Fighting Hunger

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Members of Enyin-Ebenye Multipurpose Cooperative in Bekwarra in Cross River collectively harvesting their cassava

Solomon Elusoji writes about how one development programme is changing the lives of thousands of small scale farmers in the Niger Delta

Forty-five years old Adedeji Francis lived in Lagos from birth till he was 43. In 2015, when he clocked four decades and three, he reviewed his adult life as an ‘applicant’ and concluded that he needed to re-evaluate his insistence on a white collar job. With a wife, five children and other siblings to cater for, he knew he would continue to live a miserable life if he did not change his outlook on life and survival. So, he began to think of new ideas that could put food on his table.

Francis had lots of ideas but he had no money to implement any of them except one. The idea was to return to his native Kolawole Community in Ondo State and put his father’s cocoa farm to use once again. So he packed his family and their belongings, and moved to his village in February 2015, after spending all his life in Lagos.

His late father, a rich cocoa farmer in his days, had big parcels of farm land. But that was then. Things were no longer what the ‘Lagos boy’ turned farmer thought they would be. To revitalise his father’s farm, he had to contend with brush and shrubs that had taken over the farm. For any meaningful farming activity to take place at the farm, Francis, his wife, and his children had to get their hands dirty to clear the bushes with their bare hands and cutlasses. It was a task that required a lot of labour to accomplish, but it had to be done.

But luck was about to smile on Francis, for soon after he cleared the farm land and started planting cocoa, an Agricultural Input company came to his rescue through the facilitation of the Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE), a DFID funded programme intervening in the Niger Delta region of the country.

Francis joined in the training organised for cocoa farmers by the Agricultural Input company. As the training went on, Francis was putting into practice everything he was taught. In fact, he planted cocoa that same year he relocated to his village, while he learnt to take better care of the old cocoa trees in the farm. Last year after his first cocoa harvest, his life changed. Because he had made excess profit from his farm, he found himself doing incredible things on the home front. He could provide three square meals for his family, something that had almost been impossible during his time in Lagos.

That is the story of Adedeji Francis’ transformation from a hustler in Lagos to a very promising farmer and family man that can now provide for his family, because he benefited from the Making Markets Work Approach used by MADE.

Interestingly, Francis’ story is not unique. Across all the nine states that constitute the Niger Delta region of the country, there are thousands of farmers who have recorded tales of transformation after encountering with MADE.

MADE is a rural and agricultural market systems development programme using the Making Markets Work for the Poor approach (M4P) to design systemic and sustainable interventions that generate pro-poor and inclusive growth in the nine Niger Delta states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. The goal is to facilitate increases in incomes for at least 150,000 poor people, of whom 50 per cent must be women.

MADE’s Team Lead, Tunde Oderinde, in phone conversation with THISDAY said that the programme design is based on the recognition that poverty is the failure of the structure of market systems in which the poor participate and that when markets work efficiently and produce equitable outcomes for the poor, such markets become powerful vehicles for delivering growth and poverty reduction. And almost four years after it kicked off, this reasoning has been further validated

MADE currently implements interventions in several sectors of the agriculture value chain, including in cassava, fisheries, palm oil, poultry, finished leather goods and agricultural inputs. The programme develops capacity within each sector by improving technical know-how and helping locals source for finance, in a bid to improve the quality and quantity of finished products. Then it facilitates linkages between producers, suppliers and manufacturers, creating a value chain that triggers increased wealth for everyone involved. An example is MADE’s work with cassava.

Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava, a staple that is the most important crop by production, and the second most important by consumption, according to a 2014 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The Niger Delta produces 14 million tonnes of cassava a year, accounting for a third of national output, and contributing about 34 per cent of total household income for cassava farmers in the region. However, despite the crop’s importance, inefficiencies in production and processing have given rise to a suboptimal cassava industry. “Few farmers use improved and unadulterated agricultural inputs, have little or no mechanisation and recycle local stems from previous harvests,” MADE said in an intervention profile sighted by THISDAY. “These all contribute to poor yields as Nigeria’s average yield of 7.7 MT per hectare, compares dismally to the 23.4 MT and 22.2 MT average yield per hectare produced in Indonesia and Thailand.”

MADE then set out to improve productivity through the adoption of good agronomic practices. The programme provided cost-shared with SME processors to establish out-grower schemes and demonstrate good agronomic practice to cassava farmers. The processors are in turn linked to large manufacturers who provide technical support, enabling processors meet quality requirements.

Within three years of being involved with cassava, “we have been able to improve production from 10 –12 metric tons per hectare to about 18–25 tons per hectare,” MADE’s Team Leader, Tunde Oderinde, said at a Cassava Investment Forum in Lagos in October.

But, beyond supply, MADE is also looking at stimulating demand. “So far we have reached more than 30,000 farmers in the Niger Delta,” MADE’s Cassava Intervention Manager, Mr. Chyka Okarter, said at the 2017 Niger Delta Development Forum, “and we are not ignorant of the fact that when these farmers start producing optimally, there will be a glut in the market. So we are also working with small medium enterprise (SMEs) processors who can turn the cassava roots into other derivative products. We are also trying to link these processors to those who will buy their products, companies like Nestle, Unilever, Feed mills, Dufil, those who use starch and HQCF and they’ve shown signs that they are ready to off-take.”

According to a cassava beneficiary based in Bayelsa State, Dr. Josephine Lloyd, who was one of the exhibitors that displayed a variety of products – baking flour, tapioca, chips, poultry feed, chin-chin, starch – derived from cassava at a Cassava investment workshop in Lagos, she came in contact with MADE facilitated opportunities in 2014. Dr. Lloyd, who also teaches business at the Niger Delta University, Otueke, said “They gave me Vitamin A fortified cassava stems, invested a lot in developing my capacity. Now, my yields have increased to about 65 per cent and our enlightenment, in terms of how I can use technology to transform farming, is super.”

Today, Lloyd instructs hundreds of other farmers within her community on good agronomic practice. “Before, most of us did not even believe in herbicides. Now we do and have
also come to realise that the manual weeding is not profitable.”

This approach of empowering players in the market is a MADE business model that cuts across all the sectors it operates in. In the Finished Leather Goods market, the programme is helping to improve the quantity of funding available to shoemakers in Aba.

“We have been able to trigger finance opportunities for several farmers in the Niger Delta through our partnership with a myriad of financial institutions including the Bank of Agriculture” the sector’s Intervention Manager, Adeyinka Abimbola, said. “We’ve also leveraged the Made-in-Aba campaign, and currently attempting to develop individual brands within the cluster. We are running a pilot programme with a lead marketing communications firm, TBWA Concepts, to try and trigger the brand development service that allows a private
sector player come in and develop recognisable indigenous brands as a service component to improve the competitiveness of the Aba cluster.”

Abimbola, who also oversees the Access to Finance component of the programme, said during a brand workshop facilitated by TBWA in collaboration with MADE for entrepreneurs in the Aba finished leather sector that raising funds was not just limited to the Leather sector. “We have been able to facilitate finance for thousands of individual farmers, most of whom have received loans which vary between N30,000 to N250,000 because they fall within the micro-loans sphere,” he said.

In the Fishery sector, improving the technical tools through which fish farmers collect, preserve and process their fish has been crucial. “Here, we identified some systemic constraints,” MADE Fishery’s Intervention Manager, Roy Ndidi, said. “The business management capacity from the farmers was low, profitable fish farming practices were absent. So we had to identify service providers who offer services to fish providers across the Niger Delta.”

The programme also introduced a smoking kiln technology and provided grants to encourage technology, facilitated the provision of 36 kilns to fish smoking entrepreneurs and increased awareness for 3,500 fish farmers and smokers.

“In Poultry, MADE is working to reduce poultry mortality in the Niger Delta due to diseases, particularly New Castle Disease Virus, and poor poultry keeping practices by establishing private sector distribution channels through which micro and small scale poultry farmers have access to high quality poultry products, improved breeds and information on good poultry practices across the Niger Delta through partnerships with key market actors the sector’s Manager,” Motunrayo Momodu, said.

The Poultry Intervention engages with private sector poultry input companies who have an interest in expanding their distribution channels in the Niger Delta primarily through the development of active micro enterprises who provide poultry inputs especially vaccination services to over 23,000 poultry farmers, 46 per cent of whom are women. There is now improved demand for poultry inputs, improved breeds and information by micro and small scale poultry farmers. “The net result is increased productivity, enhanced competitiveness and increased incomes among rural poultry farmers,” an Intervention profile from MADE’s Issuu platform said.

According to the programme’s Agricultural Input intervention profile, as at June 2017, its agricultural inputs intervention had reached over 74,000 smallholder farmers who have participated in on-farm demonstration of good agronomic practice and access to spraying services. At least 70,000 of the farmers have adopted a wide range of practices exposed to them, including a range of practices related to production planning and land preparation, and environmentally sound use of crop protection products throughout the farming cycle for each crop.

MADE is a unique development programme in many ways, but its most striking feature, perhaps, is the programme’s approach to sustainability. The programme is scheduled to end next year, but its work of creating market structures that help poor people thrive is expected to outlive it.

When this reporter asked its Team Leader, Tunde Oderinde, whether the programme has been able to meets its target of increasing the income of 150,000 people, he was quite optimistic. By February 2018, when the programme’s first phase is expected to wind up, Oderinde said the programme would have met its targets, he also pointed out that a lot has been put together to ensure sustainability.

“Sustainability is key to our interventions,” he said. “We have spent the last few years working with the private sector and lead actors in our intervention. Many of them have adopted our practice and technology. We see so many of them replicating what they learnt from MADE in different states outside the Niger Delta. To us this is important.”

To drive home his point, he described the rationale behind MADE’s Technology Adoption Grant, a fund that allows farmers acquire advanced mechanical tools like the Malaysian Knife, Mechanical Adjustable Harvester, palm oil small-scale processing equipment, fish smoking kilns and other technologies at a 40 per cent discount. So, if for example, 50 farmers acquire these machines and begin to see improved yield and income, will it not motivate other farmers to want to invest in the technology?

“We want to have a critical mass who see the value of improved practices and technology and spread the word,” Oderinde said.