Dar es Salaam — For many years Athumani Mohamed Omolo, a smallholder farmer in Mtwara Rural District, couldn't produce enough to feed his family. He wasn't the only one, with many smallholder farmers in this district facing a four-month lean period year after year. It wasn't until he received training from an Aga Khan Foundation (AKF)-trained lead farmer that he learned how to farm sustainably and increase productivity.
"My life now is not bad, whether it be in dry or wet season. Through vegetable production I was able to overcome absolute poverty and can now support my family," says Athumani Mohamed. He declares that the positive change in his livelihood is due to his adoption of the good horticultural practices resulting in increased production and sale of vegetables. Today, Athumani Mohamed is able to not only provide enough food for his family, but also pay for school fees with the income from his farming.
Smallholder farmers in Mtwara and Lindi Regions have faced a long history of barriers to profitable farming as a result of a variety of production and market-related challenges. AKF has made one of its goals to help farmers like Athumani learn how to sustainably produce more of better quality and be competitive in the agriculture market.
Since 2009, AKF has impacted over 100,000 farmers in Lindi and Mtwara regions through a systems approach, facilitating access to quality inputs, information on good agricultural practices, and market linkages.
Over time, these regions are witnessing a gradual shift from low-productivity, fragmented and subsistence farming to sustainable market-driven agriculture. This has contributed to increased yield, income, savings, food security and growth of micro and small agri-businesses by local entrepreneurs, including women and youth. Targeted farmers have increased yields and income, while food security has improved, with 60 per cent of households being food-secure in 2014 compared to 27 per cent in 2010 in the program areas. Over 200 micro, small and medium agri-business enterprises are being supported by AKF to grow their businesses. By working in multiple value chains (horticulture, rice, pulses, sunflower, sesame and poultry), AKF is facilitating farmers to produce and market a mix of crops which helps in mitigating risk of price fluctuation or a crop failure as well as enables crowding in a range of private sector players. A systems-strengthening approach in partnership with key stakeholders is applied at each stage of the agricultural value chain.
AKF, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, takes a long-term, multi-sector approach to improve the quality of life in the communities where it works. To achieve this goal, AKF works in partnership and brings together the required human, financial and technical resources needed to strengthen institutions and systems and influence key stakeholders. AKF has built trust with local government, communities, and private sector, this being critical to its role as a reliable market facilitator.
Agricultural Extension Support
Many farmers in Tanzania struggle with access to information on market prices, crop production and climate-smart farming methods. AKF believes that a multi-pronged approach to information delivery is needed to sustainably meet the different information needs of farmers and as a result, facilitates a range of extension service providers (government extension officers, lead farmers, input suppliers and buyers) and channels or tools (radio, farmer field days, Nane Nane, mobile phones, tablets, and paper-based manuals) to achieve this. Environmentally sustainable agriculture and outreach to women and young farmers remain key considerations in AKF's extension strengthening approach.
Strengthening the Last-mile Link for Input Supply and Leveraging of Technology
Access to quality inputs and appropriate technology has been limited in Lindi and Mtwara Regions due to issues of demand and supply. AKF stimulated demand for seed, fertilizer, appropriate pesticides, and environmentally sustainable technologies (pedal pumps, drip irrigation and greenhouses) by promoting good agricultural practices among farmers, facilitating demonstration plots and exchange visits. This has resulted in farmers' increased productivity, income and demand for these inputs and technologies. Simultaneously, under its entrepreneurship programme, AKF trained 257 existing and potential village based agro-dealers (VBAs), of which 177 are now operating viable agro-input supply businesses, providing the last-mile link for inputs and technology. AKF connected these VBAs to input and technology supply companies that were previously not operating in the region, which had a significant impact on the VBAs, on the company reach, and on agricultural practices in Lindi and Mtwara Regions.
"Before I had to travel for up to an hour to Masasi Town or ask someone traveling to Mtwara or Dar-es-Salaam to buy improved seeds and pesticides that I could not get from local markets, which was costly and time consuming" Devota relates "but these days inputs are within very close reach through AKF-trained Village Based Agro-dealers (VBAs). They also advise you on how to use the inputs" said Devotha, Chigugu.
Post-Harvest Management and Value Addition
As better storage, grading, sorting and processing of crops increases competitiveness by reducing losses, improving quality and adding value, AKF has worked with farmer organisations, millers, local government and local market associations on a range of targeted initiatives to improve post harvest management. These include training on harvesting at the right time, improving storage and milling equipment, promoting sorting and grading, and construction or rehabilitation of storage and market infrastructure.
In a public-private partnership (PPP) with the Masasi District Council and the local market association, AKF facilitated the construction of a community owned and operated post-harvest collection facility for vegetables in Chidya Village in 2017. The facility allows horticulture crop aggregation, storage in dry and cold rooms, use of proper weighing scales and has helped to reduce losses and theft while attracting more buyers.
"In the past... we were reliant on the same buyers all the time, and when we became desperate to sell, we would agree to any conditions set by the buyer, including buying on credit. Now that the post-harvest facility is in place, if the buyer does not have money to pay, farmers have the option to sell to another buyer, and therefore no longer face serious delays in receiving the fair payments they are due," says Saidi Athumani, a farmer that sells vegetables in Chidya market.
Since its creation, the facility has benefited over 800 farmers in Chidya and the neighbouring village of Chiwata, and has contributed to the long-term transformation of the local market system in favour of local communities.
Increasing Access to Affordable Finance
AKF's efforts in increasing access to basic finance through community-based savings group (CBSG) has reached more than 180,000 members - 66 per cent of whom are women. Organised in over 9,300 groups, women and men in rural areas are saving on average Sh 200,000 per person annually, with these groups cumulatively saving an estimated Sh33 billion per year (approximately $ 15 million). As farmers' capacities in agricultural production improve, their involvement in CBSGs allows for savings, credit and investments into children's education, family health, business, and purchase of agricultural inputs and services, resulting in greater resilience, productivity and improved quality of life. Building on this success, AKF is driving an innovative mobile money platform together with a technology company to enable savings group members, especially in rural areas, to save and borrow using their mobile phones.
Connecting Smallholders to Market
A variety of approaches applied by AKF are contributing to inclusive growth of markets for agricultural commodities in Lindi and Mtwara. These include improving information flow between farmers and markets, training of farmers on farming as a business, and mobilisation of aggregation models (producer business groups, primary cooperatives, contract farming and improving market and storage infrastructure) to attract and crowd-in private sector by facilitating economies of scale. One indicator of inclusive growth of markets in the regions is the growing number of private sector agri-business companies and increased volume of business transactions between buyers and producers especially of rice, vegetables, and sesame.
The Aga Khan Foundation, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, is a private, not-for-profit, non-denominational, international development agency established by His Highness the Aga Khan.