Bringing Inputs to Farmers

This is the final in a three-part series about our visit to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the projects they’re funding in Africa.

“You can get Coca-Cola at any store in any village in Kenya, but you have to travel 50 to 60 kilometers to get fertilizer,” says James Mutonyi, Country Director for the Agricultural Market Development Trust (AGMARK), which through CNFA has received support from AGRA to help build a system of agro-dealers in Kenya (see our post on AGRA called AGRA Sets the Record Straight)

The “low use” of inputs, says Mutonyi, is the biggest challenge agriculture faces in Africa. Farmers not only don’t have access to improved seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs, but they are, he says, “ignorant” about how to use them. But by investing in existing agro-dealers and helping train new ones, CNFA and AGMARK are hoping to reach more and more farmers. There are currently about 2,000 agro-dealers in Kenya, which they hope to more than double over the next two years. One agro-dealer, according to Mutonyi, serves about 500 farmers and because of large family sizes, the real number of people each dealer reaches can be about 20,000 people.

And, says Mutonyi, they’re “building rural enterprises that will survive beyond donor funding.” By building the private market, CNFA and AGMARK want to make Kenyans less dependent on subsidies for inputs, as well as food aid from the United States and other Western nations. They’re collaborating with the World Food Program and the biggest food millers in Africa to help ensure that African food supplies for drought- and famine-affected regions comes from African producers.

They’re also working on ways to make it easier for both agro-dealers and farmers to gain access to information through electronic platforms, such as cell phones. As a result, farmers can find out prices for both inputs and outputs without leaving the farm.

Mutonyi admits that although they’ve boasted of training hundreds of agro-dealers and farmers, they’re missing an important audience—women. Men are the ones who buy the seeds, but it’s women who are planting them and they’re not getting the information and education they need.

Ultimately, just expanding the agro-dealer program won’t be enough, according to Mutonyi. More technology is needed, he says, “right down to the farmer.” And, he says, AGRA has encouraged them to be more aware of environmental problems that can result from the overuse and misuse of agricultural inputs. “If you want to do anything for the environment,” says Mutonyi, “you need to include agro-dealers” because they’re often the first and only source of information for farmers.

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