When the current food crisis in Kenya started unravelling with the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, the daunting task of crafting solutions fell on the technical staff at the Ministry of Agriculture.
The experts designed programmes like the fertiliser subsidy to cushion maize farmers against rising prices related to the global supply chain disruptions
But successfully implementing the programmes proved to be a big problem as they had to work in teams, collaborate with the private sector, civil society and other players in the food value chain and manage public expectations.
Anna Mukunya Mutinda, a senior agriculture official who has been involved in efforts to solve the food crisis, says one needed more than technical know-how to make a difference.
“Using the skills on adaptive leadership and collaboration, I have participated meaningfully in interventions for short term (subsidy on maize flour), medium term (fertiliser subsidy) and long term (promotion of irrigated farming),” says Ms Mutinda, who is on an executive training programme offered by the Centre for African Leaders in Agriculture (CALA).
The centre was launched by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) in August 2021 to provide skills training primarily to public sector leaders in agriculture who are spearheading national transformation.
Agra, a non-profit organisation, has been working with governments and the private sector to improve incomes and food security among smallholders and households in Africa since 2006.
It boasts, among other achievements, investments in more than 110 seed companies that had led to the production of an estimated 700,000 tonnes of seeds by 2020.
But evaluations of some of the organisation’s work with governments identified leadership as the missing link in efforts to transform the continent’s agriculture, noting the wide gap that exists between the successfully implemented programmes and the commitments made.
“We understood that leaders are already very technically competent and there is no shortage of exposure to technical training and support in agriculture. Leaders requested support on exposure to models of agriculture transformation that work (or that don’t), on a peer-learning approach to adaptive and collaborative leadership skills, and network development which is what CALA provides,” says Dr Nungari Mwangi, the CALA programmes manager.
The first class of 80 included executive-level leaders with more than 15 years of experience and are key decision makers on national programmes such as directors-general, directors and CEOs from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Ghana and Nigeria.
Others joined with limited experience but are seen as rising stars in their organisations because they have significant responsibility for delivery of key national agriculture programmes.
“One of the lessons we have learnt from the programme is that collaboration on sector priorities among leaders from government, private sector and civil society can be a powerful instrument for advancing agriculture as it breaks down silos,” says Dr Mwangi.
The first cohort had 39 percent coming from government, 25 percent from civil society and 36 percent from private sector.
Ronald Heifetz, the Harvard professor who introduced the adaptive leadership model, defines it as the act of mobilising a group of individuals to handle tough challenges and emerge triumphant in the end.
In their book Leadership on the Line, co-authored by Marty Linksky, they argue that adaptive leadership skills are increasingly needed to solve some of the world’s most complex problems such as climate change, pandemics and conflicts.
Under CALA’s advanced leadership programme, fellows are required to identify pressing issues in agriculture in their countries or communities, come up with solutions and implement them on the ground over 16 months.
Deji Adebusoye, a Nigerian investment and management consultant who was also in CALA’s inaugural class, is working on a project to improve access by small-scale farmers to solar power irrigation systems in his country.
“Irrigation is expensive and very few smallholders have access to it. If such technology is available at scale, smallholder farmers will increase their annual cultivation, boost yields, and ultimately increase their income. This has the potential to lift farmers out of poverty and increase the country’s food production,” said Mr Adebusoye.
In Ghana, Anthony Morrison and three of his compatriots in the inaugural CALA class are building a digital platform that connects smallholder farmers to financial institutions, inputs suppliers, extension services and markets.
Mr Morrison has been in the food business and most recently served as the chief executive officer of the Chamber of Agribusiness Ghana.
“Farmers have a hard time accessing credit, and this has severely compromised their ability to improve their yields in order to make a good living and ensure food security for the country. We register them to our platform, assess their credit worthiness and link them to financial institutions willing to take a chance on them,” says Morrison.
Currently, about 100 farmers are registered on the platform.
Dr Agnes Kalibata, the AGRA president, sees graduates of the CALA leadership programme playing a key role in efforts to solve the food crisis that took a turn for the worse with the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 and is being prolonged by the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war.
“These 160 leaders from eight countries have distinguished themselves in delivering on food systems transformation priorities across government, private sector and civil society. In the aftermath of Covid-19, we have a unique opportunity to re-imagine and build more resilient food systems. We look forward to the rest of this decade of action working with you all to meet our sector priorities with the eight harvests we now have left,” Dr Kalibata told a leadership forum organised by CALA in Kigali, Rwanda last week.
The two-day forum was part of the activities at the 2022 AGRF Summit where African leaders, including heads of state, pledged increased support to efforts to boost food production, reduce reliance on imports and build resilience against global shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic blamed for food shortages and high prices on the continent.
“We have embraced food systems as the guiding principle to how we produce, process, market, and consume food. We will build resilience at every level of our agricultural value chains. Sustainable food systems are the only pathway to achieving the key sustainable development goal of ending hunger by 2030,” they said in a statement released at the conclusion of the summit on September 9.
The annual summit hosted by Agra brings together key players to discuss and take practical actions to transform the continent’s agriculture.
This year’s meeting was held against the backdrop of a food crisis related to the global supply chain disruptions caused by Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war.
The price of food has risen by more than 40 percent since the beginning of Covid-19, and 147 million people are facing crisis levels of food insecurity – an increase of 20 million since the beginning of 2022.