McKinsey Co-founds Effort To Transform Agriculture and Food Systems in Africa

Africa is home to roughly 780 million small-scale farmers, with 70 percent of people relying on agriculture and farming for part of their income. While the African soil is rich, with endowments capable of producing bounties, most farmers struggle economically, consumers spend too much on food, and malnutrition and stunting in children are widespread on the continent, according to UNICEF.

“This does not need to be our reality,” says Omid Kassiri, managing partner in McKinsey’s Nairobi office. “With the right policies, infrastructure, support, and capabilities, we’ve seen that agriculture in Africa can be transformed and make a massive, meaningful difference in people’s lives.”

Change is underway but will take a concerted, multi-stakeholder effort. To bring together public, private, and NGO partners in this work, the African Agricultural Transformation Initiative (AATI) was established.

Hosted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), an international financial institution and specialized United Nations agency dedicated to eradicating poverty and hunger in developing countries, AATI seeks to support African countries in developing and implementing agricultural transformations. McKinsey served as an integral member of the founding coalition.

Co-founded by partners including the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IFAD, and McKinsey, AATI builds on McKinsey’s impact on agriculture and food systems across Africa, including work to increase food production that resulted in 11 million fewer undernourished people, 150,000 fewer deaths from hunger, and one hundred thousand new jobs.

McKinsey brought fact-based and practical support to several issues during these engagements: increasing farmers’ technical knowledge—what to grow, how to grow, what fertilizers to use, what practices and techniques to deploy; increasing their capacity to invest in irrigation methods, fertilizer and crop protection; research and development for crops optimized for the African climate; and creating linkages to markets to name a few.

The results inspired McKinsey to find a way to build on this work, finding a path to help launch AATI through the Fund for Social Good, a pro bono program of multiyear firm support.

“McKinsey is our vital thought leader for tools and methodologies that accelerate agricultural transformation,” says Safia Boly, executive director of AATI. “The role of McKinsey here is knowledge—of working with partners and having the reach to bring partners together, bringing digital solutions, delivery expertise, problem solving, and implementation methodologies, all of which has been essential to the establishment of the AATI.”

AATI is launching its first wave of countries to accelerate effective and sustainable food systems changes based on their needs, priorities, and existing infrastructure.

“When AATI identifies strategies for economic growth and innovation through agriculture, it is key that it be an opportunity for government and private sector,” says Safia. “There should always be a balance between the two because government will establish the environment for the private sector to flourish and drive the economic growth.”

This perspective keeps inclusive growth at its center.

We hope that AATI will grow to become a pillar of transformation across the continent. The goal is for it to be a constant driver for the transformation of the lives of millions and millions of people, country after country.

Omid Kassiri, McKinsey partner

“Our goal is to increase the percentage of small holder farmers who have become entrepreneurs. Because at the end of the day, we are trying to make agriculture a catalyst for economic growth,” says Safia.

By supporting AATI, McKinsey is not just supporting agricultural and food systems transformations. It is creating an institution that will be an enduring catalyst for change in Africa.

“We hope that AATI will grow to become a pillar of transformation across the continent,” says Omid. “The goal is for it to be a constant driver for the transformation of the lives of millions and millions of people, country after country.”

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