The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the structural weaknesses of the global food system and has been an aggravating factor in existing food and nutritional crises. Roughly 690 million people were already suffering from hunger in 2019, and current projections indicate that the pandemic will push as many as 132 million more people into the same situation. Everyone agrees that food systems are unsustainable. Industrial farming practices have a huge environmental cost and put the food security of future generations at risk. Besides farming, food systems face many other challenges, both global and local: economic inequality, gender inequality, climate change and biodiversity loss, migrations, conflicts, and the list goes on.

Food systems were therefore the focus of the most recent United Nations summit in September 2021. The event brought together people from the fields of science, business, politics and health, as well as academics, farmers, members of indigenous communities, youth organisations, consumer groups and environmental activists. But there were a number of controversies regarding the organisation of this international event, particularly with regard to its governance, which did not include certain key actors, such as farmers’ organisations. Derided by a number of civil-society organisations as a farce, the Summit appears to have been a missed opportunity for the international community to tackle urgent global issues. Criticism was fuelled by the preponderant role given to private agribusiness entities and large companies in the agrifood sector.

But the “private sector” – in West Africa, as elsewhere – encompasses a wide range of companies, not just foreign multinationals. The discussion was suited to the abovementioned context: farmers and businesses (both upstream and downstream) all have a role to play in transforming food systems. They help structure value chains and develop sectors, each at their own level and according to their own area of expertise, size, influence and resources. They are drivers of development in their respective local areas, countries and regions.

How do they team up with one another? What are the challenges and opportunities for farmers’ organisations and their members when it comes to partnering with businesses? And conversely, what challenges do agrifood companies face? What are the best support mechanisms for promoting family farms and sustainability? This jointly produced issue of Grain de Sel features shared experiences and real examples of partnerships. They illustrate issues such as trust-building, the importance of strengthening FOs, and the challenges posed by power asymmetry in negotiations between actors.

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This issue is part of a thematic cycle lounched by Inter-réseaux in 2017 to spark discussion and debate on private-sector involvement in African agriculture, with a particular focus on agricultural policies, funding and the structuring of value chains. Read more about it 

The English translation of the publication was made possible with support of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of IFAD.


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This issue is also available in French.


Editorial : Partnerships between farmers and businesses are essential to food systems
Alexandra Quet -Viéville, Gifty Narh

Farmers and businesses (both upstream and downstream) all have a role to play in transforming food systems. They help structure value chains and develop sectors, each at their own level and according to their own area of expertise, size, influence and resources. They are drivers of development in their respective local areas, countries and regions. How do they team up with one another? What are the challenges and opportunities for farmers’ organisations and their members when it comes…

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Lead-In : What impact do partnerships between farmers and businesses have on the sustainability of food systems?

The aim of this introductory section is to provide general information on the functioning of food systems and the partnerships between producers and companies within the sectors.

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Food systems in Sub-Saharan Africa: overview and specific features
Astou Diao Camara, Nicolas Bricas, Ninon Sirdey

Food systems in Sub-Saharan Africa are highly diversified at all levels, from production and processing, to distribution. Despite an increase in imports for certain products, those systems satisfy the lion’s share of internal demand and are one of the largest sources of jobs and income for a major part of the population. What are the specific features of these food systems? Under what conditions can they help achieve more equitable and sustainable development?

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Food systems don’t exist!
Benoît Daviron, Nicolas Bricas, Ninon Sirdey

The term “food system” is a convenient way of referring to all the actors and processes directly or indirectly related to feeding people – which could potentially include all of society! While the term is useful in that it reminds us of what these systems are trying to achieve, it must not lead us to believe that their driving forces are internal.

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Should crop and livestock farmers be included in the definition of “private sector”?

According to the FAO (2021), the definition of “private sector” includes a broad array of people engaged in agriculture, fishing and livestock farming, as well as their organisations, cooperatives, businesses (from micro-enterprises to multinationals) and philanthropic foundations. Professional and interprofessional associations are also sometimes considered as belonging to the private sector, as are certain NGOs serving as investors. This all-embracing term has been the source of much debate. Some people say farmers should be recognised as full-fledged economic…

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The concept of “private sector” covers a broad array of actors and businesses

The companies operating within food systems come in a variety of forms and sizes, and specialise in a number of different areas. They operate within different sectors and seek to address local needs. Here are a few examples. More profiles are available online (in French):  

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Local and international partnerships for local dairy value chains

During a webinar organised by Inter-réseaux on 10 September 2021, three dairies talked about their experiences partnering with dairy farmers: the Banfora mini-dairy in Burkina Faso; the industrial dairy TIVISKI in Mauritania; and the Senegalese group Kirène, which is a franchise of the French cooperative Sodiaal. While they all face common challenges and share common values, each dairy has set up unique solutions that are specifically tailored to their environment. Here are three complementary initiatives that have sparked…

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How is fair trade helping make local food systems in West Africa more sustainable?
Christophe Boscher

Against a backdrop of social and economic inequality and environmental imbalances exacerbated by globalised trade, fair trade has positioned itself as a particularly well-developed model for contract farming. What are the requirements for certification and what dynamics does it create?

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Promising partnerships in the infant-flour sector: the story of Misola
Abdoulaye Sangho, Christiane Rakotomalala

Many companies in the Sahel are marketing locally produced infant flours in order to make food supplements for young children accessible. These flours are produced by small and mid-size companies, or very small facilities managed by women’s groups. They face a number of challenges when it comes to traceability, quality and procuring raw materials. One potential solution is to strengthen partnerships with farmers’ organisations.  

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Using digital tools to manage a milk shed of agropastoralists in West Africa
Anna-Prisca Sow, Jean-Daniel Cesaro

The Laiterie du Berger dairy in Senegal sources its milk from 1,200 farmers and has developed digital solutions for greater efficiency in collecting milk and paying farmers. What challenges come with the wider use of these tools? What synergies do they help generate? How do they contribute to local development and help coordinate the different actors in the value chain?

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Producing local improved seeds: the story of Nafaso
Abdoulaye Sawadogo, Alexandra Quet -Viéville, Marie Joséphine Ouedraogo

Nafaso is a Burkinabe company that produces and markets seeds, and is experiencing strong growth throughout the region. Mr Abdoulaye Sawadogo, founder and managing director, spoke to us about the history of his company, how it is organised, and how it partners with and supports the small farmers in its network.

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Les Potagers du Bandama: a social enterprise in Ivory Coast
Quentin Villechabrolle

Les Potagers du Bandama is a social enterprise founded by an NGO called the European Institute for Cooperation and Development (Institut Européen de Coopération et de Développement, or “IECD”). The enterprise sells the production of its network of market gardeners through direct sales, and through large and mid-size distributors. Quentin de Villechabrolle discusses the history of the project and the challenges faced.

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Cameroon’s poultry sector is counting on state support to reduce its dependence on key imported inputs
Marie-Pauline Voufo

Cameroon’s poultry sector owes its survival to the country’s ban on imported poultry cuts, decided by public authorities in 2005. But a resurgence of bird-flu outbreaks since 2016 has weakened and disorganised the sector, which is still dependent on imported chicks and hatching eggs.

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Supranational regulation and liberalisation: frameworks disadvantageous to African agriculture?
Alhousseini Diabaté, Ibrahim Diori, Inter-réseaux

It appears to be widely accepted that the private sector has made positive contributions to agricultural development. But Alhousseini Diabaté and Ibrahim Diori, lecturer/researcher and human-rights activist, respectively, denounce the consequences of the predatory neoliberal framework imposed by international and regional regulatory frameworks.

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Partnership between farmers’ organisations and joint local authority groups for the livestock-meat sector in northern Benin
Cédric Touquet

The work performed by Acting For Life and its partners in West Africa to develop the agropastoral sector at local level involves the structuring of a public-private partnership between local authorities and civil-society organisations (CSO). The mechanism is funded in part through an increase in tax revenue on agropastoral market infrastructure, with the CSO overseeing coordination and monitoring activities.

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Agro-Industry Fund: facilitating the mobilisation of private funding by SMEs in Burkina Faso
Wothuan Benjamin Bicaba

Gaining access to funding is a major challenge that small and mid-size enterprises (SME) face, especially in rural areas. The Agro-Industry Fund (Fonds Agro-Industrie, or “FAI”) was created in Burkina Faso in 2013 under the Programme for Economic Growth in the Agricultural Sector (PCESA) and seeks to address those challenges and stimulate agricultural value chains by facilitating access to funding for economic operators. An in-depth look at a solution with an original operational approach.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: a battleground for Western brewing companies
Eloise De Keyser

Sub-Saharan Africa is a long-standing and fast-growing market for large Western brewing companies to develop their business. Provision of local raw materials is key to the future of the sector and its impact on farmers. What are the implications? What are the challenges? We take a closer look.  

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Partnership between CGA and EAML in Kenya: an example to follow?
Alexandra Quet -Viéville, Inter-réseaux

Partnerships between farmers and brewing companies create challenges, risks and opportunities for both parties, from competition with food crops and impact on food security and sustainability, to empowering farmers and developing local value chains and models of governance. An example from Kenya.

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How are partnerships between farmers and businesses contributing to the sustainability of the food system in West Africa?
Bio Goura Soulé, Jean-Philippe Audinet, Sidy Ba

What connections, rivalries or synergies unite farmers, farmers’ organisations and formal companies within food systems? What types of support already exist or should exist in West Africa in order to promote synergies in partnerships between these different actors?

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We worked closely with our members to produce this issue of the magazine. Some of those members have direct experience in areas such as food systems and partnerships between farmers and businesses. For instance, AVSF (pp. 16-17), Fert (p. 35), Gret (pp. 18-19) and Saild (pp. 26-27) all made contributions to different articles in this issue.

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This issue of Grain de Sel was the fruit of a long-term group effort!

Issue no. 81 of Grain de Sel is part of the thematic cycle on the “private sector”, coordinated by Inter-réseaux since 2017. The team effort that went into producing this issue of the magazine made it possible to showcase work and ideas that have been developed over the long term, and to mobilise a diverse range of actors involved in the thematic cycle on the “private sector”.

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