By AGRA Content Hub

Ewadi Lazaro Chaula, 29, is a smallholder farmer from Mtitu Village in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands who is determined to succeed as a farming enterprise.  

A beneficiary of the AGRA-funded PIATA Tija Project, also known as Kilimo Tija in Tanzania, Ewadi saw a business opportunity as a seed breeder and out-grower for seed companies and was trained in the multiplication of Quality Declared Seeds (QDS) by the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) with the support of the Clinton Foundation.

Kilimo PIATA Tija, Tanzania is an agricultural productivity project, endorsed by the Government of Tanzania and partners to strengthen the agricultural inputs system, technology development, and supply chain efficiency. In the Kiswahili language, Kilimo Tija denotes the shift to a productive, profitable and solution-based agriculture, while the acronym PIATA, is the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa led by AGRA, USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Tanzania is one of 11 African countries covered by PIATA to support and drive inclusive agricultural transformation as a tool for poverty reduction. The others are Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda.  These innovative partnerships add valuable improvements to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who include women and youth, to commercialize food staple production that impacts selected value chains.

The focus is on creating integrated delivery systems within agro-economic zones and across value chains with enhanced in-country coordination to leverage wider investments and deliberate private sector engagements that build sustainable systems capable of transitioning agriculture from subsistence to viable and prosperous businesses. 

Initially, Ewadi had tried his hand in soybean production, putting the skills and knowledge he had acquired to good use.  “With a yield of up to 2400 kg per acre (0.4 ha), I was over the moon and the envy of my village-mates,” he says. However, his pride was short-lived in the subsequent seasons when the local market collapsed due to over-production in Iringa Region. Farmers like Ewadi are challenged by the absence of storage capacity and significant post-harvest losses.  “It was painful to have to sell at a throw-away price,” he adds, “but it was either that or to watch the produce going to waste.”

Whereas farmers lament the absence of markets for soybean in their localities, the potential for farmers targeting regional and global markets is untapped.  These are some of the production and food crop marketing challenges that AGRA and the PIATA partners address by leveraging the the full complement of tools, systems, knowledge, and partner resources to the common goal of sustaining an inclusive agricultural transformation.

For instance, the Tanzania Soybean Development Strategy proposes processing and value addition as an intervention to address shortcomings within the soybean value chain.  This is echoed by agriculture extension officer, Geoffrey Mdete, who notes that farmers stand to benefit from an awareness of how the legume is utilized.    

“Many people in Iringa are unaware of the many uses of soybean for human, animal and soil health,” he observes. Despite price fluctuations, farmers in the region prefer maize as a more reliable cash crop, citing confidence in the local and regional markets. However, there is a gradual acceptance to test the waters with other value chains.

Among the interventions the partnerships have invested in are: strengthening the policy environment, increasing youth and women’s empowerment and participation in the processes as well as securing public private partnerships to support farmer capacity to increase staple crop productivity with an expanded access to national and regional markets.  PIATA Tija also seeks to prepare smallholder farming households and agricultural systems to adapt to the shocks and stresses brought on by climate change. 

Financing and investments are critical components in creating the conditions that support an inclusive agricultural transformation. Included in this category is the provision of multiple services dedicated to supporting both on- and off-farm agricultural activities and businesses.  Among these are inputs, production and distribution channels as well as wholesale, processing and marketing services.

Farmers and small to medium-sized rural businesses often cite financing as a barrier, more so because they lack collateral.  At the same time, financial services providers struggle to put a price to the risk of loans among this category of clients.

When he approached PIATA Tija for a grant of about USD 900 in November 2018, Ewadi had decided to plant three acres of Njano Uyole bean, a popular breakfast item with households and restaurants alike.  As with the earlier soybean enterprise, the yield from production was excellent but the markets were still a challenge.

“From Iringa to Dar es Salaam, the variety is one of the best commercial bean varieties,” says Geoffrey Mdete, who has been instrumental in training farmers in modern agronomy with the support of AGRA and other partners.

His advice to Ewadi is to align with farmer groups to reap the benefits of economies of scale through bulk input purchases and market interactions. “In tackling the market as an individual, Ewadi was exposed and vulnerable,” says the extension officer, “when smallholder producers aggregate, the markets begin to pay attention and to respond positively.”

This view is supported by Raphael Kundi, an official of SeedCo Limited. “United in number and diversity, smallholder farmers can create impact as business setups,” he says. “Farmer groups are the pillar of agricultural development.

As each individual farmer grows their share of agricultural economic activity, they benefit from the exposure of being trained in groups as well as discounted costs for inputs, services and markets.  

In the model promoted by AGRA, organized farmer groups, with the support of local government are able to register a collective impact in transformation into agribusiness.

PIATA Tija’s involvement in scaling up system and farmer-level initiatives is in line with the strategies to catalyse and sustain an inclusive agricultural transformation across Africa. It aims to increase food security and income levels for 30 million smallholder African farm households by 2020, and double the incomes of 20 million smallholder farmers in at least 15 countries.

The initiative aligns with commitments by African Heads of State to eradicate hunger by 2025. PIATA embodies the same principles as the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, and corresponds to the African Union’s national economic strategy.