In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an increasing number of African countries were struggling to cope with worsening hunger caused mainly by prolonged drought. Ryoichi Sasakawa (the founder and former Chairman of today’s Nippon Foundation) responded by providing food aid to several of the hardest hit countries. But it was clear to him that food aid provided only partial and temporary relief, so he reached out to Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug and to former US President Jimmy Carter in search of a more sustainable solution to Africa’s food challenges. His vision was for a Green Revolution in Africa, similar to that in the Asian Subcontinent that was sparked by research done by Dr. Borlaug on higher yielding wheat varieties, and he was prepared to fund the long-term effort needed to achieve it.

The Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) and the Global 2000 program of The Carter Center joined hands to launch a joint initiative to alleviate hunger and poverty and improve health in sub-Saharan Africa. At the time, many experts agreed that the research-based technologies needed to quickly increase food production were already available. The challenge was to get the right technologies into the hands of Africa’s rural smallholders, and to teach farmers how to use them. Generally weak and ineffective extension services were identified as a key problem, and the Sasakawa-Global 2000 (SG2000) program was formed to help public extension organizations strengthen their delivery of existing technologies and information to farmers. Success would bring hope to many of those living in poverty and hunger; it would enable many resource-poor farmers to realize more of their own potential and help them prevail with both pride and dignity.

Over time, the SG 2000 partnership has worked with thousands of frontline extension workers and millions of farmers in 14 African countries to promote the use of higher-yielding technologies for maize, wheat, rice, grain legumes, roots and tubers, and other important crops. SAA leads the grassroots efforts to modernize the techniques smallholder farmers use to produce food, and helps them organize to get credit, acquire inputs, and market their harvests more successfully. Global 2000 focuses on helping policy makers design and implement more effective, smallholder-friendly policies that encourage efficiency and participation across the agricultural value chain and increased economic returns to the sector and on health-related interventions.

A Long-term Commitment

SAA was registered in 1986 as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt, non-governmental organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Our administrative headquarters are located in Tokyo, Japan, and the Nippon Foundation (NF) has funded most of our work. Over the years, and under the leadership of Yohei Sasakawa (Ryoichi’s son and current NF Chairman), the Foundation has maintained its strong support of SAA’s efforts to improve the effectiveness of extension advisory services in selected African countries. Such long-term support is a rarity in the history of development organizations, and it enabled SAA to focus on the implementation of its SG2000 country programs without worrying about raising funds to keep its programs going. On occasion, small amounts of complementary funding from other organizations were obtained to implement specific activities in focus countries, but the vast majority of SAA funding came from NF. The same was true for the Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education (SAFE), which was established in 1991 by the SAA Board as a separate organization with NF funding.

SG2000 established its first food crop improvement programs in Ghana and Sudan in 1986, with Global 2000 providing administrative support. (Global 2000 also established a similar project in Zambia in 1987 using funding from another donor.) In 1991, SAA assumed management responsibility for all SG 2000 country programs. Between 1986 and the end of 2003, SAA operated in a total of 14 countries (Ghana, Sudan, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Mali, Guinea, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and Mozambique). In early 2004, the SAA Board of Directors decided to concentrate the organization’s human and financial resources on a smaller number of focus countries – Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda – and the SG 2000 country programs that had not already come to a close were wrapped up (see Where We Work).

Early Efforts

Initially, SG 2000 focused on showcasing the potential of improved food crop technologies, and hands-on participation and training of extension workers and farmers. Our primary classrooms were and remain the fields of smallholder farmers. For many years, large crop demonstration plots [known in different countries by different names, such as production test plots (PTPs) and management training plots (MTPs)] were set up in farmers’ fields with the full participation of farm women and men and local extension agents, enabling them to learn about more productive techniques for growing staple foods crops such as maize, wheat, sorghum and rice.

These plots were large – 1,000 to 5,000 square meters – to provide a convincing demonstration of the recommended technologies and to reward participating farmers with significant economic returns for their contributions of the land and labor. On plots of this size, after a season of tilling the soil, seeding the crop, battling weeds, and bringing in the harvest, farmers had a realistic idea of the labor and input costs that the new technologies entail. Together, farmers and extension agents learned the value of plowing straight furrows, planting seed of improved varieties, applying fertilizer in precise doses, and weeding and harvesting at the right times. For extension agents, such hands-on training builds a valuable foundation for their future interactions with farmers.

From 1986 to 2000, national extension personnel and smallholder farmers worked with SG2000 country program staff to establish more than half a million large crop demonstration plots and several million smaller production test plots in our target countries. Collaborating national governments, as well as the farmers themselves, financed most of this work.

Maize demonstrations have accounted for about 60% of SG 2000 plots. Other crop demonstrations have focused on sorghum, rice, wheat, millet, cassava, and several grain legume species.

Along with these demonstration programs, SG 2000 country programs have supported promising innovations for raising and maintaining higher levels of soil productivity. A range of green manure crops has been demonstrated, including velvet bean (Mucuna spp.) a remarkable Asian legume. Velvet bean is one of the few crops capable of recapturing fields from speargrass (Imperata cilindrica), an aggressive weed that blights vast expanses of cropland throughout the tropics. Velvet bean fixes nitrogen while growing, doubling its attractiveness to smallholder farmers. Cutting the plants and incorporating the vegetation into the soil allows them to use far less fertilizer for the following crop. In addition to green manure crops, we have promoted conservation tillage practices (minimum- or zero-tillage) where appropriate.

New Approaches and Priorities

In recent years, as the complexities and challenges of African agriculture have become better understood – and as national extension services have responded by broadening their agendas – both SAA and SAFE have realized the need for a concerted effort to diversify and scale up their work. New priorities and programmatic areas have been established. They now often find themselves supporting farmers’ efforts to organize into cooperatives, addressing post-harvest and marketing issues, and partnering with a range of service providers and organizations, often from the private sector.

As part of the 2004 Board decision to refocus SAA efforts on only four countries, the organization began rethinking its strategies for achieving impact. Along with this reorientation and revitalization, new structural options were placed on the table. A broad consultative initiative began to take shape in 2007, and reached fruition by the end of 2009.

Still president of SAA during much of this period, Dr. Borlaug set the tone for the development of the new strategies. “We remain committed to working with public and private extension providers to ensure the delivery of much”¾needed technologies, knowledge and information to Africa’s resource”¾poor smallholder farmers,” he said, “but there are new priorities and new goals for us to attain…as we strive for that elusive Green Revolution in Africa.”

In 2009, our Board of Directors approved a new matrix structure designed to retain what was working well – such as our ability to act quickly on new opportunities and to encourage innovation – while at the same time reducing impediments to effectiveness – such as overly independent country programs and unclear incentives to encourage collaboration among programs (see Organizational Profile).

SAA’s matrix management structure reflects both our changing priorities and our continuing commitment to improving extension advisory services for African smallholder farmers (see What we do).

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