Briefing presents a fresh look at the potential of agriculture in fragile states, emphasising the need to support local stakeholders and focus on factors of resilience.

A debate on the opportunities that agriculture presents for fragile countries has taken place in Brussels, bringing new perspectives from policymakers, practitioners, experts and the private sector on successful approaches in this domain.

This 51st Briefing, titled “Agriculture as an engine of economic reconstruction and development in fragile countries”, was organised by the ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), in collaboration with the European Commission / DEVCO, the ACP Secretariat, and CONCORD.

Opening the debate, the representatives of the organising partners, Bernard Rey from the European Commission, Viwanou Gnassounou from the ACP and Michael Hailu from CTA, all highlighted the broader concerns around fragility, particularly in the context of the migration crisis and its centrality in terms of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Over 120 participants followed the discussions at the ACP Secretariat, as well as via webstream and social media, providing an active engagement with the panellists, who represented some of the leading experts in relation to fragile states and agriculture.


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From fragility to resilience – Revisiting the accepted wisdom

The importance of agriculture for fragile states was a view universally shared by all the panellists during the Briefing. However, the first panel on “Fragility and its implications for agriculture” saw a divergence of approaches to defining fragility and supporting agriculture in fragile countries.

“We can learn a lot about fragility by looking at what has been resilience, and that is what has been lacking in most of our discussion”, argued Professor James Putzel from the London School of Economics. He sought to advance the narrative beyond categorising states as “fragile” with the assumption that this makes them inherently poor, conflicted or unable to have functioning economies.

What this means in terms of developing policies to support agriculture was picked up by Rajendra K. Aryal, from FAO and Alexandros Ragoussis of the IFC / World Bank Group. In practice, FAO takes a long-term view, working with communities and leaders to promote and support agriculture as a means of restoring and enabling livelihoods, even in the context of a conflict situation. Rajendra Aryal focused on the need to bring opportunities to rural communities in fragile countries, for example through the Rome-based Agencies Resilience Initiative framework, which targeted rural youth, helping to create jobs and minimise outmigration. Dr Alexandros Ragoussis’s comprehensive presentation looked at the work of the IFC / World Bank, but also explored how these institutions frame the issue of fragility and its definition. As leading investors in fragile countries, they are putting a stronger emphasis on agriculture, because “agriculture is two to four times more effective in lifting people out of extreme poverty than investment in any other sector of economic activity”, according to Ragoussis.

Having the right entry point in which to support agriculture in fragile countries was central to the discussions in the first panel. Whereas Putzel spoke about the need to focus on local and regional markets, ensuring producers can respond to this demand, Ragoussis argued in favour of connecting farmers also to international markets because domestic markets and income in fragile countries are not sufficient to support growth. For Aryal, the emphasis was on agriculture as an important entry point for youth with skills who cannot find work in the fields of the qualifications.

Scaling up and financing successful approaches

The second panel gave the floor to practitioners from some of the most fragile countries (Burundi, Somalia, South Sudan). A broad range of experiences was shared by the World Food/IFC, CAPAD (Confédération des Associations des Producteurs Agricoles pour le Développement), Cordaid and World Vision, which outlined various factors of success in each of the programmes.

One common point was the need to recognise and encourage local economic and private sector activity, even in situations of conflict. The Purchase for Progress Programme (P4P) of the WFP captures this, as it is the economic arm of what is a wider humanitarian relief activity. “In doing humanitarian work we realised that food is not only saving lives, it is also a good tool for development, as well as for peacebuilding,” noted the P4P director, Dr. Bing Zhao.

This perspective, on the role of agriculture in peacebuilding, was shared by Harma Rademaker from Cordaid, who discussed the organisation’s work in South Sudan, notably in relation to disaster risk reduction and resilience building. She emphasised working with communities and ensuring that their priorities underlie the approach taken, especially for conflicting groups, and not overlooking agriculture as a means of enabling food security and livelihoods. Dr Katharine Downie’s work for World Vision in the context of the Somalia Resilience Program also drew conclusions on the importance of livelihoods, with an additional focus on supporting access to markets.

The private sector perspective, from Dr Annick Sezibera, CAPAD Executive Secretary, was instrumental in highlighting to the audience the opportunities that producers themselves bring in terms of building resilience through agriculture, and not just in response to external / donor interventions. CAPAD has empowered producers – many of them women – through cooperatives, addressing economic as well as social concerns of its members, and focusing on improving their participation in the marketplace.

Bridging the Gap Between local solutions and external interventions

Following two engaging questions and answers sessions, the debate concluded with a call for a stronger emphasis to ensure that external interventions support solutions emerging on the ground. This centred on the critical role played in these success stories by communities and producer groups who feed local markets. Recognition must also be given to the constraints they face in terms of the evolving security context they operate in, the informality of their operations, and the limitations in terms of access to finance, inputs, and capacity – all of which external partners can play a role in supporting.

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