Stronger Market Access for Farmers

Agriculture is the beating heart of the African economy; providing two-thirds of jobs and up to 75 percent of the continent’s domestic trade. However, despite the critical role agriculture plays in our lives and its potential to transform the African economy, challenges along the value chain continue to limit growth.

A farmer growing maize typically harvests around two tons per hectare. When the same farmer can access inputs from seed to fertilizer and chemicals, and is trained in using better farm practices, their yield can increase to between 5-7 tons per hectare.

But increasing on-farm productivity is only one piece of the puzzle. As well as overcoming the challenges limiting yields, we must also ensure farmers can access markets that pay a fair price for their produce.

Due to a lack of storage and market options, most smallholder farmers will sell their produce at harvest, when prices are at their lowest. Immediately after harvest, prices begin to rise, representing a lost income opportunity for smallholder farmers. For instance, at harvest, a farmer in Tharaka North may sell green grams at Ksh60 a kilogram, two months later, these same green grams will be worth Ksh120 per kilogram.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) works across Africa to help millions of small-scale farmers overcome such challenges and lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. AGRA’s development approach works to transform agriculture from a solitary struggle to survive to a business that thrives.

In partnership with USAID, we are implementing the Strengthening Agricultural Input and Output Markets in Africa program (SAIOMA), an initiative that is addressing the challenges across the agricultural value chain, from increasing productivity for farmers to helping them access reliable markets in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia.

SAIOMA starts by strengthening agro-dealers, the outlets that provide farmers with agricultural inputs and advice. Paul Kirema, from Kariega in Tigania West, Kenya, is one of nearly 400 agro-dealers that SAIOMA has trained in Kenya.

During a recent visit to his shop, we spoke about how the training had changed the way he did business; making him more informed, helping him to build better relationships with farmers. These changes, he said, contributed to a 30 percent increase in profit.

Strengthening agro-dealers like Kirema play is critical to getting farmers better access to inputs. Before Kirema opened his shop in Kariega, many farmers would have to travel over 30 kilometers to Meru to get agricultural supplies. Now, they can get the same products closer to home – cutting down on time and money.

The farmers in Kariega are not an isolated case. About 70,000 farmers in the project areas of Kitui Central & Lower Yatta districts in Kitui, Tigania West district in Meru North, Tharaka North in Tharaka Nithi, Yatta & Mwala in Machakos now have better access to quality inputs and advice as a result of SAIOMA’s interventions in Kenya.

But strengthening agro-dealers is only part of the solution. Once farmers produce more, they need to be able to sell it and just as SAIOMA builds the capacity of agro-dealers to run better businesses, we train farmers how to handle their crops after harvest to minimize losses and to work together to meet market requirements and participate in efficient markets.

Almost 250 farmers have been trained in how to sell as a group and negotiate contract sales with larger buyers. By aggregating their produce, these farmers are attracting larger buyers who offer higher prices. For example, in Tharaka Nithi, aggregated produce prices were almost KES 5,850 per metric ton higher than farm gate prices, for farmers this equaled an extra KES 15,000 in their pockets.

This additional money is increasing rural incomes and is going towards domestic expenses like school fees and home improvements. As their incomes increase, farmers continue to adopt newer technologies and move to other income generating activities, like community lending, where members of the community can access credit, without going to banks.

Reliable market access is critical to helping unlock the potential of smallholder farmers. If we just focus on increasing, productivity farmers will produce and be left looking for a buyer and potentially lose any possible gains in income.

But when we also strengthen their access to markets, by removing the inefficiencies and enhancing their connections to buyers, farmers are rewarded for their efforts and get motivated to adopt new practices, increase their productivity and become more profitable than they ever would have imagined.

SAIOMA is a partnership between AGRA, USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This Feed the Future initiative seeks to promote inclusive agricultural sector growth in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia.

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