Transforming Africa’s food systems: a smallholder farmers’ perspective

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Vine Mutyasira Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Kenya

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The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) awakened the world to the critical need for food systems transformation. Several commitments were made during the summit, with the UN Secretary-General reiterating the need to support national mechanisms that develop and implement national pathways to 2030 that are inclusive and consistent with countries’ climate commitments, building upon the national food systems dialogues. Much of the discussion in the post-summit era has mostly been high level and focused on how countries can be supported to transform pathways into strategies and to design and operationalise investment plans aimed at fostering sustainable and inclusive food systems transformation. However, what has been missing in these discussions is what the envisaged transformation means for the smallholder farmer, and what it takes for smallholder farmers to embrace the transformative agenda and transition to more sustainable methods of production. In this article, reference is made to two of the Five Action Tracks, namely Action Track 3 (boost nature-based solutions) and Action Track 5 (build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses), whose central themes are anchored around resilience and sustainability. The paper discusses the underpinnings of nature-positive production systems and explores how these systems interface with smallholder farmers’ circumstances and production goals, and how this might affect implementation of the envisaged practices at the farm level. The central argument in this article is that discussions around food systems transformation must include the smallholder farmers, their lived experiences, socio-economic circumstances, aspirations and production goals.

Abstract

The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) awakened the world to the critical need for food systems transformation. Several commitments were made during the summit, with the UN Secretary-General reiterating the need to support national mechanisms that develop and implement national pathways to 2030 that are inclusive and consistent with countries’ climate commitments, building upon the national food systems dialogues. Much of the discussion in the post-summit era has mostly been high level and focused on how countries can be supported to transform pathways into strategies and to design and operationalise investment plans aimed at fostering sustainable and inclusive food systems transformation. However, what has been missing in these discussions is what the envisaged transformation means for the smallholder farmer, and what it takes for smallholder farmers to embrace the transformative agenda and transition to more sustainable methods of production. In this article, reference is made to two of the Five Action Tracks, namely Action Track 3 (boost nature-based solutions) and Action Track 5 (build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses), whose central themes are anchored around resilience and sustainability. The paper discusses the underpinnings of nature-positive production systems and explores how these systems interface with smallholder farmers’ circumstances and production goals, and how this might affect implementation of the envisaged practices at the farm level. The central argument in this article is that discussions around food systems transformation must include the smallholder farmers, their lived experiences, socio-economic circumstances, aspirations and production goals.

Key messages

  • Food systems transformation will require significant adjustments to current production practices at the farm level.

  • A better understanding of the farm-level dynamics and circumstances of the farmer is required, especially the African smallholder farmers, who are often among the most marginalised and vulnerable households and might therefore not be able to make technological and management investments envisaged by food systems transformation.

  • Research into the prospects of achieving sustainable food systems transformation at the farm level needs to recognise the circumstances of the farmers, particularly how the interplay of the policy and institutional environment, as well as the broader livelihoods context, shape the structure of incentives that influence both the willingness and ability of farmers to make the necessary investments in the recommended practices.

  • We need to design proper policy, regulatory and institutional incentives that create an enabling environment and de-risk the transition to nature-positive production systems. These should be based on data, evidence and analytics that provide more knowledge on the trade-offs and synergies between the goals of nature-positive production and farmers’ multiple production goals.

Introduction

The 2021 UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) awakened the world to the critical need for food systems transformation as a catalyst to achieving the goals and ambitions set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. There has been a growing recognition that food systems are at the heart of at least 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The summit came against a backdrop of mounting social, economic and health crises, epitomised by rising levels of food insecurity, micronutrient deficiency, inequalities and high levels of stunting among children (Béné et al, 2020). More recently, shocks triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia–Ukraine crisis have further exacerbated the food systems challenges and laid bare its fragilities. Concurrently, food systems are recognised as one of the biggest culprits exacerbating environmental degradation, with food production and waste contributing 21–37 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (Béné et al, 2020).

What was apparent during the summit was the recognition that food systems, as currently constructed, are fundamentally flawed, and there is an urgent need for transformative changes, particularly in the areas of sustainability and resilience. The conceptual shift to food systems heralded a growing recognition that our food challenges are more complicated than simply increasing food production to end hunger – how food is produced will have far-reaching consequences on critical levers of sustainability, including social and environmental outcomes. During the summit, five Action Tracks were designed to provide a guiding framework that would inspire governments, national stakeholders and various food systems actors to commit to and adopt transformational pathways and associated policy and behavioural shifts towards more inclusive and sustainable food systems (United Nations, 2021). The Action Track 3 relates to ‘Nature positive production’, whose goal is to seek to optimise environmental resource use in food production, processing and distribution, thereby reducing biodiversity loss, pollution, water use, soil degradation and greenhouse gas emissions. Action Track 5 is themed ‘Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses’, and aims at ensuring that food systems that are affected by conflict, climate, environmental, natural, health and economic shocks and stresses, can anticipate, maintain functionality, recover and improve to a better-off state.

In the build up to the UNFSS, considerable focus was around the contribution of science and research to inform and influence strategic discussions and ensuring that subsequent agreements and follow-up activities are evidence-based (Covic et al, 2021). There were also discussions around inclusion of critical groups in the dialogue platforms, ensuring that the resultant resolutions are reflective of the realities of the key food systems stakeholders (Kalibata, 2022). Some of these groups include the group of actors who participate in the UNFSS and its follow-up activities, as well as agricultural researchers, grassroots NGOs, farmer organisations, rural financial organisations, and donor and government agencies who have long been engaged in redressing the problems of smallholder farmers. The focus of discussion in this paper is smallholder farmers themselves. We focus on Action Tracks 3 and 5, which seem to have more direct implications for what happens on the farm, and the choice of production technologies that farmers ought to embrace. The central argument in this paper is that there is need for more research to understand smallholders’ problems and to develop relevant policies to induce them to make desired changes in their farm production systems, such as adopting nature-positive production systems (NPPSs).

Without an explicit focus on the farm-level implications, food systems transformation will remain a policy goal and ambitious vision. There is need for clarity in terms of what transformation implies for the farmer, as well as a better appreciation of the context and conditions within which the envisaged changes in production systems will be implemented. The food systems transformation ambition does not explicitly specify a priori how the envisaged transformation changes should be attained at the farm level, which technologies would provide optimal outcomes, how potential synergies and trade-offs across goals will be optimised, and what transformation generally means from the farmer’s perspective. This article discusses some of the key design and policy questions around food systems transformation, particularly the implications for African smallholder farmers. Reference is made to two of the five Action Tracks, the Action Tracks 3 (Boost nature-positive production) and 5 (Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress), which have more direct implications for farm-level dynamics.

This article is organised as follows: first, we provide an overview of the basic tenets of NPPSs as they relate to Action Tracks 3 and 5 of the UNFSS. We provide a case for why a shift to NPPSs is necessary across Africa’s landscape and briefly reflect on the progress on existing similar initiative at continental level. The second section debunks the question of what nature-positive production means for the smallholder farmer. This section discusses the key questions around the economics of transitions and broader systems considerations, as well as the need for a better understanding of farmers’ socio-economic and livelihoods contexts. The section also teases some important policy questions, particularly focusing on how policies can provide an incentive mechanism that can encourage farmers to bring more of their land under NPPSs. The third and final section synthesises some of the lessons, with a particular focus on what might be needed to bring the farmer into the ongoing discussions around food systems transformation.

Nature-positive production and food systems transformation in Africa

Action Tracks 3 and 5 of the UNFSS relate to commitments to promote nature-positive production and fostering resilience of systems to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses. The Scientific Group of the UNFSS produced technical papers round key thematic areas, including concepts of nature-positive production and its associated principles. NPPSs are based on the principles of regenerative and non-destructive use of natural resources, and anchored on principles of environmental stewardship, protection of biodiversity and enhancement of ecosystem services (Hodson et al, 2021). Some of the practices and interventions include conservation agriculture, agroforestry, soil and water conservation techniques, and integrated soil fertility management, as well as nutrient cycling, among others (Hodson et al, 2021). The paradigm shift to NPPSs comes against the backdrop of several assessments, which increasingly show how current food production systems are associated with steep negative environmental footprints, including soil degradation, deforestation, biodiversity loss and depletion of freshwater resources (Tilman et al, 2011). Theoretically, NPPSs are anchored on principles that are related to similar production philosophies such as regenerative agriculture, agroecology and sustainable intensification. The overarching principle is that promoting environmental sustainability requires as much attention as raising productivity.

The case for building resilience and sustainability of Africa’s food systems is incontestable. In fact, the central theme of the African Agriculture Status Report was that African food systems have remained fragile, with nearly 75 per cent of agricultural production growth coming from expansion of cropland, while only 25 per cent comes from yield improvements (AGRA, 2021). The report also noted that crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa rose by only 38 per cent in 38 years between 1980 and 2018, while the percentage of sub-Saharan Africa’s land area covered by forests declined from 31.6 per cent in 2000 to 26.6 per cent in 2018. Indicators of resilience and sustainability, such as the percentage of households residing on degraded soils, water stress ratio and energy depletion, have also been worsening over the years across sub-Saharan Africa. Clearly, these challenges necessitate urgent transformation of Africa’s production systems in a way that achieves productivity growth to meet the food needs of a growing population, without further compromising environmental sustainability. Nature-positive production is promoted as an answer to this ambitious goal. It offers an alternative to traditional agriculture – a model that can help the continent fight the climate scourge, grow healthier food and protect the environment (Gaupp et al, 2021). However, the prospects of achieving the needed transformation at scale remain the subject of intense policy debate.

Fostering the resilience and sustainability of smallholder systems has been a prominent subject in discussions around food systems transformation. Indeed, these two themes have featured extensively in the Africa Common Position on Food Systems, with recommendations that countries should support technological, management measures and practices that foster climate-smart biodiversity and ecosystems resilience across the entire food systems (African Union, 2021a). In 2012, the AUDA-NEPAD (African Union Development Agency – New Partnership for Africa’s Development) supported the development of the Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative (EOA-I), aimed at facilitating the mainstreaming of EOA into national agricultural production systems by 2025. The goal was to harness the potential of organic agriculture in conserving biodiversity and natural resources, reduce costs of externally purchased inputs and produce safe food, as well as increase yields in low-input systems. However, reviews have shown that the certified land under organic agriculture in Africa was around 2.1 million hectares in 2020, which represents 0.2 per cent of Africa’s total agricultural area (Willer et al, 2021).

Clearly, much work is needed to ensure that more acres of land are brought under NPPSs and thus catalyse food systems transformation at scale. To achieve this, we argue that rigorous research is required to better understand the conditions under which the envisioned transformation would be sustainable at the farm level. There has not been enough engagement in this area. Answering these questions requires an in-depth understanding of the realities of the smallholder farmer and hence the incentives and/or disincentives that might influence them to make the transition to regenerative and nature-positive production. There is a real danger that the current definitions of nature-positive production might not necessarily embody the smallholder farmers’ management philosophy and production goals.

What does nature-positive production mean for Africa’s smallholder farmers?

Smallholder farmers earn their livelihoods from land and water resources. Given that most of them ply their trade on lands that are fragile, marginalised and already nutrient-depleted, smallholder farmers also bear the brunt of climate-induced shocks and extreme weather events. Naturally, smallholder farmers are inclined to be faithful custodians of the world’s land, water and other natural resources. However, marginalised farmers face particularly severe resource constraints and are often unable to make the necessary investments that are required to foster resilience to external shocks. Furthermore, due to market failures, the benefits associated with adopting environmentally friendly conservation practices do not privately accrue to farmers, and thus there is a potential disincentive for individual farmers to incur the additional costs and risks of transitioning to nature-positive production.

Although many initiatives have been developed to promote NPPSs in Africa, smallholders have been slow to adopt agricultural technological practices. Mainstream adoption literature tends to implicitly assume that farmers would spontaneously adopt known technologies if they were made available. However, some technological solutions may not respond to the needs of smallholder farm households, who are very heterogeneous, pursue diverse livelihood strategies, and have different assets, production systems, and socio-economic and behavioural contexts. Therefore, efforts to foster food systems transformation through promoting NPPSs need to acknowledge these realities and be guided by an in-depth understanding of what the underlying production philosophies mean to farmers, what it takes for them to implement the envisaged practices, as well as the hurdles and barriers that might stand in their way. The following sections present some of the issues of consideration.

Understanding the economics of transition

The primary goal of nature-positive production is protection and restoration of production systems, fostering resilience, mitigating climate change and enhancing biodiversity. The yield benefits of practices that are regenerative in nature might not be apparent in the short term. However, due to their socio-economic circumstances, smallholder farmers tend to prioritise immediate returns over long-term benefits. In reviews of smallholder farmers’ experience with conservation agriculture in Africa, studies found that yield losses are possible in the short term (Giller et al, 2009). Further studies also reveal that transition to NPPSs is associated with reduction of yields (Hodson et al, 2021), while several meta-analyses show that yields under organic management average 19–25 per cent lower than under conventional management (Röös et al, 2018; Seufert, 2019). This yield reduction might be an adoption hurdle for farmers unless the yield penalty is compensated for by significant savings in costs and higher producer prices. Two fundamental questions then emerge. First, would farmers be willing to trade some yield and hence profits to engage in NPPSs, driven by purely stewardship motives? Given that most of the production practices and technologies envisaged by nature-positive production often involve upfront investment costs, the second question, therefore, is how do we incentivise or essentially ‘bribe’ farmers into making the transition and bring more hectares under regenerative management? Quite a few studies have attempted to quantify the costs associated with implementing nature-based production practices at the farm level. Table 1 illustrates some of the investment costs (equipment, machinery, materials and labour), variable and maintenance costs, opportunity costs, transaction costs and risk costs (McCarthy et al, 2011).

Table 1:

Examples of investment and maintenance costs of selected nature-positive practices

Technology options Practices Case study Establishment costs (US$/ha/year) Average maintenance costs (US$/ha/year)
Agroforestry Various agroforestry practices Grevillea agroforestry system, Kenya 160 90
Shelterbelts, Togo 376 162
Soil and water conservation Conservation agriculture (CA) Small-scale conservation tillage, Kenya 0 93
Minimum tillage and direct planting, Ghana 220 212
Medium-scale no-till technology for wheat and barley farming, Morocco 600 400
Improved agronomic practices Grassed Fanya juu terraces, Kenya 380 30
Konso bench terrace, Ethiopia 2,060 540
Integrated nutrient management Compost production and application, Burkina Faso 12 30
Tassa planting pits, Niger 160 33
Runoff and floodwater farming, Ethiopia 383 814
Improved pasture and grazing management Improved grazing management Rotational grazing, South Africa 105 27
Grazing land improvement, Ethiopia 1,052 126

Source: Adapted from McCarthy et al (2011).

Access to affordable credit is required to offset investment costs, alleviate seasonal liquidity constraints and hence help smallholder farmers access complimentary inputs. However, financial systems in most developing countries are ill-prepared to finance the shift to sustainable agri-food systems. Without sufficient credit and inclusive finance, the burden of nature-positive practices might affect African smallholder farmers’ decisions. Assessing the farm-level costs of establishing and maintaining regenerative production practices should provide an indication of the finance needs. Based on this information, policy instruments can then be designed help reduce the adoption risks and thus enable resource-poor farmers to implement nature-positive agricultural practices on a sustainable basis.

Table 1 gives insights into the cost implications of transitioning to nature-positive food systems. These costs are often ignored in food systems discussions, mostly because such data are often not readily available. While the costs illustrated in Table 1 are mostly financial in nature, discussions around the farm-level implications of adopting nature-positive production practices should also incorporate the opportunity costs of switching from conventional systems. What is missing from much of the current discussions around nature-positive production and its potential to spur food systems transformation are answers to the following questions:

  • What is the cost of implementing NPPSs in smallholder production systems, both in high-potential agricultural areas and low-potential areas?

  • What is the opportunity cost of transitioning from current practices to nature-positive, regenerative systems?

  • Under what conditions are NPPSs viable for smallholder farmers?

  • In terms of intensity of adoption, what is the optimal area of land that farmers should allocate to NPPSs to realise positive net incomes, including other social and environmental benefits?

  • What are the breakeven yields and producer prices for products produced under NPPSs?

  • Since nature-positive practices often yield positive returns in the long term, what is the net present value of the different practices?

  • Given farmers’ circumstances, which practices would give the greatest positive return in the shortest possible time?

  • What complementary agronomic and management practices will catalyse the farm-level impacts of regenerative practices?

Better data are needed to make a compelling case for nature-positive food systems and guide their implementation at scale. Efforts to promote nature-positive production and foster food systems transformation at scale must be guided by rigorous analyses. Bioeconomic household models and analytics could be useful in this area. On top of this, frameworks for analysing the trade-offs and synergies between the goals of nature-positive production and farmers’ production goals and ambitions will be crucial for simulating the impacts of the envisaged changes at the farm level (Giller et al, 2011; Valin et al, 2021). It is noteworthy that the potential synergies between production, resilience, climate change mitigation and biodiversity will differ across different agroecological zones, biophysical conditions and social contexts. Quantitative modelling approaches should also help analyse and simulate some of these relationships.

Broader systems, livelihoods and vulnerability contexts

Smallholder farmers operate in diverse socio-economic and biophysical environments. The environmental problems of these various domains are quite different, as are the options and challenges for shifting farmers to more sustainable production systems, and the impacts of any such shifts on available food supplies. Lack of compatibility with the existing farming systems may impede the successful adoption of NPPSs by farmers, especially if this transition implies that significant changes must be made to accommodate the new innovations. For instance, a review of smallholder farmers’ experiences with conservation agriculture in Africa noted that farmers in predominantly livestock-based farming systems found it difficult retain crop residues on the fields for mulching, thereby making it difficult to fulfil one of the central principles of conservation agriculture (Giller et al, 2009). It would be interesting to explore how the broader livelihoods and vulnerability context would affect farmers’ willingness and ability to invest in regenerative practices. For instance, there is a growing body of knowledge that demonstrates how extreme levels of food insecurity and vulnerability tend to impede successful adoption and implementation of conservation technologies and resilient farming practices (Shiferaw et al, 2009). In a study exploring relationships between food insecurity and households’ adoption of improved farming practices in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia, researchers found a strong negative relationship between household food insecurity and their ability to invest in new farming practices (Kristjanson et al, 2012). Resource-constrained farmers, facing dire livelihoods situations, might be reluctant to make conservation investments, even when the long-term financial benefits favour such a choice, because their primary concern is securing sufficient food in the short term (Giller et al, 2009). Essentially, promotion of regenerative practices would require that farmers are ‘bribed’ with an appropriate incentive to invest in technologies that deliver environmental goods in the long run.

A crucial feature of smallholder farming systems is the dynamics of labour supply and seasonality of labour demand. Many NPPS practices are labour-intensive, both for their establishment and maintenance. Despite its promise, smallholder farmers might find it difficult to fully implement NPPSs if the practices require significant additional labour input, and more so if the complementary management activities, such as composting, must be done during times of the year when liquidity is low (Moser and Barrett, 2003). It is therefore important that the relative needs and timing of labour are assessed, both in absolute terms and relation to opportunity costs associated competing labour needs, especially during peak periods.

Policy and institutional architecture

Policy is a major lever for transforming food systems. Good policies can tip systems towards transformation, helping change the behaviour of individuals and groups towards desired pathways of change. However, agricultural policies, as currently construed, seem to disproportionally favour intensive, industrial agriculture. NPPSs will require more dedicated policies and an enabling institutional environment. For instance, reviews of regenerative agriculture in the US noted that one of the biggest hurdles is that regenerative agriculture and other climate-mitigating farming programmes such as organic agriculture are generally underfunded, and that within the Farm Bill, conservation programmes receive only 7 per cent of total Bill spending (Sharma et al, 2021). The fundamental question is whether we have the right policy and institutional architecture in place to provide the necessary incentives to get farmers to bring more hectares under nature-positive systems? The answer to this question is not straightforward, and experiences vary from one country to another. Willer et al (2021) noted that across Africa, only five countries have legislation on organic agriculture, five countries are drafting legislation, and six countries have a national standard but lack legislation on the definition of organic farming. The African Union also commissioned studies in 2019 to examine the status of policy, legal and institutional development in support of EOA across member states. The studies found that of the 55 African Member States, only 4 countries have an advanced EOA sector,1 while 11 countries have an active EOA sector,2 12 Member States were classified as having an infant EOA sector,3 10 Member States were described as having a nascent EOA awareness,4 and 18 Member States are waiting for inspiration to adopt EOA.5 The full results are shown in Table 2.

Table 2:

Status of ecological organic agriculture (EOA) across 55 African Union Member States

Typology of EOA Organic policy Product standard Government support Farmers organised Export and domestic market Number of countries
Advanced EOA Yes Yes Strong National Organic Agricultural Movement / Farmer Association Yes, both 4
Active EOA Coming Yes Promise National Organic Agricultural Movement / Farmer Association Yes, both 11
Infant EOA No Yes or No Little Yes Yes, export.

Domestic development
12
Nascent EOA awareness No No None Weak Some export.

Little domestic
10
Awaiting inspiration No No None None None 18

Source: The 3rd CAADP Biennial Review Report (African Union, 2021b).

What is clear from the African Union study results is that the policy, regulatory and institutional framework for EOA initiatives across most of Africa’s food systems is not very advanced. Clearly, policies and support institutions need to adapt faster and gear towards enabling the transition to nature-positive production practices. For instance, given that most nature-positive practices involve permanent and long-term investments, it will be crucial to have appropriate property rights and land tenure arrangements that provide not only the security needed to encourage investments, but also facilitate de-risking of the transitioning process.

NPPSs are complex, vary considerably across agroecological contexts, and are generally more labour- and knowledge-intensive than conventional systems, requiring enhanced management capacity. Comprehensive information about agricultural technology implementation and knowledge transmission mechanisms is critical, but smallholder farmers often struggle to obtain this information and reach adequate confidence levels to embrace new technologies. National extension systems will need to be appropriately resourced and equipped to provided tailored and specialist services to smallholder farmers to ease adoption hurdles. With the growth of digital technology industry in Africa (Mabaya and Porciello, 2022), ICT-based platforms could be used to deliver financial, training, advisory and market services, as well as other range of products including certification services, where needed.

Discussions around the adequacy of the existing policy and institutional architecture should not only be focused on the supply-side of the equation; the demand-side is equally as important. For instance, there must be mechanisms to support market development, raise consumer awareness and promote the consumption of products produced under NPPSs. An effective standards and certification scheme should help consumers make informed choices. On the other hand, several studies have shown that organic farming require a substantial price premium to be profitable (Meemken and Qaim, 2018). Therefore, unless heavily subsidised, food would become too costly for many Africans. Studies to ascertain whether consumers are willing to pay a premium for products produced under NPPSs should help gauge the size of the potential markets and help buttress a business case for these products.

Summary and conclusions

Food systems transformation requires farm-level changes in the way our food is produced. The global ambition of Action Track 3 of the UNFSS is to meet the growing demands for raising productivity levels while safeguarding environmental integrity and sustainably managing land, water and other natural resources. NPPSs have been proposed as a solution for achieving this ambition. But what does this mean for the smallholder farmer? Clearly, nature-positive production and its associated principles, such as regenerative agriculture, are relatively new, evolving concepts, and therefore subject to debate and contest. Considerable research is needed to understand the economics of NPPSs to form the basis for informed discourse whether nature-positive production is an attractive option for smallholder farmers. The research agenda needs to be much broader, to include bioeconomic models of farm households, whole-farm economic analyses of NPPS adoption decisions, as well as more behavioural studies to understand the complexities of decision making at the farm level. Appropriate research might also include more meta studies, as well as systematic ex post impact evaluations of promising interventions. There is also considerable scope for drawing more systematically on the wealth of experience from previous and ongoing work by agricultural researchers, grassroot NGOs, farmer organisations, rural financial organisations, and donor and government agencies who have long been engaged in redressing the problems of smallholder farmers in Africa.

Research into the prospects of achieving sustainable food systems transformation at the farm level needs to recognise the circumstances of the farmer, particularly how the interplay of the policy and institutional environment, as well as the broader livelihoods context, shape the structure of incentives that influences both the willingness and ability of farmers to make the necessary investments in the recommended practices. Understanding of farmers’ production goals and priorities, as well as their general perceptions of the envisaged technological and management changes, is crucial to driving the transformation agenda. Although data on nature-positive production remains generally scarce, research could borrow insights from the several experiences with related principles such as conservation agriculture and organic agriculture, among others, with a view to understand the technical, policy and institutional innovations needed to achieve impact at scale.

The complex nature of NPPSs presents an interesting challenge for policy. Yield losses may occur during the initial years of adopting NPPSs, which might necessitate discussions around how to strike a balance between nature-positive farming ambitions and food security in African countries, at least in the short term. Additionally, the externality benefits of adopting NPPSs are difficult to capture at both community and individual levels. Discussions around how countries might design an appropriate set of policies and institutional mechanisms, including property rights regimes to internalise many of these benefits at farmer levels, must be mainstreamed and prioritised in UNFSS dialogue platforms. Priority areas for policy action include policy and regulatory reforms to level the playing field and incentivise regenerative agriculture, supporting investments in more in decentralised and diverse food systems infrastructure, to create additional market and operational capacity for regenerative growers, as well as improving technical resources offered through extension and public research institutions to meet the specific needs of smallholder farmers. In many cases, the adoption of NPPS by smallholder farmers will also depend on development initiatives to provide training and marketing support to farmers.

Notes

1

Madagascar, Morocco, Tunisia, Uganda.

2

Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mauritius, São Tomé & Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sudan, Togo.

3

Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

4

Cabo Verde, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Republic of Guinea, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone.

5

Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Western Africa.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for the helpful comments and suggestions that helped improve the manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

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  • Moser, C.M. and Barrett, C.B. (2003) The disappointing adoption dynamics of a Yield-increasing, low External-input technology: the case of SRI in Madagascar, Agricultural Systems, 76(3): 1085100. doi: 10.1016/S0308-521X(02)00041-0

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  • Röös, E., Mie, A., Wivstad, M., Salomon, E., Johansson, B., Gunnarsson, S., Wallenbeck, A., Hoffmann, R., Nilsson, U., Sundberg, C. et al. (2018) Risks and opportunities of increasing yields in organic farming: a review, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 38(2): art 14, doi: 10.1007/s13593-018-0489-3.

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  • Seufert, V. (2019) Comparing yields: organic versus conventional agriculture, in P. Ferranti, E.M. Berry and J.R. Anderson (eds) Encyclopedia of Food Security and Sustainability, Volume 3: Sustainable Food Systems and Agriculture, Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp 196208.

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  • Sharma, A., Bryant, L. and Lee, E. (2021) Regenerative Agriculture Farm Policy for the 21st Century: Policy Recommendations to Advance Regenerative Agriculture, New York: Natural Resource Defense Council, https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/regenerative-agriculture-farm-policy-21st-century-report.pdf.

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  • Shiferaw, B.A., Okello, J. and Reddy, R.V. (2009) Adoption and adaptation of natural resource management innovations in smallholder agriculture: reflections on key lessons and best practices, Environment, Development and Sustainability, 11(3): 60119. doi: 10.1007/s10668-007-9132-1

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  • Tilman, D., Balzer, C., Hill, J. and Befort, B.L. (2011) Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture, PNAS, 108(50): 202604. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1116437108

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  • United Nations (2021) Food Systems Summit 2021, https://www.un.org/en/food-systems-summit/action-tracks.

  • Valin, H., Hertel, T., Bodirsky, B., Hasegawa, T. and Stehfest, E. (2021) Achieving zero hunger by 2030 a review of quantitative assessments of synergies and tradeoffs amongst the UN sustainable development goals: a paper from the scientific group of the UN food systems summit 26 May 2021, scientific group for the UN food system summit 2021, doi: 10.48565/scgr2021-2337.

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  • Willer, H., Travniceh, J.,Meier, C. and Schlatter, B. (2021) The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Emerging Trends, 2016, Frick: Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and Bonn: IFOAM – Organics International, https://www.fibl.org/en/shop-en/1698-organic-world-2016. 

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  • African Union (2021a) Africa Common Position on Food Systems: Regional Submission to the UN Food Systems Summit, Johannesburg: African Union Development Agency, https://www.nepad.org/publication/african-common-position-food-systems.

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  • African Union (2021b) The 3rd CAADP Biennial Review Report 2015-2021, https://au.int/en/documents/20220310/3rd-caadp-biennial-review-report.

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  • AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) (2021) Africa Agriculture Status Report: A Decade of Action – Building Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems in Africa, Issue 9, Nairobi: AGRA.

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  • Béné, C., Fanzo, J., Prager, S.D., Achicanoy, H.A., Mapes, B.R., Alvarez Toro, P. and Cedrez, C.B. (2020) Global drivers of food system (un)sustainability: a Multi-country correlation analysis, PLoS ONE, 15(4): art e0231071, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0231071.

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  • Covic, N., Dobermann, A., Fanzo, J., Henson, S., Herrero, M., Pingali, P. and Staal, S. (2021) All hat and no cattle: accountability following the UN Food Systems Summit, Global Food Security, 30: art 100569, doi: 10.1016/j.gfs.2021.100569.

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  • Gaupp, F., Ruggeri Laderchi, C., Lotze-Campen, H., DeClerck, F., Bodirsky, B.L., Lowder, S., Popp, A., Kanbur, R., Edenhofer, O., Nugent, R. et al. (2021) Food system development pathways for healthy, Nature-positive and inclusive food systems, Nature Food, 2(12): 92834. doi: 10.1038/s43016-021-00421-7

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  • Giller, K.E., Witter, E., Corbeels, M. and Tittonell, P. (2009) Conservation agriculture and smallholder farming in Africa: the heretics’ view, Field Crops Research, 114(1): 2334. doi: 10.1016/j.fcr.2009.06.017

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  • Giller, K.E., Corbeels, M., Nyamangara, J., Triomphe, B., Affholder, F., Scopel, E. and Tittonell, P. (2011) A research agenda to explore the role of conservation agriculture in African smallholder farming systems, Field Crops Research, 124(3): 46872. doi: 10.1016/j.fcr.2011.04.010

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  • Hodson, E., Niggli, U., Kitajima, K., Lal, R. and Sadoff, C. (2021) Boost nature positive production: a paper on action track 3, scientific group for the UN food system summit 2021, https://sc-fss2021.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Action_Track_3_paper_Boost_Nature_Positive_Production.pdf.

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  • Kalibata, A. (2022) Reflections on food systems transformation: an African perspective, Global Social Challenges Journal, 1: 13850. doi: 10.1332/OYYL3696

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  • Kristjanson, P., Neufeldt, H., Gassner, A., Mango, J., Kyazze, F.B., Desta, S., Sayula, G., Thiede, B., Förch, W., Thornton, P.K. et al. (2012) Are food insecure smallholder households making changes in their farming practices? Evidence from East Africa, Food Security, 4(3): 38197. doi: 10.1007/s12571-012-0194-z

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  • Mabaya, E. and Porciello, J. (2022) Can digital solutions transform Agri-food systems in Africa?, Agrekon, 61(1): 6779. doi: 10.1080/03031853.2022.2032223

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  • McCarthy, N., Lipper, L. and Branca, G. (2011) Climate-smart agriculture: smallholder adoption and implications for climate change adaptation and mitigation, Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture Working Paper, 3(1): 137.

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  • Meemken, E.M. and Qaim, M. (2018) Organic agriculture, food security, and the environment, Annual Review of Resource Economics, 10: 3963. doi: 10.1146/annurev-resource-100517-023252

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  • Moser, C.M. and Barrett, C.B. (2003) The disappointing adoption dynamics of a Yield-increasing, low External-input technology: the case of SRI in Madagascar, Agricultural Systems, 76(3): 1085100. doi: 10.1016/S0308-521X(02)00041-0

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Röös, E., Mie, A., Wivstad, M., Salomon, E., Johansson, B., Gunnarsson, S., Wallenbeck, A., Hoffmann, R., Nilsson, U., Sundberg, C. et al. (2018) Risks and opportunities of increasing yields in organic farming: a review, Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 38(2): art 14, doi: 10.1007/s13593-018-0489-3.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seufert, V. (2019) Comparing yields: organic versus conventional agriculture, in P. Ferranti, E.M. Berry and J.R. Anderson (eds) Encyclopedia of Food Security and Sustainability, Volume 3: Sustainable Food Systems and Agriculture, Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp 196208.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sharma, A., Bryant, L. and Lee, E. (2021) Regenerative Agriculture Farm Policy for the 21st Century: Policy Recommendations to Advance Regenerative Agriculture, New York: Natural Resource Defense Council, https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/regenerative-agriculture-farm-policy-21st-century-report.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shiferaw, B.A., Okello, J. and Reddy, R.V. (2009) Adoption and adaptation of natural resource management innovations in smallholder agriculture: reflections on key lessons and best practices, Environment, Development and Sustainability, 11(3): 60119. doi: 10.1007/s10668-007-9132-1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tilman, D., Balzer, C., Hill, J. and Befort, B.L. (2011) Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture, PNAS, 108(50): 202604. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1116437108

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • United Nations (2021) Food Systems Summit 2021, https://www.un.org/en/food-systems-summit/action-tracks.

  • Valin, H., Hertel, T., Bodirsky, B., Hasegawa, T. and Stehfest, E. (2021) Achieving zero hunger by 2030 a review of quantitative assessments of synergies and tradeoffs amongst the UN sustainable development goals: a paper from the scientific group of the UN food systems summit 26 May 2021, scientific group for the UN food system summit 2021, doi: 10.48565/scgr2021-2337.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Willer, H., Travniceh, J.,Meier, C. and Schlatter, B. (2021) The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Emerging Trends, 2016, Frick: Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and Bonn: IFOAM – Organics International, https://www.fibl.org/en/shop-en/1698-organic-world-2016. 

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
Vine Mutyasira Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Kenya

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