Sasakawa – a history of supporting the smallholder farmer in Africa

The history of the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA), and its experience of working with smallholder farmers in Africa for nearly 30 years, has recently been published by SAA. The title of the book, Take it to the farmer, reflects the last words in 2009, of Nobel Laureate Norman E Borlaug, SAA’s president who, with Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa and former US President Jimmy Carter, founded SAA and the Sasakawa-Global 2000 (SG 2000) programme in 1986. Both Ryoichi Sasakawa and Borlaug are now dead – but their legacy lives on.
SAA was founded in the belief that Africa’s smallholder farmers could substantially increase their production of food crops because Dr Borlaug had seen what could be achieved in Asia where he was regarded as the “Father of the Green Revolution’ in the 1960s and 1970s.
Over the following years, led by Borlaug and aided by policy advice from President Carter and The Carter Center to Africa’s political leaders and international decision makers, SAA took SG 2000 programmes into 14 African countries, touching the lives of millions of smallholder farmers.
During these years, funds were provided exclusively by The Nippon Foundation with the strong backing of Ryoichi Sasakawa, and later by his son, Yohei.
As Professor Ruth Oniang’o, Chairperson of SAA writes in a foreword to the book: ‘Perhaps never in the history of African development has financial assistance so reliably and constantly been given by a non-governmental organisation. Over $300 million has been committed in nearly three decades. Few donors can match this record of consistent support.’
Today, SAA is a much changed organisation, focusing its activities in four countries, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda, and widening its activities to embrace marginalised farmers and, in particular, women farmers who still provide 70 percent of smallholder production.
While, in those early days its central purpose was to help farmers grow more staple food crops, SAA now fosters the development of a full agricultural value chain in the countries where it works, supporting the emergence of a diverse rural economy that can process raw crops and deliver them to the wider market on competitive, commercial terms.
There is concentration, too, on strengthening the government extension services, not least through the innovative Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education (SAFE), established in 1993 at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, to enhance the professional skills of mid-career agricultural extension staff. SAFE now operates in 21 universities and nine African countries providing extension personnel with relevant educational opportunities and qualifications. More than 5,000 students have benefited from the programme since its inception.
Building on the sustained commitment of The Nippon Foundation, SAA has more recently developed relationships with a range of other financial and professional partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Alliance for a Green Revolution Africa (AGRA), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the World Food Programme. In Nigeria, an agreement was signed in 2013 with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to renew SAA’s commitment after 20 years and expand SAA’s activities across the country.
The story of SAA in Africa is, in many respects, a history of African agriculture over the past 30 years – from being little regarded by governments and the development community to the point where it is recognised by the World Bank, and other key observers, as more effective in reducing poverty than any other economic activity. In its commitment to smallholder farmers to improve their quality of life, while working with governments to end hunger and malnutrition, SAA can fairly claim to have helped lay the foundation for this success.

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