After nearly 10 years as CTA Director, Michael Hailu’s mandate at the Centre will conclude at the end of February 2020. We spoke with him about how CTA has contributed to the advancement of agricultural transformation in ACP countries over the last decade, and how this important work will be continued in the future.
Agriculture has moved up the policy agenda over the last decade. What developments do you think have led to this and what are the challenges that remain to transforming the sector?
I joined CTA in 2010, shortly after the global food price crisis, which was a clarion call for policy-makers to prioritise sustainable agricultural development. Since then, there has been a renewed focus on agriculture as an engine for economic growth, food security and nutrition across ACP countries.
In 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals were replaced with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture took an important place in policy. The description of SDG2: Zero Hunger, for example, demonstrated increased recognition of agriculture’s role in food security. The Paris Agreement also helped in positioning agriculture as a priority and as a key development challenge – both as a contributor to climate change and one of the sectors hardest hit by its effects.
So, agriculture has come to the forefront of the development agenda over the last decade, but we must not rest on our laurels. We still have a lot of work to do to increase productivity, reduce food waste, build climate-change resilience and make agriculture more sustainable. Unfortunately, the figures are not encouraging. The number of hungry people has been on the rise since 2016 and now totals 820 million. But what I find encouraging is the significant change in approach towards the food sector – while in the past, the focus was purely on productivity, we are now moving towards a food-systems approach where the focus is also on food quality, sustainability and the impact of food on health and the environment.
How has CTA contributed to the agricultural transformation agenda over the last 10 years?
As a fairly small organisation, CTA has adapted its strategy to better respond to evolving challenges. CTA’s vision has been to make smallholder agriculture a vibrant and sustainable business. To meet our overall objective of supporting sustainable and climate-resilient food and nutrition security, our efforts have focused on how agricultural innovations can help transform the sector and provide employment opportunities.
More recently though, CTA’s focus has been on positioning digitalisation as a game-changer for agricultural transformation. We have made a significant contribution in terms of leveraging new technologies and the huge amounts of data being generated to make it easier for farmers to receive information in real-time. We have also played a key role in introducing digital technologies and innovations to help address important challenges in agriculture, including climate change.
The EU, which funds CTA, is a major investor in the digitalisation of agriculture. A part of this support has been channelled through CTA, and we have directly contributed to the EU’s Digital for Development policy – particularly in promoting sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship through digitalisation. We hope that CTA’s work will serve as a basis for the EU’s continued support in promoting digitalisation to achieve SDG2.
Through these initiatives and many others, CTA has made an important contribution in promoting agricultural transformation. But none of this could have happened without our strong partnerships with a diverse range of actors, including the public sector, civil society, private sector organisations, and the institutional and financial support of the EU and the ACP. We are currently exploring opportunities with a number of partners who are interested in furthering this work through synergies with possible funders so that farmers and young entrepreneurs can continue to benefit.
We have talked a lot about what has happened during the last 10 years, but what are your hopes for the ACP agricultural sector over the next decade?
Well, we do have significant challenges ahead of us, especially as the impacts of climate change are hitting farmers across the world and emission targets are not being met. For real change to happen, governments need to commit and take action. The key to overcoming hunger and meeting the SDG targets is to follow through on national commitments; only then can cooperative international development become effective.
New technologies and innovations can be catalytic in bringing about significant change to the sector; the question is how to make these technologies and innovations more easily accessible and affordable. If governments, local authorities, the private sector and the international development community work together with a clear vision, I am optimistic that we can achieve real agricultural transformation.