IDH’s innovative finance manager, Johnny Brom, was one of the external partners recently invited by Cargill to join them on a ‘learning journey’ week-long trip to South Africa and Zambia, exploring some of the major challenges and opportunities related to global food security. This trip was planned in honor of Cargill’s 150th anniversary as a leading supply chain actor and they invited a multi-stakeholder group – including representatives from their suppliers, farmer associations, higher education, NGO partners, development agencies and customers. Johnny offers some insights on his trip for today’s Friday reflection piece.
Starting out in South Africa the group spent time with actors right across the value chain, including the associations, retailers, financial exchanges and community projects. These are all part of a food system which not only feeds South Africa, but clearly has much further reaching impact serving other African countries. I observed that a well-organized, dynamic and engaged producer association can be instrumental: Grain SA, the major producer organization in the country, has been an influential industry body empowering its members and working with government and players further down the supply chain, to create value for its members and the system as a whole.
It was also clear from discussions with producers and traders that an efficient commodities exchange is a powerful tool in providing price stability for the industry. A discussion that was elaborated on with the head of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) Commodity Derivatives Exchange and the to be established Zambian Exchange, of which the JSE is supporting the development.
Revolutionizing service delivery models
After two days in South Africa, the learning Journey group flew to Chipata in the Eastern Province of Zambia. The area is known for its smallholder farms (many under 4ha), typically farming cotton and maize. Cargill is one of the largest originators in the region, and has recently been revolutionizing the more traditional service delivery model. This model is typically used to work with smallholders in Africa– instead developing a more innovative model that provides access to a holistic farmer-service package for the smallholders it sources from.
“A concurrent theme running throughout the week was the clear need to build strong and pragmatic partnerships across the public and private sector in order to create sustainable value chains and food systems to match the increasing demand dynamics the world faces.”
Here the learning journey group took a deep dive into what it’s like working on such a smallholder farm; picking cotton in 30 degree heat (ouch!); helping to grind maize with large, heavy pestle and mortar type tools (not for the weak!), participating in a savings club meeting for new-generation farmers, and, for some, spending a night with a farmer household in a village out in the bush.
This experience truly brought home the realities of a smallholder farmer and his/her household and helped to ground the group’s ideas on how development can truly catalyze sustainable growth in these areas.
More partnerships across public & private sector needed
Eventually when the learning journey came to an end – the group left inspired but also humbled by the complexity of the actualities on the ground. A concurrent theme running throughout the week was the clear need to build strong and pragmatic partnerships across the public and private sector, in order to create sustainable value chains and food systems to match the increasing demand dynamics the world faces. Many good relationships were made and future partnerships formed, from which IDH would also look to collaborate further. But in totality it was the ability to take a lengthy and realistic deep dive into the complexity of the African food system that was the most illuminating for the participants.