Cultivating Young Changemakers for Agricultural Innovation

Cultivating Young Changemakers for Agricultural Innovation

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Young Osama Shahid joined his family-owned Punjab-based agricultural manufacturing business ‘Soby Ag Engineers’ in 2016 with a clear mission: to tackle Pakistani small farmers’ challenges and improve their productivity through innovation in the agriculture sector. “Our business scope was limited, and we performed functions on a seasonal basis at harvesting and land preparation time only and manufactured a small range of seasonal agricultural machinery. In 2018, we were headed towards a downfall due to Pakistan’s stifling economic climate, political instability, and core manufacturing challenges but I was passionate about bringing change,” explained 26-year old Osama.

Osama’s trajectory took a new direction when he stumbled upon USAID Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity’s (PATTA) call for partnership on a local recruitment website. The four-year technical assistance project is dedicated to investing in agri-preneurs, innovators, and leaders including farmers, dealers, and owners of private sector agribusinesses to collectively revitalize agriculture and transfer game-changing innovations across Pakistan.

In January 2019, Osama signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with PATTA and began attending the project-facilitated agricultural technology demonstrations sessions across Pakistan. With PATTA, Osama explored new fruit and vegetable markets in Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan and met diverse local farmer groups. “Based on my direct interaction with small farmers mobilized by PATTA, I quickly learned about their struggles. I realized that the average landholding size of small farmers in Pakistan is less than five acres and in order to reduce their overhead costs for better economic returns, I had to somehow introduce affordable and small agricultural tools and equipment,” said Osama.

As a result of this new learning, Osama imported small two-wheel tractors, three-wheel tractors, and handy tools such as brush cutters, hand push seeders, and other multipurpose tools priced at an affordable range of PKR 10,000-20,000. Osama believed that by adopting these small agricultural tools, farmers could reap more benefits and plant a diverse range of vegetables and crops including maize, peas, peanut, sunflower, wheat, and rice. He collaborated with PATTA and demonstrated these technologies at the project’s agricultural demonstrations in districts Rahim Yar Khan, Sheikhupura, Mardan, Peshawar, Hyderabad, Mirpur Khas, Tando Jam, and Hunza, among others. “I was able to grow my portfolio from eight to 100 agricultural products and tools for small farmers in a span of one year with PATTA’s facilitation. I have now bid farewell to the days of ‘seasonal’ working,” he added.

PATTA also helps its private-sector partners develop new, targeted solutions to respond to the needs of Pakistani smallholders. For example, as Osama came closer to accomplishing some of his goals, he used PATTA’s guidance and facilitation in Research and Development (R&D) to develop wheat harvesting and land preparation machinery. “Wheat is the largest crop in Pakistan and involves intense labor including harvesting, binding, and threshing. PATTA supported me in my efforts to design, re-engineer, and manufacture mini tractors and reaper binders. We successfully performed reverse engineering of these machines which allow farmers to save time, reduce fuel consumption and increase production,” Osama said. In September 2019, PATTA mobilized 500 farmers and facilitated Osama in launching and promoting these new innovations in Kala Shah Kaku, District Sheikhupura in Punjab province in collaboration with the Rice Research Institute (RRI), Government of Pakistan. To date, PATTA’s support has led Osama to sell 35 mini tractors and 94 reaper binders priced at PKR 300,000 and PKR 750,000 respectively.

Following his collaboration with PATTA, Osama was recently shortlisted for a sustainable small farming start-up idea at the National Incubation Centre at Lahore University of Management Sciences. “I owe my success to USAID PATTA since the project has helped me create new solutions for local manufacturing. In Pakistan, we will have to focus on local manufacturing to make agriculture sustainable. Many investors are now keen to invest in my business for expansion,” he explained. This is just one example of how PATTA has successfully collaborated with the private sector and empowered the youth to build linkages with farmers and make a difference by improving productivity and enhancing competitiveness.

Private-Sector Agripreneur Spurs Banana Revival in Malawi

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When most people think of farming, they may immediately see visions of tractors, plows, and harvesters. But as one USAID Farmer to Farmer (F2F) engagement in Malawi, facilitated by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), clearly illustrates, successful farming today often has more to do with access to far more sophisticated technology beyond mechanization. For Frankie Washoni, a farmer in Lilongwe, Malawi, F2F partnerships which bring knowledge and free capacity support to communities and businesses, were key in scaling his business to meet the needs of his community.

Pests and diseases are common threats to crops in every country around the world, and Malawi is no different. Since the mid-1990s, smallholder farmers in the southeast African country have seen banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) wreak havoc in their plantations. According to the Malawian Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, over that period almost 70 percent—more than 30,000 hectares—of Malawi’s total banana production area was lost due to the disease, which is transmitted unknowingly through infected banana suckers—shoots from the plants’ roots that are used for new plantings.

As plantations continued to dwindle in the 2000s, consumer prices increased steeply, causing traders to rely on banana imports from neighboring Tanzania and Mozambique. While the higher prices inspired some Malawian farmers to attempt to set up new banana farms, finding BBTV-free planting material proved an insurmountable challenge.

Hortinet Foods Limited, a farming business owned by Mr. Frankie Washoni, maintains 6,000 BBTV-free banana plants on 7 of its 17 acres. Since founding Hortinet in 2012, Washoni maintained good management practices to keep BBTV out of his operation, helping him to become one of Malawi’s few sellers of BBTV-free banana plantlets. While he initially used revenues from the plantlet business to supplement the income from his banana sales to grocery stores, he soon realized that the overwhelming demand for his BBTV-free banana suckers represented a significant new business opportunity: “[Accessing] banana seed remains a big problem, and we saw an opportunity to bridge the gap and eventually slow down the banana imports into the country,” Washoni said. “We decided to invest in tissue culture technology to mass-produce good-quality and disease-free planting material.”

After establishing the first private tissue culture laboratory in Malawi with $55,000 in investments, Washoni turned to the CNFA’s Malawi Farmer-to-Farmer program to request a volunteer expert in tissue culture laboratory operations and management. By August 2019, Dr. John Griffis, Professor of Horticultural Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University, was on the scene, helping Hortinet set up the new lab, ensuring that it had all necessary equipment, and designing a layout to facilitate efficient operation. He also trained seven up-and-coming lab technicians—four young men and three young women—in areas such as biosafety and risk mitigation.

His work was not done. In December 2019, Dr. Griffis returned to the new Hortinet facility to help establish standard operating procedures and protocols for lab operations and to train the team in how to initiate the trial cultures that would pave the way for a larger production. The results of the two consultations exceeded expectations. Four months after Dr. Griffis’ second visit, Hortinet had already produced 20,000 banana plantlets out of a recent order for 40,000 banana plantlets from the Ministry of Agriculture to distribute to smallholder farmers who previously lost their plantations—especially in the main banana production areas in Malawi’s southern and central regions.

Based on the success resulting from the two Farmer to Farmer engagements, Hortinet now is investing in additional equipment that will allow it to triple its production capacity—forecast to reach 1 million banana plantlets a year at full capacity. Washoni notes that the limited knowledge he had acquired online prior to the interventions by Dr. Griffis had left him technically “very weak,” and would not have equipped him to reach such high levels of production. “Dr. Griffis equipped us with skills and protocols we could not get from our own research,” Washoni said.

Thanks to Washoni’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm and CNFA’s Farmer to Farmer facilitation, the future looks bright for Malawi’s banana producers. As for Hortinet, the company is now exploring tissue culture propagation for potato and pineapple!

Input Credit Scheme Links Agro-Dealers to Farmers

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Agricultural productivity depends on the affordability and accessibility of agriculture inputs including seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers that are essential for improving yield and raising incomes (AGRA, 2013). Unfortunately, farmers in Rwanda must incur significant up-front investment in agro-inputs before they can generate revenues to recoup these pre-seasonal expenses. Without access to finance, poor farmers are exposed to perpetual sub-optimal yield and low revenues due to their inability to invest in appropriate inputs. As a result, production levels of key crops in Rwanda including maize, potato, and vegetables, are relatively low.

Hinga Weze set up a pilot input-credit scheme in two districts to bridge the gaps in the financing of agro-input supplies for farmers and later scaled it up to link more agro-dealers to farmers to boost their production and incomes. This is in line with part of Hinga Weze’s goal to sustainably increase smallholder farmers’ income and increase the resilience of Rwanda’s agricultural and food systems.

Funded by USAID and Feed the Future, Hinga Weze has now enrolled 318 agro-dealers across its 10 targeted districts of Rwanda, into the scaled-up input-credit scheme to gain technical knowledge on agrochemical regulation, climate-smart agriculture, nutrition-sensitive agriculture, and product knowledge in pesticides, fertilizers, and lime. They were also provided with training and skills in business record-keeping, warehouse management, and marketing strategies to give good services and products to farmers who were able to double their harvest.

Through Hinga Weze’s model and support, the agro-dealers were also linked to financial institutions that to date have provided 79 agro-dealers with loans worth over $277,242. For example, 11 agro-dealers from Karongi were assisted to access loans from banks and Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) worth $21,019 (19,800,000 RWF) and were, therefore, able to provide agro-inputs on credit directly to farmers, who, in turn, were able to repay the loan upon harvesting. In the last three months, the scheme has assisted 1,838 farmers to access inputs worth $38,419.

Supporting Women-Led Agribusiness Development in Gilgit-Baltistan

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Immense potential for agricultural productivity lies in mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), where 90 percent of households are agricultural landowners. However, horticulture and livestock-based smallholders experience post-harvest losses because of limited access to agricultural technologies and quality inputs. In addition, innovative agribusinesses that manufacture new tools and products in other provinces lack the ability to make new technologies available to farmers and dealers in GB due to constraints such as logistics, limited knowledge of business expansion, and the lack of marketing and sales skills.

In partnership with key agribusinesses, PATTA is addressing these constraints by providing business opportunities to women and extending support for their use of agricultural technologies. Fareeda Begum, a 47 years-old woman farmer from the village of Oshikhandass, was able to sell 70 bags of cattle feed and promote the products to other women farmers through PATTA-supported awareness-raising sessions. “PATTA is developing our linkages with different agricultural technology companies which is not only benefiting me as an entrepreneur but [is] also advantageous for other women farmers of my village,” explained Fareeda Begum.

Solve Agri Pak limited, a Punjab-based agribusiness company offering products and services in the dairy and livestock sector was unable to enter new geographical territories due to lack of access to local dealers and limited business expansion opportunities. Seeing the investment potential for agricultural technologies in GB, Solve Agri Pak realized the importance of finding a gateway to launch special products and commercialize best agricultural management practices in the GB region. In 2018, Solve Agri Pak partnered with the four-year USAID-funded Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity (PATTA) to increase Solve Agri Pak’s capacity to expand, leverage new investments, and match farmers’ needs in GB. Since then, PATTA has provided several investment opportunities to 37 agribusinesses including Solve Agri Pak, and helped them promote their products in demonstrations, field days, expos, and linkage building initiatives with local dealers and other key actors across Pakistan.

In June 2019, PATTA’s support helped Solve Agri Pak establish a new business in GB, opening its very first franchise called ‘Darwaish and Sons’, and achieve agricultural technologies sales of $9,803. Between June and September 2019, Solve Agri Pak introduced livestock products such as semen, feed and minerals, and invested approximately $3,070.

Ghulam Raza, the franchise owner of ‘Darwaish and Sons’, earned a profit of $515 within three months of opening the business franchise, buying cattle feed from Solve Agri Pak, and selling it in local markets. “We are new in the agriculture technology business. PATTA has not only helped us to develop our linkages with Solve Agri Pak but also assisted us in reaching local farmers in GB. We have also collaborated with women farmers and entrepreneurs,” said Ghulam Raza. Fareeda Begum is one of the farmers who established a sub-dealership with Darwaish and Sons through PATTA and Solve Agri Pak, benefitting and empowering her and other women farmers.

USAID PATTA will continue to create lucrative entrepreneurial opportunities for women through the development of linkages with agricultural technology businesses so that agriculture is more vibrant and inclusive in GB. The project centers women as change agents and is creating opportunities for their equal access to resources and facilitating business development linkages, so they are not left behind by the benefits of agricultural business expansion. PATTA’s targeted assistance and customized technical support to agricultural technologies enterprises and women-led businesses, will not only improve their competitiveness but also support technology promotion and farmers’ adoption of innovative management practices.

Global Agro Inc’s machine rental brings relief to Liberian smallholder farmers

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In Liberia, over 90% of smallholder farmers experienced low productivity because of reliance on human labor to practice traditional ‘slash and burn’ farming. To these farmers, the use of farm machinery in their fields seems a distant dream due to the unavailability and high cost of equipment. Farm mechanization enhances the timeliness of agricultural operations; and reduces manual labor, particularly for women, children, and the elderly.

To ensure smallholders’ access to affordable farm machinery services, USAID Feed the Future Liberia Agribusiness Development Activity (LADA) awarded Global Agro Inc., an agro-mechanization equipment rental company, an in-kind grant of $144,135 USD to expand the provision of farm mechanization services to smallholder farmers across LADA’s program locations in Montserrado, Bong, Nimba, and Lofa counties. The grant amount was used to procure farm mechanization equipment such as power tillers, trans-planters, mini farm tractors, combine harvesters, thrashers, and winnowers for the provision of farm mechanization services to smallholder farmers at affordable rental fees. Additionally, LADA linked Global Agro Inc. to smallholder farmer groups in major rice and cassava production, supporting the development of the country’s two main staple crops.

Global Agro Inc. uses a fee-for-service model in providing mechanization services to smallholder farmers. Fees for services rendered are settled in kind or cash based on the convenience of the participating parties. Farmers benefit from land clearing, field preparation, harvesting, threshing, and winnowing services and pay at harvest with the flexibility of the fee-for-service model.

Ma-Yanma

 

Ma-Yanma, a farmer benefiting from the service, expressed delight for the agro-machine rental services. “I was going to take over a month and spend more than $300 if I were to use human labor. Now, the machine was able to plow my field in just two days and I spent $155. I am also healthy.”.

In February 2020, Global Agro Inc. deployed 10 power tillers (5 in Lofa and 5 in Nimba County). With LADA’s support, the enterprise conducted trial farm mechanization demonstrations to approximately 75 smallholders plowing about 60 hectares of farmlands in Foya and Voinjama Districts. The farmers have shown interest to use the equipment rental services during the planting season (April – July 2020).

Over the next few months, Global Agro Inc. plans to engage more than 5,000 smallholder farmers in Lofa, Nimba, and Bong counties to benefit from mechanization services. The enterprise also plans to increase its pool of machinery to effectively render services to farmers in real-time.

The Liberia Agricultural Development Activity (LADA) is a USAID/Feed the Future activity with the overarching goal to increase incomes of 23,500 smallholder farmers in the targeted value chains of rice, cassava, vegetable, aquaculture, and cocoa through private sector investment in the agricultural sector. LADA is in its fifth year of implementation in Montserrado, Bong, Lofa, and Nimba counties.

Agri-Management Group of Georgia LLC

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AMGG property before the project implementation – August, 2019

AMGG property – January, 2020

Hazelnut Husking, Drying and Storage Facility in Village Eniseli, Kvareli Municipality, Kakheti Region.

Agri-Management Group of Georgia (AMGG) LLC, established in December 2018, is located in Eniseli village, Kvareli municipality, Kakheti region. The area is well known for growing hazelnuts due to its fertile soil and amenable climate. Currently, total hazelnut orchard area in these villages exceeds 4,000 hectares and average yield equals more than 4,000 tons, almost the 7% of the country’s total production.

Mr. Dimitri Aleqsidze, Director of AMGG LLC, graduated from Tbilisi State University and Paris University, is an economist and Jurisprudence specialist, and has more than 6 years of experience in hazelnut sector.

The total cost of the project is $340,000 and is jointly financed by the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency (ARDA), covering 50% of project costs,  AgriGeorgia/Ferrero, with the grant of EUR 50,000, USAID/G-HIP with the grant of USD 50,000 and partner and is good example and showcase of cooperation of Georgian Government,  Donor Program and private sectors.

Existence of this facility is very important to secure the quality of hazelnuts and consequently incomes of smallholder growers. Farmers can approach AMGG LLC and procure fee based drying and/or storage services to reduce post-harvest losses and improve the quality of their harvest.  This HDS facility is capable of drying 1,000 tons and storing up to 500 tons hazelnut per year.

  • Program Investment of $50,000 – Procurement of 95 hp tractor and 2 t/h capacity hazelnut cleaning machine, procurement of electric pallet stacker, and procurement of safety equipment.
  • AgriGeorgia/Ferrero investment of $ 55,500 – Construction of the HDS Facility.
  • Partner Co-Investment of $234,500 – Procurement of construction materials, construction of 750 square meters building, and procurement of drying equipment. 

 

USAID Yalwa

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Enhancing Markets and Nutrition in Niger

Overview:

The five-year USAID Yalwa activity strengthens the capacities of farmers, producer organizations, agribusinesses and rural households in the Maradi, Tillabéri and Zinder regions of Niger to meet the growing demand for affordable, safe and nutritious food.

Yalwa, means “fulfillment” or “blossoming” in the Hausa language. USAID Yalwa supports USAID’s regional Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced (RISE) program, which works with the Government of Niger to help citizens escape poverty and build resilience to natural, economic, and other shocks. USAID Yalwa includes a ground-breaking component on food market systems and follows five years of progress generated by the USAID-funded Resilience and Economic Growth in the Sahel – Accelerated Growth (REGIS-AG) program, also implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA).

Program Approach:

USAID Yalwa’s market systems facilitation approach is based on collaboration with catalytic local actors and networks. Yalwa will work primarily through unions to provide services to producer groups (access to agro-inputs, fnance, skills development, etc.), while building their capacity to provide services without project  support. The approach leverages commercial investments to build long-term linkages between buyers and sellers, ensure delivery of inputs and services, and supply nutritious food. It also builds the skills of farmers, traders, and processors so they can earn a profit from their businesses, seek out nutritious foods, and become self-reliant.

Yalwa targets 105,000 farmers in over 195 villages, and 160 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by fulfilling the following purposes:

  1. Enhance performance of market systems in the cowpea, small ruminant and poultry value chains.
  2. Increase the use of high-quality inputs and services such as seeds, fertilizers, and livestock and poultry feed, improving food production and storage, and supporting improved marketing, production, and access to finance and climate information.
  3. Increase local consumption of nutritious, safe and affordable foods by promoting demand and helping market actors to supply the food to targeted populations.
  4. Promote inclusive markets for women and youth by identifying barriers to market participation, and working with communities to encourage youth and women’s entrepreneurship and leadership.

Partners: 

USAID Yidgiri

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Enhancing Markets and Nutrition in Burkina Faso

Overview:

The five-year United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Yidgiri activity is designed to strengthen market systems, sustainably increase household incomes, and improve the nutritional status of women and children in Burkina Faso.

Aptly named Yidgiri, or “grow” in the Mòoré language, USAID Yidgiri is part of the second phase of the USAID Regional Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced (RISE) project, which supports vulnerable communities in Burkina Faso to prepare for and effectively manage recurrent crises, and to pursue sustainable pathways out of poverty. By 2025, USAID Yidgiri aims to improve the resilience of market systems by establishing profitable linkages between producers and buyers in the Centre Nord, Sahel, and Est regions of Burkina Faso, and facilitate access to local and regional markets.

Program Approach:

USAID Yidgiri is strengthening the resilience of market systems by building individual and institutional capacities among agricultural market actors in Burkina Faso. USAID Yidgiri has three focus areas:

  1. Enhance performance of commodity market systems by establishing profitable market linkages between producers and buyers, improving livestock market system structure and governance, and improving the capacity of market system actors, including farmers, producer organizations and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to access financial services and products.
  2. Increase use of quality inputs and services by developing business clusters, organizing seasonal commodity fairs, facilitating partnerships between producer organizations and industrial and institutional buyers, and leveraging financial services. USAID Yidgiri works at the systems level to decrease costs, improve quality, and educate farmers on the most efficient and effective use of available inputs and services.
  3. Increase consumption of nutritious, safe and affordable foods by increasing demand for and facilitating the market-driven development of diverse sources of such food, and employing social behavior change (SBC) interventions to ensure that all activities resonate with targeted rural markets, especially women and youth.

Partners: 

Providing Access to Finance in Nigeria: The Babban Gona Story

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Photo Courtesy of Babban Gona

Although agriculture is the mainstay of Nigeria’s rural economy—and an important contributor to Nigerian economic growth and food security—most of the nation’s “agro- preneurs” still encounter significant difficulties to accessing the financing they need to increase the profitability and sustainability of their businesses. These hurdles have persisted even in the wake of decades of government and donor-funded agricultural development initiatives.

To address this challenge, the USAID-funded Feed the Future Nigeria Agribusiness Investment Activity supported Babban Gona, a Nigerian agricultural social enterprise, to overcome these hurdles.

The Activity—implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) —helps to broaden agribusinesses’ access to finance and investment by mitigating the risks they face when seeking funding to expand and scale up operations. For Babban Gona, the Activity provided expertise to review the legal articles, financial projections, and contractual agreements to meet the expectations of all parties. As a result, Babban Gona was able to successfully negotiate the offers and conclude agreements with the financiers.

The new funding equated to $18 million for Babban Gona. This was processed in two transactions —an equity investment from KfW Development Bank, based in Germany, and a subsequent debt facility from the Agriculture Financing Initiative (AgriFI).

“It is a true privilege to welcome KfW as a Babban Gona shareholder and board member,” said Adaeze Usoh, Babban Gona’s Corporate Finance Minister. “This partnership would not have been possible without the support of the USAID Agribusiness Investment Activity.”

Babban Gona provides four key services to its farmers, or “outgrowers” — innovative financial services; agricultural input services at competitive prices; training and capacity development to establish strong farmer groups; and access to markets to generate increased profits. Babban Gona will primarily use the new funds gained to add new storage capacity as well as expand the locations and number of the firm’s outgrowers.

“I am impressed with the Babban Gona business model and am confident that the lives and businesses of their smallholder farmer out-growers will greatly improve through the financial and extension support being provided,” said Dr. Adam Saffer, the Activity’s Chief of Party and Managing Director.

Over the next four years, the Activity will continue to support Nigerian producer groups, aggregators, processors, and other services within the agribusiness value chain in gaining access to affordable finance and attracting investment. Saffer also said, “The social and economic potential of the agriculture sector is one of Nigeria’s greatest competitive and comparative advantages, and we aim to help producers, off-takers, and financiers alike realize this through a better mutual understanding of each other’s expectations.”

Additional details of the Activity can be found here