An Innovative Approach to Agricultural Extension in Mozambique
Mozambique has about 1,000 public extension workers for the entire country's 3.8 million farming households. That means every extension worker has about 3,800 households to support. Aside from this impossible ratio, public extension workers lack equipment, education and incentives to properly support the households they can reach. The need for extension is high, with less than 10 percent of farmers using improved seeds or other inputs due to limited access and other factors. These limitations restrict productivity and a farmer’s ability to adapt to irregular weather.
For the Feed the Future Resilient Agricultural Markets Activity – Beira Corridor (RAMA-BC), there is only one solution to the extension conundrum: partnering with the private sector.
Our USAID-funded project focuses on educating farmers growing maize – a staple crop in Mozambique – about low cost, low input and environmentally sustainable ways to improve production. Implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, the main practice promoted by RAMA-BC is intercropping maize with legumes to improve soil health, reduce weeds and repel pests like the Fall Armyworm. As a result, maize yields improve and farmers get the added nutritional benefit of legume beans and leaves.
To ensure education of this practice is sustainable after RAMA-BC closes, we have found a common objective with private sector input suppliers. They want to increase their sales and market reach. RAMA-BC wants to increase extension of resilient agricultural practices. Together, we can do both.
Extension through demo plots
These partnerships have taken on an innovative format of customer-facing demonstration plots. On RAMA-BC’s end, we train extension workers employed by input suppliers about RAMA-BC’s approach. RAMA-BC also helps link input suppliers to retailers around the demo plots. These retailers help to expand the network of input distribution into previously unreached areas, outside the main centers of agricultural production. The input supplier then invests in demonstration plots to display the results of different approaches in the areas they identify which have commercial opportunities.
With trained model family farmers managing the plots, RAMA-BC facilitates demonstration plot events to 20-30 neighboring households. Input suppliers provide improved seeds (which are critical to resilient agriculture) to market the importance of quality seeds outside of their storefront.
In phase one of this approach, we are reaching up to 1,500 households in the Beira Corridor, as we progressively pass the baton of agricultural extension to the private sector. And the model is working. Farmers can see the impacts of these improved inputs in their own communities and are adopting the practices on their own farms. Input suppliers appreciate that market expansion and improved farmer productivity and profitability are complementary and will boost their market share.
This experience has taught RAMA-BC a few key lessons:
- For sustainability, explore partnerships with the private sector. It’s the best way to bundle your approach with input access, market access and input supply to the people who need the support.
- Subgrants to private sector partners aren’t always needed. In fact, sometimes they hinder sustainability because they distort the market and bend input supplier business plans to a donor’s agenda. Declining soil fertility and the lack of knowledge to address are key obstacles to smallholder farmer productivity. If the market demand for inputs can be amplified by increasing productivity, it doesn’t need to be incentivized with a sub-grant.
- For those of us operating around agricultural seasons, this may be obvious: Make plans well in advance. For RAMA-BC, this meant securing private sector agreements months ahead of the rainy season to ensure we had time to train extension workers, organize demonstration sites and train model family farmers before planting begins.
With the right private-sector methodology to improving productivity, extension can plant the seeds to lasting impact.
This post was written by Ashley Peterson, Communications Manager at Land O’ Lakes International Development, from an interview with Nic Dexter, Chief of Party for Feed the Future Resilient Agricultural Markets Activity – Beira Corridor (RAMA-BC)