Yariv Kedar : From the “know-how” to the Israel “do-how” for small farmers in West Africa
Finding simple but efficient and pragmatic solutions to stay close to small African farmer’s challenges, this is the main objective of Yariv Kedar, managing director Africa of Kedar G.A.P. (Green Agricultural Projects), which is a leading provider in Israel of sustainable food security projects in Africa among other developing regions. This private company works closely with the Israeli government as well as governments in Ivory Coast, Togo, Malawi and Kenya in East Africa.
On behalf of the Embassy of Israel in Côte d'Ivoire and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mashav, Yariv Kedar explains the concept and impact of its agricultural projects in West Africa.
What types of projects are you looking into in West Africa ?
Our company Kedar G.A.P. looks into two types of projects: large scale projects to feed people and which involves intensive and high yielding farming; projects that bring together small-scale farmers to find simple innovative solutions. This second category is the one we are more involved with in West Africa.
In 2007, I came to live in Africa, in Kenya and have been living there ever since. But my activity has evolved to other parts of Africa of which West Africa, mostly Nigeria and Ghana and a little bit in Togo.
Over the years, I have been looking at what is missing for small scale farmers. My first conclusion is knowledge and the “do-how”, how to implement the knowledge. Because you can find professors in universities which have the “know-how” but not the “do-how”.
My second conclusion is high-quality inputs so that after one season it is not useless. For example, it is better for them to use hybrid seeds which are suitable for that area, rather than” open pollinated” seeds that are very cheap but not adapted provide low yields and keep the farmers poor. It is the same for irrigation systems or fertilizers – a need to adopt long lasting and uniform distribution systems.
In 2008, I developed a concept, that is today called “Kedar farmer’s kit”. It is composed of agricultural products and training. Later on, over the years, we raised it another step and we became a group of experts from Israel. We wanted to create something unique, that is not with the approach of an individual farm but for food communities. Making the community work by having a center, an adaptation center for the seeds, a training component, an imagery component with satellite images that allows to reach out to communities in isolated places. This allows to collect data useful for a green house, an irrigation system, and everything that is needed as a community.
Is the “farmer’s kit “used in West Africa?
Yes, definitely. When I started it (in Kenya), it was very innovative and was developed in different countries including Ghana and Nigeria. The UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Trust Fund, recognized the “farmer’s kit” and awarded it as a tool towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In Kenya, it won in 2010 an award for the Alleviation of Poverty and Hunger and in 2011 the Youth Empowerment Award. In 2013, we received the recognition towards MDG Championship award in Kenya. We also worked in Lesotho with the International Trade Center and other projects in Kenya. In 2018, Kedar was given an award for changing lives in developing nations in the Israeli Parliament by SID International.
However, in 2016, there was a vote concerning Israel at the United Nations. Togo was one of the few Nations that supported Israel and the Israeli Prime Minister decided to support Togo and let it benefit from some Israeli innovations. The Israeli Embassy of Ivory Coast, led by H.E. Ambassador Leo Vinovezky, with the team of MASHAV – Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs- were the ones that followed up the actual donations that were given to Togo. The main areas that Togo benefitted were : the health sector - the State of Israel donated a ward in a hospital in Lomé ; education - tens of students were sent from Togo for long term courses and trainings in Israel ; agriculture.
Our company Kedar - G.A.P. was chosen to set up in 3 months, a small model farm that has a greenhouse, an open field, Israeli inputs including hybrid Israeli vegetable seeds, specialized fertilizers, drip irrigation systems from Israel and whatever else is needed in order for them to succeedWe took the challenge (as it was a very short time) and set up a vegetable farm with cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as an open field of pepper. One of our agronomists was sent to the site and we also sent technicians and everything that was needed for production to start three months later.Institut togolais de recherche agronomique” (ITRA) and we approached Dr. Kossi Kpemoua (the Scientific Director ) and Dr. Kossi Koudjega (Head of Administration). They started to work closely with the Israeli embassy. It was quite successful as there was intensive training. H.E. The Ambassador Leo Vinovezky from the Israeli Embassy in Ivory Coast et MASHAV Israel kept on supporting training programs including an Israeli agronomist that was positioned in the ITRA Institute for the second following year in addition to the first year. The agronomists taught local people how things should be done, how to grow, how to go about soil preparation, preparing and planting the seedlings, marketing, etc.
The following seasons, with the help of MASHAV the Israeli Embassy and K. G.A.P supported ITRA Institute providing them with our growing guides, Israeli hybrid the seeds as they were not available in Togo, and additional post-harvest tools such as sun driers that the embassy donated to ITRA. The Institute generated some income and they bought their own inputs, such as fertilizers.
So, it’s never a financial help? It is always a help with products and know-how?
We do not believe in giving money. All the rest has also a value. Money is consumed and the situation returns to be as before. But knowledge + practice + Inputs remain and can make the change.
With the Israeli Embassy in Abidjan and MASHAV program, students from Togo and Nigeria came to Israel for an 11 months training program. When they returned, they had savings because they received around $ 1,000 per month which is a significant amount for them. After 11 months, they had $ 8,000 to $ 9,000.
Do you have any feedbacks on what they are doing now?
I know in East Africa but not in West Africa. Some work for us, some for the government, some are in good projects in fishing, greenhouse, etc. They are doing well.
We also show them how to overcome certain challenges. It is not only about growing, it is about dealing with diseases, etc. but in a simple way. Not in an expensive or a sophisticated way, but a simple way that is giving results.
Were you able to continue your programs during Covid?
With the Israeli Embassy in Côte d’Ivoire and the same institute of ISRA in Togo, we trained them through Zoom in 2020. Furthermore, through the Israeli Embassy, we not only provided them seeds but also additional greenhouses that the institute had bought, using the income from the initial project. We give them different crop and variety options so that they are able to try and choose because some are more sensitive to heat then others, to viruses, to the soil, etc. They usually find what they need because Israel is a good performer in genetics. We do not do GMOs but use very good genetics, that could yield very high and good results (without GMOs which are controversial).
The hybrid seedling is more expensive but you get significantly higher yields with much better quality (such as long shelf life, shape, color, less losses, etc.) so, at the end of the day, much higher income, so it is worthwhile for the farmer.
Can you tell us a bit about the project “Defensive 500,000”?
The Togolese project “Defensive 500 000” is in its initial phase, for us. It is a project with the government of Togo on 500,000 ha of land. We offer the technology and the experience to community farmers so as to improve their livelihood. For example, if the average farmer’s income is $ 1,200, our target is to bring it to $ 2,500 or $ 3,000 in two years. It is a short time but we can do it by getting the right elements, irrigation, seeds, fertilizer, the right technology, training, coaching etc. If there is a challenge of salinity in the water, there is Israeli innovation that allows to overcome the salinity in the soil.
We have special models developed by our team for improving food security and livelihoods for entire communities. We bring a different approach: we look at all the farmers together with all of their plots. If you are a farmer and your neighbor is attacked by pests or diseases, then you know that the whole region needs to be treated before it spreads. So, the approach is to look at the community as one whole entity even if each has its parcel.
We are a private company but we collaborate with the Israel government for example in Togo, Rwanda, Malawi, Ghana, East Africa and other places. It is a win-win situation. We believe we have a mission in our lives: profit is important -you cannot work without profit- but it is not our main mission. The success comes when farmers succeeds and therefore it brings us more projects.