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Bringing business savvy to agroforestry

Farmers in Côte d’Ivoire learn about improved cocoa agricultural practices through the Vision for Change partnership project.

Farmers in Côte d’Ivoire learn about improved cocoa agricultural practices through the Vision for Change partnership project.

Public research organizations are increasingly realizing the benefits of collaborating with the private sector, yet this potential is still largely untapped.

In the newly released and comprehensive Encyclopedia of Agriculture and Food Systems, a chapter has been dedicated to analysing public private partnerships in agroforestry. It includes 6 case studies from a range of countries which provide evidence for what makes a successful partnership, where challenges lie and where partnerships can add the most value.

According to Ramni Jamnadass, lead author of the chapter and head of research into Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery with the World Agroforestry Centre, the benefits of public private partnerships can be substantial, especially in their ability to impact on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and other marginalized groups in developing countries.

“Partnerships combine the strengths of public organizations and businesses,” explains Jamanadass. “They can reduce the cost of research, facilitate greater innovation and enhance the impact of research on people’s livelihoods.”

“Organizations such as ours can learn a great deal from the private sector, such as the shortest route to launching a product, the importance of demand-side or market analysis and the need to terminate projects when they fail to perform.”

The Vision for Change project, initiated by chocolate producer, Mars Inc., is one of the partnerships discussed in the chapter. With global demand for cocoa on the increase but cocoa production declining, Mars has set out to revitalize the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire, which supplies over 30 per cent of the world’s cocoa.

“Mars has realized the only way to achieve this is through bringing together the private sector, government and civil society organizations,” says Ramni.

Mars is working in partnership with the Ivorian government, national agricultural institutions and the World Agroforestry Centre to overcome problems plaguing the cocoa sector, including depleted soils, lack of improved planting material, ageing trees, pests and diseases, changing weather patterns and weak rural infrastructure.

The Centre’s role in the partnership is to provide expertise in cocoa agroforestry, soil management, plant genetics and breeding.

In addition to rehabilitating cocoa farms to increase yields, the project has strong elements of community empowerment, sustainability and sector reform. So far, the project has reached 10,000 farmers with improved technologies, successfully propagated superior cocoa planting material and identified indigenous plants that can help farmers diversify their production.

“None of this could be achieved without the involvement of all sectors. Public research organizations such as ours bring skills in generating knowledge and innovation. Governments play an important role in developing enabling policies. NGOs contribute expertise in working with farmers and product processors and in scaling up or translating knowledge into action,” outlines Christophe Kouame, Country Director of the Vision for Change program with the World Agroforestry Centre.

All of the case studies profiled in the chapter are strongly geared towards poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers through increasing the commercial viability of agroforestry products. Like the Vision for Change project, they also incorporate strong elements of improved environmental management.

Co-author, Dagmar Mithöferfrom the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, says one area of agroforestry research where the private sector can add particular value is in fostering demand, improving supply chains and commercializing under-developed species so as to increase the demand and supply of products as well as alleviate poverty among producers.

One such under-developed species is the allanblackia tree which grows naturally in the moist forests of West, East and Central Africa.

Around 2000, the multi-national consumer goods company, Unilever, recognized the potential of allanblackia oil (found in the seeds of the tree) as a valuable ingredient for food products and cosmetics.

Now more than 30 organisations at the international, national and local level are working towards creating a new edible oil crop to be grown in agroforestry systems in many African countries. The World Agroforestry Centre is heavily involved in the venture, generating knowledge that is required to domesticate the species in village nurseries so that it can be grown by farmers. Other partners, including governments, NGOs and farmers’ groups are focused on establishing viable supply chains for the oil.

Ramni believes there are hundreds of highly nutritious food trees that – with private-sector investment – could bring many livelihood benefits, including improved nutrition and income generating opportunities.

Drawing on lessons learned through partnerships such as those for cocoa and allanblackia, the chapter concludes that there are a number of factors that ensure effective public private partnerships in agroforestry. These are: agreement to a common goal among all partners; putting in place effective governance, monitoring and decision-making mechanisms to deal with tension, conflict or partners that don’t deliver; and the open sharing of information.

Partnerships however are not without their challenges. For a start, the culture within public and private sector organizations differs considerably.

“As researchers, our interest lies in generating optimal results and publishing our work,” explains Ramni. “This can conflict with the interests of the private sector who want quick returns on their investment and may be hesitant to have research enter the public domain before they have benefited from their investment.”

Establishing effective partnerships requires considerable time and effort, there are risks that need to be overcome and obstacles associated with public policy and failures in reporting and delivery.

Perhaps these challenges and obstacles go some way towards explaining why there are still so few public private partnerships in agroforestry. Ramni believes another factor may be that agroforestry is still largely seen more as a natural resource management activity than a commercial enterprise. This is despite the global export market value of agroforestry commodities estimated to be in the tens of billions of USD per annum.

Many trees and agroforestry systems serve multiple purposes, providing not only commodities but also ecosystem services such as erosion control, soil enrichment, carbon storage, biodiversity conservation and air and water quality. Agroforestry also supports food and nutritional security through directly providing food, raising farmers’ incomes to buy food and providing fuel for cooking to make food suitable for consumption.

It is this range of benefits that makes agroforestry so appealing in the face of global challenges to achieve food security in a changing climate without impacting further on the environment.

“There is a strong need to catalyse more public private partnerships to fully realize the potential of under-developed agroforestry commodities that can bring significant benefits to smallholders and the environment,” concludes Ramni.

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Find out more about the Encyclopedia of Agriculture and Food Systems

Find out more about the Vision for Change project

For more information about the Allanblackia project, download the booklet: Seeds of Hope: A public-private partnership to domesticate a native tree, Allanblackia, is transforming lives in rural Africa.

Related stories:

Agroforestry prominent in Elsevier’s new encyclopedia of agriculture

Capitalism can save the world, can’t it?

Kate Langford

Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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