Promoting business 'un'usual for food security

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    More inclusive and commercially relevant approaches are needed to ensure regional cooperation under CAADP yields concrete results for agricultural transformation and food security, but such approaches are not without their challenges.

    Regional CAADP cooperation

    Under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), Africa’s overarching policy framework for agricultural transformation and food security, Africa’s regional economic communities (RECs) are meant to develop Regional CAADP Compacts and Investment Plans, detailing areas of joint collaboration between their member states. The logic behind this is that many obstacles to agricultural transformation and food security in Africa – including various barriers to trade in food staples – require regional solutions, and cannot be solved by individual states acting alone. Effective CAADP implementation therefore requires regional cooperation to support and complement national processes. ECDPM has been working with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to give effect to COMESA’s Regional CAADP Compact. In particular, ECDPM has provided technical support to COMESA to develop the first of a number of regional agricultural investment programmes that will specify concrete activities to promote agricultural transformation and food security in Eastern and Southern Africa. This first programme is called the Regional Investment Programme in Agriculture - Priority Area 2 (RIPA-II), as its overarching focus is in line with Priority Area 2 of COMESA’s Regional CAADP Compact - removing barriers to agricultural trade and linking farmers to markets.

    Promoting ‘business unusual’

    One of the key outputs of RIPA-II is the establishment of public-private dialogue platforms to support the development of priority regional agro-food value chains. While many initiatives already promote value chains and/or public-private partnerships (PPPs) in Africa, evaluations have shown that such initiatives have typically lacked: 1) adequate monitoring of the implementation and impact of policy reforms; 2) effective medium-term financial and technical follow-up to support farmer/SME participation in value chains; 3) holistic and coordinated approaches to tackling the various challenges faced by rural entrepreneurs; and 4) proper analysis of the political environment and relevant political economy dynamics. RIPA-II aims to build on existing initiatives to promote regional value chains by addressing these omissions. Moreover, RIPA-II seeks to promote ‘business unusual’ in order to achieve concrete results from regional cooperation. There is increasing recognition that regional processes in Africa have failed to live up to expectations, and that new, more inclusive, approaches are needed. For example, Frederik Söderbaum and Therese Brolin note that RECs and other regional organisations engaged in traditional state-led, ‘top-down’, regional processes have often failed to include private businesses and civil society actors meaningfully in these processes and to ensure that regional processes are truly relevant to such non-state actors. For Söderbaum and Brolin it is this marginalisation of the “‘bottom-up’ forces of regionalization” that largely explains why “the results of ‘top-down’ regionalism in Africa have been so modest”. In line with this thinking, and with the CAADP principles of inclusiveness and mutual accountability, RIPA-II seeks to promote an inclusive, bottom-up, approach to regional cooperation, and to ensure all relevant stakeholders, including private businesses, smallholder farmers and small-scale traders are able to contribute to the design of RIPA-II interventions. In this regard, the participation of farmer organisations, such as the East African Farmers Federation (EAFF), and private sector associations, such as the Eastern and Southern Africa Dairy Association (ESADA), is crucial. To ensure both political and commercial buy-in to the regional value chain dialogue platforms, as well as their relevance to private sector actors, these platforms focus on subsets of COMESA member states that have demonstrated an interest in working together to promote regional trade in a particular agro-food sector. The platforms also seek to address specific key political and technical bottlenecks inhibiting the development of that sector in the targeted sub-region. Thus, the first platform to be established under RIPA-II, the Regional Dairy Platform, involves only three COMESA countries, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, and will address milk quality standards, market information and business development services and the strengthening of key institutions. This pilot platform is also intended to serve as proof of concept of the RIPA-II approach, hopefully demonstrating the value of engaging in regional processes.

    Drivers and constraints

    Although RIPA-II will only be implemented once the programme has been officially endorsed by COMESA member states in the second half of 2016, significant progress has already been achieved in laying the groundwork for a more bottom-up approach to regional cooperation. This groundwork has also demonstrated how certain actors and factors can drive or inhibit regional cooperation. For example, the lack of trust between stakeholders complicates efforts to build effective, inclusive partnerships for regional cooperation under CAADP. Farmer organisations worry that value chain initiatives will benefit large corporates and marginalise farmers, private businesses and their representatives are skeptical about the commercial benefits of engaging in processes led by COMESA, while other regional organisations are wary about the creation of new structures that they perceive as infringing on what they are already doing. By aligning RIPA-II with the interests of these stakeholders, COMESA has been able to incentivise their engagement. But this process is not straightforward as stakeholders have various and at times conflicting interests in regional cooperation for agricultural transformation and food security. For example, in the context of the dairy sector in Eastern Africa, the interests of large, formal dairy processors in the implementation and enforcement of milk quality standards are not necessarily aligned with the interests of small-scale dairy farmers and informal traders who might struggle to operate in a more tightly regulated environment. For such reasons, ensuring meaningful inclusivity (e.g. by including representation of smallholder farmers through regional farmer organisations) and balancing the need for inclusivity and the need to demonstrate commercial relevance remains an ongoing challenge for regional CAADP processes. Another ongoing challenge for COMESA is ensuring member state ownership of the regional CAADP agenda. COMESA member states have until now exhibited a less-than ideal level of ownership of the regional CAADP agenda in Eastern and Southern Africa. While this problem has been addressed somewhat in the context of RIPA-II by focusing on the establishment of value chain dialogue platforms involving member states that have demonstrated an interest in participating in such an initiatives, the ownership problem remains significant in the context of broader cooperation around COMESA CAADP processes. Significantly, COMESA member states have failed to provide financial support to the regional CAADP agenda, resulting in COMESA CAADP structures and processes becoming totally reliant on donor funding, and corresponding challenges in terms of the sustainability of such an arrangement. Indeed, the RIPA-II experience has also demonstrated that while donor support remains crucial for regional processes, the way in which this support is provided can impact positively or negatively on the likelihood of successful implementation. Donors supported the establishment of a CAADP Unit at the COMESA Secretariat to oversee the regional CAADP agenda, but this unit, being staffed by experts hired on temporary contracts, was not fully embedded in COMESA structures. Hence when donor support for CAADP implementation through COMESA dried up at the end of 2015, the CAADP Unit, having been unable to mobilise support from alternative sources, was disbanded. Although the Industry and Agriculture Division at the COMESA Secretariat has since taken on responsibility for COMESA CAADP processes, some institutional memory within the COMESA Secretariat on CAADP processes has been lost. Were it not for the fact that ECDPM has been able to play a ‘bridging’ role to ensure continuity in the RIPA-II design process, it is likely that this loss of institutional memory would have compromised effective implementation of the programme. Finally, the RIPA-II process has also demonstrated that despite the commonly observed gap between formal decisions and actual implementation of regional agendas, high-level political commitments taken at the regional and/or continental level do provide an important element of legitimacy to regional processes and can help to generate momentum for action. Notably, the commitments made by African Union (AU) heads of state and government at the 2014 AU Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to triple intra-African trade in agriculture and strengthen regional agricultural value chains, have been helpful for convincing skeptical stakeholders of the logic of RIPA-II and of the relevance and importance of engaging in the process.

    Lessons for regional cooperation

    A recent ECDPM study into the political economy of regional integration in Africa (PERIA) (see article by Vanheukelom & Byiers in this issue) recommended an “A, B, C for forming or supporting regional policy or reforms” - revisiting Ambitions in terms of feasibility, focusing on Brokerage as a key approach and working with relevant Champions to drive regional cooperation. ECDPM’s experience in working with COMESA on RIPA-II broadly supports such an approach. In terms of ambitions, the focus of the RIPA-II value chain dialogue platforms on subsets of willing COMESA member states and on addressing specific priority bottlenecks of relevance to stakeholders has allowed for more concrete engagement with stakeholders and the building of real momentum for reform. The process of designing a Regional Dairy Platform under RIPA-II has also confirmed the importance of the role played by ‘independent’ brokers such as ECDPM in brokering frank dialogue between stakeholders from the public sector, private sector and civil society, so as to build trust between them. Without such dialogue, existing levels of mistrust between these stakeholders would prohibit the kind of public-private collective action required to address bottlenecks to the development of the dairy value chain in Eastern Africa. Finally, while the hard work of moving from dialogue to collective action still remains to be done, it is already clear that regional ‘champions’ – organisations with the mandates and capacities to drive (or block) particular aspects of the regional cooperation agenda – will be key to the success of the value chain platforms to be established under RIPA-II. Without the support and leadership of these organisations, regional cooperation is unlikely to be successful and reform efforts may even be opposed. This is why the Regional Dairy Platform seeks to put identified champions such as ESADA and EAFF in the lead in terms of addressing specific bottlenecks most relevant to their institutional mandates and interests. For more, visit for a report on the RIPA-II Validation Workshop held in Lusaka, Zambia, in December 2015, and for an example of ECDPM’s work to support the design of RIPA-II. And read: Bingi, S., Tondel, F. 2015. Recent developments in the dairy sector in Eastern Africa: Towards a regional policy framework for value chain development. ECDPM Briefing Note 78. Maastricht: ECDPM. Söderbaum, F. and T. Brolin. 2016. Support to regional cooperation and integration in Africa: What works and why? Expertgruppen for bistandsanalys (EBA). Vanheukelom, J., B. Byiers, S. Bilal and S. Woolfrey (2016). The political economy of regional integration in Africa. What drives and constrains regional organisations? Synthesis Report. Maastricht: ECDPM. ( About the author Sean Woolfrey is Policy Officer for the Food Security and Economic Transformation and Trade Programmes at ECDPM.
    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 4  (July/August 2016).
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