Date released
09 October 2023

Ms Jennifer Nakaya had a powerful message when she addressed the delegates assembled for a recent Nairobi conference marking the completion of the 10-year Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) program.

The smallholder bean producer had been part of the joint venture between ACIAR and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) aimed at strengthening on-farm production, associated businesses and supply chains across eastern and southern Africa.

Ms Nakaya, who is now the chairperson of a grower group of about 100 mostly female members, said the impact of the program had been significant.

Gaining knowledge of agronomic practices and post-harvesting handling, her bean crop now provides her with a stable income, allowing her to pay school fees, expand her production acreage and invest in residential and commercial property. ‘It has transformed my life,’ said Ms Nakaya.

Her testimony is one of dozens shared by smallholder farmers involved in the CultiAF program, which has helped to advance production for a wide range of enterprises, many of which are run by women.

This includes mango, fish, poultry, bean, sorghum and pig production and a novel project developing insect feed for livestock. The program also involved projects on crop insurance, finance and agribusiness including support for young entrepreneurs.

IDRC program manager Ms Mercy Rurii said hearing the testimonies of the participants at the final conference was inspiring: ‘You get blown away by the impact it has had on people.’

New products, more income

The success of CultiAF is attributed to a combination of improved on-farm productivity and partnerships with the private sector, which helped farmers to capitalise on their gains through the creation of new markets and products.

The private sector has helped to convert fresh produce into useful, nutritious products for consumers that have also increased income for smallholder farmers.


Ms Mercy Ruri
IDRC program manager

Innovations to combat fruit fly, for example, significantly reduced the rates of mango losses. Drying technology was then developed to provide a market for the extra produce, with dried mango worth about double that of fresh fruit. Growers have now formed a cooperative and are exporting their produce.

‘They have taken a product that was a problem and converted it into money,’ said Ms Rurii. ‘And that money goes into the hands of the smallholder farmers, which means they can send their children to school, build their houses, access health care and provide the community with more dietary diversity.’


Four levels of impact

The CultiAF program incorporated 4 research themes: increasing productivity and reducing post-harvest losses; advancing gender equality; nutrition and human health; and climate change and water management.

One project that cut across all 4 themes was the development of pre-cooked beans, which involved farmers such as Ms Nakaya.

Beans are a staple in eastern Africa, but the traditional variety, when dried, take 2–3 hours to cook. Through CultiAF, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Uganda and the Kenya Agricultural Research Organisation (KALRO) developed new varieties that can be pre-cooked before sale.

This means less fuel and water is required for cooking, reducing the strain on natural resources. New markets opened, for example, in urban areas where water and firewood can be scarce and canned products are expensive. And new products, such as a popcorn-style bean snack, have been created.

As beans are the second-most important source of protein in eastern Africa, these advances address malnutrition, while providing more income for growers, many of whom are female. A digital payment platform was also developed as part of the project so that female growers could be paid directly for their produce.

This has transformed livelihoods for women, who in the past were often sidelined in markets controlled by men. ‘The farmers are women but the marketeers are men, so the project team developed an app to put control directly into their hands,’ said Ms Rurii.

group of people in colourful clothing standing talking amongst crops
The pre-cooked beans project involved teaching farmers best-practice agronomy such as how to identify crop diseases. Photo: IDRC

Recipe for success

‘Involving women intentionally from the start to ensure projects delivered meaningful impacts for them is one of the strengths of CultiAF,’ said ACIAR Senior Director, Multilateral and Government Partnerships, Dr Julianne Biddle.

It is one of the 5 key elements she attributes to the program’s success. Others include committed local leadership; a cross-boundary approach enabling strong regional collaboration and knowledge-sharing; honouring farmers by working to understand their real challenges; and looking at the whole value chain, considering barriers and enablers for farmers.

Dr Biddle said the 10-year time frame of the program allowed for rigorous research and testing, and meaningful partnerships to be developed along the value chain.

‘We know that agricultural research is a long game and CultiAF has nurtured and built relationships that will ensure the research outcomes will continue to advance. I expect there’ll be a lot more impact over time,’ said Dr Biddle.

The Nairobi conference celebrated both CultiAF and the relationship between ACIAR and IDRC. ‘This was a substantial 50:50 partnership and it has really laid the foundations for a strong peer connection between the two organisations, which will continue to produce agricultural research for development with tremendous impact,’ said Dr Biddle.

MORE INFORMATION: Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund