In the debate over how best to help poor farmers in Africa, the tendency is often to pit the interests of smallholder farmers as necessarily opposed to the interests of large or multi-national corporations.
One fellow in Zimbabwe, who recently spoke in Seattle at the invitation of the Initiative For Global Development, thinks that ain’t necessarily so.
Pat Devenish is CEO of AICO Africa, a sort of corporate-cooperative of farmers in Zimbabwe.
As this story today by Interpress notes:
The presence of an agro-industrial company with headquarters in Zimbabwe on a list of sub-Saharan Africa’s 30 best-performing companies might surprise some, but not AICO Africa CEO Pat Devenish.
AICO Africa has taken advantage of favourable agriculture policy across Southern Africa to expand its business, in the process strengthening some 200,000 small scale producers in the region.
As Devenish said in Seattle, in late July, during an event held at the Rainier Club:
“Agriculture is the key to Africa’s success because we have so many resources in place. We have excellent land in many African countries and vast water resources. We have a large small-scale farming sector, who require agriculture as a way of making a living, and are very good at it.”
The majority of Africans depend on agriculture as a primary source of income and investments that benefit smallholder farmers have a direct impact on poverty reduction. AICO’s cotton business has achieved regional success through a “bottom of the pyramid” business model that provides financing, advisory services, and access to markets for over 100,000 smallholder farmers. Mr. Devenish explains to business people that smallholder farmers are “a hugely underrated resource and will contribute tremendously to the growth of the African economy.”