Why the Agricultural Sector Needs a Public-Private Partnership
Imagine a vibrant market in a village in Sub-Saharan Africa, filled with vendors selling lush tomatoes, hearty ears of corn, ripe mangos, and a myriad of other fruits, vegetables, and grains. Where did all that food come from? Where did the farmers get the financing to buy the seeds and fertilizer they needed? What research institutions developed the seed varieties that thrived in local agro-ecological conditions? How did farmers learn the agriculture techniques to produce high-quality crops? And how did farmers get those high-quality crops from their farms to the market?
Agriculture is a tremendously complicated industry. Doing it right requires researchers, successful distributors of farm inputs, banks, providers of agricultural and business skills training, processors, and traders. Some of these players are in the private sector, while others are generally in the public sector. Some, like banks or providers of agriculture skills training, can have a foot in both of those worlds.
A successful agriculture industry in any country requires the many players in the value chain to work together in collaborations that are both formal and informal. Partnerships occur daily between private-sector players like AgroDomain.com, public-sector players, and public and private players. Though perhaps the most challenging formal partnerships to craft, public-private partnership are essential to the long-term growth of a country’s agriculture sector, as well as long-term environmental stewardship.
People often talk as if the private sector, and farmer organizations in Africa are at odds, with extremely different motivations, ways of working, and goals. In reality, we are more similar than different. We are all seeking innovative ways to build a strong agriculture sector in which smallholder farmers are profitable business people and responsible environmental stewards. And we all recognize that the public sector has the responsibility to set certain conditions that foster an environment where innovation and growth can occur.
The Role of the Public Sector
Things the public sector can do to foster agriculture innovation and growth across the value chain:
- Create a level playing field. It’s important for all market players to compete under the same rules, particularly to attract private sector (domestic and foreign) investment. The government can change laws and regulations to make sure that the private sector is not forced to compete with state-subsidized enterprises, and it can use open procurement processes when it purchases seed and fertilizer.
- Develop transparent rules and regulations. When innovators are unsure if their product or service can be legally sold, they will choose not to operate in that country. When governments create clear, transparent rules and regulations that govern things like seed licensing, fertilizer blend approval, and the approval process for selling a new agriculture technology, innovators will flourish. When multiple, inconsistent, or conflicting standards exists, private companies have a tough time navigating the market.
- Fund “public goods” that catalyze innovation and sustainable growth. Governments can invest in specific things that catalyze agriculture innovation. Most importantly, governments can invest in national research systems that develop new seed varieties, methods for adapting to changing climate, and agriculture techniques to preserve or improve soil health. They can also create incentives and opportunities for the private sector to generate new agriculture research, either on its own or in collaboration with public research institutions. The private sector relies on this research to bring new products and services to market.
- Clearly articulate national priorities for agricultural development to help guide domestic and foreign investment. A national investment framework and a mechanism for the private sector to engage with the national government are important tools to guide investments to the highest impact areas of the agriculture sector, aligning resources and opportunities.
- Develop institutional structures that allow non-government actors to engage in the policy process. When there are clear, formal structures in place for setting a policy agenda, consulting a wide variety of stakeholders, developing a draft policy, seeking feedback, and then approving the policy, all interested organizations can give input on agriculture policies. To be clear, we define non-government actors as anyone who is not the government: the private sector, nonprofits, farmer organizations, and individual farmers.
However, a lot of work remains to be done to achieve Public-Private Partnership. Government should focus first on creating a level playing field for all actors and developing transparent rules and regulations to govern the sector. Those two actions would go a long way toward creating an agriculture sector in which private-sector companies and individual smallholder farmers can all innovate and thrive.