Can CBOs And NGOs Bridge Agri-Business Information Gap?
By Akin Olatidoye
Alhaji Mukaila has farmed for more than two decades. For him, it is an activity he has to engage in. Whether he makes profit or loss is left to him; at least he can feed himself and his family and when he is lucky, he also find someone willing to buy his produce. There is no single documentation about his over twenty years of cultivating the soil. Agri-Business on the other hand hints at doing agriculture as a profitable venture.
Important components of viable agribusiness are largely absent in most agricultural activities carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is a wide gap given the fact that the Agricultural sector is extensive in the region. For example, in Nigeria, the agricultural sector employs about 60% of Nigerians- many of who are rural women. The sector also reportedly adds up to 35% of the country’s GDP. The current low agribusiness opportunity conversion resonates with the fact that ‘in much of the developing world, and particularly in Africa, many rural populations have not yet adjusted to the market reforms implemented in the late 80s and 90s, let alone acquired the capacity to compete in the globalised market place.’ Farming activities are largely organized around informal markets and intended for mere subsistence. Equally, many a time realities such as high food insecurity divert away from the usefulness of employing agribusiness components in regular farming activities.
Challenges for running good agribusiness vary from country to country, which includes: misinformed and negative perception of agriculture as an unrespectable profession, low access to land (especially those for perennial crops), credit facilities and farming input. Policy shifts needed to transform agricultural resources and potentials from a subsistence level to strong agribusiness models are largely non-existent and unengaged if they do exist. Other challenges are non-availability of technical and professional training opportunities, a weakly defined framework of business and professional ethics plus socio-political disruptions. The institutional capacity to deal with peculiar agribusiness challenges such as human resource management and production dynamics is also very low.
It can be inferred from the foregoing that there is a knowledge and information gap in Africa’s agribusiness culture. Plugging in the loose ends of the gap calls for role of actors, whose interventions can facilitate the desired hard push. Such typical actors are: government at the national, state and local government level, the private sector and Non-Governmental Organisations (including Community Based Organisations and even Faith Based Organisation). A cursory assessment of the intervention history, patterns and effectiveness of the mentioned agribusiness systems actors reveals mixed results. Government actors are seemingly placed at a distance towards agribusiness systems improvement. Government actors are able to create an enabling environment for agribusiness systems to grow. They do this through initiating appropriate policies and reforms. They also adopt relevant multilateral framework needed to accomplish this. However, rarely are government actors able to achieve a relationship of trust and synergy with small scale farmers operating in a bogus but weak agriculture sector. For example, in Cameroun, government involvement in agribusiness amounts to owning less than ten (10) enterprises.
The language and execution of policy is not often contained in the ‘participatory development’ strategy but in the enactment of laws. The private sector, another agribusiness player has performed variedly. The private sector broadly includes companies and organizations not controlled or owned by government. By their nature, they are determinedly profit oriented. This profit-oriented nature leaves little chance for them to invest strategic resources in agribusiness given the high risk nature of unorganized farming in Africa. While the private sector is aware of the gaps in agribusiness in Africa, they virtually avoid these risk gaps rather than address them. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) which by extension can be Community Based Organizations (CBOs) have a different orientation towards the agribusiness void. The origin, evolution and current posture of NGOs and CBOs positions them to resolve the information and knowledge gaps in African agribusiness.
NGOs sprung out as organizations providing emergency services and aid in humanitarian disasters linked to agribusiness. Such disasters have included famine and malnutrion. NGOs later evolved to include CBOs, where small-scale, self-reliant local development is facilitated by bilateral partnership involving the CBOs strategically. This stage of NGOs involvement in communal development meant an extension of information typically bundled up within government circles or elitist technocracy. This step-down of information was even the more bolstered by an age of rapid communication in the 1970s and 1980s. The advent of the computer, fiber-optic cable, fax, television created access for information to potentially reach the remote places. This communication evolution also meant that for the first time, mass organization and cooperative actions could be taken in society at any level. This new frontier of communication impacted communities and perhaps sectors that had had little chances of getting attention.
For certain demography such as rural agrarian populations in Africa, a new agenda setting rule had been set. The leverage of information channeling to and fro the rural agrarian population was carried out by mainly by NGOs and CBOs. These organizations had the double advantage of being able to read and influence government policies. They can also lobby private sector interests in advocacy of the needs of the local agrarian communities, for instance. As mentioned before, the lines of NGO engagement with communities touched on meeting their needs. Later it stretched to assisting them to develop their own home-sprung capacity to meet challenges and needs.
The parallel communication evolution currently identifiable with Information Communication Technology (ICT) tools can be annexed by NGOs in their work with local communities like agrarian populations. Presently, there is an observable growth of ICT customized tools and applications used in agricultural operations in a number of African countries notably in the Horn of Africa. Although currently customized for particular services such as delivering market price information, the ICT tools and applications can be broadened. To achieve this, the go-between role that NGOs and CBOs play is called once more to attention. In places like Nigeria, where digital literacy is low and internet penetration is still in the lower rank of double digits, mobile telephones are a good alternative. NGOs and by extension CBOs can interpret which agribusiness processes and procedure needs to be rendered as valuable information for agrarian communities. They can also monitor trends in the larger global space which agribusiness actors need to catch up with. In their role as the far-reaching extension agents, NGOs and CBOs can bring the most current information on these trends to the shoddy patches of agribusiness in Africa. It is a long shot but it is possible if the necessary time and strategies are designed to address this. That way, folks like Alhaji Mukaila would have easy ways to understand profit and loss statements and also prepare pro-forma cash flow even before production in clear resonance with the praxis of agri-business.
About the Author
Akin Olatidoye works as a Programme Officer with OneLife Initiative for Human Development, a non-governmental social enterprise with interests in micro-enterprise, governance and new media culture. He and his team can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org OneLife currently offers Business Support Service (BSS) to Agri-Business Clusters (ABCs) in the maize value chain in Oyo and Ogbomoso, South Western, Nigeria. Visit www.onelifeinitiative.org or follow the organisation on twitter @onelifeng for more information.