September 2008: Supporting African farmers

A Unilever-backed World Economic Forum (WEF) pilot, teaching Kenyan farmers sustainable business skills, looks set to be rolled out across Africa in a bid to help end chronic hunger.

 Hands holding ripe TomatoesGrowing a business

Unilever is helping promote sustainable farming practices which could help turn Africa into a global player in the food market. As a key stakeholder in the Business Alliance Against Chronic Hunger (BAACH), the company is playing a role in driving the continent's so-called 'Green Revolution'. 

Developed with the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan in 2006, BAACH draws on the skills and resources of the private sector, to create a 'learning laboratory' to teach farmers commercial skills.

The goal is to raise the quality and yield of local produce, ensuring both suppliers and consumers receive a fair price.

The BAACH project has been trialled in Siaya, Western Kenya, where 60% of the population lives below the poverty line. Produce in the trial includes onions, tomatoes, chillies, sweet sorghum, honey and rice – and there are also efforts to improve kerosene retailing.

Breaking the cycle

According to the WEF, Africa is the only region of the world where hunger is worsening; its statistics show the continent's food production per capita has stagnated for the past three decades.

Unilever is working with BAACH to change that, educating farmers on how to maintain a consistent supply, so they can feed their families all year round. Eventually farmers should be able to diversify into higher-value activities.

The project's hopes rest on strengthening the supply chain and market linkages, as well as teaching farmers basic financial skills, like managing resources and accounting. The first of three bank branches will open in the region in September, offering farmers bank accounts, loans and financial advice.

Reaping results

The Alliance is expected to increase Siaya's GDP by 8% – by €1.3 million – this year alone. It's now working to develop a framework that can be adapted, improving food production, access and incomes across wider Africa.

The group will decide the timeframe to broaden its business network across Kenya and the continent by the end of the year.