How farmers are improving their crops through shared skills, knowledge

Tuesday June 19 2018


Farm to Market Alliance approach enabled farmers to have enough food to feed their families and a surplus of crops to sell. PHOTO | FILE 

By John Paul Sesonga

Recently, the World Food Programme (WFP) started the Farm to Market Alliance’s (FtMA) — an initiative to set up community volunteers in Rwanda, commonly known as “lead farmers.”

The initiative has created a network of over 600 people who share agricultural skills and better farming practices to over 30,000 smallholder farmers across the country.

This approach complements the Twigire Muhinzi government initiative of using farmer promoters and encourages farmers to increase the quality and quantity of their maize and beans.

This concept does not only enable them to have enough food to feed their families, but it also gives them a surplus of crops that they can sell to generate income.

Lead farmers are nominated by their peers from smallholder organisations in rural areas. They are trained to be trainers and serve as community focal points for the dissemination of agricultural information to other farmers.

The lead farmers receive a communication allowance of Rwf 2,000 to mobilise groups of 25 at the village level.

Knowledge sharing

For example, Clementine Ukwitegetse, 37, a mother of six, says that as a lead farmer, she gets to see her friends applying better farming practices that she showed them and getting a better price for their crops at market.

She talked about the joy of working as a volunteer and her daily work is to visit plots of her fellow farmers, advises them and reports any complicated issues to agronomists.

In close collaboration with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), lead farmers are trained on good agricultural practices, post-harvest handling and storage.

They share this knowledge with not only co-operative members, but with other community members as well.

The results so far have been positive. Surveys conducted three to four months after the training showed 76 per cent of farmers trained on good agricultural practice applied the taught skills, and 92 per cent of them reported reduced post-harvest losses.

Once lead farmers are trained by WFP and its local partners, they take the knowledge and skills to the community. One lead farmer is responsible for training and supervising at least 50 smallholder farmers at the community level.

Ammar Kawash, WFP FtMA country co-ordinator, said sharing agricultural skills and knowledge through lead farmers serves as a practical and cost-effective model for empowering smallholders.

Lead farmers are respected members of their cooperatives and are selected by the members themselves. They also remain in their communities after the project support ends to ensure the knowledge remains within the community.

Increased production

Dancille Uwamariya, a 53-year mother of three, is the president of a small- holder farmers’ organisation in Gatsibo district, Rugarama sector and said lead farmers are contributing greatly to community development.

With daily supervision by lead farmers, Ms Uwamariya said members have increased maize production. Last year they grew four times as much maize as the year before, harvesting 250 tonnes from 80 hectares and this year they expect to harvest even more.

Many smallholder farmers assisted by WFP through FtMA said their yields have increased since they joined the alliance.

Top performing farmers of the co-operative in Gatsibo district reported a yield increase from two to eight tonnes per hectare on their plots. Yield improvement is essential to ensuring enough food for consumption and for selling.

The Farm-to-Market-Alliance was formed to make markets work better for farmers by linking them to local and regional markets.

Global members include the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Bayer, Grow Africa, the International Finance Corporation, Rabobank, Syngenta, UN World Food Programme and Yara.

FtMA aims to transform existing agricultural practices through four strategic pathways, providing smallholder farmers with access to affordable finance, access to quality farming inputs, access to predictable markets and access to effective post-harvest management and other agricultural technologies.

The commitment of FtMA is to empower 1.5 million farmers by 2022, using a comprehensive value chain approach. FtMA operates in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.

John Paul Sesonga is a communication associate working with World Food Programme, Rwanda office.