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Food Security Initiative: The importance of effective food platforms

24-06-2020

Each week Maastricht School of Management (MSM) is collecting information through their educational partners and collaborators located in Africa, Asia and South America on issues caused by COVID-19 affecting sustainable local development. This week the focus is on food platforms.

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Effective food platforms can improve the balance of supply and demand and reduce food insecurity in the first place. Too often there can be food surplus in one part of a country causing farmers massive losses as prices collapse while another part has a lack of food.

Food platforms that can monitor demand and supply, and prices across the country can and have helped in rebalancing food flows. The establishment of a food flow data platform would be helpful for farmers, consumers and other participants in the supply chain, says our Ethiopian correspondent in Addis Ababa. Also properly setting up food procurement platforms is of interest to our Ethiopian partners. Our partner institute Jimma University shared that it is very important to have valid and reliable food procurement data platforms. This will have many advantages. First, it can save the government from unnecessary expenditure and help the government to focus on the most important items to be purchased. Second, at the same time, it would help stabilize the food market of the country as the government can link smallholder farmers to such markets, collecting food from surplus producing areas, saving the producers in such areas from income loss due to low prices.  And supplying the food to regions where there are shortages, saving consumers of such regions from unnecessarily high prices. Third, it will help to share the data with international organizations such as World Food Program (WFP), and knowledge organizations such as Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) so that they can get up to date information and support the food supply system of the country based on reality.

However, we see that in many countries, where our project partners and collaborating organizations are located, no food flow data platforms are available. And when they are available, they are often not properly organized which complicates finding regional or local data.

Indeed, making platforms work can be a challenge. That is why in Colombia, the “Central de Abastecimiento” (CAVASA) in the region Valle del Cauca, is providing daily updates on prices and other helpful data and at the department of Boyacá, the website Comproagro, is connecting local farmers and consumers. However, farmers have to resort to unofficial arrangements on social media, webpages, and WhatsApp, as the platforms fail to serve smallholder farmers. In Colombia, many believe that if the government does not list small-scale food producers for institutional purchases, it will be impossible for them to enter these supply chains and sustain their livelihoods throughout this crisis.

One of our partners observed that creating such a platform in Ethiopia will be a challenge, due to the lack of infrastructure and personal status of farmers. Which is indeed true if we seek to develop platforms in the conventional formal way. The design of food platforms needs rethinking so they can be built from the grassroots upwards. Make use of simpler tools that farmers are already using, like Whatsapp. Then aggregate the data from these tools upwards to create a birds eye view for policy makers. At the same time, make sure that farmers are playing an integral role in updating the data and that they are using the platforms to connect with consumers and for making their farming decisions. Data mining here can be key. We already have powerful tools that can give flexibility for types of data and tools that can be used. Innovation is needed to rethink these platforms. A practically useful platform should resemble a traditional marketplace with all its apparent chaos rather than a neat supermarket with its neatly organized aisles. Platform designers should seek to come to the level of farmers not the other way around.

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Food Security Initiative
Maastricht School of Management’s food security initiative is born out of the extensive partnerships between MSM and its project partners in Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. MSM brings insights on COVID-19’s impact on food security from the countries (and rural areas) where we operate. The updates will inform on the effects on small- scale and commercial farmers, traders, processors, input suppliers, financial institutions, and will provide useful insights for policy makers, donors, NGO’s and scientists. In doing so, MSM can indicate potential changes in food flows in regions around the world and support decision making on how to counterbalance negative impacts of COVID-19 measures. Supported by data flows and local partners, MSM will facilitate multi-actor and cross-sector collaboration through platforms for action.

A special thank you to our project partners and collaborators ESAP, ARN, Holland House, and PBA in Colombia, Latia in Kenya, Al Shoubak University College, Jordan Valley College and Al Huson University College in Jordan and Elsenburg Agricultural College, Vhembe TVET College, Boland TVET College, NCRTVET College and Nkangala TVET College in South Africa, Wolaita Soddo Agricultural TVET, Alage ATVET College, Arba Minch University, Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resource, Bishoftu Polytechnic college, Amhara TVET Bureau, Bako ATVET College, Addis Ababa City, Federal TVET Institute, Oromia TVET Bureau, Jimma University, Merawi TVET, Woreta TVET College and Kombolcha TVET College in Ethiopia, Kwadaso Agri College, Asuansi Farm Institute, Wenchi Farm Institute, Adidome Farm Institute in Ghana and College of Vocational Studies in Indonesia for providing us with their view and experience on the current situation.

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