For smallholder farmers in Africa, increased productivity means surplus crops. Additionally, with proper postharvest handling and agro-processing techniques, a high-quality product can be produced that stores well and fetches a high market price. The Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) works with smallholder farmers, female agro-processing groups, farmers associations, and agricultural service providers to introduce improved agricultural technologies and develop specialized skills to order to increase the end-value of their agricultural products. This sort of strong value chain provides farmers with a more stable supply of good quality food as well bringing them profits.
Production: Choosing the Right Cultivation Method
Kabuwama Paulo is a community-based facilitator (CBF) in the Mukono District of Uganda. As a CBF, Paulo provides technological guidance and support—from planting to harvest—to 19 selected leading farmers in his community. He was selected from the local community for the role of CBF because of his wealth of knowledge and experience. Usually in Uganda a CBF supervises between 20 to 60 famers in the local community.
The SAA’s Sasakawa Global 2000 (SG2000) program works with interested farmers like Paulo to introduce improved agricultural skills and technologies through its Farmer Learning Platforms (FLPs). Under the scheme, farmers volunteer the use of their plots of land for the planting of an improved cultivar of maize, soybeans, NERICA rice, or other crops. Technology Option Plots (TOPs) are seeded and divided into three segments, each provided with a differing amount of fertilizer and pesticides. The local farmers decide for themselves how much they would like to invest their resources in the coming year, based on the results they see on the TOPs.
The SAA works in many regions, often using farmers’ fields and sometimes communal land as demonstration plots to illustrate to the community the effects of improved agricultural technologies. Demonstration plots offer curious local famers a first-hand encounter with a variety of improved agricultural techniques and technologies. The TOPs model is just one of many types of demonstration plots.
The SAA Uganda Office works with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and other organizations to promote upland rice, including NERICA rice, and coordinates with national research institutions to select and introduce varieties best suited to each specific region.
These activities have brought higher yields per hectare, shorter growth cycles, improved resistance to drought and pests, and harvests of deliciously fragrant rice. Paulo’s community and others welcomed the benefits of these programs. As a CBF, Paulo is happy to see that local farmers now have ample rice to not only feed their families, but also to sell as a surplus for cash—a precious resource for households. Paulo is just one of 194 CBFs in Uganda working as extension agents for the leading farmers as of 2012.
Since the Introduction of NERICA Rice
Moses Robert Waiswa was the first person to bring NERICA rice to his community in Bubago, located in Uganda’s Namutumba District. He has since begun to grow NERICA, not only on his own but as a part of a farmers association. He is glad to share his experiences related to growing NERICA rice:
“To me, the advantage of NERICA is that it has several varieties so you can choose the one best suited to your area. It also requires less labor than the paddy rice varieties. Plus, producers are not at risk of infection from parasites in water because the rice does not require flooded paddies. Because NERICA has a short three-month growth cycle in this area, a farmer can grow two full harvests of the same crop in a year, or grow two separate crops. Since the introduction of NERICA, we’ve secured food supplies for our households and increased our incomes as well. Some people in the village have built houses, and many are beginning to buy bicycles. We’ve even been able to send our children to college.”
JICA’s youth volunteers from Japan help interested farmers learn about cultivating NERICA rice, and provide technical guidance to local model farms. Local farmers can visit the model farms to observe them and learn about the cultivation techniques employed on the demonstration plot. Upon returning to their own plots of land, they can then introduce those techniques for their own rice cultivation. Apart from their role in providing technical guidance to farmers, the JICA volunteers often visit local schools to teach students and organize cultural exchange activities. Waiswa’s experience with the volunteers has been good, as he explains: “The volunteers stay with us for a long time, and when a volunteer’s two-year stint ends, the next volunteer arrives shortly thereafter.”
A current volunteer, Toshiyuki Tsutsui, shares his impressions: “Thanks to the village farmers, teaching has been a rewarding experience for me. Based on their belief that outsiders come with good ideas, Ugandans are particularly good at assimilating outside ideas and influences into their own culture. The way that NERICA rice, a foreign variety, has become adapted to a part of the Ugandan food culture is a good example of this open-mindedness.”
Maize, bananas, and cassava are the staples in the region. The arrival and spread of NERICA rice cultivation has further diversified the local diet and improved food security.
Agricultural equipment also plays a very important role in improving crop yields. For example, a threshing machine provided by the SAA seven years ago replaced a very labor-intensive traditional method previously used, thus greatly reducing the threshing time and in turn freeing up farmers to perform other work. The thresher can process a variety of crops, allowing the farmers association to use it during multiple harvest seasons.
Learning about Improved Cultivars
Paul Gonahasa, a father of four and a member of the Pallisa Agribusiness Training Association (PATA) in Uganda, works until sunset every day on his cassava farm, which straddles the road in front of his home. “From my training with these improved varieties” Gonahasa explains, “I’ve learned how to better care for my crops so that they can better resist diseases, and my yields have increased. I’ve earned more money from being able to process and sell my crops as well.” Better food security means he is better able to provide for his family, which has given him a stronger sense of self-reliance and confidence. The change shows in his smile as he stands alongside his children.
PROCESSING: Polished Rice Demands a Better Price
The Nakonte Rice Milling Center services several communities in the Mukono District of Uganda, including Nakisunga and Ntenjero. Every Wednesday, rice farmers from these three areas come to mill their rice. Un-milled rice sells for the equivalent of half a US dollar, whereas polished rice sells for twice that price. A local elementary school collects money from families in the community and buys its rice for school lunches directly from the Nakonte Rice Milling Center. This is done, as the school’s vice principal explains, because “the rice is fresher and tastier than rice bought from stores.”
Local farmers and consumers are grateful for the rice-milling center, which was built with funds from Japan’s official development assistance, and is run by a farmers association receiving technical support from the SAA. In the future, they hope to optimize the utilization of by-products from the center through using rice bran as feed for livestock and using the hull as fuel.
Increasing Income Through a Threshing Business
Dergu Bankere, who lives in Shashemene, Ethiopia, applied the skills he learned from SAA training and purchased a mechanical thresher in 2011 to provide threshing service as a business. Now, he travels as far as 400 kilometers from home with his threshers and donkey cart to offer threshing for a variety of crops. He threshes tef (a staple grain in Ethiopia) in August; maize from September to early October; and wheat and finger millet from late October to November. He charges 100 birr (around JPY450) per hour to cover his operating costs. His two threshers together can process 300kg of tef in around two hours. Using traditional methods the same amount of tef would have taken 3 days to thresh and would have fetched a lower price due to greater quantities of sand, rocks, and other impurities. Thanks to Bankere, and service providers like him, nearly all threshing in the region is performed by machine now.
Double harvest pattern during rainy season (repeating the same crop risks depleting soils)
- Belg (secondary rainy season) from mid-February to May from mid-February to May
⇒ Meher (main rainy season) from mid-June to mid-September
- Pattern 1 Potatoes or wheat ⇒ Tef
- Pattern 2 Tef ⇒ Potatoes or wheat
- Pattern 3 Wheat ⇒ Tef or potatoes
Capital Requirements for Threshing Services Business
- Machinery purchase 15,000 birr
- Plastic sheet (tarpaulin) for spreading the grain 300 birr
- Cart 4,000 birr
- Donkey 2,000 birr
- Total 21,300 birr (approx. JPY95,000)
Other costs include transportation between areas by rented car (e.g., travelling to Borena, 250km away, costs around 1,500 birr); labor, fuel for engine, repair, maintenance
The start-up costs for Bankere’s business totaled 21,300 birr, which is around JPY95,000. But the business takes in 10,000 birr in a typical month, and 80,000 birr over the course of eight months (JPY360,000). His earnings before the SAA training were around 6,000 birr per year (about JPY27,000). If Bankere were to travel further afield with his threshers, his earnings could be even greater. While he’s away from home, his family or paid laborers manage his farm.
There are 114 people in the Shashemene region who own threshing machines, for a total of around 200 machines. Without proper maintenance, however, the life-span of these machines can be cut short. The SAA thus offers training programs at regional repair centers on the maintenance and repair of agricultural equipment. Service providers like Bankere still worry about breakdowns, though, because machine parts are not manufactured locally, and imported parts can be very expensive. For the threshing machines, the made-in-Japan Robin engines are particularly popular in Ethiopia but spareparts are not available. The less expensive Lifan-brand engines from China are commonly used as replacement engines.
Community Cassava Processing
Pallisa Agribusiness Training Association (PATA) is a farmers association that runs a One-Stop Center (OSCA) in the Kadama region of Uganda. One of the enterprises operated by the association is cassava processing into gari (a roasted fermented grated cassava), starch and flour. The processing equipment in center provide farmers a more efficient way to grate, dry, press, and mill cassava than traditional hand processing. According to a PATA staff member, “When cassava is hand processed, the cassava pieces are large, and the drying process takes around two weeks, during which time the cassava can discolor. Machine-processed cassava, in contrast, is much finer and only takes one day to dry.” As a side operation, staff members at the center also sell baked and fried cassava treats.
Market Access: Sales to International Aid Organizations
After proper harvesting and processing, high-quality agricultural products can be marketed. Farmers associations and other agricultural groups package members’ products together in bulk. If the quality surpasses a certain specified level, the packaged product can be sold to large-scale buyers and to markets inside or outside the country. One of the main bulk buyers is the World Food Program (WFP), which purchases grains from farmers associations through its Purchase for Progress (P4P) program that provides emergency food relief in crisis areas.
The key issue in this phase of the value chain is quality control. The SAA helps farmers in Mali, Uganda, and Ethiopia to achieve the quality levels required by the P4P program. The SAA trains farmers how to use a thresher and to clean and maintain warehouses. Prior to storage, the grains are winnowed to remove slight impurities. Further cleaning and sorting is then done to remove stones and other impurities (see photo). This secondary processing requires around three days to complete for 100kg of beans. Sorters (usually women) are paid 25 birr (just over 100 yen) to perform this work, which is absolutely necessary from a quality-control perspective.
Photographs by Hisayoshi Osawa