Agriculture is the direct or indirect livelihood of three quarters of the world’s poor, who live in rural areas.
The 2008 food crisis and the subsequent global financial crisis, showed the extreme vulnerability of developing countries to fluctuations in food prices and supplies.
But the impact was not only on developing world farmers – it affected consumers world-wide in food scarcities, eg rice in Thailand, and higher prices.
In Nov 2008 Egypt – UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) sponsored the first ever international conference on Sharing Innovative Agribusiness Solutions – From Farms to Markets: Providing Know-how and Finance.
If the conference activities can be sustained it’s an initiative that would potentially benefit small farmers in developing world, consumers everywhere and the planet as a whole.
“Our vision is sustainable development”
In his opening speech Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, Founder of SEKEM said that Sustainable development could satisfy our needs and aspirations without decreasing the chances for future generations……but that we need to learn the basic principals of ecology.
“….. Being ecologically literate means understanding the principles of organisations of ecological communities including our educational com¬munities, political and business communities. So that principles of education, management and politics include the principles of ecology.”
A little about SEKEM
In 1977 the economic and social hardship of his countrymen galvanised Social Entrepreneur and medical doctor Dr Abouleish into buying 70 hectares of desert scrubland, 60 km north-east of Cairo and close to the River Nile.
He called the new experimental farm there SEKEM – from Ancient Egyptian: “vitality from the sun”.
SEKEM was able to transform the desert into a showcase example of sustainable agriculture and a healthy ecosystem through biodynamic farming methods.
Its efforts in organic cultivation led to the conversion of the entire Egyptian cotton industry to organic methods.
Starting off with a dairy and crop farm, SEKEM soon began to produce herbal teas and to market its biodynamic produce in Europe. This initiative helped other farms in Egypt to switch to biodynamic farming. A part of its mix of activities the farm uses bio-fertilizers.
The 2008 Cairo conference brought together over 400 agribusiness stakeholders from more than 65 countries, including representatives of private and public institutions (technical and financial), international organizations, donor countries, civil society, universities and research institutions to share innovative agribusiness solutions
Topics covered supply/value chains, market access and linkages, Compliance with standards and conformity assessment, Technology and value addition and Innovative forms of financing
Participants were enthusiastic about working together to achieve change. central to the debate were “Innovation and opportunity”, “partnerships based on trust” and “the need for commitment”, also the need for a holistic approach to agriculture taking into account the needs of specific groups, and avoiding the mistake of thinking that “one size fits all”.
Four key issues were identified:
1. Financial: small producers need finance to bridge the gap between initial costs and eventual benefits to help them enhance their productivity and agricultural product distribution.
2. Up to date information: small farmers and SMEs need access to up-to-date market information to enable them to compete effectively in local, regional and international markets.
One example cited was an Indian project, an e-Choupal (“choupal” means gathering place in Hindi) programme that places computers with internet access in rural farming villages; e-Choupals acted as both a social gathering place for exchange of information and an e-commerce hub.
3. Investment in supply-chain infrastructure: Governments, the food industry, agribusiness and consumer goods retailers need to invesr in supply-chain infrstructures, which have a long economic life.
e-Choupal had a role here too: Out of an initial effort to re-engineer the procurement process for soy, tobacco, wheat, shrimp and other cropping systems in rural India grew a highly profitable distribution and product design channel for the company – an e-commerce platform and also a low-cost fulfilment system focused on the specific needs of rural India
4. Use of technology: using technological know-howfor improving yields, includingbio-fertilizers applied as soil or seed inoculants and foliar spray, reduction of post-harvest losses through better product preservation techniques, quality preservation processes and innovative ingredients to reduce microbial and toxin contamination, increased cost-efficiency related to local production, collective brands and quality criteria enhancement to strengthen small-scale producers, packaging technology and efficient logistics.
A range of follow-up activities was reportedly initiated, including a new project (supported by the Italian Development Cooperation) to extend ETRACE(UNIDO’s Egyptian Traceability Centre for Agro-Industrial Exports) activities and help other developing countries to establish similar centres.
Further follow-up initiatives will focus on promotional and outreach activities such as the development of an interactive networking and matchmaking platform for agribusiness practitioners, which will allow continuous sharing of more innovative solutions and best practices with more participants and thus foster more business and development partnerships
If the momentum from this conference can be sustained the future could be brighter for all of us, consumers and farmers alike.
Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers