On the frontline of climate change, delivering on the promise of climate-smart agriculture can be challenging in countries across East and West Africa. But new projects supported by the European Union and the International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD) show what can be achieved when we fuse innovative partnerships with ‘unusual suspects’ from the public and private sector.  

The UNFCCC states: “Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest, and contributing to food insecurity…” (2020). Strengthening the agricultural sector has been identified as a major opportunity for improving the resilience of communities, thereby combatting the increased climate challenge faced by African communities.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) emphasizes the importance of strong partnerships in strengthening this sector. Why? Partnerships can generate stronger alignment between government priorities and private sector interests while also creating synergies among various actors across relevant value chains.

The Transforming Food Systems Under a Changing Climate initiative—launched by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) with 100+ partners to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—reiterates the relevance of working in partnerships to deliver societal impact.

The Actions to Transform Food Systems Under Climate Change report was launched under this initiative and it strongly recommends operating through (public-private) partnerships to transform the global food system. One recurring challenge, however, is engaging with various partners in such a way that research ultimately ends up being utilized in communities to sustainably improve their resilience to climate change.

CCAFS has built a strong network with different types of partners to deliver impact in communities across East and West Africa. The Building Livelihoods and Resilience to Climate Change in East and West Africa project further strengthens these partnerships in order to improve livelihoods and increase climate change resilience for smallholder farmers in East Africa and West Africa via the large-scale adoption of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) technologies and practices.

Partnerships with governments are essential. They support countries in setting their national strategies and create enabling conditions for the uptake of CSA policies. The Building Livelihoods and Resilience project worked alongside the national governments of Ghana and Burkina Faso to produce CSA Investment Plans, which supported both countries in developing their respective national CSA strategies.

Furthermore, together with the Kenyan government, this project developed a CSA Data Atlas in order to develop business cases and support governmental decision-making processes for CSA.  

Yet partnerships should extend beyond governments. The private sector is also an essential partner for leveraging funding and experience demonstrates that private sector entities are capable of rapidly taking up opportunities when and if these make sense from a business angle

In line with the latter, this project partnered with Manobi Africa to deploy the agCelerant business development platform. This platform restructures the African agricultural sector into inclusive value chains, enabling the project to develop tailored climate services involving smallholder value chains. These contextualized climate services support smallholder farmers in becoming more resilient to climate issues.

Echnoserve in Ethiopia is another example of a private sector partner from this project. This collaboration resulted in the development of the YeZare app, which is used to disseminate tailored, up-to-date climate and market information to farmers. More than 5,000 farmers have already engaged with this app.

Crucially, a key to scaling CSA is to make it inclusive and accessible for (smallholder) farmers. To reach those who are often the hardest to reach, the project partnered with extension services to scale CSA at sub-national and national levels.

In Ethiopia, a nationwide awareness campaign was initiated with the Fana Radio Broadcasting company, resulting in CSA messaging that could reach up to 15 million Ethiopians. Using both Fana Radio’s main radio station and its regional FM radio stations, contextualized Climate Information Services (CIS) and best-bet CSA practices were shared with the station’s listeners.

International and bilateral partners are also imperative for translating research into outcomes at scale. The partnership between the EU, IFAD and CCAFS through the Putting Research into Use for Nutrition, Sustainable Agriculture and Resilience (PRUNSAR) program is essential for CCAFS and CGIAR researchers to continually improve the resilience and livelihoods of small-scale farmers, youth, and women in rural communities.

To achieve scale, it is necessary for research endeavors to partner with major development efforts to foster joint learning. We have witnessed this in Mali, where CCAFS  partnered with the IFAD-funded Mali Inclusive project to develop a climate risk profile for the Segou region. We saw this again in Ethiopia, where CCAFS has partnered with the EU-funded DeSIRA project to contribute to the climate-relevant, productive, and sustainable transformation of agriculture and food systems.

These examples demonstrate that the right partnerships can catalyze the uptake of research in societies where resilience to climate change can be improved. The challenge, as stated earlier, is to assemble the right partners into a consortium who, together, can put research into practice in society. Various types of partners bring different resources to the table, but identifying which resources and partners best fit the bill remains challenging.

The Building Livelihoods and Resilience to Climate Change in East and West Africa project showcases that collaborations with different types of partners can significantly contribute to the uptake of Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D).

Collaborations with governments increase the likelihood of research being embedded within (country) strategies while also enabling conditions for the uptake of CSA policies. Private sector partners have proven capable when it comes to the rapid uptake of new opportunities, and when translating research into tangible resources that can make a difference in communities.

Finally, extension services and international partners unlock the potential for scaling research outcomes even further, ultimately resulting in greater impacts of AR4D in societies.  

Like this project demonstrates, when you successfully partner with and coordinate across research, governmental, international, and private actors you achieve the best results for people, planet, and climate.

Wiebe Smit is the Program Management Officer for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Program Management Unit.