Agriculture is a primary occupation for both men and women in rural Africa. It contributes significantly to household incomes and nutrition. Diversification and higher productivity on farms for both consumption and sale in regional and global markets is, therefore, a prerequisite to sustainable livelihoods. By providing internationally traded agricultural commodities and food of strategic importance, agriculture can ensure domestic food security. As a primary employer, the agricultural sector highly contributes to countries’ GDP. It has the potential to revive rural areas and to diversify Africa’s economies. Acknowledging this equals a call for strengthening the entrepreneurial capacities of agricultural smallholders.
The Farmer Business School (FBS) is an approach developed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Cocoa Foundation. The objective of FBS is to strengthen business skills of smallholder farmers to increase and diversify their incomes. Based on economic analysis, participants learn to identify profitable crops, production techniques and to make investment decisions, amongst others, geared to increase yields and incomes.
Agri-preneurs are the key to change
“FBS targets a mind-set change of smallholder farmers”, explains Dr. Annemarie Matthess, Head of the GIZ Sustainable Smallholder Agri-business Programme. “Once they perceive themselves as entrepreneurs, make business-oriented decisions and participate actively in the market, they become strong business partners. This is where the agricultural transformation begins.”
Originally initiated in 2010 by the Sustainable Cocoa Business Project (SCB) for cocoa smallholders in West and Central Africa, 22 GIZ projects are now implementing FBS for 25 different lead products, in more than 45 different curricula. The cost-efficient approach has spread through 17 countries of West, Central, North and East Africa. Across the continent, over one million farmers have been trained in FBS. On average, 30 percent of trained farmers are women.
The story of a Cameroonian woman farmer
Mrs. Ndzana Toua Bibiane is one of the over a million trained smallholders. She is a cocoa farmer in the Central Region of Cameroon. Apart from cocoa, she cultivates maize, cassava and soya as additional sources of income. According to Bibiane, her interest in farming started to dwindle when she realised that her level of production was far below average.
In 2012, she took advantage of the opportunity to participate in the FBS training. Bibiane now keeps solid records of her ‘money-in and money-out’, she plans her farm operations using the ‘cropping calendar’, applies Good Agricultural Practices and has diversified her production by including groundnuts and chicken rearing. She holds 850 broilers. Compared to 2012, she has leased additional land (increasing from 4 ha to 8.8 ha) and increased her income from cropping activities six-fold to 5,182,400CFA (7,900 €). She saves money and has qualified for loans. She now talks about her farm enterprise with pride and emphasizes: “I pay my children’s school fees easily now. My son will take over my business one day”.
Empowering smallholders for sustainable value chains
As an entrepreneur, a small-scale farmer has more power to claim fair and better prices and derive best possible incomes from their farm enterprises. This makes them able to make re-investments in their farms as well as in the family’s future and thus leads to multiplier effects for the rural economy, for example in form of job creation, processing of primary products and import substitutions.
Public and private implementers of FBS confirm that combined with other services, the consecutive five-day training has triggered smallholders’ investments in better production techniques, the forming of farmer organisations, individual and group demand for services and inputs, use of market opportunities, and investments in their farms. This translates into stronger business relations, better product quality and turnover for companies and also contributes to achieving the sector strategy goals.
Bibiane stands for many African smallholders who, together, can make agriculture an inclusively growing and attractive sector with future perspectives, also for the young generation. Smallholders are the trigger of agricultural transformation and the key for change. FBS encourages them to act as such.
Daria Hasse and Annemarie Matthess, GIZ/Sustainable Smallholder Agri-business Programme, Accra, Ghana