Journal from RwandaA Story from the Land
SfL Co-Chair A.G. Kawamura’s Journal from Rwanda: Thoughts from the African Green Revolution Forum in Kigali
Solutions from the Land (SfL) Co-Chair A.G. Kawamura, a third-generation fruit and vegetable grower and shipper from Orange County, California and a former Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, was a member of a U.S. contingent attending the African Green Revolution Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, through Sept. 8th. A.G. is sharing his observations and thoughts on the nation and its people as the forum draws together global and African leaders to develop actionable plans that will move African agriculture sector and food systems rapidly and sustainably forward, capable of delivering incomes, food security, nutrition, and wider economic opportunities.
Saturday – September 2, 2018
I am excited to finally visit the African continent for the first time. I’m here to attend the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Rwanda. Upon arrival at the Kigali International Airport, the relatively small, modern facility gives an immediate impression of efficiency and friendliness for the tired traveler. The drive from the airport to the hotel is the second indicator of widespread urban development and civic pride in well-landscaped roads and orderly (by most standards) driving habits of the many motorists and motorcyclists. There is a clear sense of purpose and discipline to be observed in the lack of graffiti, trash and potholes that sets the stage for a unique experience in a once troubled land.
A.G. Kawamura, SfL Co-Chair
Sunday – September 3, 2018
An exhibition room at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
On my first full day in Kigali, I had been advised to go the Genocide Memorial Museum as a must visit priority to gain a perspective of just how far the people of Rwanda have come – and more importantly, what they endured and suffered through some 24 years ago. The unspeakable tragedy and horrors from that dark time in their recent history was given the respect and dignity deserved at the Memorial. The weight of emotions that the auto-narrated tour instills in me is shocking, sobering and ultimately enlightening as one comes to grip with mankind’s capacity for hate and destruction.
The Genocide Memorial gives the additional impactful education about the other genocides that took place in the 20th Century. The now well-documented manipulation of the public by coercive governments brings pause as we look around the world today and see the many fires of discontent in country after country. Can these events take place again? In the absence of global leadership willing to intercede, many conditions can occur that tip the balance towards chaos and enmity.
It’s not surprising that one of the catalysts for societal collapse comes from instability of a nation’s food supply or a nation’s ability to affordably feed itself. Not by coincidence, our subject matter at the AGRF addresses those all-important questions: What is the strategy in the years ahead to assure agricultural abundance for the rapidly growing populations of Africa and of the world? How can we build a more robust, dynamic and resilient agricultural sector in all countries of the world?
The City tour of Kigali began with a much-needed caffeine recharge at a coffee house founded by a cooperative of women coffee-bean growers, who have built a nice national and international business model. Kigali is known as the City of a Thousand Hills and we descended down to the only natural lake in the area to experience a boat crossing that the local population built and operates allowing the locals to save hours of foot traffic time by going from shore to shore instead of around the perimeter. The relative poverty of this specific neighborhood is much more obvious and yet the sight of satellite dishes show that the general economy is growing and we are told that the government continues to push for improvement and resettlement with compensation for many citizens.
In a surprising note, our tour guide mentions that the nation’s farmers are respected and considered heroes of their food security stability and economic rise as the largest industry in the country, employing over 70 percent of the population. There is a well-tended community garden at the side of the boat landing with tomatoes, tree tomatoes, beets and other veggies. I see many healthy-looking young children at play with mothers and babies relaxing nearby. The average family has over 4 children. And as in many African countries, the significant growth of populations and the “youth bulge” is both a challenge and opportunity for the future.
Following our short boat excursion on the muddy water lake, we head over to the open-air market where it is bustling with action. Vegetables and fruits of all kinds, some new to this traveler, are to be seen and tasted! The delicious tree tomato and several kinds of passion fruit are offered up and after some precautionary washing, we eagerly take our first samples by learning how to gulp not bite.
The abundance of onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, garlic, cabbage, fresh dry beans of all colors, green beans (nice to see) and all kinds of bananas, pineapples and other fruits reminds me that this land of perpetual, mild spring weather can grow almost anything. We move through the market place and see shoes to staples and learn that there are many such open-air markets throughout Kigali. The transition to grocery stores may be inevitable over time, but not necessarily a strategic goal at this point when so many smallholder farms and shop owners make a living at these market places. The livelihoods that depend on this agricultural economy have opportunities and support from their government.
From the open-air market, we head out to our next destination. a milk bar. Earlier in the day I noticed on the road several small motor trucks carrying milk canisters and our tour guide informs us that not that long ago, cows were banned from the inner-city limits. Now they are found in the peri-urban and nearby rural farms. The milk is delivered to city dwellers and the “milk bar” is where you go to get your daily supply of fresh milk. With a little trepidation, I try the fermented milk and it is delicious – kind of like a kefir yogurt product, but rich, smooth and just sour enough. The milk is pasteurized, we learn, and milk consumption has been greatly supported and encouraged by the government who recognizes the value of the nutrient content for young and old alike. A milk cow in every household was a goal for the rural communities.
From the milk bar, we head to the top of Mt. Kigali, the highest point in the area, for a beautiful view of the city at sunset.
As we spoke about the progress of Rwanda following the genocide, it’s remarkable that the many Kigalians that we talked to are not reluctant to speak about that tragic time. They understand that it is a part of who they are – and who they will never be again. We heard over and over from citizens here how much respect, gratefulness and support exists for President Kigame and the “Singapore Miracle” that he has brought about for their country. The rise of Rwanda is embraced with pride and hope for the future. The “little country that can” appears to be one of several African countries with scalable models generating great hope and excitement about how rapidly the continent might leap frog into the 21st century. I look forward to learning more about African agriculture, culture and politics with each day at the Forum.
Monday – September 4, 2018
Rwanda’s fantastical Kigali Convention Centre.
In the morning, on the drive over to the Kigali Convention Centre, the morning rush hour is steady but flowing, and traffic lights with timers keep control of the courteous drivers. There are many makes of cars – Hyundai, Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes, Ford, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Subaru, to name a few – are found on the roads here. Along the way, there are unarmed policemen who are a part of the traffic control back up. In addition, there are armed soldiers posted at various intervals, not in numbers that would be alarming, but clearly a deterrent to crime. Here in Kigali, a large fleet of motorcycles has replaced the taxi. Each of the moto-taxis has a driver with a helmet outfitted with a cell phone, and they carry an extra helmet for their passenger. I haven’t yet tried it, but may get up the courage to take one back to the hotel.
On the roadsides, there are women with brooms cleaning the sidewalks. Their employment reflects commitment to providing jobs while keeping the city remarkably clean. There are government programs that encourage the public to keep their city clean and free from trash as a personal challenge and as a point of pride. The beautiful landscaping has been accomplished with thought and attention to detail, with focus on ‘living’ retaining walls, city parks and green spaces. Trees and palms are in abundance, lining the main streets and highways. I wonder whether they would begin to incorporate an edible landscape, since they have all of the components in place. Why not? The care and harvest of an edible landscape would be simply a shift in thinking and net benefit.
As we arrive at the Convention Centre, there is a large domed structure that looks like a giant beehive, although I am informed that it is shaped that way after a culturally traditional hat (turban shaped) that tribal chiefs wear. The complex is relatively new and beautifully designed. As we enter the grounds we are asked to exit the vehicle for a security inspection process that is quite comprehensive. The many prime ministers, ag ministers, diplomats and officials in attendance at this conference are clearly part of the stepped-up security precaution. Airport, hotel and conference security is as focused as I have ever seen. Inspection of vehicles for car bombs is standard, as is the x-ray of handbags, backpacks and all luggage, a process that takes place at the hotels and conference center as well. I think of how security inspections in the United States have now become commonplace and how front of mind our sense of security or insecurity is these days. We complete our registration/accreditation process and get our photo ID’d event credential. There are evidently about 3000 registrants to this sold out Forum.
Here at the 8th convening of the African Green Revolution Forum, the strategic future of agriculture, food security and emerging economies continues to be the focus for the continent. My reason for being in attendance is multi-dimensional. For several years I have had the privilege of being an advisor on the agricultural committee of the Chicago Council for Global Affairs. Each year the Chicago Council delivers a report on Global Food Security (GFS) that focuses on specific aspects and dimensions of agriculture. As an active produce grower who has used various sources of water and irrigation systems, I have often mentioned to my agricultural policy friends that there is very little attention paid to fruit and vegetable production when they speak about global food production, food security and trends in development. Well, that seems to be changing now! In 2019, the Council will focus on ‘Water Security, Agricultural Development and Nutrition.’ I have been asked to join former FAO Ambassador Ertharin Cousin as co-chair of the upcoming GFS report. We have a great team of experts and thought leaders to help us pull the report together. Quite a few members of our team had planned to attend the AGRF event here in Kigali and I was excited to take the opportunity to participate as well.
Since it is my first visit to the continent, it is also an important time to get a feel for how the produce industry of Africa is developing, and what indigenous crops are they growing that we might be able grow as “new” crops. And, of course, I am keenly interested to learn about what’s happening with strawberry production in Africa.
So, the many reasons for attending AGRF are compelling and timely, but one other main goal is to share our “Climate Smart Agriculture” work with our various international friends and partners. As one of the few farmers in the room, it’s always exciting to share some perspective from the field to the policy experts. Here, the discussion and focus on irrigated agriculture allows for a much broader discussion about the potential for small-holder farmers to transform their lives.
Tuesday – September 5, 2018
“Agriculture is the new buzz word in Africa!” The Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) opening plenary began with the booming voice of a well know celebrity journalist broadcaster named Jeff Koinange, who helped stir up the audience with his observation about a new age for African agriculture in anticipation of the opening welcome remarks from the Rwandan Agricultural Minister and Prime Minister and comments from Dr. Agnes Kalibata.
Dr. Kalibata is president of AGRA and Rwanda’s past Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
Dr. Phiri represents FAO in Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Botswana.
Dr. Kalibata, the president of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) asked rhetorically, “Why is Africa the only continent that is not food secure and economically dependent?”
The future of the continent and the 52 countries here will depend upon how these nations answer that question in the years ahead. The overwhelming consensus from so many experts is that there are all the resources needed on the African continent to build dynamic economies…and yet the only missing elements for successful development are discipline, patience and implementation of the many plans and strategies that have come along over the decades.
“Just because you sign a document or declaration doesn’t make things happen…implementation is different,” said Dr. David Phiri of the United Nations Food & Ag Organization (FAO).
The flow of foreign investment capital into Africa’s agricultural sector has been accelerating over the past decade as failed policies and strategies of the past are being replaced by new thinking and new urgencies. Global food shortages starting in 2008 caught many countries by surprise and, as was observed in eastern Asia, rioting and political strife skyrocketed as average working citizens in many countries around the globe could not afford a day’s supply of food on a day’s wages.
For African agriculture, the very real challenges building around resource depletion/scarcity, changing climate regime, market dislocation and other pressures created a sense of frustration and anxiety. But growers now say agriculture is not the problem, but the solution. This 8th convening of the AGRF here in Kigali is continued proof that the tide has turned, and the enthusiasm for where Africa is headed in its agricultural future is evidenced by the more than 3000 participants in this conference and the long list of ministers, dignitaries, NGOs and industry partners in attendance.
“Innovation is today’s fertilizer,” said Dr. Maria Flaschbarth.
Dr. Maria Flachsbarth, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Federal Republic of Germany.
There is a lot of excitement here at the conference. The optimism and enthusiasm for new thinking and new directions is expressed in each of the plenary discussions. Attendees note that 10 years ago, the dominant conversation centered around the desperate need to provide calories of any kind to a hungry continent. Today, the focus is on nutrient-dense calories and the business potential of small-holder farmers moving away from subsistence farming and towards all kinds of agri-business models.
What has changed? When you look at the sheer raw demographic numbers here in Africa, it becomes clear that the platform for a leap-frog transformation is built on a remarkable set of circumstances.
- The median age of the population in Africa is 18 years old.
- In the United States, the median age 38, and in Europe it is 43 years old.
- Both U.S. and African farmers are on average about 59 years old.
- 80 percent of the population in Africa is engaged in agriculture – mostly subsistence production – while less than 2 percent of the U.S. population makes a living farming.
- There is more unfarmed, arable land in Africa than anywhere else on the planet.
- There is more available groundwater for agriculture than anywhere else on earth.
It becomes clear relatively quickly that the new vision for a “green revolution” on the African continent is being driven by a new generation of governments, agriculturists, economists and entrepreneurs that have begun to demonstrate what is possible and who believe that implementation is achievable and not to be delayed.
Kofi Atta Annan, 1938-2018.
Dr. Mamadou Biteye.
The many long-time diplomats and experts who have held such high hopes for Africa are more determined than ever to realize the vision of an African agricultural green revolution. The recent passing of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has inspired an even greater wave of those determined to succeed and fulfill the dreams and vision of the Nobel Laureate from Ghana.
The Forum’s schedule of speakers continued to bring officials from around the continent as Ministers of Agriculture and leaders from civil society and industry continued to speak about this resurgence of agriculture in Africa. Comments from Rockefeller Foundation executive Dr. Mamadou Biteye seemed to capture the moment, encouraging his audience that we “must change our mindset.”
Speaking about the reality of how agriculture works or fails in Africa, he borrowed a quote – “Crops don’t need rain. Crops need water!” – to directly refer to the lack of irrigation infrastructure and delivery system throughout Africa, where more than 90 percent of all agriculture is not irrigated. The new construct of ag, food and health systems in Africa are all embracing water infrastructure and roads as some of the key components to build for a path forward.
Irrigating Africa at the Africa Rice Center experimental station in Fanaye, Senegal.
Several speakers during the day continued to pursue the vision of an Africa that grows all of its food for itself – in other words, no imports of staple foods when they can be produced internally. The creation and development of a new economic force driven by a surging agricultural economy establishes new lines of credit, savings and loans for farmers who previously were part of a longstanding underground economy. An official from one of the national banking institutions predicted that the “money under the mattress” economy was hopefully coming to an end with the advent of new fiscal options and opportunities, including virtual bitcoin and “farm-crowding” financing schemes for new farmers entering the economy.
The hard question that remains to be to answered is whether a new generation of family farmers can find significant success in a single generation? Stay tuned!
Wednesday – September 6, 2018
How do you make agriculture sexy? How can agriculture become a career of first choice – not a dead end means of survival? These and other questions framed much of the today’s discussion.
The morning plenary panel included several, young, rising-star agricultural entrepreneurs who spoke of the hard work and collaboration that enabled them to get started in their businesses. The funding sources from both venture capital and virtual crowd funding schemes are helping stand up businesses throughout the continent. The discussion about how to educate the youth of Africa and open the door to the many career path choices that are and will be available throughout the food chain, from seed to serving, is a part of the strategic planning taking place in country after country.
Farmers at work in Nigeria in October, 2017. Over 70% of farmers in Africa are women.
One remarkably distinct aspect of these many strategic efforts is the commitment to women in agriculture and the recognized leadership role that they have today and into the future. It is estimated that more than 70 percent of all farmers in Africa are women. Compared to the many different agricultural conferences I have attended in the United States, the demographic in the room has been a wonderful surprise of youth, women leaders and business owners. The strength of the African Green Revolution is clearly driven through inclusion, not exclusion.
There is another relatively new element here at this agricultural forum that is unavoidable: the presence of social media and the data revolution that comes with it. High tech is here to stay – one presenter mentioned that there may be 1 million cars in Uganda but only 5000 tractors. But more significantly, it was pointed out, is the presence of millions of smart phones.
The data mapping that is occurring throughout the continent has already led to significant adjustments and improvements on small farms. Comprehensive, non-proprietary soil and water mapping projects are taking place in each nation, providing critical information for new plantings and investments in irrigation infrastructure. There is good discussion about data sharing and a 21st-century kind of Agricultural Extension that is mobile and virtual – and available to every farmer. That expanded dispersal of knowledge will act like an accelerator to push transformation along.
Farm landscape in central Malawi, Nr Dedza, Khulungira village.
In a country like Ethiopia, which was never colonized by the Europeans, the structure of the farm economy is truly shaped by it small-holders – 95 percent of all the farms there are less than 2 hectares in size. And yet the surge of subsistence farmers turning into agribusiness owners is advancing as fast as any other country, benefiting from the guidance of focused goals from government. There has been a concentrated effort to unify the Ethiopian producers around their various watershed opportunities by building shared surface water facilities and access. Soil fertility mapping, along with irrigation consulting, undergirds the opportunity to grow two or more crop cycles in the year opens up the potential for a doubling of on farm income – in a single year! Proper crop rotation and other protocols are part of the new lessons imparted to the farmers.
For those of us who farm in California, it’s so hard to believe the magnitude of African agriculture that has existed for so very long without the added dimension of irrigation. There are several new studies that are attempting to quantify just how many hectares of community and family gardens are actually tended with irrigation and the numbers are quite substantial. One expert told us that there is a recent estimate that an area the size of Europe is actually irrigated globally, but never accounted for in government agricultural statistics.
Maybe edible landscapes are much further along than we ever could have believed. The production of backyard fruits and vegetables may make up a much larger portion of the daily nutrient dense diets of the world. It is yet another dimension of resilience for global food security that needs a focused study. As one of the irrigation experts observed: “Agriculture will be big and small” in Africa. It certainly is fascinating.
Thursday – September 7, 2018
Our Chicago Council for Global Affairs work here at the African Green Revolution Forum has been quite rewarding. Former Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, and former Undersecretary Catherine Bertini are a dynamic duo of bridge building and networking, and both have extensive experience on the continent. We continue to meet CEO’s and dignitaries from all sectors, conducting one on one dialogues, seeking their thoughts and input on small farmer-led irrigation strategies linked to nutrient dense food production as part of an emerging business model. The timeliness for new vision seems well received by nearly all the partners and stakeholders. The very real experiences of Vietnam, Korea, Chile, Peru and other countries with thriving fruit and vegetable sectors are not only replicable and scalable, but potentially easier to accomplish, given the advances of communication capacity and access to “off the shelf” proven technologies. It’s no wonder that so many of the top irrigation, seed, fertilizer and crop tool companies of the world are here at this event. The Ag-Tech Industry, from drones to data and digital diagnostics to mapping providers is prominently engaged here at the Forum.
Over a decade ago, a satellite recorded this image of floriculture around Kenya’s Lake Navisha. What can precision techniques like this capture now?
The steady flow of humanitarian investment and assistance financing from old and new institutions is becoming more targeted and focused on agricultural transformation. U.S. AID, World Bank, The Rockefeller, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Clinton foundations – all of these sponsoring organizations and more are in the room and listening, planning and funding the new vision and thinking.
The scope of what Africans hope to accomplish in the decades ahead has a precedent. In 1979, China’s level of poverty was about the same as Africa. The Chinese miracle has taken place over such a relatively short span of time that we can barely appreciate the magnitude of transformation they have achieved through deliberate, targeted planning, tenacity and discipline.
Not surprisingly, there are great examples of the magnitude of change taking place in Africa as we speak:
- In Kenya, 500 start-up agribusinesses are created every day.
- In Ghana, the “Food for Jobs” pilot program has 200,000 farmers working in a funded, targeted program to go from subsistence to business as the focus on five main crops grown in rotation. By 2020 they plan to have 1.5 million farmers in the program and will add other target crops for their ag economy.
- The AGRF-AGRA youth program has an annual cadre of new agriculturists learning and gearing up for their agricultural future. Other agricultural youth education and leadership programs are underway.
- Ethiopia has considered creating a “Ministry of Nutrition” as a stand-alone office addressing the long-term investment in the health of its citizens.
USAID’s partnerships in Mali have brought new capital into local agribusinesses.
During a ministerial breakout session led by Rwandan Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Gerardine Mukeshimana, the scope of commitment to the green revolution was so very clear. A report card, showing the progress that each nation has made (or not made) over the course of a year was handed out to the delegates. Ag. Ministers from Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Togo, South Sudan, Burkina Faso and others each gave their thoughts, concerns and goals for the year ahead.
One theme that seemed to pop out was demonstrated by an agreement among the leaders in the room that Ministries of Agriculture are moving away from treating agriculture as a social sector and are now focusing on it as a business sector of their countries. India’s agriculture minister shared observations about how different the world is today compared to just 50 years ago as India went through their original “Green Revolution.” This was perhaps one of the most significant steps forward that mark – the beginning of a new stage of development, the move away from a focus on growing simple calories to a vision of nutrient dense food production and the economics that it will bring.
The importance of cross collaboration across the cabinet of government is a part of the new thinking. Ministers of water, health services, transportation, energy and finance are the key partners needed to align behind the agricultural movement. As Ambassador Kenneth Quinn stated in his remarks, “Where the paved roads stop…so does the progress stop in the rural world and the problems begin.”
The strength or weakness of each nation’s president or parliament becomes the critical driver. Looking at the report card, it was obvious just how focused and targeted some of the countries are on their future…and still how many countries are actually falling behind, torn by war and political strife and need help and assistance.
And there are so many countries outside of Africa keenly interested in that future. Rwandan President Kigame and several heads of state spoke to the Forum audience with passion and purpose looking for partnerships and alliances. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair weighed in on the world benefits that will accrue when Africa jumps forward. Driving through Kigali, the Chinese investment presence is easily found in construction sites and new buildings. German and Dutch presence in advanced closed environment food production technologies and systems are showing up in urban and peri-urban areas.
It remains to be seen just how engaged the U.S. Government will be here on the continent. Although there are no high level, active U.S. diplomats attending the Forum (I am not sure why), the number of former leaders participating as speakers is significant. The dynamic keynote tribute to Kofi Annan by former USDA Undersecretary Rajiv Shah, combined with speeches by Chicago Council members Bertini and Cousin, and our good friend, former Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, were prominently posted throughout the Forum program. They have provided invaluable insight and support to this visiting farmer on his first trip to the continent!
As I head for home, the inspiration I feel for the future of global agriculture is upbeat and profound. The many decades of reading and listening to tragic stories of famine and human suffering coming from the African continent had left me with a sense despair at times as the magnitude of the challenge to feed over 9 billion seemed to be a massive weight on the shoulders of humanity and the agricultural community that has to get the job done.
We live in our world of abundance in California and watch as the well-fed public indulges in all kinds of criticisms and attacks on our “broken food system.” We see the intentional and un-intentional divisiveness between our own producers, commodities and the various marketing schemes and philosophies of production. We fight about food sovereignty and right and wrong food choices. And we allow interest groups across the spectrum of society to make their pronouncements about everything from “industrial ag” to “mad science,” from “water wasters” to “climate destroyers.” It’s enough to make a farmer quit and retire – and they are in near record numbers in the United States.
Strawberries at the Farmers Market, Country Club Plaza Mall, Sacramento.
And then I think about the sentiment here in Africa that agriculture is the solution and that farmers must become the heroes of that timely awakening now taking place on the continent. In a land where few citizens take food for granted, I think about the Solutions from the Land toolbox that we have been putting together for farmers across North America, and our concept of “Climate Smart Agriculture” that encourages our producers to embrace their own future with a focus on resilience in the face of new and old challenges.
I think of my own farm this past July and the 120-degree Fahrenheit day we experienced for the first time – and the significant green bean production that was lost – despite having all the irrigated water I could have wanted. I see how terribly vulnerable our crops are in any given season, any given decade, whether in California or Rwanda.
We cannot think that we are in this alone. The 2 percent of the population in the United States, the 80 percent of the population in Africa – WE are the global food supply. In many ways, the world should be thankful that the remarkable resources for agriculture in Africa are maturing at this critical point of global food security strategic need, and the mentoring, sharing and transfer of knowledge between new generations of farmers has never been more important – or more urgent.
The clock is ticking on our aspirations to achieve and fulfill the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Those goals can only be reached if the agricultural revolution is embraced by all nations. It remains a given: Successful Agriculture Sustains Civilization. How wonderful to get a chance to visit the cradle where it all started.
An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.