News from the starting block: Changeover

Sub-Saharan Africa is on the verge of a development boost in farming: it could skip entire generations of technological development. But how?  About possible roles and potentials of digital services.

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Benin: microfinancing in the agricultural sector; funding plays a particularly important role. Photo: Michael Brüntrup/DIE

Michael Brüntrup

Dr Michael Brüntrup is a senior researcher at the German Development Institute (DIE) in the field of Agricultural and Food Security with focus on sub-Saharan Africa

Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik

The mechanisation of the Sub-Saharan agricultural sector is one of the most extensive and difficult transformations the continent intends—and needs—to undergo. This may be hard to comprehend from the perspective of Europe, where agriculture has been reduced to a relatively marginal part of the economy and its far-reaching mechanisation has long been taken for granted. In Africa, however, mechanisation is a mammoth task which most countries have yet to tackle with satisfactory results. The success or failure of the endeavour will have very significant consequences for most residents of the region.

 

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for two thirds of Sub-Saharan Africans, most of whom are smallholders. Between 50% and 85% of soil cultivation work is carried out manually. Africa only produces 20–30% of the yield it could achieve with good agricultural practices, and the continent is home to around 50% of the world’s non-cultivated arable land. Most young people do not consider agriculture as a feasible career path, as it involves hard manual labour and a low income. Due to ineffective storage, processing and marketing methods in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), 30% of agricultural produce is lost between the field and the consumers.

 

Mechanisation: potential along the whole value chain

Mechanisation can improve yields, reduce losses, increase incomes, lessen physical exertion and make agriculture more attractive to young people. It affects more than just the work in the field itself: irrigation, milking and feeding systems, transportation, processing, drying, storage and preparation can be mechanised, too.

 

Most businesses tend to focus on areas whose mechanisation will achieve the greatest possible progress. This primarily depends on the type of production and the size of the farm. Other factors include the non-agricultural alternatives available to the members of a family-run operation: the more workers quit, the greater the need for mechanisation becomes. The roles of men and women within and outside of agriculture play an important role, too.

 

Funding: a major obstacle 

Aside from internal circumstances, there are many external factors that impact mechanisation: political support, neglect of the agricultural industry, low levels of education in rural regions, high tariffs on machines and spare parts, a lack of private business in rural regions, major fluctuations of crop yields and agricultural prices, and volatile business relationships between farmers and other companies.

 

Funding plays a particularly important role. Many machines, even the smallest, are prohibitively expensive for smallholders. Very few people have access to loans, and the larger, long-term loans required for machines (unlike farm inputs) are especially hard to come by. While small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), which organise most of the value chain down to the consumer level, tend to have a somewhat better state of mechanisation, many of them cannot afford sensible investments and lack creditworthiness. Without improving the available funding options, the sweeping mechanisation of the agricultural sector in Sub-Saharan Africa will remain out of reach.

 

A research project carried out by the German Development Institute (DIE) with funding from the special initiative Eine Welt ohne Hunger (SEWOH) has investigated experiences and possibilities of funding mechanisation in Sub-Saharan Africa. The researchers first evaluated the available literature on the effect of mechanisation on food security, as many fear that technological process could exacerbate the existing problems by squeezing out unskilled workers and smallholders. Their analysis found that most businesses (can) only mechanise their operations gradually and, in doing so, aim for the greatest additional benefit. This does not constitute a risk to food security. Rather, greater production volumes and better incomes for smallholders improve the situation. While excessive mechanisation and the resulting clustering of agricultural business without alternatives for smallholders can have the opposite effect, this rarely happens in Sub-Saharan Africa.

 

(c) Grafik DIE

Stakeholders require multiple funding options

The study also found that the various stakeholders—smallholders, expanding farms, medium-sized cooperatives and large companies—have very different requirements that cannot be met by a single type of funding provider. In many cases, a single stakeholder can have a range of financial needs: a leasing company, for instance, is likely to fund specific machines but not the farm inputs that are required for good agricultural practices and that make the machines profitable in the first place. Credit providers often cannot (and are not authorised to) sell insurance policies. Larger loans, e.g. for a tractor or a cooperative investment, exceed the capacities of microfinance institutions (MFI), while single-farm loans for inputs or manual tools are too small for banks. Effective funding for mechanisation, then, requires a variety of funding instruments and institutions.

 

The research project also systematised the problems inherent to the provision of funding in terms of demand, supply and financial transactions. Recipients of funding, i.e. farmers and SME in rural areas, frequently lack sufficient education and formal knowledge of business and economy. Many of them are scattered throughout the region; they are disorganised and have few material loan guarantees. The loans required for mechanisation projects are often too high for group guarantees, which are accepted by many MFI. Smallholders also tend to have poor repayment habits—especially if they believe that their funding comes from government sources, if there have been repeated governmental debt relief initiatives, or if they are not interested in lasting business relationships. In theory, cooperatives and other formal agricultural associations could overcome the disadvantages that smallholders face, but they come with their own challenges. Their establishment and advancement, for instance, are socially sensitive issues that require a lot of time. Private mechanisation service providers, such as larger agricultural businesses, are often a more realistic alternative in the region.

 

Pure financial institutions, such as MFI, commercial banks, credit providers, insurance funds and leading companies, tend to lack experience in the agricultural sector. They are heavily underrepresented in rural areas and fear the sector’s dependence on weather conditions and similar inherent risks. In addition, larger machines are generally too expensive for MFI. More and more buyers of agricultural products wish to secure their supply volumes and product quality, however. In return for contractual farming agreements, they provide the producers with farm inputs and/or other services on credit. Once the farmers supply the ordered goods, the buyers offset their value against the outstanding debt (value chain financing). This settlement can also be carried out by a financial service provider who has been contractually approved by both parties (triangular financing). In many cases, such buyers only finance farm inputs and machines required to grow the produce they personally wish to buy. Larger, longer-term investments are rarely funded through value chain financing in cases, such as the sugar cane, where there are close, lasting business relationships that are difficult to dissolve in the long term.

 

Transaction fees tend to be very high in rural regions due to large distances and rough terrain, a lack of affordable transport and communication tools, and language barriers. The physical safety of money transports is a common problem in many remote areas, too. All these factors make financial and other services, the exchange of goods, conclusion of agreements, and implementation of controls expensive and high-risk endeavours in the Sub-Saharan countryside. This has a negative impact on the financing of mechanisation projects.

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Benin: A farmer with a single-axle tractor ploughing his field. Photo: Michael Brüntrup/DIE

Digital services as a new funding opportunity 

Digital services can lower the high transaction costs in rural regions. Their role in the funding of mechanisation is multifaceted. The digitisation of financial services such as savings, transfers and leasing contracts can reduce long, expensive overland journeys and increase security. Settling transactions through digital bank accounts makes it easier to determine creditworthiness, and non-financial digital services often improve the creditworthiness of rural stakeholders. A digital identification system can prevent excessive indebtedness and serial installment loans for farmers, who often lack official documents. Digital land registers can facilitate the use of land ownership as a credit guarantee. Overall, digital services can improve and stabilise the production and sales efforts of smallholders in many ways, e.g. through cultivation consultancy, the provision of weather/price/market information or the improvement/price reduction of certifications that will make their production more durable and profitable. All these factors are highly valuable tools for financial service providers wishing to assess individual creditworthiness, especially if they have doubts about the production, supply and repayment abilities of their clients. With digital services, higher-quality information about the sector and individual products is accessible faster and easier to process. They reduce the actual and perceived volatility of the sector.

 

The DIE project has compiled a list of examples of innovative mechanisation funding initiatives:

  • MyAgro in Mali and Senegal helps farmers save money in installments by means of prepaid cards. The cards can be used to buy farm inputs and small machines at a discount.
  • AccessBank in Madagascar and other East African countries offers highly flexible repayment conditions that can be adapted individually to seasonal cash flows and the changeable nature of agriculture.
  • Fundacion Capital, which was founded with a focus on Bangladesh and Latin America and is currently expanding to Africa, specialises in long-term graduation strategies for smallholders to enable them eventually to purchase their own machines. Information platforms and apps make it possible to monitor individual businesses, even if they work with multiple other companies and governmental authorities.
  • CumaBenin is working on a local adaptation of a French system of machinery rings, in which groups of farmers jointly buy and operate machines, but the company is currently struggling with organisational and maintenance issues.
  • NWK Agriservices in Zambia attempted to combine the financing of a mechanisation package with a sophisticated contract farming concept. Unfortunately, the economic crisis in the country has caused the investor to withdraw.
  • The most high-profile example for digital mechanisation services in Sub-Saharan Africa is probably HelloTractor, a start-up originally launched in Nigeria. It provides businesses (often larger farms) with tractors and loans and operates an app through which it organises the tractor rental system, which improves utilisation rates and economic efficiency, as well as the invoicing process. The developers have also begun to manage other machine services through the app, too.
  • After all, direct digital services also include crowd funding from individual farmers and companies. While this is very rare in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is not unheard of: BaySeddo in Senegal is a good example.

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Morocco: A farmer during the field work. Foto: Michael Brüntrup/DIE

Optimising digital service bundles

Many current digital funding models are pilot projects that are yet to be fully established or made into secure business models. There are still major obstacles that hinder the comprehensive roll-out of digital services in the field of financing mechanism and, at a more general level, agriculture. Electricity is but a minor problem: today, every rural market offers solar panels and mobile charging services. But language barriers and a lack of education prevent many smallholders from understanding written contracts and the conditions of digital services. Digital services may lessen the physical obstacles inherent to rural regions and the abundance of risks in production and distribution, but they cannot eliminate them completely. Many enthusiastic app developers working on market information systems, for instance, have had to learn that good information has very little effect on sales prices unless it also improves the market power of farmers. In some cases, the profit margins are simply too low and sales pressure is too high to allow for any changes in behaviour and distribution methods. The field of mechanisation, in particular, is fraught with barriers unrelated to the flow of information. The risks and costs are so high that individual digital services can barely make a dent in them.

 

It may be sensible and necessary, then, to bundle multiple services and offer them as a package. Digital services will need to be combined with conventional, non-digital services to provide that decisive value that will pave the way for greater mechanisation and the corresponding funding. That is the secret behind the success of contract farming. But that system, too, struggles with the limitations of mechanisation: it rarely provides lasting support for all operations of a business. Local, paid companies that derive a sustainable income from aggregation services might become an important business model. Digitisation also makes it easier to combine multiple services. But this requires clarification of data ownership rights and the transferability of data—not just to protect privacy rights but to facilitate competition and the development and establishment of new products.

 

For now, the digitisation of services in the Sub-Saharan agricultural sector is still in its infancy, at least for the vast amount of smallholders on the continent. But the economy of digital platforms has taught us that successful concepts spread rapidly and have a tendency towards monopolisation. The mechanisation of the agricultural sector may well advance very fast over the next years. And it well may escalate other issues of structural change in rural regions.

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By Dr. Jan Orbie

‘Fair’ and ‘sustainable’ are key words in Germany’s EU Council Presidency. At the same time, Germany pursues ‘modernization’ of the WTO and ‘rapid progress’ on free trade agreements. Are these goals really compatible? Can we be concerned about fairness and sustainability while continuing with ‘business as usual’?

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Hunger must not be a consequence of the epidemic!

By Michael Brüntrup (DIE)

Even though COVID-19 poses a threat to the health of humanity, the reaction to the pandemic must not cause more suffering than the disease itself. This is particularly relevant for poor developing countries, where the impact of the corona crisis on food security is even more severe!

 

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Ms Rudloff, what are the benefits of a supply chain law?

By Jan Rübel

The Federal Government is fine-tuning a law that would require companies to ensure human rights – a supply chain law. What are the consequences for the agricultural sector? Dr Bettina Rudloff from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) discusses linking policy fields with added value.

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School Feeding: A unique platform to address gender inequalities

By Carmen Burbano de Lara (WFP)

Besides the well known impacts of Covid19 lockdowns for the adult population, the associated school closures led to 90 percent of the world’s children with no access to schools. However, school meals are in often the only daily meal for children. Without access to this safety net, issues like hunger, poverty and malnutrition are exacerbated for hundreds of millions of children.

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More than just a seat at the table

By Welthungerhilfe

Africa is home to the world’s youngest and fastest growing population. For many young people, agriculture could offer a job perspective. But to improve the living conditions and job prospects of young people in rural areas, political reforms and investments are desperately needed, as these people will be at the centre of agriculture and agricultural development in the future.

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Double interview: The Forest Maker and his director

By Jan Rübel

Tony Rinaudo uses conventional reforestation methods to plant millions and millions of trees – and Volker Schlöndorff is filming a cinema documentary about the Australian. The outcome so far: An educational film on behalf of the BMZ (Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development).

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Africa's rapid economic transformation

By T. S. Jayne, A. Adelaja and R. Mkandawire

Thirty years ago, Africa was synonymous with war, famine and poverty. That narrative is clearly outdated. African living standards are rising remarkably fast. Our authors are convinced that improving education and entrepreneurship will ensure irreversible progress in the region even as it confronts COVID-19.

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Global responsibility: Tackling hunger is the only way forward

By Lisa Hücking (WHH)

Chancellor Merkel has begun an ambitious European political programme: Striving for compromise in budget negotiations, an orderly Brexit as well as an appropriate response to the corona crisis. Unfortunately, one of her positions that she previously held is nowhere to be found: Africa's prosperity is in the interest of Europe. 

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Reference values: A building block on the road to social equality

Article by Friederieke Martin (GIZ)

A quick and cost-effective method calculates living wages and incomes for many different countries. The GIZ together with Fairtrade International and Richard and Martha Anker have developed a tool that companies can use to easily analyse income and wage gaps.

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Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Supermarket Scorecard on Human Rights

By Dr. Franziska Humbert (Oxfam)

Oxfam’s supermarket scorecard, which is in its third year, shows one thing in particular - it works! Supermarkets can change their business policies and focus more on the rights of those people around the world who plant and harvest food. However, this does not happen without pressure. 

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Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Africa's face of agriculture is female

By Beatrice Gakuba

Africa has a huge opportunity to make agriculture its economic driver. However, the potential for this is far from being made exhaustive use of, one reason being that women face considerable difficulties in their economic activities. The organisation AWAN Afrika seeks to change this state of affairs.

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Success story allotment garden: Food supply and women's empowerment

By Nadine Babatounde and Anne Floquet

To prevent malnutrition among young children and strengthen the role of women in their communities, Misereor, together with the local non-governmental organisation CEBEDES, is implementing a programme on integrated home gardens in Benin - a series of pictures.

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Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Video: 4 Questions to Claudia Makdristo

By Seedstars

Startups are booming in African agriculture. What are the current trend and challenges – and can other regions benefit from innovative approaches? A Video-Interview with Claudia Makadristo, Regional Manager of Seedstars  

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From Berlin to Yen Bai: 10,000 trees for Vietnam

By GIZ and BMZ

It began with clicks at a trade fair and ends with concrete reforestation: a campaign at the Green Week in Berlin is now enriching the forests of the Yen Bai Province in Vietnam. A chronicle of an education about climatic relevance to concrete action - and about the short distances on our planet.

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Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Planetary Health: Recommendations for a Post-Pandemic World

By Dr. Kathleen Mar and Dr. Nicole de Paula

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, health is receiving unprecedented public and political attention. Yet the fact that climate change is also affecting the environmental and social determinants of health in a profound and far-reaching way deserves further recognition.

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Innovations for a secure food supply

By German Agribusiness Alliance

The COVID 19 pandemic is hitting developing and emerging countries and their poorest populations particularly hard. It is important to take countermeasures at an early stage. Companies in the German agricultural sector want to make their contribution to ensuring the availability of urgently needed operating resources.

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Turning many into one: CGIAR network restructures

By Jan Rübel

International agricultural research is responding to new challenges: Their advisory group is undergoing a fundamental reform process and unites knowledge, partnerships and physical assets into OneCGIAR.

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The human finca

Interview with Marvin Antonio Garcia Otero

In Eastern El Salvador, campesinos are cultivating a self-image to encourage rural youth to remain in rural areas. With help from Caritas, they have adjusted the cultivation methods to their soils and traditions - Marvin Antonio Garcia Otero,the deputy director of Caritas of the Diocese of San Miguel believes this is the best way to prevent rural exodus and criminality.

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Good health is impossible without healthy food

By Heino von Meyer

Corona makes it even more difficult to achieve a world without hunger by 2030. So that this perspective does not get out of sight, Germany must play a stronger role internationally - a summary of the Strategic Advisory Group of SEWOH.

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© GIZ

Actual Analysis: The locusts came with the crises

By Bettina Rudloff and Annette Weber (SWP)

The Corona-Virus exacerbates existing crises through conflict, climate, hunger and locusts in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. What needs to be done in these regions? To face these challenges for many countries, all of these crises need to be captured in their regional context.

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© GIZ

One Health – What we are learning from the Corona crisis

Dr. May Hokan and Dr. Arnulf Köhncke (WWF)

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the connection between human and animal health has gained new attention. Politicians and scientists are joining forces to propagate the solution: One Health. But what is behind the concept? And can it also guarantee food security for all people worldwide?

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© GIZ

Resilient small-scale agriculture: A key in global crises

By Kerstin Weber and Brit Reichelt-Zolho (WWF)

Biodiversity and sustainable agriculture ensure the nutrition of whole societies. But there is more: These two factors also provide better protection against the outbreak of dangerous pandemics. Hence, the question of preserving ecosystems is becoming a global survival issue.

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© GIZ

Ideas on the ground: Local solutions for global challenges

Interview with Sebastian Lesch (BMZ)

A world without hunger and with sufficient healthy food as well as climate-friendly agriculture can only be achieved if ideas are transformed into innovations and ultimately also applied - a conversation with BMZ Head of Division Sebastian Lesch on the Innovation Challenge programme of the new Agricultural Innovation Fund.

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Developing countries hit doubly hard by coronavirus

By Gunter Beger (BMZ)

In most African countries, the infection COVID-19 is likely to trigger a combined health and food crisis. This means: In order to cope with this unprecedented crisis, consistently aligning our policies to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more important than ever, our author maintains.

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“Corona exposes the weaknesses of our nutritional systems"

Interview with Arif Husain (WFP)

The United Nations plan a Food Systems Summit - and now the Corona-Virus is dictating the agenda. The Chief Economist of the UN World Food Programme takes stock of the current situation: a conversation with Jan Rübel about pandemics, about the chromosomes of development - and about the conflicts that inhibit them.

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“Healthy ground brings good and many fruits”

Interview with Ben Sekamatte and Boaz Ogola

Africa's cotton production plays a key role in the fight against poverty. The "Cotton Made in Africa" initiative promotes sustainable cultivation - one element of which is the use of organic pesticides. Entomologist Ben Sekamatte and cotton company manager Boaz Ogola talked with Jan Rübel about soil and yields.

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Hier steht eine Bildbeschreibung

Statement from GAFSP Co-Chairs: GAFSP and COVID-19 Pandemic

By GAFSP

COVID-19 has unprecedented effects on the world. As always, the most vulnerable are the hardest hit, both at home and - especially - abroad. A joint appeal by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the Department for International Development (DFID).

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(c) Welthungerhilfe

5 questions to F. Patterson: Why is there more hunger?

Interview with Fraser Patterson

Every year in October, the "Welthungerhilfe" aid organisation, with the Irish "Concern Worldwide" NGO, publishes the Global Hunger Index, a tool with which the hunger situation is recorded. What are the trends - and what needs to be done?

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(c) Joerg Boethling/GIZ

What it takes now

By Heike Baumüller

Artificial intelligence, big data and blockchain are the hottest topics of our time. The digital transformation of the African agricultural sector is ready for take-off. What will it take for the future of technology to hit the ground running?

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(c) Katapult/GIZ

The digitised farmyard

By Jan Rübel

Lots of apps are entering the market, but what really makes sense? For African agriculture, some of it seems like a gimmick, some like a real step forward. So this is what a smallholder farm in Africa could look like today - with the help of smartphones, internet and electricity. 

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(c) Christoph Pueschner/Zeitenspiegel

Can this end world hunger?

By Stig Tanzmann

Time to dig deeper: We can only benefit from technical progress if we have a solid legal framework for everybody. But so far, none is in sight - in many countries. Instead, international corporations grow ever more powerful.

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(c) Christoph Pueschner/Zeitenspiegel

From start to finish: a vision of interconnectivity

By Tanja Reith

At the moment, the agricultural industries of African countries exist in relative isolation. Imagine peasant farmers digitally connected to the value chains of the global food industry. How could this happen? A guidebook.

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"Pandemic increases violence against women"

Interview with Léa Rouanet

African countries still face huge gender gaps in terms of access to work and capital. What are the consequences of Corona for women in Africa? Jan Rübel interviewed Léa Rouanet on lockdowns and gender-based violence. The economist works at the Africa Gender Innovation Lab of the World Bank.

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Gender equality: Essential for food and nutrition security

By Carsta Neuenroth (BfdW)

The majority of producers in developing countries are women. Although they contribute significantly to the food security of their families, they remain chronically disadvantaged in male-dominated agriculture in terms of access to land, credit, technology and education.

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Building our food systems back better

By Jes Weigelt and Alexander Müller

What is required to make food systems provide sufficient, healthy food while not harming the planet? How should food security be maintained given the threat posed by climate change? Our authors look at some aspects of tomorrow’s food systems against the backdrop of the corona crisis.

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"We must mobilise all available resources"

By Ismahane Elouafi (ICBA)

Freshwater deficits are affecting more and more people throughout the world. In order to counter this, our global food system will have to change, our author maintains. A case for more research on alternative crops and smart water solutions.

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Do we have to dare a new food system?

By Dr. Felix zu Löwenstein (BÖLW)

Lack of seasonal workers and virus explosion in slaughterhouses, rising vegetable prices, climate crisis – all this demonstrates: Our food system is highly productive and (at least for the rich inhabitants of planet earth) guarantees an unprecedented rich and steady food supply - but it is not resilient.

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Video diaries in the days of Corona: Voices from the ground

By Sarah D´haen & Alexander Müller, Louisa Nelle, Bruno St. Jaques, Sarah Kirangu-Wissler and Matteo Lattanzi (TMG)

Young farmers’ insights on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems in Sub-Saharan Africa @CovidFoodFuture and video diaries from Nairobi’s informal settlements.

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"The virus does not need visa"

Interview by Dr. Ahmed Ouma (CDC)

Countries across Africa coordinate their efforts in the fight against corona by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) of the African Union in Addis Abeba. Until now, the curve of new infections has been successfully flattened – why? Dr. Ahmed Ouma, Deputy Director, explains the work of CDC in an interview with Tilman Wörtz.

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