Stories tagged: smallholder farmers

Agricultural Businesses Are the Key to “Decent Work” in Rural Communities

Decent agricultural work can be a vehicle for economic growth. Kristin Williams, Communications Manager at Root Capital, tells Farming First how investments can empower smallholder farmers.

Farming is hard work. This is especially true on the world’s 500 million smallholder farms, which rely almost entirely on informal family labor. There, farmers rise before the sun, and toil in plots of land just large enough to grow food for the table and perhaps one or two crops for sale. Sudden shockslike drought, flood, or diseasecan wipe out the fruits of their labor in an instant. If they’re lucky, they can get their crops to a nearby market; once there, they have little recourse if buyers refuse to give a fair price.

Billions of people make their living in this difficult way. And it’s no coincidence that they comprise much of the world’s extreme poor, surviving on less than $2 per day. But the connection between farming and poverty is not a foregone conclusion. Yes, farming is hard work; but with targeted investments it can also be “decent work.”

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Chris Mitchell: What Encourages Smallholders to Adopt New Practices?

In this guest blog post, Chris Mitchell of Bain & Company discusses a new paper, Growing Prosperity, compiled in collaboration with Acumen, that focuses on optimizing interaction between farmers and pioneer firms—entrepreneurial companies that develop and offer market-based innovations to serve the poor.

Pioneer firms are bringing innovative solutions to resource-poor farmers in places where governments and traditional aid have fallen short. But what needs to happen to spur sustained adoption of the innovations on offer that will allow these firms to serve hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of smallholder farmers?  The work of these pioneer firms is simply too important to remain small scale, and there is potential for a real breakthrough in the next 5 to 10 years. With this study, we hope to shift the odds more in favor of pioneer firms and the smallholder farmers they serve.

Three key findings from our research point to what these firms and other actors must do. Continue reading

TV show is ‘shaping-up’ Kenya’s farms and rural livelihoods

Shamba Shape-Up is a new reality TV programme in Kenya that visits shambas (Swahili for small farms) across the country and aims to give both farmer and audience the tools they need to improve productivity and income on their farms.

The programme, hosted by African actor Tonny Njuguna and Naomi Kamau, focuses on increasing farmers crop productivity by providing expert advice on livestock, crops, soil fertility and storage. Typically the film crew will spend 4 days with one household, allowing enough time to build any improvement structures and invite the experts in to offer advice.  Experts include veterinarians, soil analysts and specific crop specialists from partnering companies in Kenya.

In the first episode the Shape-Up team visit George Mungai’s farm. George has a variety of problems from low yielding potato crops to a lack of light for his children’s study. Dr Jane Ininda, a Crop Improvement Officer at AGRA, visits the farm and suggests that George changes the seeds he uses to adapt to the increasing amount of drought in the area. The seeds Dr. Ininda gives George offer a much shorter maturing time, enabling George to access the food in five months instead of seven.

The farm is then ‘shaped up’ by providing George with fertilisers and improved storage facilities which help decrease crop waste and enhance food production. George’s family is also provided with solar powered lights. As Paul Njuguna,  Brand Manager of D.light explains:

For reading, ordinary kerosene lamps are not bright enough. Their eyes will deteriorate in the long term and they will tire very quickly

But the helpful tips don’t just benefit George and his family, throughout the programme viewers are encouraged to access all the information and advice via text message – an innovative method of educating Smallholder farmers across Kenya.

David Campbell, the show’s creator and director, comments on the shows innovative approach to informing farmers:

We have a potential 5.6 million rural audience but there is no agricultural information on TV. We want to establish a series that gives farmers information in an educational and entertaining way.

The show partners with many of the global leaders on effective and sustainable farming such as AGRA, Syngenta and IFDC. These organisations are often desperate to spread the simple advice that could increase agricultural yields and Shamba Shape-Up offers them an ideal platform to reach their intended audience in an informative, yet entertaining, manner.

From the show’s viewing figures it is evident that this entertaining programme is an effective way of reaching Africa’s Smallholder farmers. Shamba Shape Up’s estimated audience in the first series was around 7 million, with this number rising to 11 million by the end of series 3. As the show’s organisers explain:

If even just 10% of the viewers of series one adopt new practices as a result of the show, that’s 700,000 farmers who’s sustainable livelihoods have become more informed and productive.

All the episodes can be viewed online:

For more information about the show visit:

African Green Revolution Forum 2012 Round-Up

The second African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF 2012) took place last week in Arusha, Tanzania, focussing on the theme “Scaling Investment and Innovation for Sustainable Agricultural Growth and Food Security”. The first AGRF was held in Accra Ghana in 2011.

With an aim to urge prompt action to improve four areas, namely, public-private partnerships, agricultural finance, making markets work and building foundations for rapid growth in agricultural production, the 2012 conference brought together over 1,000 participants from African governments, private sector representatives, farmers, civil society organizations and relevant stakeholders to share experiences and knowledge over a three-day forum.

The forum ran plenary and breakout sessions and side events, and showcased the agricultural success stories and challenges that the continent faces. Opening remarks were heard from Kofi Annan, President Of The United Republic of Tanzania, Melinda Gates, President of AGRA Jane Karuku and IFAD President Nwanze.

The speaker’s remarks were connected by an overwhelming call for investment in African agriculture in order to comprehensively boost agricultural production and attain more robust and secure economic growth and food security both in Africa and globally. They strongly emphasized that investing in smallholder farmers, particularly women, and the need to recognise them as the driving force behind productivity is key to unlocking the continent’s agricultural potential.

As he declared the forum open, President Kikwete of Tanzania also called for stronger partnerships among governments, donor agencies and the private sector in order to stimulate growth and productivity in agriculture. He stressed that the conference should center on ways of attracting private sector investment in order to help bolster the African agricultural sector, as it would have a positive ripple effect on the overall economic climate on the continent, thereby improving livelihoods.

In her opening remark, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda said:

In the end, it boils down to what ought to be done to eradicate poverty…In order to achieve our objective, we needed to invest not only in health but also in global development generally, of which agriculture is a powerful example…

Ultimately, the forum produced an action plan to transform Africa’s agricultural sector. It was agreed that structures to link smallholder farmers with key players in the financial system should be developed. Forum participants also called for regional commodity trade regimes to be harmonised and barriers lifted across Africa as well as encouraging plans to address issues that disrupt the flow of regional markets such as infrastructure, corruption and transport.

At the end of the meeting, Ms Jane Karuku, president of the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) said:

The international community is beginning to realise that smallholder farmers are entrepreneurs and farming is a business…The forum inspired tremendous discussions and developed actionable plans to bring us closer to achieve food security. It is critical that we move forward with these real, practical and pragmatic actions.

And Yara International president and chief executive officer and co-chair at the forum, Mr Jorgen ole Haslestad, added:

By gathering public-private sector leaders to collaborate across borders and industries, we are optimistic that the result will be a more food secure future.

For a round up of opening remarks and media articles covering AGRF 20102, click here.


Averting Food Crisis: Improving Smallholder Agriculture

Global food prices have returned to the spotlight in recent weeks, owing to the devastating drought in the United States that has caused crop prices to climb. The global food price index produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) rose by 6 percent to 213 points in July, causing concern that we could be heading towards another crisis similar to that of 2007/8 that pushed 44 million people into poverty.

But what can be done to prevent this from happening? An immediate reaction from producer countries may well be to impose export bans, to protect food availability in their own countries. Director-General of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Shengenn Fan, warns against this. In a recent statement he said:

Countries must stay away from imposing export restrictions when food prices increase because they lead to tighter market conditions and panic purchases by food-importing countries, thereby exacerbating food price hikes.

The production of biofuels has also fallen under scrutiny, with FAO Director-General Jose Graziano Da Silva speaking out in the Financial Times last week. Currently, about 40 percent of total maize production in the United States is used to produce ethanol. The US Department of Agriculture’s forecast for maize production is at its lowest level since 2006/07, sparking debate as to whether the mandates in the US and EU should be relaxed in times of food shortage. Da Silva commented:

While the current situation is precarious and could deteriorate further if unfavourable weather conditions persist, it is not a crisis yet. Countries and the UN are better equipped than in 2007-08 to face high food prices, with the introduction of its Agricultural Market Information System, which promotes co-ordination of policy responses. Risks are high and the wrong responses to the current situation could create it. It is vitally important that any unilateral policy reactions from countries, whether importers or exporters, do not further destabilise the situation.

When food prices rise sharply, it is those in the developing world, who spend a large percentage of their income on food that suffer most. The following infographic, produced by the World Food Programme demonstrates varying income expenditure on food, and what happens when the poor are forced to spend more on food: they are left with barely any income for health, education and shelter.

It is therefore critical we avert another food crisis, and research shows we have it within our power to do this. Vulnerable families in the developing world need not rely on industrial powerhouses such as the United States for their crops, they could be self-reliant, and produce enough food not only to feed themselves, but their continent.  As Marianne Bänziger, Deputy Director-General at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) recently commented:

There are many developing countries where productivity could be increased to reduce overreliance on imports and benefit rural poor and development in those countries at large. The potential for improvement is enormous. Providing farmers with knowhow and improved agronomy, seed, and storage methods can produce dramatic effects both for individual families, entire countries, and the globe as a whole.

To enable smallholder farmers to rise to this challenge, it is imperative that we invest in the infrastructure necessary in rural areas, and improve access to stress-tolerant seeds and fertilizer. Weather-based index crop insurance mechanisms that protect farmers from adverse climatic events, and extension services that train farmers in agroforestry, crop diversity and smart irrigation, can all play critically important roles in creating a resilient new crop of farmers that will stave off hunger for future generations.