BLOG Category: market-access
How far are you from the nearest power outlet? If you’re in North America or Europe, the answer is likely within 20 feet. But what would it mean if the nearest outlet wasn’t even in your neighborhood?
In most East African countries, only 10 to 20 percent of people have daily access to electricity, even in urban locations, according to a 2012 World Bank report. The situation is even more critical in rural areas, where people often lack access to even their most basic needs. Homes without electricity also don’t have running water or refrigeration, which can influence sanitation behaviors, cooking, and grocery shopping frequency. This also can affect how populations spend their money and time. And, the vast majority of these rural populations are farmers, since more than 75 percent of the world’s poor farm as a profession.
Most rural East Africans do not own cars, so the challenges are even tougher for farmers trying to access seeds, fertilizer, competitive markets, or even a safe place to keep their money.
So, how do farmers in East Africa get around?
The reality is that many of them walk, often barefoot or in flip-flops. For farmers who don’t own a bicycle or motorcycle, this is the most affordable way to get somewhere.
“I never have the 20 Kenyan shillings (approximately $0.19) that people use to go into town, so I prefer to walk,” says Christine Nakhumicha, a widowed mother who lives on the outskirts of Chwele, Kenya. “It’s not so far away, and it’s good for my health.”
Christine starts most days by walking to get water. There is a water pump at a church roughly 30 meters from her house, but it regularly runs dry, so she often has to walk 30 minutes to the nearest stream. From there, she’ll fill as many jugs of water as she can carry back home. On average, she returns to the stream for water one or two more times each day.
“I need the water to do everything: cooking, drinking, washing, and to water my cows,” Christine says.
Depending on the day, Christine might also walk to the market for some household shopping, or go to meet with the community savings group that she belongs to. The savings group is the closest thing Christine has to a bank. Each week, members pay a set amount, and one individual takes the lump sum to use for personal needs.
“The meetings for the savings group rotate through the houses of the eight farmers who are involved,” Christine says. “The furthest from me is a two-hour walk, but I have to attend so that I am able to receive the money when it is my turn to do so. Then the market can take an hour to get to and then an hour back.”
Bicycle or Boda Boda
Another popular transportation method is by bicycle. Whether it’s a personally owned bike or a bicycle taxi, known as a boda boda in Kenya, bicycles are deeply linked to farmer mobility.
The term boda boda, which is sometimes also used for motorbikes in other East African countries, stems from a history of people using bicycles and motorbikes to carry items across land borders between countries such as Kenya and Uganda. Because this was the cheapest way to travel longer distances, bicycle taxis became affectionately named after the journey. With a hint of Swahili flare, the name shifted from border to border to boda boda.
Francis Mamati, a smallholder farmer in western Kenya, purchased his first bicycle in 1985 to help him travel around for work. By 2006, his bike had started to break down, but since his farming was going well, he was able to upgrade to a newer model.
Similar to Christine, Francis spends most of the time he isn’t farming traveling to access basic necessities like food and water.
“Here we have a problem of water,” he says. “We must go very far to get water, and we would then have to carry the water up a very steep hill. If I don’t have money, and I have a journey I need to make, I can cycle there. To use a boda is too expensive compared to having your own. If I get a boda to take me somewhere, then I also get charged for any waiting, so owning a bicycle is cheaper over time.”
Still, many farmers cannot afford to purchase a bicycle upfront, which means bicycle taxis are a booming business in East Africa. Outside of cities, everything from couches to 100-pound pigs can be seen being transported by bicycle.
Motorbike or Piki Piki
When the terrain is too hilly, the load too heavy, or the distance too far, motorbikes become the next transportation solution. In Kenya, motorbike taxis are known as piki pikis.
For 63-year-old smallholder farmer Juliana Wavomba, using a motorbike taxi is the most effective way to run her business. Juliana goes to the market daily to buy a type of collard green called sukuma wiki in bulk, and then sells it in local villages to those who can’t afford to go to the market. She uses the extra money to care for her six grandchildren.
“I always want to get to the market very early so that I can get the freshest vegetables,” Juliana says. “With a motorbike, I’m assured that I can get there any time I want, and the motorbike owner will come and pick me up from my home.”
To get the freshest sukuma, Juliana leaves her house at 6 a.m. most mornings to embark on an hour-long motorbike ride, which gets her to the market right as the shops open. Juliana says she prefers to take a motorbike because otherwise the journey to the market and back would take up too much of her day, and with the motorbike, she knows she’ll make it on time.
“I think bicycles are slow, and they might not be able to carry my large bags of sukuma,” Juliana says. “On the other hand, public transport buses would want to charge me both for my fare and all my sukuma bags, so I prefer using a piki piki.”
Minibuses, vans, and other means of public transportation are available for some rural populations, but like Juliana, many people struggle to afford them.
Smallholder farmers in East Africa often don’t have regular access to their daily necessities, much less the right types of seeds and fertilizer or markets to sell their crops. This is why One Acre Fund puts an emphasis on distribution and delivery, helping farmers attain the tools they need to produce more food. We believe that this is the best way to support rural populations in growing their way out of hunger and poverty.
This blog was written by David Hong, One Acre Fund global senior policy analyst, and was originally published by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. To view the original piece, click here.
Anjelica Mumewa helps Beatus Balama harvest maize on her farm in rural Tanzania
While the growth of cities has been well documented, it might come as a surprise to find out that Africa’s rural population will grow nearly 50 percent between 2015 and 2050. To address rural poverty in Africa and strengthen our food systems, it’s important to focus on helping smallholder farmers increase production and gain access to domestic markets. Many of these domestic markets—which represent real economic opportunity for smallholder farmers—will supply urban consumers.
Smallholder farmers are absolutely central to ending rural poverty. In fact, 75 percent of people living in poverty rely on agriculture as their primary means of income, and studies have shown that growth in the agriculture sector is at least twice as powerful in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. In many places, smallholder farmers are the engine of the rural economy—in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, they grow up to 80 percent of the food consumed, and some estimates peg the number of smallholder farms at 500 million worldwide. However, smallholder yields are low and have barely budged in decades. Many smallholder farmers in Africa are only producing a fraction of their crop’s genetic yield potential, which farmers in the United States and Argentina achieve every year.
If we want to drive down rural poverty and increase production to meet the demands of growing rural and urban populations, we need to invest in boosting smallholder farmer productivity. We already have the tools and technologies to dramatically increase yields and ensure the food security of hundreds of millions of families. But smallholder farmers living in remote areas lack access to these tools and technologies. To increase their yields, smallholders need access to basic products and services, specifically 1) financing for farm inputs, 2) training, 3) distribution, and 4) access to markets. Once these are in place, farmers are not only able to feed their own families, they are also able to grow enough to feed their surrounding communities.
First, smallholder farmers need access to flexible and innovative tools to finance the cost of farm inputs and productive assets. Many farmers have difficulty coming up with the upfront capital required to buy fertilizer or livestock, yet have the ability to make incremental payments over time. Juhudi Kilimo offers Kenyan farmers financing designed to help them buy productive assets such as dairy cows. Nearly half of the organization’s total loan portfolio is for dairy cows, which have the potential to increase household income by $600 per year. In Mali, myAgro allows farmers to use their mobile phones to pay for seed and fertilizer on layaway.
Second, many smallholder farmers lack basic information about agricultural best practices, and need training to maximize the benefits of improved technologies such as hybrid seed. In Rwanda, the Ministry of Agriculture has developed an effective extension system that provides each village with a “farmer promoter” – a volunteer who is trained in basic agronomy to provide agriculture information and advice to local farmers. There are now over 14,000 farmer promoters delivering life-changing tools and trainings to every village in all corners of the country.
Third, most smallholders live in remote rural areas that are underserved by traditional markets. “Agrodealers” or other rural retailers may find it unprofitable to set up businesses in these remote areas, thus cutting farmers off from access to productive technologies. Each year in East Africa, One Acre Fund hires a fleet of trucks to deliver seed and fertilizer, solar lamps, cookstoves, and other impactful products deep into rural areas where farmers live.
Fourth, farmers need output markets to buy their harvests and to ensure a return on their investment. While there are many examples of contract farming and off-take agreements at a small scale, few initiatives are as ambitious as the World Food Program’s Patient Procurement Platform. The Patient Procurement Platform is an initiative designed to connect smallholder farmers to commercial buyers at scale. Together with the private sector, the World Food Program is aiming to purchase $750 million of crops from 1.5 million smallholder farmers by the end of this year.
All of these examples showcase the ability to transform the agriculture sector and the lives of smallholder farmers. Relative to the overall need, however, the farmers being served only represent a drop in the bucket. There are literally hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers who, with the right interventions, could boost their productivity and contribute to their country’s food systems. To address this need, we’ll need the help of governments, donors, and private sector actors to invest in and partner with innovative organizations that are operating at scale. A strong food system is supported by productive farmers; when farmers thrive, hunger declines. That’s a win-win for the farm and the city.
One Acre Fund is hiring for over 60 positions. Apply today to join our family of leaders.
Germana stands with her bags of her maize.
A 61-year-old mother of three, Germana Nevele had farmed for decades, but with little success. Her harvest was often a meager six bags, barely enough to feed her family. Even in good years, a lack of access to markets meant there were no opportunities for Germana to sell any surplus she grew.
In 2013, Germana heard about One Acre Fund and was impressed by the loan offering. She decided to join, hoping to earn a larger profit from her harvest. In her first season with One Acre Fund, Germana enrolled for one acre of land and harvested more than 16 bags of maize.
“I used to help other people to weed their farms to get money to buy extra food and pay for the education of my children,” she says. “Now, I never work for other people.”
For many Tanzanian farmers like Germana, poor harvests are just one of the barriers they face in the fight to achieve food security. Lack of access to markets is another barrier—poor roads and lack of infrastructure, long distances to the nearest towns, and high transportation costs prevent farmers from selling their harvest surplus and turning their farms into profitable businesses.
To help farmers truly maximize their farm income, One Acre Fund is trialling a market access program in Iringa, Tanzania. In September 2014, One Acre Fund offered to purchase up to three bags of maize per farmer, and collected 150 metric tons of maize from farmers across 13 villages in the region. During the 2015 season, we adjusted the trial to test buying as much maize as each farmer would like to sell, and collected more than 250 metric tons of maize across 16 villages.
After purchasing maize from farmers, One Acre Fund is able to sell it in bulk quantities to large processing companies. In this way, we’re helping smallholder farmers reach markets they would not otherwise be able to access.
Germana watches on as bags of her maize are loaded onto a One Acre Fund truck.
“We want farmers to be able to maximize their farm income to improve their lives,” Veronica Kindole, a manager on the One Acre Fund scale innovations team, says. “We innovate based on what farmers say they need.”
Germana is just one of the farmers who has been impacted by this new program. Now, she no longer worries about whether she’ll be able to sell her surplus at market. She knows that come harvest time, she can count on selling her maize at a reasonable price.
“I am so happy that now I can sell my maize right from my village with the same price as it is in town,” Germana says.
One Acre Fund is in the process of collecting data on the trial, and will determine next steps based on our findings and feedback from farmers. For Germana, gaining access to this market opportunity has already resulted in less uncertainty, more cash in her pocket, and a year of schooling for her children. We look forward to sharing more stories about the impact of this trial on the farmers we serve.
Interested in helping smallholder farmers in Tanzania maximize their harvest profits? Apply to become One Acre Fund's Tanzania deputy country director today!
We are seeking exceptional professionals with experience in and a passion for procurement and supply chain. Apply to become a One Acre Fund regional procurement lead!
In East Africa, food insecurity remains high. The issue is complex, with many contributing factors across production and distribution. For smallholder farmers living in the most remote regions of East Africa, the issue is often directly related to their lack of access to farming supplies or inefficient agricultural processes.
Seed systems are critical to decreasing the prevalence of hunger within many East African farming communities. A “seed system” is the entire value chain of seed, from R&D all the way to planting. It means the breeding and release of new varieties, distribution and sale networks, and best planting practices for optimal yields.
Increased access to seed leads to optimal yields of crops like maize.
Seed systems work differently in the different places where One Acre Fund operates. For example, in Rwanda, seed is sold through a subsidy program. Each year, the Rwandan ministry of agriculture (MINAGRI) sets the subsidy level, then decides how much seed should be imported by agro-dealers and distributors like One Acre Fund. In contrast to Rwanda, private seed companies in Kenya and Tanzania play a much larger role seed production and sales. In all countries where we work, however, it takes at least 2-3 years for a new seed variety to be released for commercial sale.
Providing farmers with access to improved seed is a key aspect of One Acre Fund’s core program, and one of the best ways to increase farm yields. The quality of the seed system directly affects smallholders’ ability to access improved seed. Some key seed system barriers include:
Inefficient distribution and quality assurance. For most smallholder farmers, purchasing seed means a multi-kilometer walk or drive to the nearest town center to visit an agro-dealer. If the agro-dealer doesn’t have the farmer’s preferred seed variety available on that day, the farmer will purchase the next best variety, which may be less suitable for her region. Most likely, the agro-dealer has not tested the seed, or stored it in a way that prevents quality degradation. This means that by the time the farmer purchases that seed, the high moisture content could result in significantly lower germination levels.
Seed production issues. Since most companies produce seed under natural environmental pressures, there are risks each season that seed production can be impacted by drought, flooding, or disease. For example, maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND) is a serious threat to maize seed production. MLND and other pathogens can wipe out an entire crop of seed and cause hunger and starvation throughout whole regions.
System bottlenecks. The extensive seed certification process, prolonged variety release process, and lack of clarity on the seed release process are all things which dis-incentivize seed companies to innovate and produce new, promising varieties since they know it will take more than 3 years before those new varieties become profitable. Additionally, seed regulatory bodies can be limited by their financial and personnel bandwidth to increase capacity and improve controls.
Inadequate access to financing. Agro dealers do not typically sell seed on credit, which limits farmers’ purchasing decisions to the most affordable varieties. While this tends to be a bigger issue for fertilizer, which is more expensive, for the poorest farmers, price point across varieties can be a deciding factor rather than the suitability of the variety for their region.
One Acre Fund’s core program is designed to overcome many of these seed system barriers. Before offering seed to farmers, One Acre Fund’s KEPHIS-trained lab technicians test it in our very own lab to ensure quality. Once quality is proven, we deliver the seed to drop sites within walking distance of farmers’ homes, so they don’t have to incur high transport costs. We offer farmers access to credit, a flexible loan repayment schedule, and information about seed varieties that are optimal for the region and climate. This gives One Acre Fund farmers the tools, information and flexibility they need to choose the seed that is right for them.
Improved seed systems allow farmers to make important farming decisions including crop choice.
Beyond what we’re able to offer farmers through our core program, we’ve come to realize that good government regulations and policies can help address some of the barriers above. Very clear release processes, effective subsidies and promotion of improved hybrid varieties, effective demand forecasting, and seed company compliance with national regulators are all helpful ways to improve seed system functionality. Wherever we work, we’re always careful to follow all government regulations and policies for seed.
Seed security and food security are inextricably linked. Access to quality seed can mean the difference between hunger and plenty for people who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Improving seed systems, especially in agriculture-focused regions of Eastern and Sub-Saharan Africa, is key to ending global hunger.
We are seeking exceptional professionals with experience in and a passion for procurement and supply chain. Apply to become a One Acre Fund regional procurement lead!
Grace Khasoa insists she’s too old to wake up early. “I’m very old, so I wake up at seven in the morning now.” Grace, a widow, lives alone with her granddaughter, Gladwin. Her five children are all adults, with homes and families of their own.
At 67, Grace’s age means some things are more difficult for her. “Growing old means I’m no longer as strong as I used to be!” she says. “A place that would take me thirty minutes to reach now takes forty minutes or even one hour. Old age brings a lot of challenges.”
One thing that has gotten easier, though, is Grace’s ability to access farm inputs. That’s because in 2011, she enrolled with One Acre Fund, and has been receiving farm inputs delivered within walking distance of her farm in Mulimani village ever since.
It used to take Grace Khasoa one and half-hours by vehicle to get to the nearest town to buy farm inputs.
Before joining One Acre Fund, Grace would travel to Webuye to purchase seed and fertilizer. Webuye, the nearest town that sold the inputs she needed, was located one and half-hours away by car. Forced to spend precious time and money just to transport her inputs, Grace was barely able to make ends meet, let alone invest in her farm.
Grace’s explanation of how challenging it is to access the goods and services she needs is deeply personal, but her experiences are not uncommon for smallholder farmers living in rural Kenya. In the following interview, Grace puts a human face on the access challenge in rural Kenya.
One Acre Fund delivers inputs to your village, within walking distance of your farm. How did you feel when you had to travel far to get inputs?
When I had to buy inputs in Webuye, I would waste a lot of time on the road. It was very far away, and sometimes I did not plant maize because I did not have money to go to Webuye.
When I could afford to go to Webuye, I always felt that I was supposed to be happy that I was getting inputs, but just the thought that I had to go very far to get them made me feel tired even before I started the journey.
When I joined One Acre Fund, the delivery site was brought even closer to me. All I have to do is to walk to the place! This has saved me money and time.
For people who don't live in the village, can you explain to them why having inputs delivered near your home is so helpful?
When One Acre Fund brings the inputs to us, near our homes, they save us a lot of the energy and resources we would spend getting inputs from places that are very far away.
People who live in the village are poor people who depend on the little they have to survive. Being able to buy and transport something like maize seed to plant is not easy.
Also, the terrain is not like the terrain in urban areas. Here, a place that is one kilometer away takes a longer time to reach because one has to cross rivers and climb mountains, not just walk down a road.
What prompted you to join One Acre Fund?
In this land, we as Luhya people love ugali. When that is not available, we feel very bad. It’s like just taking tea— without tea, you don’t have energy to do anything.
Life before One Acre Fund was very hard because I did not have ready access to inputs like maize seed or fertilizer. I used to harvest two bags of maize on a half-acre of land, which was not enough to feed my granddaughter and me. I would go to the markets to buy sweet potatoes and other vegetables, but the market was far, and it was an additional expense.
After I joined One Acre Fund in 2011, life changed for the better. The first year that I planted with One Acre Fund, I harvested nine bags of maize. This year I have harvested my maize but have not shelled it yet, but I am confident. I now regularly grow enough maize to feed myself and also pay school fees for my granddaughter.
Before One Acre Fund, Grace used to hire a taxi to take her to get inputs in Webuye.
How frequently do you travel to Webuye now?
When I’m ok, I can go there just once a month to do my monthly shopping. I also buy things that my granddaughter needs, like textbooks and school items. It’s very far and also expensive, but I can’t get that stuff in the village.
When I’m sick though, I have to go there every week to buy medicine and get seen by the doctor.
Tell us more about your granddaughter.
Gladwin is 15 years, in form 2 in High School. She wants to be an engineer. She is motivated to be a civil engineer because she wants to make the roads in our village better since they are in a bad state. She has a hard time getting to school sometimes, especially when it rains since the roads are not passable.
Do you ever find yourself asking for help to get what you need?
When I have money I sometimes pay people to come and help with chores, like going to the river and splitting firewood. I’m glad One Acre Fund has the group system— my group members help me with the digging on my farm.
Asking for help makes me feel good and bad at the same time. I feel good because I can rest and save on time, and bad because I have to spend money to get the help that I need.
Many farmers living in remote areas of East Africa must travel long distances on foot for basic necessities such as medical care.
What is the number one thing you wish was closer to your home, and why?
We have an M-pesa around here, but it would be nice to also have a bank. But what I would really love is to have a better hospital and chemist where I buy my medicine closer to my home. The hospital here and the chemist don’t always have what I need, so I have to travel to Webuye to get medicine.
For an old woman like me, it can be scary at times. Imagine a situation where I fall sick at night or during the day and I’m all alone. How will I get to the hospital? Once, one of my neighbor’s children almost died because she could not get medicine and proper medical care in time. As a mother, I felt so much pain on her behalf.
Help solve the access gap in rural Kenya. Apply to be a program associate on our Kenya team!
Farmers in Kenya depend on maize. It’s the most important food crop by far. That’s why 2012 was such a difficult year for Kenyan farmers, when many in Western and Nyanza regions lost the bulk of their maize crop to Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND).
MLND is bad. It can wipe out entire fields within a single season, leaving farmers with nothing to harvest. Because of this risk, many farmers are starting to plant alternative crops that aren’t susceptible to MLND. Sweet potatoes, which are rich in vitamin A and other nutrients, are a prime example of an alternative crop that farmers plant as a substitute to maize.
While the threat of MLND in western Kenya has diminished considerably since 2012, the threat in Nyanza region is still high. In May 2015, One Acre Fund offered farmers in Nyanza the choice of buying bags of sweet potato vines as an optional add-on to their credit package. Lots of people jumped at the opportunity.
Sweet potatoes aren’t delivered in seed form, but instead as fresh vines. This is much trickier than delivering bags of seed, and requires careful planning and lots of hard work. At delivery time, trucks transported fresh vines from farms in Busia and Teso districts in western Kenya all the way to Nyanza, which is 300 kilometers away. We documented this impressive logistical feat in photos, below:
Seasonal workers harvest sweet potato vines.
In April 2015, One Acre Fund hired more than 50 seasonal workers to harvest the sweet potato vines we would later deliver across Nyanza.
After cutting the vines, the workers stuffed and carried 50-kilogram bags to the furthest end of the farm, where a truck waited to be loaded.
Workers pack and carry bags of vines.
The workers then loaded between 200-300 bags into a total of 42 trucks.
At around four p.m. every day, the trucks started a five-hour, 300 kilometer journey to One Acre Fund’s warehouse in Kisii town. Here, the trucks remained parked for the night. Early the next morning, the trucks traveled an average of 50 kilometers to deliver bags of vines to farmers waiting at delivery drop-off points. The trucks then made the return journey all the way back.
At the drop-off points, farmers gathered and learned how to plant sweet potato vines. This is one of the many on-farm trainings One Acre Fund field staff deliver to farmers over the course of the season.
After the training, every farmer received and carried home a bag full of vines, ready to plant.
"When I planted this variety of sweet potatoes two years ago, it performed very well and I had so many potatoes. Some of my neighbors would sometimes steal some from my farm but I didn't care because I knew I couldn't eat all the potatoes by myself!" - Norah Mumaya (left), One Acre Fund farmer in Bosinange, Kenya. Here she poses with Yuvlanis Kirochi as they carry bags of sweet potato vines they purchased on credit.
In five months’ time, farmers will have a regular supply of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes rich in Vitamin A.
Leonora Barasa peels and eats a sweet potato.
You've just seen sweet potato vine delivery, in photos. Check out this blog for images of farmers actually preparing their land for planting sweet potatoes!
Imagine you’re a maize farmer living in Tanzania. You’re ready to sell some of your harvest to make important school fee payments for your children. You put three full maize bags on your bicycle and push them for two hours to the nearest market. There, a buyer uses a broken cup to scoop your maize from one bag to another, asking you to keep count of the cups. The buyer talks to you, asking you questions; was that cup number 45 or 46? You lose track of how many cups your bag is. Without a scale, there is no way to know how much you’re selling or how the price is determined per bag.
For farmers in the southern highlands of Tanzania, inexact market opportunities are the norm. There are few chances to sell maize in any standardized units. Buyers purchase maize in buckets, cups, and bags stuffed to the brim, often underpaying farmers by more than 25 percent. Farmers face other obstacles to effectively selling their maize: maize purchased in the village passes through several middlemen before final sale; the more localized the sale opportunity, the lower the price farmers receive. Due to low population density, large markets are uncommon. The cost of transportation to sale points is often prohibitive, so farmers frequently sell to local buyers at very low prices.
One Acre Fund Tanzania recognized these challenges as opportunities for increasing farmer income. In September 2013, we ran a market access trial that connected 180 farmers in five sites with a reputable local buyer. This buyer brought a calibrated scale out to all five sites and paid farmers by the kilogram. In total, 52,057 kilograms of maize were sold, an average of 297.5 kilograms per farmer.
At a sale price of 400 Tanzanian shillings per kilogram, farmers received an average of 119,000 shillings, or around $74 USD. This represents a 30 percent increase in the price farmers would normally receive through local market opportunities.
We have big hopes for future market access work in Tanzania. On average our farmers harvest 1,872 kilograms from their One Acre Fund land. They use only about 31 percent of their total annual harvest for household consumption. That means that 69 percent is being sold. With the bulk of their harvest on the line, it is critically important that farmers get fairly compensated for what they sell. As farmers continue to harvest more as a result of working with One Acre Fund, we’re working to make sure that more maize gets directed to fair and targeted market opportunities.