent meeting. CTA staff have also been nominated to sit on key committees that influence climate change action in Africa, e.g. the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Climate Research for Development for Africa, hosted by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization, and the African Academy of Sciences.