Meet Alan Johnson: AMEA's Board Chair

We at AMEA sat down with our Board Chair, Alan Johnson who is also IFC’s Global Lead for Smallholder Supply Chains in Agribusiness Advisory Services.  Alan is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he has hands on experience with implementing food security projects in Tanzania and Ethiopia.  We asked about the reasons behind AMEA’s existence and its future goals.


“IFC is one of the Founding Partners of AMEA.  I believe that AMEA has great potential to mobilize resources around building the business professionalism of one of the world’s poorest groups - smallholder farmers – and actually improving their livelihoods in a scalable and cost-effective way”


Commercial agribusiness development is a high priority for IFC.  This reflects the key role that agriculture will play in achieving food security, poverty reduction and the building of resilience to climate change.  Agriculture is key to 8 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  Meeting the food needs of 9.7 billion people in 2050 and eliminating hunger requires an increase of almost 50% in agricultural production in a context where arable land and water are limited and where there is more climatic variability.  But, it is not just a quantity issue.  Population growth, urbanization and changing consumer preferences mean that patterns of demand for food are changing too.  Sustainable sourcing will continue to be a strong business driver.  And urban markets in low income countries will become increasingly important meaning more demand for animal protein as well as more processed and packaged foods.  In short, we need “sustainable intensification” of agriculture along with investments along the whole farm-to-fork value chain.

Alan Johnson Agribusiness Market Ecosystem Alliance Board Chair

Smallholder farmers have a key role to play in meeting these challenges.  But for “sustainable intensification” to happen at scale, we need to support a transformation of smallholder agriculture from semi-subsistence to a more business-like set up.  AMEA is founded on the principle of “farming as a business”.  To help smallholder farmers and their organizations make the transition to become professional businesses a much more cost-effective and scalable solution to building business management capacity is needed. 


“AMEA’s goal is to create a market ecosystem where smallholder farmers are active participants and have access to the market opportunities that can really improve the lives of their families.”


To me the core AMEA innovation is the creation of a kind of “market standard” around farmer professionalism and then mobilizing a growing group of highly qualified and like-minded organizations around the common cause of building smallholder farmer professionalism.  AMEA offers a unique solution that is both measurable and scalable as well as offering good opportunities for learning and knowledge sharing.  AMEA’s solution can be scaled because it uses standardized elements in an integrated way.  Quantitative assessments of the level of professionalism of farmer organizations allow progress to be measured and performance to be benchmarked.  These assessments are combined with modular training and coaching programs – such as IFC’s Agribusiness Leadership Program – that are delivered by AMEA-certified trainers. And most importantly, the smallholder organizations gain a commercial orientation, operating as independent businesses with strong business plans to engage with buyers, banks, and input suppliers so that they can improve the productivity and incomes of their members.   


“The fundamental issue for smallholders is overcoming yield gaps and improving productivity.  To do this, smallholders need improved technology and greater capabilities to run their farms as businesses.”


2018 is going to be an interesting and challenging year for AMEA.  Our big “visibility” project is sponsoring the development of a preliminary ISO standard for professional farmer organizations in emerging markets.  We are working with the Dutch standards organization (NEN) on this.  ISO has an amazing brand – so I think even a preliminary ISO standard in this area will attract lots of interest from agribusinesses, farmer organizations and of course the service providers that make up the AMEA membership.  As ISO themselves say “great things happen when the world agrees”.


Our other big push will be getting local, country based AMEA initiatives up and running.  We have just completed the first AMEA trainer certifications in Ethiopia but I also hope to see AMEA-inspired initiatives in other countries too like Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania and Uganda. 


“We have collected a great group of organizations with lots of incredible experience working with farmers in emerging markets.  It’s an honor to be the board chair and I still find it really exciting when I hear about new members joining AMEA.  I hope we will get many more in 2018!”


Yassmin Sherif