When two veteran USAID projects join forces, innovation and capacity building can happen at scale. Between November 2021 and June 2022, the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program, implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) in Southern Africa and Moldova, and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut trained 3,636 farmers in groundnut production and aflatoxin control in Malawi (669), Mozambique (381), Zambia (1,254) and Zimbabwe (1,322). Of the trainees, 2,245 were women and 363 were youth.
This collaboration was built on the strengths of both parties. The F2F program has field offices in each of the four aforementioned countries—which they rely on to connect with large networks of development partners, including USAID Mission-funded projects—as well as the experience to organize trainings. The program recruits local volunteers who are connected with volunteers based in the U.S. to conduct trainings virtually, a newer F2F model that came about as an adaptation to COVID-19.
In contrast, the Peanut Innovation Lab has a deep expertise in groundnuts, an important food and cash crop particularly for women farmers in Southern Africa. It also has an increasing number of training tools available, including its recently launched Groundnut Academy—an online course that is free and easily accessible. The first module, on agronomy, came online in 2021 and the second, on aflatoxin, in 2022.
Conversations between the two organizations rapidly resulted in the development of a plan to achieve the greatest impact: F2F would recruit local volunteers from across Southern Africa who would then take Groundnut Academy courses online and train additional farmers. The initial training was done with technical support from U.S.-based F2F volunteer and Peanut Innovation Lab Deputy Director Jamie Rhoads, who was paired with local volunteers during the question and answer (Q&A) sessions at the Groundnut Academy. The volunteers also worked with Rhoads during the subsequent farmer trainings, which offered participants the opportunity to ask questions and share experiences with Rhoads and the local volunteers.
Collaboration initiated in October 2021 with the Groundnut Academy’s newly published Agronomy course, which focused on the next rainy season expected to start in November-December when farmers could put their learning into practice. From October-November, 18 farmer trainings were conducted in the four countries—eight in Malawi, two in Mozambique, seven in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe—covering all aspects of groundnut production from planting to crop management and harvest.
Groundnut Academy training in the Eastern Province of Zambia.
The enthusiasm expressed by the farmers and local volunteers led to further collaboration when the Aflatoxin course was published in 2022. This time, the trainings were held just before groundnut harvests, so that farmers could learn ways to reduce aflatoxin during the upcoming harvest and storage period. From May-June, an additional 39 trainings were conducted, of which 14 were in Zimbabwe, 10 each in Malawi and Zambia, and five in Mozambique.
Farmers attended the trainings in numbers that went far beyond those expected and were quick to start adopting the practices taught by F2F. In Zimbabwe, F2F partner and field officer for the USAID-funded Fostering Agribusiness for Resilient Markets (FARM) project Rudo Mushangwe stated, “Farmers adopted early ploughing and purchased seed dressing, which they learned about during the trainings. So far, 150 of the farmers from two wards plan to dress their seeds for the first time in their lives.”
While learning to produce more of the important food staple and increasingly important cash crop, farmers also gained an important understanding of aflatoxin mitigation. Leya Lungu, a 34-year-old farmer and training participant from Nyachilala Cooperative in Zambia’s Petauke district in Eastern Province, reflected on the knowledge she gained during the aflatoxin training saying, “One thing I did not know that I learned was the causes of aflatoxin and its long-term effects on human health if consumed. As a family, we always selected the bad groundnuts for consumption and sold the good ones. It is interesting that as producers, we consumed the harmful ones ourselves and sold the good quality groundnuts to people who did not even produce them.”
Chomba Mubanga, 29, a local volunteer and Technical Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture in Chipata District in Zambia’s Eastern Province, echoed the importance of learning about aflatoxin saying, “For me what stood out most was the fact that I got to learn more about the impacts of aflatoxin as I had very little knowledge about it before and did not know that it was toxic. I also learned that aflatoxins are actually odorless and tasteless. This was new to me because each time I ate a groundnut which tasted bitter, I mistakenly associated that with aflatoxins.”
In all, 30 local volunteers took the Groundnut Academy’s agronomy and aflatoxin courses and received certificates recognizing their achievement. Additionally, Jamie Rhoads and the 30 local volunteers were recognized by CNFA’s F2F program as Volunteers of the Year for their dedication to the assignments and their efforts to improve groundnut production and aflatoxin mitigation.
Inonge Simalumba, 33, a local volunteer and Camp Extension Officer at Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture, stated, “I enjoyed the whole process, the training, the Q&A with Jamie Rhoads and the interaction with volunteers from Zambia and Malawi. It showed that the challenges we face with farmers were similar, so sharing our experiences was helpful. With the information we got from the Peanut Innovation Lab, it was also very easy to train farmers. We were confident that whatever issues the farmers would bring up, we would get a response. My biggest take away was that I could access all the materials I needed for future trainings from the Groundnut Academy website.”
Some of the local volunteers even went beyond training farmers on agronomy. For example, Mugove Gora from Zimbabwe helped farmers belonging to the Murwira Association in the Bikita District of Masvingo Province to revive their commodity group which had been abandoned during COVID-19. They were assisted to develop a budget and purchase seeds for the 2022-2023 rainy season. In Zambia’s Eastern Province, local volunteers Chomba Mubanga and Emmanuel Phiri facilitated a linkage between farmers and an agrodealer so that they could access quality inputs on credit. As a result, 64 farmers in Petauke District accessed improved groundnut seeds and fertilizers from Rimbecks Agro Hardware and General Dealers to increase production and improve the quality of their produce.
Additionally, several USAID-funded projects participated in the trainings as partners, particularly in Zimbabwe where the Fostering Agribusiness for Resilient Markets (FARM) project facilitated trainings on aflatoxin mitigation with 14 farmer groups. FARM field officer Harmony Marwa reflected on the importance of the trainings in the Zimbabwean context stating, “Peanut production in the smallholder sector has been on a steady decline as processers have raised concerns about the high aflatoxin levels present in local crops. The training is the first step in reviving this important value chain so that farmers can meet stringent quality requirements. The 14 groups are looking forward to having better quality produce this season.”
Similarly, Rhoads reflected on the Peanut Innovation Lab’s role in the trainings saying, “The Peanut Innovation Lab was excited to find an innovative way to partner with the F2F Program in Southern Africa through the Groundnut Academy. Working directly with the volunteers has been a great way to get immediate feedback on the content of the courses. It also helped us expand the reach of our extension tools like using animations and infographics from . In some cases, we’ve even identified areas of needed research directly from farmers who are looking for answers to challenges we hadn’t considered.”
With the clear benefits to all involved, collaboration between the Southern Africa F2F and the Peanut Innovation Lab will continue during the 2022-2023 rainy season, increasing its scale and impact to farmers along the way.