Exclusive interview with Robert Turner, Director of Agriculture, USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub – a key partner in the Agritech Expo. The USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub is presenting a two-day free technical workshop programme and sponsoring the hosted visitor programme for small commercial farmers and small and medium enterprises at the expo.
1) Let’s start with the USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub hosted visitor programme. What is the idea behind this and how will it work?
The Southern Africa Trade Hub is part of the US government’s Feed the Future Strategy, and our focus is both on the competitiveness of regional agriculture and on food security. As part of Feed the Future, the US government is focusing support on the following countries under the Trade Hub’s umbrella: Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. In all three of these countries, small holder farmers make up the majority of staple food production, but they all suffer from very low productivity. Our support to the Agritech Expo is part of the Trade Hub’s regional approach to improving productivity among emerging commercial farmers and small holders.
Our grant agreement with Agritech Expo covers four primary areas. One of them is a subsidy for emerging commercial farmers in the region to attend the show. Why we think it is important for them to attend the show, is that one of the contributors to low productivity is the lack of adoption of new agricultural technology. This includes improved seeds, fertilisers and mechanisation, and the Agritech Expo represents a sustainable, commercial mechanism to allow farmers access to these technologies. Our interest is to help regionalize the impact of the show. Because of Zambia’s commercial agricultural sector development, a wide range of companies representing a range of important technologies will be at the show. These technologies and services are needed throughout the region, and we want to support the show to be a regional resource.
As I mentioned, we cover four primary areas, namely for emerging commercial farmers to attend the show, and the second area is the funding of buyer-seller support. By the way, it is also important to mention that we are only partially subsidising the farmers that are attending Agritech Expo. Eligible farmers must also indicate that they are willing and able to provide for their own transportation to get to the show and then we provide accommodation as well as buyer-seller linkages.
The third area we support is vendor support: on the one hand we are providing subsidies for farmers to attend the show but we are also providing subsidies for smaller, regional companies which would otherwise find it difficult to afford to exhibit at the show. We want to, as much as possible, use the show both to increase access to farmers but also market access for smaller suppliers, especially those that are targeting small holders and emerging commercial farmers.
The fourth area is the workshops. We are supporting the farmers to come to the show, but we realize that they often come without a lot of knowledge of what they will see. We are therefore supporting a series of technical seminars to prepare these attendees to better understand and benefit from the technologies that they are exposed to at the show.
We want to make sure that farmers and companies can benefit on a very practical level: that they have the ability to act on this, to purchase what they find and to put it into practice.
The visitor programme will benefit 50 emerging commercial farmers in the region as well as ten small and medium enterprises.
2) Do you think the Zambian agricultural sector is a good market to invest in?
Yes, clearly I think one of the reasons, from a regional standpoint, that we are so excited about Agritech Expo is that Zambia is becoming a real hub for emerging commercial agriculture. And it is because Zambia is becoming this hub that it makes sense for us to support regionalisation and to allow the agricultural sectors in Malawi and Mozambique to benefit and learn from this growth as well.
3) What is your vision for the sector, also in terms of the region?
My personal view is that technology – mobile phones and mobile applications, drought tolerant seeds, remote sensing, GIS, etc. – is making commercial engagement with small holders less expensive and more productive. This is changing the fundamental economics of agriculture in the region and when this is paired with the increasing demand for food, I think there is real reason to be excited about agriculture and fundamental food security in the region.
4) What can visitors expect from the USAID technical workshop programme?
The workshops are designed particularly for small holders and small commercial farmers, to provide them with the basic information and context to better understand the technologies that are on display and available.