In cities and villages across sub-Saharan Africa, entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the growing economy, by using small savings, sometimes as little as US$500 to open a shop selling anything from mobile phones to groceries, and even seed.
For farmers, the increase in the number of specialty agricultural supply stores, commonly called agro-dealers, means they can access quality inputs and advice much closer to home. It is not uncommon for farmers to travel up to 30 kilometers to access agricultural supplies, but now the increase in agro-dealers means for many this distanced has reduced to less than five kilometers.
But a lack of financial literacy and business knowledge hinders the long-term success of these agri-entrepreneurs, with many lacking the skills to keep books, manage stock or market their services to farmers.
The Agribusiness Focused Partnership Organization (AGRIFOP) is a Rwandan based business development NGO supported by AGRA to develop Rwanda’s agro-dealers.
The three-year initiative builds on an earlier project, which started in 2010, but with a particular focus on agro-dealers based in east and southern Rwanda, as that is where farmers’ use of inputs is lowest.
“Agro-dealers play a big role in agricultural development, as they give farmers access to inputs, and market information,” AGRIFOP’s CEO Jean Bosco Safari said.
“Through the project, we are training over 400 agro-dealers in business management and technical knowledge on the products they stock so that farmers can access inputs from knowledgeable agro-dealers in their local community,” Safari says.
With the Government of Rwanda encouraging smallholder farmers to buy fertilizer and improved seed varieties, the training and development of agro-dealers is vital for helping farmers take advantage of the subsidies on offer.
Protais Rugengamanzi set up his agro-dealer shop in Rwamagana, in Eastern Rwanda seven years ago, after he saw the business opportunity created by the government’s push for farmers to use inputs and fertilizer.
“Everyone was being encouraged to use fertilizer and improved seed, so I decided to stop farming and open my business,” Rugengamanzi says.
“Not long after I opened the shop, I heard about the project and reached out to get trained.
“The training has helped me improve the way I manage my business, as I am in a better position to manage stock and have skills to attract new clients.
“Now my business is growing, and I serve between 1200 and 2000 farmers each growing season,” he adds.
As well as training, AGRIFOP works with agro-dealers to set up demonstration plots and conduct field days. These initiatives are critical for agro-dealers to highlight the benefits of the inputs they sell to the farmers in their region.
“For me, the demonstrations plots have been the biggest benefit, as they’ve helped me increase my customer base,” says Ayinkamiye Madeleine, an agro-dealer from Murehe.
With a small loan from a fertilizer supplier, Madeleine opened her first agro-dealer shop in 2013, today she has three stores, employs three people and serves at least 1000 farmers.
“The project has opened my eyes to what I need to do to do well in business.
“I know where I need to invest in having the business expand, and I am looking to expand my business to buy produce back from farmers,” she said.