Sell More For More™: A Clear Path For Helping Farmers Access Better Markets and Earn More Income
By January most farmers across Rwanda have just passed through the country’s lean season and are welcoming the harvest. But getting through the months of scarcity can mean disassembling important household investments—choosing between school fees or fertilizer, food today or food tomorrow.
Helping farmers achieve volume production and reach new markets would allow them to protect gains—even through the lean season. Achieving those ends, succeeding in the ever-challenging “how-to” of reaching smallholder farmers with services, technology and training, is complex and difficult; but one such initiative has had measurably positive results in Rwanda—Sell More For More™ (SMFM).
Sell More For More™ is a system of innovations designed to engage impoverished farmers, develop their farming skills and help them access profitable markets. Sell More For More™ was crafted by ACDI/VOCA, a U.S. development organization that specializes in broad-based economic growth. The name itself articulates how the program works: helping farmers sell more (in quality and quantity of product) for more (increased revenue), ultimately empowering them to produce top quality product without sustained assistance.
Results have been striking. In Rwanda, Sell More For More™ trained nearly 60,000 farmers in post-harvest handling and storage, and 93 percent of them went on to earn more income. The program recently won a Best Practice and Innovation award from InterAction, a large alliance of U.S.-based NGOs, and in a speech, Bill Gates singled out Odetta, a SMFM-trained farmer, saying: “In one year, her income quadrupled. Suddenly, for the first time in her life, Odetta had more money than she needed.”
Strengthening the Value Chain
The program began as a collaboration between the World Food Program (WFP) and USAID in Rwanda in 2010 to address constraints in post-harvest handling of beans and maize. WFP is a large-scale buyer and one with an important mission. Its local purchase program, Purchase for Progress (P4P), provides a lucrative opportunity for smallholders. It also acts as a bellwether: once cooperatives meet strict WFP standards, the broader market realizes that the same co-ops, and perhaps others like them, can reliably provide buyers with high-quality product at scale. Moreover, helping local farmers sell to the WFP provides more efficient food aid procurement, with quicker turnaround and less loss.
ACDI/VOCA is known for its work in value chain development: strengthening the proficiencies of, and the ties among, actors that influence the movement of a product through various stages of production and distribution until it arrives in the hands of the final customer. SMFM trainings aim to improve these proficiencies, as well as reduce constraints in these connections for lasting improvements in farmers’ incomes.
For a smallholder cultivating a few hectares in Rwanda, selling maize to a demanding big-scale buyer, say, the World Food Program or the Rwanda Grain and Cereals Corporation, is a quantum leap in business activity, and the prospect can be daunting. Instead of focusing on individual farmers, SMFM organizes and works with producer groups to efficiently inculcate the necessary skills, disseminate information and build confidence. These groups can also exercise market clout, increasing farmers’ access to bulk input providers, cultivation services, crop aggregation and storage capabilities. However, their member farmers typically lack the skills to take full advantage of these efficiencies. Shedding light on these farming and business processes and upgrading the requisite skills is where SMFM has been successful.
Training to Improve Post-Harvest Handling and Storage; Building Capacity in Business and Marketing
Post-harvest losses in Rwanda are substantial. Improper threshing techniques, poor transportation and storage facilities and a lack of oversight frequently result in losses exceeding 20 percent of the maize harvest. In addition to physical loss of product, prices paid to the farmers may be reduced due to discoloration, insect infestation, damaged kernels and aflatoxin build-up. Sell More For MoreTM trains farmers on ten specific post-harvest skills in areas from shelling to cleaning to storage, significantly reducing losses.
At the same time, SMFM works to build the capacity of cooperatives and farmer associations in business and marketing. For example Sell More For More™ helped the COAMV cooperative, which aggregates maize and processes it into flour in northwest Rwanda, secure a grant to improve its storage facilities. With better storage and a new training component designed to decrease post-harvest losses, the cooperative improved its position enough to access credit, enabling farmers to pay for children’s school fees and medical insurance. Through SMFM business plan development, COAMV is learning how to increase working capital, which should propel growth. The co-op was recently awarded a certificate from the Rwanda Bureau of Standards confirming its compliance with new health and hygiene standards, which again will help increase its market share.
The combined trainings have helped farmers reach new markets. Eighty percent of the farmer organizations trained in SMFM met the Grade 1 standards required to sell to the World Food Program, a large jump from the 47 percent pass rate of those not participating in the program.
“The impact of the Sell More for More™ trainings has been invaluable,” said Emmanuela Mashayo, World Food Program’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) coordinator in Rwanda. “We have seen marked improvement in the quality of the maize being produced, as well as in the leadership capacity of the cooperatives’ management. We are now able to purchase with confidence from those cooperatives who have undergone this training.”
Over the years, many other initiatives have trained farmers, of course. Some have fallen short because the approach was not conducive to adult learning or the message did not reach the impoverished farmers who need it most. SMFM made significant inroads in these areas using three signature components:
“M3” –Money, Membership, Management: Assessing Cooperatives
Farmer organizations begin with a participatory assessment known as M3.It addresses 26 topics relating to money management, membership development and overall management and governance. A simple, narrative survey helps organization leaders identify current priorities, and a participatory process teaches them how to self-assess their organization in the future. The results of this survey help members prepare for the training they will receive through the SMFM leadership kits.
Leadership Kits: Effective Trainings for Cooperative Leaders
To improve management skills, Sell More For More™ relies on leadership kits. Each leadership kit has four modules and each module is a three-day workshop delivered to approximately 15 current and emerging cooperative leaders. Workshops are conducted with two cooperatives at a time to facilitate sharing of experiences and encourage future collaboration. For example, after completing training together, two neighboring co-ops decided to build a joint storage facility in the Kirehe region of Rwanda that neither could afford independently.
Further, the trainings are participatory instead of passive, calling for farmers to help each other learn. Evariste Kaberuka, president of the Ibyizabiri Mbere Cooperative in Rwanda, commented that the lessons “fully engaged the entire cooperative,” creating an “immense amount of excitement.” To keep the trainings energetic, SMFM employs a 5/25 rule: for every 5 minutes of lecture time, 25 minutes is spent on a group activity designed to foster participant sharing of information.
Lastly: Helping Lead Farmers Teach Others Effectively
SMFM uses a “cascade” train-the-trainer approach to create a multiplier effect. This helps SMFM reach the entire membership of a farmer organization. In Rwanda ACDI/VOCA worked with 95 cooperatives to train 1,770 lead farmers in best post-harvest handling practices. These lead farmers each trained approximately 25 more farmers. This led to 44,590 cooperative members trained in improved maize handling.
The SMFM program provided lead farmers with a specialized tool called STICKS (Scalable Tracker for Imparting Certified Knowledge and Skills) to ensure that lead farmers taught new techniques consistently, that they were incentivized to follow through on conducting the trainings and do them well, and that they could track the newly-trained farmers. ACDI/VOCA designed the STICKS instrument to be a durable, double-sided poster that is a mainstay of the lead farmer training toolkit. It shows graphically the major post-harvest handling skills to be mastered. It also contains the lead farmer’s credentials and has signature lines on which each trainee puts his or her name. The poster can be rolled up and easily carried anywhere, for lessons in fields or classrooms. It is often proudly displayed in the lead farmer homes or farmer group headquarters.
Other Factors Contributing to Success
In addition to the comprehensive SMFM project design, additional factors contributed to success in Rwanda. Of instrumental importance, the government encourages cooperatives, supporting them at the highest levels.
Rwanda also emphasizes gender equity. It has the highest percentage of women participating in a parliament in the world. Supporting women is a policy practiced across social, economic and political spheres. Since women perform a majority of the production and post-harvest work in developing countries, being able to increase technical skills of women quickly and easily is crucial.
Finally, there was effective donor collaboration. Support from USAID and its partner organization, WFP, allowed the project to become successful.
SMFM marches on. It is currently being replicated in Ethiopia, Tanzania and by another organization in Rwanda.
William Sparks, vice president of program services at ACDI/VOCA, said, “Sell More For More works through farmer organizations to transform the lives of smallholder farmers. With collaboration and enhanced skills, farmers in the most remote locations can now access profitable markets and provide for their families. That’s what this is all about.”