Image: Captured of farmer, Tabitha Muthoni
By Erica Bliss, Business Development Program Manager East and Southern Africa, Syngenta and Samantha Krause, Strategic Initiatives Director, TechnoServe
Smallholder farmers across Africa present the largest opportunity and challenge to Syngenta’s business. Limited knowledge of agronomy, cash constraints and very low confidence in produce markets trap farmers in low yield and low income cycles. Translated into numbers, it means that smallholders in Sub-Saharan Africa produce around 25% of their yield potential.
Syngenta’s mission is to unlock the productivity potential of African smallholders by knocking down some of these long-standing barriers between farmers and agricultural productivity. Through partnerships and investments in innovative business models, new ways to effectively support growers are being developed: building ecosystems to include smallholders in viable value chains, leveraging technology to train hundreds of thousands of farmers outside the reach of traditional extension systems and enhancing access to input finance so that farmers can finally achieve step-out yield growth, thereby improving the well-being of rural communities.
One flagship partnership between Syngenta and TechnoServe - Mavuno Zaidi (Grow More in Swahili) - is transforming how smallholders engage in potato and tomato markets in Kenya today.
Mavuno Zaidi (Grow More) project approach in Kenya
One of the central barriers to smallholder adoption of quality inputs is the lack of secure access to reliable and profitable produce markets to ensure a decent return on the investment. Low market returns discourage input investment. Additionally, high quality inputs must be used appropriately if they are to deliver their high yield potential, but training is not available in many parts of the country.
The Syngenta / TechnoServe model is designed to overcome these challenges by improving farmers’ knowledge and access to secure markets. Through hands-on sessions, farmers are trained on land preparation and planting, crop nutrition, pest identification, crop protection use, sorting, grading, harvest and post-harvest handling, alongside other crop-specific topics. Access to markets is strengthened by supporting farmer business organizations to establish and manage aggregation stores, including potato cold storage facilities, and to develop direct contracts with commercial buyers. The model also works to provide access to finance for farmers through local financial institutions.
Impact to date
Tabitha Muthoni, a farmer in Utange, Mombasa, first joined the project in 2016 and had little knowledge of how to grow tomatoes. “Before the program I had tried out tomato farming but had little knowledge on the crop and its diseases, often visiting agrovets with picked leaves to explain the problems I was facing,” she said. “Now with the project’s support, I have learnt so much and my crop was the best at the Mombasa agricultural show. People hardly believe that tomatoes can do so well in the Coast region.” Today, Tabitha makes $5,000 USD per season on her 2 acre tomato farm where she now employs 11 people to support the production.
To date, this model has helped Syngenta and TechnoServe to reach more than 25,000 farmers. Of these, average potato yields have increased by 38 percent (48 percentage points higher than the control group), and potato income is up 48 percent (39 percentage points higher than the control group). The results are even more dramatic for tomato farmers: yields are up 185 percent (106 percentage points higher than the control group), and incomes are up 181 percent (138 percentage points higher than the control group).
The approach has also succeeded in building a solid customer base for high-quality inputs. Participating potato growers have increased their average investments in these kinds of products by 40-300 percent, depending on the region, while tomato farmers have increased those investments by 60-80 percent.
Scaling and evolving the model
While the model has yielded considerable success so far, this has not been without challenges and important lessons. Addressing barriers to input adoption within vulnerable and often isolated rural populations requires a very hands-on approach. This entails considerable costs, which need to be lowered if the model is to be scaled sustainably. Increasing the number of partners and investors will therefore be necessary to affordably scale out to additional crops and geographies. Syngenta has so far secured co-investment from ICL and Sanergy -- two organizations focused on fertilizer who are also seeking to expand their base of smallholder customers.
Another key learning is that tailored credit is required. Many financial institutions charge unaffordable high interest rates and have long loan processing procedures. A further challenge is how to finance farmers who trade on open markets, which is more difficult to securely finance than closed-loop value chains like contract farming. Syngenta is seeking banks, investors and donors to partner with in designing and implementing inclusive smallholder financing models.
The full case study was prepared as part of the TechnoServe Initiative for Inclusive Agricultural Business Models and is available here.
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