2011 saw the worst drought in 60 years for the Horn of Africa, affecting over 13 million people and leading to famine due to the combination of regional instability, weak governance, a fragile agricultural economy, and low resilience within communities. Six months later, a similar story unfolded in the Sahel, affecting a further 18 million people.

The traditional humanitarian response was failing to create long-term solutions, and at worst was locking people in to a cycle of dependency and vulnerability. A new paradigm was needed that would take an integrated approach to building resilience, by coordinating humanitarian action, with security measures, agricultural growth, disaster risk reduction, long-term safety nets and better governance. This paradigm would require a new level of coordination across humanitarian and development agencies, and with national and regional governments. In 2012, the Global Alliance for Action for Drought Resilience and Growth was launched by African governments and international partners to put resilience at the heart of their efforts in the Horn of Africa and Sahel.

Wasafiri Consulting was called upon to provide independent facilitation of the first meeting of the Global Alliance in mid-2012. Over 2 days, the meeting brought together the international community behind a common understanding of how they could work together to end famine in the Horn of Africa and Sahel – forever. Delegates left with a commitment to collaborate with together and hold each other mutually accountable, and a clear set of actions that would sustain their momentum over the coming year.

I am flying home from the first Grow Africa Investment Forum, held at the impressive new African Union Conference Centre in Addis Ababa. Never before have I been in a room with so many powerful people – Jean Ping, African Union Chair; Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Jakaya Kikwete, President of Tanzania; Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia; Nick Blazquez, President, Diageo Africa; Doug McMillon, President, Walmart; Raj Shah, Administrator, USAID; Kanayo Nwanze, President, IFAD; and 270 other leaders from business, government and civil society.

And never before has a development initiative felt to melike a snowball rolling downhill gathering its own unstoppable momentum. Normally it feels like slogging uphill.

For the last 3 years Wasafiri has worked extensively on CAADP – Africa’s plan for transforming agriculture. CAADP has involved hard work for many people, but slow, steady progress has been made. Over half of African countries have developed detailed strategies, increased public sector investment, and elevated political commitment for their agricultural sector. However, Africa’s agricultural transformation ultimately depends on harnessing this foundational work to unlock a vibrant private sector that increases productivity, produces nutritious food, and creates wealth and employment. And until now CAADP has primarily been a public sector initiative with only token engagement by the private sector.

Just over a year ago I called a contact at the World Economic Forum to suggest we try connecting the world of CAADP, with their New Vision for Agriculture Initiative – a collaboration by the major food and agriculture companies to explore ways of addressing the world’s long-term food challenges. The basic concept proposed was to work with the domestic and international private sector to identify investment opportunities that would contribute to national agricultural plans developed under CAADP, and then advance them in partnership. Grow Africa was born and, pleasingly, I had the privilege to name it!

Grow Africa is now lauded by international leaders as a key mechanism for implementing CAADP and driving Africa’s agriculture transformation. Raj Shah (head of USAID) recently announced that Barack Obama and other G8 leaders are expected to add their public support at this week’s G8 Summit.  A year after conception, Grow Africa acts as a partnership platform to accelerate investments, catalyse partnerships and share best practice. Co-ordinated by the African Union, NEPAD and the World Economic Forum, it is connecting governments, businesses, investors, farmers and development partners in order to advance ambitious agricultural partnership initiatives. A first wave of countries are engaged – Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia – with more expected soon.

On 9th May, the first Grow Africa Investment Forum was held in the margins of the WEF Africa Summit. Seven countries showcased investment opportunities aligned to their national priorities for agricultural transformation. Private sector leaders responded very positively, with major companies committing to advancing discussions on investment and partnership with the potential to unlock billions of dollars of investment. The event deepened trust and understanding between public and private sector leaders, and highlighted both challenges and innovations regarding how to unleash the private sector in transforming African agriculture.

Wasafiri believes that deep development challenges cannot be tackled by any single organisation. Systemic change depends upon multiple actors engaging in alignment to rework a failing system. Wasafiri’s work is in facilitating that alignment, and committing people to act in concert. Agriculture is so complex in this regard that the development community abandoned it for decades, choosing instead to focus on sectors such as health and education that are less market-based and diverse. As Raj Shah put it, “Agricultural transformation is a collective action problem”.

Grow Africa, building on the foundational work of CAADP, has suddenly reached a tipping point. Government, business and civil society are engaging together, targeting their efforts on specific areas of common interest, usually along a single value chain or geographical area. In one day at the Grow Africa Investment Forum their collective belief in change made a tangible leap forward. African agriculture shifted from being a problem, to an incredible opportunity – both commercially and in terms of development impact. Sensing this shift, some top politicians from Africa and the world are adding their endorsement, a simple leadership act that will exponentially increase everyone’s confidence and commitment to engaging in concert.

There is still a long way to go. Interest must get translated into investment, and investment into results. And there are obvious risks around ensuring investments are sustainable and inclusive – with complex issues around land, water, labour, smallholders, climate change, women, youth and governance. Nonetheless, it is thrilling to sense collective action generating incredible momentum for change, such that growing Africa is no longer a problem, it is a profound opportunity. Wasafiri is committed to continue serving Africa in its agricultural transformation.

Visit: www.growafrica.com (website managed by Wasafiri for AUC, NEPAD and WEF)

Watch live as Barack Obama and others speak about Grow Africa in the context of the G8 initiative.  8am EST/ 1pm BST to 5pm EST/ 10pm BST, 18th May 2012: http://www.livestream.com/thechicagocouncil

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“Mutual accountability” is the fifth principle of aid effectiveness in the Paris Declaration. Importantly, it asks how governments, development agencies and civil society can hold each other accountable for delivering on their many promises. However, like the last child in a large family, it has received the least attention of any Paris principle. A recent review by OECD concluded that the development community is unclear on its definition, and there is no established best practice on how to put it into action.

Over the last year, I have worked to boost mutual accountability between African governments, development partners and others as they attempt to transform agriculture across the continent. I have concluded that it is real relationships that are the basis for achieving mutual accountability, and yet the development community rarely considers what it takes to establish productive working relationships that transcend institutions.

The accountability problem
According to the Paris Principles, development work is most effective when numerous actors align themselves behind a single strategy and co-ordinate their action. As a result, governments, development partners, and civil society make countless fine promises to act together on various issues. However, as sovereign entities, there is no formal or legal accountability for anyone to deliver on these promises. The principle of “Mutual Accountability” calls for mechanisms that provide the evidence, debate and transparency through which all partners feel the pressure to deliver.

Where mutual accountability works
There are numerous mechanisms that promote mutual accountability, but I will highlight three that are generating particular interest.

In Rwanda, for its poverty reduction strategy, the government has proactively established a performance scorecard with clear mutually agreed criteria against which all partners are held accountable. At an annual event the results are publicly announced, with the good and poor performers recognised at Presidential level, and remedial actions agreed.

The International Health Partnership (IHP+) is rationalising the inefficient jungle of health initiatives by committing partners to one strategy in each country against which to align, and then producing scorecards that show whether partners are really harmonising their efforts. The results are announced and debated at technical and political fora.

CAADP, Africa’s plan for boosting agriculture, is similarly aligning partners behind single country strategies, but then bringing together stakeholder coalitions to interrogate M&E reports and debate the quality of performance by various partners. Again the outcome is shared at technical and political fora where partners can commit to remedial actions.

Real relationships – the secret ingredient
Most literature on mutual accountability takes a typically technical or mechanistic approach to the issue, extolling structural solutions such as M&E systems, scorecards and platforms. My experience however is that fundamentally mutual accountability is a cultural issue founded on the quality of relationships between individuals that transcend institutions. People feel mutually accountable because they respect each other personally and professionally, and do not want to let each other down. Where these relationships are forged in hard work and honesty, people can demonstrate a much stronger commitment to delivery than with relationships within hierarchical institutions where formal sanctions do apply.

Furthermore relationship based accountability means issues get dealt with faster and more efficiently. My Ugandan colleague can call me up to discuss financing constraints as soon as they are apparent, rather than waiting for a senior manager to make a formal and potentially awkward announcement at the next big meeting.

The three examples of Rwanda, IHP+, and CAADP are significant because in each case there is a real community of people who are actively working closely on making progress together. This contrasts with high-level fora such as the UN Development Co-operation Forum where the discussion is more technical, and the relationships more institutional. Real relationships are necessary for people to care about delivery, and then mechanisms for evidence, debate and transparency count for something.

Development initiatives are rarely structured to establish personal working relationships that transcend institutions. I suggest this is essential good practice, as a foundation for accountability and delivering results. We need to think more about how to foster such relationships, but potentially heretical proposals could include:
• Co-locating teams of individuals who work together on issues from across institutions, rather than housing them in their own organisations and dispatching them for the occasional brief interaction
• Locating structural mechanisms for mutual accountability at the heart of real communities of practice, rather than operating as global, generic aid effectiveness instruments.
• Organising meetings and conferences to include more small group time, rather than lengthy formal plenary sessions; and hosting them at informal venues rather than grand conference centres.
• Organising social events at meetings or conferences to allow people to get to know each other personally, or better undertake joint field trips that build an emotional connection to the issue.
• Embracing technology such as video-skype and virtual workspaces.

Accountability will be mutual, when individuals from across institutions stand shoulder to shoulder with a personal commitment as well as a professional obligation to achieving results together.

The context: With three-quarters of Africa’s poor living in rural areas and depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, governments recognise that boosting agricultural productivity offers a key strategy for alleviating poverty and hunger. In 2009, the African Union’s plan for agriculture (CAADP) reached critical momentum with 20 countries working on new robust plans for agriculture. At the same time, the international community sought avenues through which to invest in tackling the food crisis, which now means 1 billion people, are hungry. CAADP provided a great opportunity, but only if African governments and Development Partners could establish ways of working together.

Wasafiri’s role: Wasafiri consultant Ian Randall, pulled together a team including Liberal Seburikoko, to facilitate a meeting at the UN in Addis Ababa, through which 18 African and 15 donor governments came to a common agreement on how to work together on CAADP. The resulting guidelines can be downloaded here. Since then Ian has worked for DFID, GIZ and USAID to support co-ordination between Development Partners as they align behind CAADP.

Generating action: The meeting was dubbed “The Addis Consensus” and heralded as a watershed moment in effective partnership by the international community to tackle the food crisis. Many African governments are developing strong agricultural plans that look set to receive additional donor finance. In Rwanda, the CAADP plan has seen agricultural growth leap from .7% to 15% and donors recently pledged a further $83 million.

Ian Randall facilitating a session

Ian Randall facilitating a session

Recently my brain has been aching with the complexity of how to improve food security and rural incomes for the poor… 960 million people are hungry. 80 million more than last year. 75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas. They could produce more food, but they do not have access to the capital, seeds, fertiliser, knowledge, tools, and markets (amongst other things) that would make it possible. Climate change is already undermining the productivity of poor farmers, and will do so more and more. Production needs to double if we are to feed the inevitable 9 billion people who will be on Earth in 2050.

There are thousands upon thousands of pages of reports and books to read, all analysing the problem. Development agencies are heavy with them. Desks piled high and walls lined with creaking shelves. I was briefly seduced by the idea that perhaps I could be the one to find the answer. If I read enough, and thought hard enough then perhaps I could suggest the perfect combination of measures that would eradicate hunger and rural poverty. All I would have to do was persuade the world to follow my suggestions. It seems to work for Jeffry Sachs.

But that’s not how change happens. Change happens when the right people are brought together in an empowering context to innovate solutions to problems they have a stake in. Change happens when people take risks to do something different, to work together, to learn from mistakes. Writing a report on the Nigerian rice market is unlikely to change much. Bring together Nigerian smallholders, a food supply chain company, some investors, the government and a charity that provides farmer training, and they are likely to create meaningful change and quickly – possibly without writing a single report.

Markets are good at change. People innovate, take risks, act with commitment, and if they are successful then the surplus is reinvested to got to scale. If they fail, then learning is quick and the initiative ends. Food globally is almost entirely produced and distributed by the private sector, and for over 5 billion people this works remarkably well with business driving up productivity and quality.

However, markets are clearly failing to serve the billion hungry people. The barriers are such that is just not commercially viable  – often not even for these individuals to produce enough food for themselves. The Malawian farmer will not buy new seed or fertiliser when the price of maize is so volatile that he is likely to make a loss when it comes time to sell.

When markets are failing to deliver on a public good such as food, then the state has a role to play. The danger is that the state tries to address the problem by attempting to do the work of the private sector. Politicians cannot be seen to fail, so reports will be commissioned to analyse problems, waiting for the perfect solution to emerge before taking any action. And actions, no matter how misdirected, are declared a success and continue to swallow up resources.

Instead, the state should act to make markets work for the poor. Through convening stakeholders, reform of regulation, or providing risk finance, the state can tip the balance of opportunities and risks in favour of commercially viable food production. Then it can step aside and let the market innovate and act to make change happen. Feeding the hungry requires less words and more leadership action.

Wasafiri is committed to generating action that improves the lives of the poor. We recognise hunger as a complex global issue that requires public and private sector actors to collaborate if we are to achieve long-lasting systemic change. There is a need for cross-sector activity that identifies market failures, convenes actors, innovates commercially viable solutions, and drives co-ordinated, focussed action. The public sector can demonstrate leadership by helping convene, providing risk finance or reforming regulation. The private sector can demonstrate leadership by innovating commercial solutions to make markets work for the poor, that is to get more food on the plates of hungry people.