Agrodealer Networks Change Farmers’ Fortunes by Increasing Access to Improved Inputs
This post is written by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) team.
After consistently getting better harvests from her cultivation of hybrid maize, Ghanaian farmer Elizabeth Akosua was inspired to quit her charcoal business and increase her farming enterprise.
Akosua and her children were facing a bleak future as her charcoal business failed to produce enough income to sustain a comfortable life. Her cultivation of nonhybrid maize also gave disappointing yields with each passing year.
A turnaround, however, happened in 2018 when she was introduced to improved seeds by agrodealers in her region. The agrodealers were trained and equipped by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) to sell improved seeds and other modern farming inputs. Agrodealers are operators of small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) engaging in the buying and selling of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer, seeds, chemicals and equipment.
“You can tell that the hybrid variety grows faster than the old one,” Akosua said. “I know that when I harvest, I will get more compared to the previous year.”
Today, Akosua harvests enough maize to feed her family and even has a surplus to sell, with prospects of building a better house and starting a small shop.
Akosua is just one of the many farmers in Ghana that are being introduced to improved seeds, suitable fertilizers, agrochemicals and modern farm implements through this well-established agrodealer network.
One important objective in working with established, wholesale agrodealers is to link them to the best input suppliers for distribution onwards to smaller retailers. The retailers ensure delivery to farmers at the grassroots level.
Most of the inputs recommended to agrodealers are produced with AGRA’s facilitation. These include crop-specific and ecology-specific fertilizer blends, which show a more than 40% yield gain over blends that do not consider variability in soils, climate and crop sequences.
To reach smallholder farmers at scale in their local communities, an essential element in agriculture transformation is to strengthen local extension systems by training trusted and successful farmers, providing them with the best knowledge and tools to extend to introduce fellow farmers, along with the best inputs. These super farmers, now known as village-based advisors (VBAs) or community-based agents (CBAs), serve as representatives of the agrodealers, bringing the inputs even closer to farmers.
According to AGRA’s head of policy and advocacy, Boaz Keizire, agrodealers supported by extension workers and VBAs now play a substantial role in agricultural development and transformation by giving even remote farmers access to quality and appropriate inputs, as well as market information. The VBA program has trained over 31,000 VBAs in sub-Saharan Africa since 2017 that have, in turn, supported over 10 million smallholder farmers in nine countries.
“The winners are the smallholder farmers, thanks to the reduction in distances covered to access agricultural inputs and to receive timely market information,” Keizire said.
Confirming Keizire’s assertion, AGRA’s investment in agrodealer development in Ghana has, as an example, reduced the distance that farmers travel to buy inputs from 24 kilometers to 8 kilometers. This was made possible by the creation of a network of agrodealers that has grown to nearly 4,000.
The agrodealers across these countries are stratified into hubs or retailers, depending on the scale of their businesses. The support and interventions are then tailored according to this distinction.
Since 2017, AGRA has supported the training and creation of networks for about 1,000 hubs and 6,500 retail agrodealers, supplying approximately 61,000 metric tons of seeds and 986,000 metric tons of fertilizers to over 4.8 million smallholder farmers in six countries.
“After the training and business linkages, our revenue increased from GH₵1.2 million (US$288,522) in 2017 to over GH₵7 million (US$1.588 million) in 2020," said Kenneth Barnes, one of 100 Ghanaian agrodealers who attended a capacity-building training.
The training, which has since been replicated in different countries, sought to bridge the gaps in advisory service by agro-input dealers by linking them to extension workers to increase their reach to retailers and farmers.
Twenty-three-year-old Malawian Beatrice Lewani is one of the extension workers employed through AFAP to support agrodealers in Malawi. A graduate of the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Lewani now works with hub agrodealers in Dedza, the main township of Dedza District in the Central Region of Malawi.
"I am working with 4,500 farmers, providing them with extension services,” said the young agriculturalist, adding that she supplied 2,000 farmers with farm inputs in the 2019-2020 growing season.
“We work with government extension workers to ensure that more farmers are being served. Farmers are now learning to pool resources together and buying inputs at once. This gives them an advantage of purchasing at a lower price and ensures they get quality certified inputs,” Lewani added.