Promoting Record Keeping to Plant the Seeds of Stronger Livelihoods and Resilience
This post is written by Dr. Opeyemi Ayinde, Professor of Agricultural Economics and Farm Management, University of Ilorin.
Small-scale farmers in Nigeria often struggle to feed their families, even when opportunities to grow more food are available. Better seeds or even financing might not be enough on their own. For farmers who have always thought about growing crops for subsistence only, a more basic step must come first: keeping records of farming activities.
In Nigeria, we are conducting research that tests a bundle of microfinance, insurance and stress-tolerant seeds as a way to strengthen livelihoods and resilience for small-scale farmers. As part of this research, which is supported by USAID through Feed the Future ALL-IN, we provided simple farm record books for marking planting and harvest dates, as well as details on costs, yields and sales. For the last three weeks, we have made follow-up visits to see how well our farmers have been keeping records. These visits have proven critical, as a majority have never kept formal records of their farming activities before.
Keeping basic farming activities records is rarely mentioned in the rural development literature even though it can play a fundamental role in creating access to well-researched interventions, such as microfinance and insurance. Farming records provide microfinance institutions a means of estimating a farmer’s ability to pay back a loan. Farming records can also provide important data to insurance companies for designing an indexed product at a lower cost.
Keeping farming records is also the foundation of a mindset for increased commercialization. Rather than focusing only on growing enough to reach the next harvest, keeping records on costs, yields and profits gives the platform for steady improvement.
This kind of mindset is very different for small-scale farmers who tend to focus only on the family’s basic needs. A commercial mindset is focused on profit, which requires an urgency to sell quickly or to find storage until there is a buyer. While not every small-scale farmer can or should become a large-scale producer, a more commercial mindset looks beyond the family’s basic needs to what is achievable.
Keeping records may also increase farmers’ trust in insurance, which is essential for expanding farming activities with as little risk as possible. Many of the farmers in our study have told us they don’t trust that the insurance will come to their aid if they lose their crops. However, even if you don’t trust the insurance, records that show what happens on your farm can make an index-based insurance more accurate or even provide the proof needed to make an indemnity claim.
During our recent field visits, some farmers had already harvested their crops. There has been drought in two of the three zones where our study takes place, and in those zones farmers had drought for two weeks out of each month of the growing season. Some farmers had just one rain. We are waiting for reports from our insurance partners to find out what they will do.
The majority of farmers have been keeping good records, though some have not. A handful of farmers have needed extra help in order to know what to write. Others were so afraid to make a mistake that they left their record books blank.
The stakes to get the records right are high. Record keeping, financial literacy, credit and insurance all constitute financial inclusion for small-scale farmers. Only time will tell how well combining these variables with stress-tolerant seeds increases farmers’ productivity and resilience.
Dr. Opeyemi Ayinde is a professor of agricultural economics and farm management at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria.