Agricultural extension and advisory services (AEAS) ensure knowledge brokering and facilitation of interactions between actors of agricultural innovation systems. Their mandate also include the delivery of customized support (access to innovation and technologies, capacity building, facilitation, support to decision-making processes) needed by value chain actors to overcome challenges and seize opportunities for the transformation of their activities. For smallholder producers, AESA are key for the identification and expression of demands for relevant knowledge and technologies, but also their participatory development and efficient use.
Private sector includes businesses and other organisations that are run on non-public money, and generally with the aim to generate profits. With the wide adoption of Agricultural Innovation System (AIS) as the main theoretical perspective for agricultural innovation, the private sector, in its diversity, is considered as one the main actors and enablers with a determinant role for agricultural innovations development, adoption and impact. Private sector is involved in various activities including non-exclusively processing of agricultural products, provision of agricultural inputs, equipment and outputs markets, funding facilities. Fostering entrepreneurship in agriculture is now widely recognized across the continent as a lever to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development. This development is leading to stronger linkages between private sector (inputs suppliers, processors, traders/marketers of agricultural commodities, banking and micro-finance, insurance etc.) and smallholders. Considering their bridging role, AEAS are essential for facilitating and making these relationships more fruitful.
Private sector is sometimes directly involved in the delivery of AEAS providing information, brokering of opportunities and capacity development supports to smallholders and capturing in return benefits through inputs and outputs markets or remuneration of services. The ongoing emergence of private-sector providers of AEAS is perceived as a lever for improving and overcoming some of deficiencies of public extension systems. Nonetheless, as provider of AEAS, private sector has its own challenges and needs to work them out, including through professionalisation of its staff, renewal of its tools and approaches, alignment and development synergies inter alia. Experience sharing, joint learning, synergies and better coordination with other AEAS providers, as observed in countries with effective and inclusive country fora of AEAS actors have demonstrated a great potential and need to be fostered and extended.
Moreover, Private sector organisations operating in the industrial, service or rural sectors are committing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) including mainly, but not only, SDGs 1 (No poverty), 2 (End Hunger), 11 (Responsible consumption and production) and 13 (Climate Action). These commitments are generally concretized in the form of social investments through various mechanisms designed to meet their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), and sustainability criteria. AEAS can contribute to raise the efficiency and impact of these social investments in the rural sector, by providing adequate supports to smallholders and their communities for the successful development and implementation of their social-investments funded development interventions.
Smallholder rural producers, particularly youth and women, need affordable and efficient agricultural innovations and services to transform their activities, insert further in marketing and achieve sustainable higher productivity and profitability. These increasing demands for innovations, knowledge and services offer to private sector a unique opportunity to develop new products, increase/diversify their customers while contributing to the increase of agricultural transformation. Considering their bridging functions in agricultural innovation systems, AEAS has a fundamental role to play in the generation, enhanced accessibility and efficient use of the new products and services.
The potential added-value and mutual benefits of enhanced synergies between Private sector and AEAS are huge, and necessary for achieving sustainable agricultural development. However, in most places in Africa, the collaboration between AEAS and private sector is still weak, erratic and informal more often, occurring generally in the frameworks of projects. The 4th AEW intends to contribute to filling this gap and explore adequate and efficient strategies and modalities for fostering and harnessing synergies between AEAS and private sector in the framework of agricultural transformation.