SEMEAR: Was It Worth the Investment?
The Feed the Future Mozambique Improved Seeds for Better Agriculture (SEMEAR) project was a six-year USAID investment that began in 2015 to increase smallholder access to quality seeds through a public-private partnership model. In this model, research institutions, led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and its research partners, Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique (IIAM), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), produced early generation seeds (EGS) consisting of breeder, pre-basic and foundation seeds. The foundation seeds were made available to private sector seed companies, emerging seed enterprises and community-based seed producers for certified seed multiplication. SEMEAR focused on six value chains, namely, common bean, cowpea, groundnut, pigeon pea, sesame and soybean, which are essential for income and food security in the Manica, Nampula, Tete and Zambézia provinces. The project developed the capacities of seed producers and farmers to access and use improved production technologies and innovations through trainings, on-farm demonstrations, field days and other awareness-creation activities. The project produced 692 tons of EGS and supported partners to produce 9,792 tons of certified seed, sufficient to cover 493,300 hectares for grains. SEMEAR established 139 partnerships with seed companies, community-based seed enterprises, input dealers and public agencies, which allowed the project to reach 475,000 direct beneficiaries. Out of these, 410,500 (86%), including 36% women and 26% youth, used quality seeds of improved varieties and best management practices on 575,660 hectares. Data from baseline and end-line surveys indicated that the adoption of improved varieties on average increased by 33% and crop yields increased by up to 48%, with positive impacts on farm income and food security in the project communities. There was evidence of positive spillover effects on communities outside the project zone.
There is no consensus in the literature on the best approach for measuring the returns to investment for grant activities because of the complexities in estimating the economic impacts of such activities. SEMEAR involved technology generation, knowledge transfer and delivery, and promotion of adoption and utilization of the technologies; hence, the impacts can be felt in many ways — as direct, indirect and spillover effects. Therefore, calculating all these is a challenging task, as pointed out by Zoe Corbyn in his article “Bang for your bucks”. Michael Preuss, a grants consultant at Hanover Research in Arlington, Virginia, agrees, and added that even if one can capture measures of all direct impacts, measuring indirect and spillover impacts is simply impossible. There are also confounding factors that positively or negatively influence benefits or effects in the short, intermediate and long term, making it even more difficult to measure returns on investment to the SEMEAR project.
However, it is still fair to ask: was the investment in SEMEAR worthwhile? For this assessment, we considered the broader sets of benefits derived from the interventions by direct beneficiaries in the short term, i.e., during project implementation period. Simply put, the intervention led to knowledge gain and skills improvement among smallholder farmers, enhanced adoption of improved technologies on expanded farmlands, which resulted in increased crop yields. Increased agricultural productivity translated into significant gains in gross margins. The average gross margin per hectare for the crops ranged from $179 for cowpea to $427 for common bean, but the highest was $940 for common bean in 2018 and $714 for soybean in 2019. The estimated total value of sales by direct beneficiary farmers during the project implementation period was $165,149,147. Soybean value of sales accounted for 60% ($99.8 million), whereas contribution from pigeon pea was the lowest, about 5% ($7.52 million) of the sales (see Figure 1). The demand for soybean is higher than that for the other five crops; hence, 54% of the total quantity of the certified seed produced by SEMEAR partners was soybean. It is sold on the domestic market for poultry feed and edible oil, and prices are attractive and stable, making it a major cash crop for smallholder farmers in the moist, subhumid ecologies of Zambezia and Tete provinces. Over 95% of the soybean grain is sold, unlike the other crops, where a large part of the harvest is for home consumption. In contrast, pigeon pea grain prices dropped by more than 80% in 2017 due to low demand from India, which is the major export market for the crop. This discouraged production; hence, only a few farmers produced pigeon pea in subsequent years. Thus, seed producers scaled down pigeon pea seed production.
The results from the value of sale suggest that each beneficiary obtained an additional income of $1.40/day (i.e., $511/year) through the SEMEAR initiative. This amount represents 74% of the minimum daily amount of $1.90 per day (current international poverty line set by the World Bank) required to lift the farmers out of poverty. In 2018, when rainfall was adequate, farmers had good harvests and better markets for their produce, leading to higher incomes of up to $3.20/day, putting them above the poverty line, irrespective of their income from other activities. Using a simple ratio of the total value of grains sold by the direct beneficiaries to the investment cost, each dollar invested in the initiative generated $12.37 worth of sales. Together with the intangible benefits and the expected medium- to long-term benefits, we can confidently conclude that SEMEAR was worth the investment.
The SEMEAR initiative has improved availability and access to quality seed and increased adoption of resilient legume varieties, leading to an increase in crop yields. This implies an increased volume of food available to farm families, enhanced food security and resilience; hence, improved livelihoods. The additional farm income received by the direct beneficiaries demonstrates the contribution the initiative made to poverty reduction in the project area in the short term. The outcomes and impacts mentioned here also serve as indicators of long-term success and, therefore, sustainability of SEMEAR’s outputs. The public-private partnerships catalyzed these achievements. To sum it up, the initiative was worth the investment.