Aspen Global Health and Development

TransFarm Africa Initiative

TransFarm AfricaIn recent decades, private sector growth has been the engine that allowed hundreds of millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty in China and India.  This growth largely bypassed rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, which still lack functioning food economies.  This has hampered broader economic development and kept the African continent on the sidelines of the global economy. 

Until recently, many economists and development experts believed that Africa should simply “jump over” agriculture and proceed on the basis of growth in other economic sectors such as manufacturing and services.  However, the failure of these development models to impact the baseline of hunger and poverty on the continent has resulted in a widespread acceptance that sustained economic growth in Africa and the improvement of the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans will not occur unless Africa can feed its growing population.  Past models failed to take into account Africa’s productive capabilities and the fact that its true potential lies in agriculture. Accordingly, Africa’s economic development will require a vibrant and growing agriculture and food sector. 

The need is more urgent now than ever before.  Recurring food crises in recent years herald a shift in the fundamentals of world agriculture.  Spikes in global food prices have plunged millions into poverty and hunger, reversing the development gains of decades. The impacts of climate change will fall heavily on sub-Saharan Africa, where 70 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture and an overwhelming majority of farms are rain-fed rather than irrigated. 

For the African agricultural sector to realize its full potential, Africa must develop a market-oriented, integrated, sustainable, and competitive agriculture and food economy.  This requires that Africa dramatically increase agricultural productivity, agricultural production, and efficiency over the next decade.  It will need new crops and improved varieties, more irrigation and geographical shifts in agricultural production.  There is a need for greater access by small farmers to functioning infrastructure and supply chains that provide access to supplies at affordable prices and efficiently move production to market.  Most importantly, for all this to happen at scale and in time to head off the looming crisis facing African agriculture, Africa’s smallholder farmers must undergo a transformational process of commercialization driven by private sector investment.

Much will depend upon the response of international capital markets, the donor community, African governments, and above all Africa’s agricultural entrepreneurs.  Most are moving in the right direction, but the scale, pace, and scope remains too small for Africa’s needs.  Even with the additional resources generated by the increased prioritization of global food security, there is not enough donor money available for donors to pay directly for major improvements in the livelihoods of Africa’s subsistence farmers.  Donor funding must be catalytic, triggering more private capital flows, and not operational, if large numbers of Africa’s small farmers are to benefit and Africa’s agriculture is to be transformed. 

TransFarm Africa (TFA), an initiative of Aspen Global Health and Development at the Aspen Institute, removes barriers to sustainable commercial food systems and markets to benefit Africa’s smallholder farmers, entrepreneurs and consumers. Removing barriers to trade, investment and seed systems, TFA applies a demand-driven approach to policy change, beginning with real investments in the “Missing Middle” of African agriculture: the underdeveloped link between Africa’s small commercial sector and the vast number of small farmers. A partnership of organizations based and active in sub-Saharan Africa, the United States and Europe, TFA works up and down the “Policy Supply Chain” to improve policies and programs at all levels: local, national, regional and international.    

TFA’s Theory of Change focuses on changes in policy and practice that work as “transformation triggers” to stimulate additional investment and growth, to boost income and employment and make a broader range of nutritious foodstuffs available to African consumers at reasonable prices. Demand for food is growing rapidly in Africa and globally.  Once barriers are removed, successful businesses will “crowd in” other investment, provide new sources of supply and demonstrate to Africans, and to larger capital markets, new commercial models based on relationships with smallholders that are both profitable and promote sustainable food security. 

Summary of the TransFarm Africa Initiative

Removing the Barriers to African Farm Prosperity - The Mtanga Farms Story

For further information, please contact Joe Guinan with the TransFarm Africa Initiative at the Aspen Institute: or at (202) 736-2291.