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Highlights from the first day of FANRPAN’s Annual Policy Dialogue

22 October 2020: Pretoria

The 2020 FANRPAN Regional Multi-stakeholder Annual Policy Dialogue has started. Unlike all the other policy dialogues conducted since 2001, this year’s dialogue is virtual. Traditionally, FANRPAN dialogues have been held in a selected country on the continent. During the 2019 annual dialogue, the network members had resolved that the 2020 dialogue would be held in Nigeria. However, the COVID pandemic and the respective restrictions imposed to control its spread have resulted in the virtual model of dialogue, a departure from the network’s tradition since 2001

Commenting on this new development, the FANRPAN Chief Executive Officer and Head of Mission, Dr. Tshilidzi Madzivhandila highlighted the positive side and impact of the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions. “Without the pandemic, we would not have embraced this remote way of working. For as long as the transformation of continental agriculture and food systems remains outstanding, this ‘new normal’ has become FANRPAN’s default position in our effort to fulfill one of the endowments of our mandate, that is, convening multi-stakeholder policy dialogues around the key challenges in the food, agriculture and natural resources sector”. 

In her welcome remarks, the Chairperson of the FANRPAN Board of Governors, Prof Sidi Osho hailed the collaborative approach that the network has taken in delivering its mandate. She thanked the partners. She said, “I cannot over-emphasize the role and importance of partnerships, first for FANRPAN as a network; and secondly because the task at hand calls for collective effort.” Prof Osho extended a warm welcome to FANRPAN partners, especially those currently engaged in joint programming with the network, acknowledging CARE International, University of Leeds, SADC, ARUA/GCRF, GRA, ACIAR OXFAM-SAF, GiZ, IDRC, SDC/Helvetas, long standing partners such as COMESA and others. The Chairperson applauded the efforts of the entire FANRPAN network, including the national nodes and the Regional Secretariat for upholding the tradition of annual policy dialogues despite the pandemic and its associated risks. 


Speaking on behalf of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Dr. McKlay Kanyangarara hailed the long-term working relationship that FANRPAN has maintained with the regional economic community and emphasized the importance of building resilient agriculture and food systems regardless of shocks such as the COVID 19 pandemic. To this end, Dr. Kanyangarara shared that COMESA is currently implementing an EU-funded Intra-African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) (GCCA+) project through its Climate Change Unit (CCCU) whose overall objective is to increase the resilience of the COMESA region to climate change. Its specific objective is to improve regional and national adaptation and mitigation responses to climate change challenges faced by COMESA countries at operational, institutional and financial levels. Dr. Kanyangarara urged the delegates to engage and exchange knowledge about climate action with the aim of building resilience of the region’s agriculture and food systems.

The first day of the dialogue centred on Climate-Smart Agriculture and featured a keynote presentation on ‘Enhancing climate resilience of food systems’ by FANRPAN’s Director of Programmes, Ms. Sithembile Mwamakamba. In setting the scene, her presentation touched on three dimensions, namely; technical or biophysical factors, behavioural and social, addressing the level of the individual and the institution, and the economic dimension. Ms. Mwamakamba also shared FANRPAN’s initiatives working towards building resilient food systems in Africa. These include, FANRPAN’s flagship programme, GCRF-AFRICAP which is working to develop integrated evidence for policy pathways that can deliver nutritious food that is low in emissions.

True to FANRPAN’s ethos of putting the farmer at the centre of all policy discourse, the first response came from the Southern African Confederation of Agriculture Unions (SACAU). Noting the session theme, ‘Enhancing climate resilience of food systems’, and the COVID 19 pandemic, the Chief Executive Officer of SACAU, Mr. Ishmael Sunga highlighted that food and nutrition security had been compromised, and that farmers were the most exposed especially at the household’s level. He explained the need to use experiences from the COVID 19 pandemic to establish agriculture and food systems that would deliver better for everyone along the value chain in a transparent and equitable way, with risks distributed along the chain, and not leaving the farmers impoverished.


The critical role of the meteorological departments in building resilience was underscored by Ms. Nirivolona Raholijao, from the Madagascar Meteorological Department. She highlighted the need to leverage the high proliferation of mobile phones and connectivity to raise farmers’ awareness of the weather trends to determine the best activities during each season. 

From the Australian National University Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Prof. James Pittock spoke about the ‘Transforming irrigation systems in Sub-Saharan Africa’ funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and implemented in partnership with African partners including FANRPAN. Prof Pittock stressed the role of irrigation as a resilience strategy cannot be over-emphasised. However, there was need to note that irrigation schemes are complex systems that require institutional as well as infrastructural investment. From experience, they had learnt that empowering farmers with ‘simple-to-use’ tools generated confidence, innovation and ownership amongst the farmers. Overally, in the face of a changing climate, Prof Pittock highlighted the need for more efficient water use as a way of helping farmers adaptation to drought, whilst increasing their yields and improving their livelihoods.


Dr. Ackim Mwape of the Global Research Alliance brought a different dimension in his response. Talking about ‘Agricultural green-house gas (GHG) inventory and mitigation strategies’ Dr Mwape highlighted the need for measurement and data and emphasised that green gas inventories were vital foundations of building better and resilient agriculture and food systems. The major challenge in sub-Saharan Africa arose from significant quantification challenges; inadequate activity data in the countries; lack of capacity at individual and institutional levels. Dr. Mwape explained that GHG inventories were required to understand GHG emissions and trends; a requirement for developing cost-effective mitigation policies and programs, and a basis for monitoring progress towards set goals. Inventories would also avail information on best practices and CSA mitigation and adaptation responses. 

As a way forward, Dr. Mwape recommended that countries in sub-Saharan Africa should have a specific focus on data collection; promote the exchanging and sharing of experiences; foster cooperation between scientists and policy makers; and implement targeted capacity strengthening at national level.

With the traditional focus of discourse of postharvest losses centred on crops, Dr. Mathew Muma from the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), a FANRPAN Node hosting institution, brought a new dimension with a case study on milk. Speaking on ‘Post-Harvest management for improved food safety and quality’, Dr Muma emphasised the need to adopt postharvest measurement frameworks that co-opt milk records from smallholder farmers. To ensure comprehensive reporting, there is need to build the capacity of smallholder farmers to ensure that they maintain dairy records.


Having highlighted the impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic in her response – ‘Creating enabling environment to transform agriculture markets for the smallholder farming households’, Ms Chimbala Yoyo of OXFAM shared proposed solutions from a markets study jointly implemented with FANRPAN. The proposed interventions include the availing of financial rescue packages to cushion businesses; governments and central banks engaging financiers to restructure agricultural loans for the benefit of farmers; the provision of extension services to farmers, especially for pest and disease surveillance through mobile technologies; enabling market information through ICTs and facilitating of electronic financial transactions; and provision of input subsidies such as livestock , seed, and fertilizers to poor and marginalised farmers affected by the COVID-19 disruptions.


The first day of the annual dialogue was facilitated by FANRPAN’s Prof. Simba Sibanda and ended promptly at 1630 hours SAT.

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