Blog Post

Webinar Insights: Policy implications for the growing supply and demand of nutrient-dense foods in Africa

The supply and demand of fruits, vegetables and animal products is often insufficient and too expensive for most consumers in sub-Saharan Africa. However, recent evidence suggests that both the production and consumption of these nutrient-dense products is rapidly growing. What are the policy implications of this? And what can governments do to stimulate more inclusive and sustainable domestic value chains?

Rapid urbanization, rising incomes and changing diets have led to the expansion of both the production and consumption of fruits, vegetables and animal products in sub-Saharan Africa. The rapid growth in farming of these nutrient-dense products has created a surge in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the midstream segments of domestic value chains. These midstream SMEs are involved in agri-food processing, logistics, and distribution activities. They play a crucial role in addressing food security, employment and sustainable development goals.

However, the rapid proliferation of SMEs in the midstream value chain is often hidden from the international policy debate. This midstream segment is an extremely dynamic and innovative space; it needs continued support and investment to thrive, as well as meeting the rising demand for fruit, vegetables and animal products. Governments can play a critical role in driving the growth of these domestic value chains across sub-Saharan Africa. 

To explore policy solutions, KISM - the Knowledge Platform for Inclusive and Sustainable Food Markets - hosted a virtual webinar on 6 September 2023 to share insights from a new study from the CGIAR Rethinking Food Markets Research Initiative. Thomas Reardon, Professor at Michigan State University shared key findings from the study, followed by practical reflections from an expert panel including Kristy Cook from USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, and Deanna Olney from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The following key policy implications emerged from the webinar:

  • Future agriculture and food policies need to recognize the rapid growth and role of SMEs in domestic value chains in sub-Saharan Africa. This “hidden middle” needs to be brought to the fore and provided with the correct level of support and enabling conditions to thrive. Much of the growth in the “hidden middle” is driven by a grassroot movement of mostly domestic SME farms and enterprises that are operating independently of subsidies or support from governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Their growing presence is in response to the increasing urban and rural demand of consumers to purchase fruits, vegetables and animal products.
  • Governments need to invest in the conditions that enable the growth and expansion of SMEs in the “hidden middle”. Government investment is crucial at the district and municipal level for expanding the presence of wholesale markets, and at the national level for developing road infrastructure, ICT infrastructure and electrification. The study found that when these conditions were present in any given area, they enabled the rapid and spontaneous growth of local SMEs in the midstream segment of the domestic value chain. Investing in infrastructure and in measures to connect small-scale farmers to markets is critical for growth. The policy debate needs to acknowledge that when these enabling conditions are present, it creates a high level of innovation, energy and dynamism along domestic value chains.
  • Governments should not reinvent the wheel by trying to provide supply-chain services themselves. The evidence suggests that value chain transformation is already happening. The midstream segment of domestic value chains in sub-Saharan Africa is an extremely dynamic and innovative space. New policies are needed that support and stimulate private sector investments in this already fast evolving “hidden middle”.
  • More research is needed to guide future policies on the implications for the employment of youth and women. The expansion of the production and consumption of fruits, vegetables and animal products in sub-Saharan Africa still has unknown implications on inclusivity. More rigorous work is needed to inform the best policy actions for more inclusive domestic value chains in these nutrient-dense products, the alleviation of poverty and the conditions that are needed to enable better employment opportunities for women and youth. 

Watch the recording of the webinar here.

Vi Nguyen is a Senior Coordinator for Innovations and Learning with ISEAL

To learn more about the policy implications of the rise in domestic value chains of nutrient-dense foods in sub-Saharan Africa, read the study from the CGIAR ‘Rethinking Food Markets’ Initiative that this webinar was based on. You can also join the discussion with others on the KISM Discussion Forum.