Practical solutions in African agriculture
The Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAF) Fund runs eight projects that are supporting the development and testing of 24 innovations. These include technologies, models, and management practices, among them:
- solar dryers, salting, improved kilns, and a cold chain to reduce fish loss
- bean varieties with precooking properties and models for their production and supply
- insects with potential to replace soybean and fish meal in poultry and fish feed, their rearing techniques, and substrates
- hermetic technologies (metal silos and super bags) to reduce post-harvest losses of grain
These innovations are being used by over 25,000 smallholder farmers, livestock keepers, and fishers, with 52% of the users being women.
Below are some exciting results from the eight projects:
Reducing post-harvest loss
In Malawi and Zambia, four out of 10 fish are lost after capture due to post-harvest losses. The largest physical losses are incurred at processing (21.1%) and the lowest at fishing (4.1%). Processors are showing that it is possible to reduce physical loss by up to 20 times, as well as reducing microbial contamination in fish, when solar tent driers are used in place of the more common sun-drying techniques. The solar-drying technology is opening up new markets for processors.
In Zimbabwe, maize is the staple food, with approximately 1.3 million tons consumed annually. Testing of harvested maize has revealed high levels of contamination by aflatoxins. Hermetic technologies (airtight metal silos and super bags) reduce contamination, grain loss, and human exposure to the aflatoxins. After seven months of storage, more samples from traditional storage methods contained aflatoxins than those from the hermetic technologies. Of the contaminated samples from the conventional storage facilities, 36% had levels five times higher than the maximum acceptable limit. Local artisans are fabricating the metal silos to scale-up their use in the country.
In Kenya and Uganda, beans constitute an important source of protein especially for low- and medium-income households. Studies, however, show that the two most limiting factors to bean consumption are long cooking times and the accompanying high energy costs.
Researchers have selected 12 bean varieties and developed pre-cooked products that cook in 10-15 minutes (compared to three hours for beans that are not precooked). They have also developed a ready-to-eat bean snack. Consumer studies show that low-income households will increase their bean consumption by three meals a week once the products are available in the market.
Increasing productivity and profitability
In Kenya and Uganda, thousands of farmers are growing bean varieties that have been selected for their pre-cooking suitability and are higher-yielding than local varieties:
- 13,650 farmers (6,442 men and 7,208 women) are producing seed of the new varieties.
- 10,275 farmers (5,055 men and 5,220 women) are producing grain to supply.
A new factory has the capacity to process nine tons of pre-cooked beans per day.
Protein comprises 60-70% of the cost of feed in the poultry and fish industry. In Kenya and Uganda, researchers are testing the scientific and economic feasibility of replacing the soybean and fish meal often found in poultry and fish feed with insects. The researchers have tested 26 insect species for crude protein content and selected 16 for rearing. All the selected species have superior crude protein content in dry matter compared to fish meal.
Market demand analysis has revealed the possibility of including insects in poultry and fish feed. This would free fish and soybean for human consumption.
Towards gender equality and women’s empowerment
Gender and women’s empowerment are central components of the CultiAf program, both as cross-cutting issues and key areas for research. Under the project, 102 team members have received gender training. In addition, the program has achieved good results on gender inclusion, especially in regard to the proportion of female students, smallholders, and processors engaged in testing innovations.
In Zambia and Malawi, studies show that women experience more physical losses of fish and make less money from fish processing activities due to the time devoted to unpaid care of children. Researchers are using behaviour change communication tools to change gender norms while increasing women’s access to improved processing technologies.
In Kenya and Uganda, women’s autonomy in bean production is increasing. Data on ownership of the land on which beans are planted showed that 41.5% of land was solely owned by women, 29% was owned jointly by males and females and 26.1% was owned by men.
In Kenya, 40 young entrepreneurs (23 men and 17 women) have been trained on business plan development and entrepreneurship. They have been provided mentorship and technical support to grow their businesses. The project is showing that when young people are trained, they are more likely to expand their businesses using external funds. Consequently more youth in the trained group have sourced external funds compared to those that were not selected to participate in the project.
In Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, youth are acquiring business skills and taking advantage of opportunities in the fisheries sector and in maize post-harvest management. In Malawi alone, 40 business plans have been generated and implemented.
Capacity building and policy change
Across the program, 44 students (23 women and 21 men) are engaged in projects for their master’s degrees. The students are carrying out research in key areas of nutrition, post-harvest management, gender, social sciences, economics and consumer studies.
Over 7,000 smallholder farmers and fish processors (52% of them women) have been trained on the use of innovations and on topics such as gender and marketing.
Policymakers and local leaders are increasingly aware and using the results of the research. In Zimbabwe, aflatoxin monitoring has been included in the bi-annual national vulnerability assessments. In Kenya and Uganda, the bureaus of standards are developing new standards for precooked beans and for insect feeds based on the CultiAF results.
To find out more, visit Cultivate Africa's Future page
Photo credits: IDRC