Stories tagged: agriculture

How to Help Small-Scale Farmers Surmount Trade Barriers in Mexico

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In this guest post, Francis Mendez, Director of Fairtrasa Mexico explains the successful model her organisation uses to help small farmers in Mexico reach big markets. 

In my home state of Michoacán, Mexico, many small-scale farmers struggle with poverty and lack of resources. While large agricultural companies and more advanced small-scale farmers are able to sell their products on international markets, many farmers remain marginalized. They lack the proper resources, know-how, and infrastructure to develop their farms and businesses. If they do sell their products, it is to local “middlemen” who pay them negligibly, if at all.

Since 2005, Fairtrasa Mexico (of which I’ve served as Director since 2011) has been dedicated to helping marginalized small-scale farmers empower themselves by producing and exporting certified produce. In almost every case, the farmers we work with have no experience in how to achieve certification for their produce, nor in exportation itself.

This means they are excluded from the benefits of being part of the global food supply chain, such as the ability to earn a significantly higher income than on local markets, and to re-invest this income in farm, business, and community development.

These farmers need help joining the global food supply chain in a sustainable way. At Fairtrasa Mexico, we give farmers the support, resources, and logistical help they need to become certified exporters. In essence, we helps them surmount trade barriers. This has been our model since our company was founded in 2005.

Our work is not easy. We exist in a region riddled with crime and violence. We operate on a for-profit business model, re-investing much of our profit in needy farmers. Our partner farmers have been burned by “outsider” companies in the past, so gaining their trust takes work and time.

Yet our model has been successful and impactful for twelve years, and I see several keys to that success.

International Certifications

For marginalized small-scale farmers, international certifications such as Organic, GlobalGAP, and GRASP are tickets to joining the global food supply chain, as they can be the key to fetching much higher prices – sometimes as high as 25-30% more. And the impact goes beyond the economic: by complying with international standards, farmers professionalize their operations and improve the environmental sustainability of their farms.

However, obtaining these certifications is difficult and costly for marginalized farmers. This is where Fairtrasa can help, by leading them through the application and compliance processes. In Mexico, we focus on helping farmers achieve organic certification for fruit, by carrying out on-farm analyses on their behalf and keeping track of administrative documents, at no cost to the farmer. In some cases, we cover most or all of the costs of certification. When they obtain and maintain these certifications, enormous market opportunities open to them.

Customized Training

Fairtrasa Mexico provides trainings tailored to the specific needs and development levels of our farmers. Our in-house agronomist performs a technical assessment for each farmer, and gives recommendations for optimizing production through sustainable techniques. He then provides or coordinates customized training workshops, and visits each farmer on his or her farm at least once a month. This training focuses on yield optimization, quality control, and meeting the certified standards.

Financial Support

Lack of financing is a huge barrier to many small-scale farmers. They simply do not have the financial resources to plant their fields, obtain certifications, and begin exporting. Fairtrasa Mexico addresses this issue mostly by giving small loans to farmers. In 2016, for example, we loaned a total of US$30,000 toward the costs of fertilizers, pruning, equipment, and staffing, among other aspects of the production and export processes.

Quality Before Quantity

While it’s vitally important to help small-scale farmers improve their yields and export volumes, it’s equally important to help them achieve professional-level quality control. Farmers need to produce consistently high-quality fruit in order to sell on international markets. Even a single bad avocado can lead a buyer to return a container of otherwise high-quality fruit—and a single rejected container can be devastating for upstart exporters. Over the last 12 years, Fairtrasa has learned that it’s essential for farmers to perfect their quality control before expanding their output for export. Patience and attention to detail are therefore extremely important.

Building Trust

Providing training, financing, and support to small-scale farmers is crucial. Yet there is something even more fundamental: the farmers’ trust in us. Many small-scale farmers have had bad experiences with fruit buyers in the past, who often made promises they didn’t keep. In my experience, these are the keys to gaining farmers’ trust:

  • Keep your word: The society of our partner farmers is founded on the value of an individual’s word. If you don’t keep your word with farmers—even once—you will lose them. If you keep your word with farmers, you will begin gaining their trust. This is the essential groundwork for a building a long-term relationship.
  • Locals for locals: Fairtrasa’s founder, Patrick Struebi, came to Mexico from Switzerland in 2005. Although he founded the company by gaining the trust of local, small-scale avocado growers, he immediately understood the importance of finding local leaders to lead our social enterprise. As Fairtrasa replicated its model in Peru, Chile, and the Dominican Republic, the principle has stayed the same. We are emotionally and practically invested in the farmers’ success.
  • Demonstrate and lead by example: One of our team members is our in-house agronomist, Jose Luis Villagomez Solano, whoc is also a farmer in his own right. He owns a prosperous avocado farm where he utilizes sustainable techniques. When he visits our farmers and recommends best practices, he backs it up with his experience and output.

A Passionate Team

Underlying and fuelling our social enterprise is the passion and commitment of our team. Every day is a learning experience. Every day is a battle. But when we see the impact of helping marginalized small-scale farmers surmount trade barriers and thrive within the global food supply chain, it only makes us more passionate about the work we do.

This article originally appeared in WFO’s F@rmletter.

My Farm Life: Kasey Bamberger

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Agriculture is an industry that is ever-changing and exciting to be a part of, writes Kasey Bamberger, third generation owner of Bryant Agricultural Enterprise. 

I grew up on my family’s home farm located in South West Ohio.  I always took an interest in agriculture and grew up in an environment in which the majority of our conversations around the dinner table were talking about the weather or how the corn crop looked.  Production farming was a huge part of who we were and how we were raised. Being one of four girls, it was not as common to come home to the family farm but as I entered my high school years, I knew that there had to be a place for me.

After graduating high school, I went on to study business management at Wright State University. My passion for business quickly grew and I could not wait to return back to the family farm and begin my career.  Today, I am third generation farmer and the first female to join our family operation. I farm alongside my father, grandfather, uncle, cousin, and 19 hardworking employees.  Our annual commodities consist of corn, soybeans, and soft red winter wheat.  Today we farm in seven different counties, but our home farm still lies on the same property that I grew up on. The original 200-acre farm property has witnessed a lot of history, hard work, and change over the past 65 years.

Just like all other businesses

From the outside looking in, the everyday consumer views a farm as planting and harvesting a crop. Yes, that is a HUGE part of what we do but what the average consumer doesn’t see is the remaining parts of the year that don’t take place in the field. That is where my job lies. Although we are a family farm, we operate just like all other businesses across America.  We have budgets to generate, inventory to control, inputs to purchase, a crop to store, market, and deliver, business relationships to cultivate, and data to manage.  A lot of what I do on a day to day basis is to utilize the technology available to us in order to evaluate our operation. We want to make sure we are always being the most efficient operation in all areas to make sure we are sustainable and here for many more generations to come. We do this by striving to always take care of the land. We lease a lot of the ground that we farm, but tend to it as if each acre was our own.

Kasey and Heath are third-generation owners of Bryant Agricultural Enterprises

Kasey and Heath are third-generation owners of Bryant Agricultural Enterprises

Turning to digital tech

Production agriculture has adapted and became part of a technological world like many other sectors in our world today. Before driverless cars there were GPS operated tractors. Today our operation, Bryant Agricultural Enterprise, uses Granular Ag, a software management company to help us better manage and digest data about our operation. All employees work off an app from their IPhone where they are able to record inputs and time spent on each field. This allows me to be able to oversee production at the field level (rather than at an enterprise level) and track financials back to each field. We are also able to monitor weather, growth stages of the crop, and tap in to the software in our equipment to store equipment information. In the off-seasons we utilize this data to help us prepare for the next growing season and analyze our operation and the inputs we are using.

We also test the  normally do a three-year test plot in order to see how new seed varieties compete against varieties we have grown in the past. The technology allows us to compare different weather patterns, planting dates, soil types and help with our decision to grow those varieties across more acres.

A dynamic career

I found that as the industry changes, we too must adapt to what it offers. There are so many opportunities for young professionals to enter the world of production agriculture and so much knowledge to be gained from the growers that are already part of the industry.

What advice would I give you young agriculture enthusiasts? Take time to reach out to those already in the industry and research the jobs available in agriculture. There are SO many knowledgeable people that are involved in agriculture. Take time to listen to them and utilize their experience. From sales, to marketing, banking, to ag research, information technology, and physically working for a farm–there is a market for all different types of interests and specialties. As the population of the world continues to increase, we need to be able to continue to produce more food. It is an industry that is ever-changing and exciting to be a part of.

 

14 Ways Agriculture is Contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals

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For the past five weeks, Farming First and its supporters have been sharing stories on how agriculture is helping us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in our #SDG2countdown campaign. We explored each target of SDG2 in detail, sharing quizzes, videos, infographics and stories of success. As well as being central to achieving hunger, these stories revealed that agriculture has a key part to play in meeting many other goals, such as gender equality, combatting climate change and water management. Read some top picks from the stories submitted below in this latest “Supporter Spotlight” blog. For more stories, search #Ag4SDGs on Twitter.

SDG2.5 – Protecting Genetic Diversity

1. HarvestPlus: It’s in the Genes

HarvestPlus has championed the development of iron-rich and other biofortified crops, which have been shown to improve nutrition and public health by reducing micronutrient deficiencies. Such deficiencies affect two billion people, causing long-term physical and cognitive impairment, and even death. This agricultural intervention will not only combat hunger, but contribute to goals on improved health and wellbeing for all. In order to breed new varieties of staple crops with nutrient-rich traits, it is necessary to protect the genes that have these traits to begin with. Read more >>

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2. CropLife International: Breeding Better Crops to Save on Carbon

Improved breeds of crops that make the most of diverse genetic traits have helped increase yields by 22 per cent in the last 20 years. This has also meant an estimated 132 million hectares of land have been saved from cultivation, thus drastically lowering agriculture’s carbon footprint, and contributing to goals on combatting climate change. Read more >>

SDG2.4 – Building Resilience

3. QuickFarm: An Information Exchange for Getting Climate-Smart

QuickFarm has developed the Agroecological Intensification Exchange, a free, online resource for farmers to access advice on sustainable farming practices. Meanwhile, it is also promoting climate-smart practices through a Farmers Field School in Nigeria. Given that farmers are at the forefront of climate issues, having yields affected by extreme weather, agriculture interventions such as farmer field schools can not only help them adapt to new weather patterns, but also ensure they lower their own carbon footprint, thus contributing to goals on combatting climate change. Read more >>

4. Chemonics: Greenhouses Offer Haitian Farmers Year-Round Bounty

Haiti has suffered several dramatic weather events in recent years, from deadly droughts to hurricanes. Climate-smart agriculture techniques are being implemented to lessen the negative impacts of climate-related shocks. The USAID-funded Haiti Chanje Lavi Plantè (CLP) program, implemented by Chemonics, strives to protect hillsides from erosion through terracing and by setting up greenhouses to allow farmers to produce crops all year round. Read more >>

Women work inside a WINNER greenhouse where they are growing lettuce and peppers.

Chemonics: A greenhouse growing lettuce and peppers.

5. DigitalGlobe: An Eye on Productivity in Mali

By using DigitalGlobe’s satellite imagery to track the health of agriculture systems in Mali, ICRISAT were able to evidence adoption of good agricultural practices. Analyzing crop health at the plot level provided an important insight as to whether or not those farmers were applying the recommended amounts of fertilizer.  With this imagery, farmers that are adopting practices such as optimal fertilizer use are now able to prove they follow best practice, thus making them more credit worthy. Read more >>

SDG2.3 – Doubling Smallholder Productivity & Incomes

6. Shaping Up Shambas Boosts Profits in Kenya

Shamba Shape Up:  Shamba Shape Up is East Africa’s favourite farming television show, watched by 5 million viewers, aiming to not only entertain, but to educate and improve the livelihoods of farmers across the region. The TV show effectively gives farmers a source of sound agricultural information. In 2014, Reading University, estimated that the total net increase in the value of milk produced in Kenya, as a direct result of Shamba Shape Up, was US$24 million.

7. Feeding the Soil to Feed Farmer Incomes

IPNI:  Indian farmers have been looking for less water-intensive crops to farms than rice, but balanced nutrient supply and improving soil health has proved to be a big challenge for those attempting to grow maize and other grains. In West Bengal, IPNI discovered that while nitrogen is the most limiting nutrient, addition of potassium, phosphorus, sulphur and zinc were found to add US$80 – $290/ha to the income of farmers growing maize. Similar responses were also recorded in the rice in these on-farm trials. By boosting productivity and incomes, goals to reduce poverty are also tackled.  Read more >>

8. Farm Africa: Bumper Harvest for New Crop of Farmers

A private-public collaboration between supermarket chain Aldi and Farm Africa has established 21 demonstration plots, where young farmers have learnt practical skills for growing mangetouts, French beans, cabbages, kale and chilli peppers. Almost 400 young farmers, from Kitale in western Kenya, are now benefiting from the fundamental agricultural skills and practices learnt including: crop rotation, irrigation, planting, harvesting and pest management. The first harvests this year have seen bumper yields, with 96,500kg of cabbages and 37,200kg of French beans grown by the first group of 118 farmers to have completed a growing cycle so far. The first vegetables to have been sold achieved impressive profit margins of 62 per cent for cabbages and 50 per cent for French beans. Read more >>

Farm Africa: Joseph with his family

Farm Africa: Joseph with his family

SDG2.2 – Ending Malnutrition

9. IFDC: Getting Nutrition “Just Right” in Ethiopia

IFDC’s Toward Sustainable Clusters in Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship (2SCALE) project partnered with Ethiopian food processing company GUTS Agro to create a marketing strategy for Super Mom, a high-protein corn-soy food product for young children and pregnant and nursing mothers. To make this product affordable for low-income consumers, 2SCALE assisted in developing the “Likie” distribution model. The Likie model (which means “just the right size” in Amharic) engages women in micro-franchisees to deliver the product door-to-door on branded tricycles and provide education on nutrition and other topics. After an investment as low as $5, these women typically net $47 within the first few months, and some have reported sales as high as $500 per month, contributing to goals on nutrition and employment.

10. Technoserve: Growing Gardens for Gender Goals

Encouraging women in Rajasthan, India, to start kitchen gardens has improved their families’ nutrition by adding fresh produce that was previously out of reach because of a lack of refrigeration. It has also help redefine women’s role in their households, thereby not only contributing to goals on nutrition, but gender equality too. Read more >>

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11.  One Acre Fund: Helping Achieve Double Win of Beating Drought and Malnutrition

One Acre Fund is working with farmers to enable them to feed their families, despite the onslaught of climate change. OAF trainings stress the importance of crop diversity and soil health. They advise farmers to rotate crops, compost, and use intercropping planting techniques that benefit soils. If farmers plant many different types of crops, they’re better protected in extreme weather if one crop fails, meaning they and their families won’t face a hunger season. Read more >>

SDG2.1 – Ending Hunger

12. Fintrac  / CropLife International: Sweet Success for Strawberry Farmers

The USAID/ACCESO project in Honduras has helped farmers learn sustainable agricultural practices, give them access to inputs, such as seeds and crop protection, and link them to secure markets. Between 2011 and 2015 more than 6,000 smallholder farmers were lifted out of poverty and the prevalence of underweight children under two-years-old decreased by 50 percent as their diet improved. Read more >>

13. Self Help Africa: Two Village Project Transforms Lives

In Zambia, SHA’s three year project based in two remote villages in the Northern Province, saw a rise in access to sufficient food – from 57% at the start of the project, to 67% currently. Furthermore, 28% of children in the area are now receiving at least the minimum food diversity in their diets, compared to 17% before. The key foundations of the project were access to saving and credit groups, access to training as well as equal support for women. Read more >>

14. CNFA: One Stop Shops for Ending Hunger

In Ethiopia, six privately-owned input supply stores created under the USAID-funded Commercial Farm Service Center Program and supported by CNFA have now served more than 24,800 farmer customers, generated $1.3 million in private sector investment, and sold more than $2.7 million worth of seeds, feed, fertilizer, farm implements, veterinary medicines, and plant protection products. These “one stop shops” are equipping farmers with all they need to boost their productivity and incomes, and thereby helping to lift communities out of poverty. Read more >>

Featured image: One Acre Fund

“Growing Together” to Support Smallholders in Meeting SDG2.3

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Doubling smallholder productivity & incomes – the theme of the #SDG2countdown this week – is at the core of Sygenta’s “Good Growth Plan“. Juan Gonzalez-Valero, Head of Public Policy and Sustainability at Syngenta tell us more. 

In Bangladesh, nearly half the population works in farming and roughly 70% of the land is used for agriculture. Smallholder farmers are critical to food security, but crop yields and family incomes are staggeringly low – roughly 40% of the country’s population lives on less than $1.25 a day and 41% of children under five are chronically undernourished. But without access to training, technology and markets, smallholders struggle to meet the demands of the country`s fast-growing population.

Developing thriving rural communities is critical if we aim to double agricultural productivity of smallholders, a major aim of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to end hunger by 2030. It’s also one of the six targets of Syngenta`s Good Growth Plan. Our commitment is to reach 20 million smallholders by 2020 and enable them to increase agricultural productivity by 50%.

It’s in this context that we co-created a smallholder outreach program called Growing Together with Voluntary Services Organization (VSO), a leading international development NGO. The program brings together Syngenta`s global agriculture expertise with local know-how to help improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and support their communities. Our partnership with VSO is proving to be very successful with measurable benefits for rural communities and our volunteering employees.

In Bangladesh, nearly half the population works in farming. Photo courtesy of VSO & Syngenta.

In Bangladesh, nearly half the population works in farming. Photo courtesy of VSO & Syngenta.

The Growing Together program has already delivered impressive results. Since 2014, we`ve helped triple the net income of 10,000 smallholder farmers. We`ve done this by establishing 230 farmer groups where smallholder farmers and landless labourers meet monthly to discuss the social and agricultural issues, and input some of their profits into saving accounts, which to date have accrued over US$180,000. These farmer groups have also made progress on shared social issues in areas such as child marriage, water and sanitation and access to education.

An aspect of the program is the placement of Syngenta employees from across the world into the heart of poor rural Bangladeshi communities. They share modern agricultural techniques with smallholders and help them gain access to financial services such as savings accounts and loans as well as sell their crops in national and international markets. In return, volunteers gain valuable insights into the needs, challenges and aspirations of smallholder farming communities.

The project framework is based on the following three pillars:
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Pillar one: Community development

The formation of community groups plays an important role for developing smallholder capabilities. Members share a common vision, meet regularly, own a group savings account for collective investments and resilience and have defined roles and responsibilities.

The most marginalized people in the groups are ultra-poor farmers, many of whom are women and do not own land. Specific grants for the ultra-poor are provided to support and include them alongside ongoing group activities. Each group has at least 30% female membership.

Community groups meet monthly to discuss the social and agronomic issues that are affecting them. This year groups have shared social issues in areas such as child marriage, water and sanitation and access to education. The groups discuss these challenges and work together to find solutions.

Achievements to date:

  • 230 farmer groups and 45 youth groups have been formed
  • Combined, the savings of all groups within the program now totals $181,250 USD
  • 91% meeting attendance rate throughout the year
  • 91% of participating women have higher confidence in modern farming practices
  • 32% of participating women say they have increased decision making power and influence within their families.

Pillar two: Farmer training on good agriculture practice

At the beginning of the program, only 7% of farmers in the target communities had access to agricultural advice services. So we developed a training framework that includes ‘learning from peers’ approach achieved through demonstration plots in which nominated lead farmers share new farming techniques learned from agronomic experts.

Demonstration plots allowed farmers to test new techniques in a risk free environment and directly compare progress with their own fields.

Achievements to date:

  • 230 demonstration plots had been set up by January 2017
  • 7,000 farmers (2,240 female) have received agronomy training in rice, vegetable and potato cultivation since the start of the project
    • 96% of farmers report that they are now proactively practicing the new farming techniques, including correct and safe use of agro-inputs
  • Farmers from the Mithapukur region now cropping a mix of rice, potato and vegetable recorded an average increase in net income of 50% from 2015 (average US$912 in 2016 versus US$613 in 2015) and a tripling of net income since 2014

Pillar three: Value chain development and Farmer Centers

The third pillar of the project is to ensure that market systems are conducive to smallholders earning a sustainable income from their crops. Six Farmer Centers have now been established providing a physical space for farmer groups to aggregate their crops. The centers provide access to a broad range of services including rental of machinery, access to inputs (such as seeds) and finance, trading support and access to affordable storage so that farmers can sell their crops when the price is best.

The Farmer Centers also offer support and training on how best to engage with agricultural supply chains and negotiate mutually favorable terms.

Achievements to date:

  • 100% of participating farmers are now using services provided by the Farmer Centers
  • 65% of project farmers are engaged in national and international contract farming through the Farmer Centre aggregation service
  • In 2016 Growing Together rice farmers in Birampur district increased net incomes by an average close to 20%, while potato farmers in Mithapukur more than doubled their average net incomes.

Growing Together has proved to be a successful development model and the program now aims to scale the approach to reach over 100,000 smallholder farmers by mid-2018. More information about the program can be found at: http://story.vsointernational.org/Growing-Together/

Visit www.farmingfirst.org/SDGs for quizzes, videos, infographics & more on SDG 2.3. Share your stories on doubling productivity & incomes using #Ag4SDGs and join the campaign!

SDG2.4 in 2 Minutes: Steven Were Omamo, World Food Programme

The spectre of almost 800 million hungry people globally suggests that food systems do not meet the needs of a large part of society. Food systems are disrupted by shocks linked to climate change and globalization, broken by conflict and even in stable contexts, they often have major flaws. In this interview with Farming First, World Food Programme notes three deep systemic problems that need to be tackled: the “last mile” the “bad year” and the “good year”.

What WFP calls “Systemic food assistance” is food assistance that improves the performance of food systems by addressing their problems at the root. Systemic food assistance is happening through use of WFP’s supply chain expertise and capacity to strengthen markets; support of Home Grown School Meals programmes that connect local farmers to the supply chain; and reform of the structure and functioning of public food reserves.

For example, in Kenya’s Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps, WFP is leveraging its purchasing power and consumer demand created through its cash-based transfers to address inefficiencies along the supply chain and achieve lower prices for both refugees and host communities.

Filmed as part of Farming First’s #SDG2countdown campaign, exploring SDG2.4 on resilient food systems.

Music: Ben Sounds

SDG2.5 in 2 Minutes: Debisi Araba, CIAT Africa

There’s a unique type of grass that when fed to livestock, it not only makes the animals more productive, but it lowers the greenhouse gases they emit. Because this grass was preserved in CIAT’s genebank, scientists have been able to transform the lives of farmers in Latin America, and hope to bring the innovation to Africa as well.

Filmed as part of Farming First’s #SDG2countdown campaign, exploring SDG2.5 on protecting genetic diversity.

Music: Ben Sounds