Herment A. Mrema

To me it will be a waste of time to debate on an obvious issue.  Small scale farming in Africa is life, is culture, is political, is survival and is livelihood. Small scale farming in Africa has performed well and what we need to do more, is to make these small holder farms more productive and profitable. To do that we need to support our farmers to embrace the concept of farming is business, which means assuming higher affordable risks and the higher the risk assumed the higher the returns.

In order to embark on commercial agriculture they need volumes and good quality. These farmers can achieve both if they are organized into farmer groups, embrace uniform best agricultural practices (into large farms) and they add as much value to their produce before they sell and move from marketing commodities into marketing complex products. Marketing complex products will avoid price fluctuations associated with selling commodities due to vagaries of demand and supply. This will be achieved through value addition up the chain while retaining ownership by the small scale farmer and it will be possible if these farmers are facilitated to access business facilitation tools such as skills, know how, appropriate technologies, inputs, social and working capital (credit), financial services, market and price information and enabling environment built on values of honesty, integrity, trust, integrated, holistics and comprehensive approaches.  These farmers should be facilitated to access competitive markets for their products where the farmers are able to negotiate for prices (which cover all cost of production, processing, marketing including reasonable profits) instead of being price takers and the farmers should be paid/ or pay (for services received) on performance. To avoid the problems which lead to to the failure of cooperatives, sales proceeds should be channelled directly to farmers individual accounts as we have in a place a technology suitable to manage these kind of transactions. Farmer groups will also be facilitated to establish their own thrift and credit schemes (not SACCOS) which will be used mainly to finance their basic needs such as need for salt, sugar, paraffin, soap, etc. and later evolve into village banks. Managers, and service providers will be required to invest in the process of service provision and be paid after the transaction is completed and based on the value of service provided as it contribute to the generation of incomes.

This means embracing Product and Service Supply Value chains approaches being driven by sense of Farmer ownership as the driver of the chains. The cooperation, alliances, linkages, partnership of stakeholders within the chains will influence the market, price and demand which may cause a paradigm shift.  The consumer demand for quality, food safety that could be traced to the source of origin and willingness to pay a premium price for the product is one of the forces which makes this initiative possible.  Furthermore the technological explosion “the fall of the walls and the rise of windows” has provided affordable technologies and information which can make this initiative possible.

The corporate world has had its gains for too long, have exploited the small holders farmers for too long and its time for “CHANGE”.  Change that we believe in it and sure we can.

We need to capitalize the small scale farmers household with only $ 50 per month as a social capital in terms of a revolving loan and they will be able to access their basic needs which make them vulnerable to middlemen and traders who took away the little they sell at a price set by the middlemen. These farmers are forced to sell without adding value which does not justify them to bargain for a better price. Middle men who play significant roles in all businesses are important and they will be empowered to play different roles and functions such as providing goods and services now being demanded by farmers as their purchasing power is enhanced due to earnings from selling value added products in  competitive markets.

We have simple solutions for these problems, the challenge is hidden agenda because of greedy, selfishness, lack of commitment, determination, lack of desire to develop as “we” instead  we are only thinking for ourselves while we know very well that time has come that no single individual, family, household, village or nation can survive on their own.  We need each other to face the challenges of the world so that we can prosper together equitably according to individual contribution to the process. .

More information on success stories is available on request.

Herment A. Mrema, Executive Director, Africa Rural Development Support Initiative (ARUDESI)