In Senegal, Post-Project Extension Services are Still Going Strong
A few weeks ago, two of my colleagues and I went on a field trip to meet with several of the producer networks that had partnered with us through the Feed the Future Senegal Naatal Mbay program, which recently came to a close. Throughout the life of the project, Naatal Mbay ("flourishing agriculture") worked with 123 producer networks that integrated farmer-owned and farmer-led extension systems comprised of 167 database managers and 771 network field agents. They coordinated activities with 3,882 lead producers, ultimately benefiting more than 150,000 producers.
During our visit, Mr. El Hadj Babou Diane, database manager for a local farmer network, assured us that “the continuity of our extension services is no longer in question. These services are a requirement in order to meet our members’ expectations and maintain our linkages with other actors in the value chain.” We heard this sentiment again and again from our former partner networks, which indicated that producer networks’ extension services, now 100 percent supported by the networks themselves, are not only still thriving — they’re growing.
But how? And why? We believe that the approaches outlined below significantly contributed to the extension services’ longevity.
Empowering Networks and Facilitating Relationships
During implementation, the Naatal Mbay project team empowered producer networks to conduct value chain enhancement activities using a facilitation approach that allowed networks to build direct partnerships with minimal interference from the project. The project focused its activity on key elements required for lasting linkages between value chain actors, such as the application of good practices in association with the implementation of a quality control system and the introduction of a supply consolidation mechanism that has also helped strengthen the competitiveness of their products.
When asked why Naatal Mbay-supported efforts have continued even after project close-out, Ms. Nimna Diayte, president of the Fepromas producer network, put it this way: “We were not going to let what we have go away. The services that we [Fepromas and Naatal Mbay] developed together have allowed us to make so much progress in terms of productivity.” As a project partner dating back to 2012 under Naatal Mbay’s predecessor project, Fepromas has built its capacity to offer training in climate adaptation production techniques, gained access to timely climate forecast and rainfall data, and forged lasting connections to markets and financial services. To put this small group’s success into context, Fepromas manages an annual portfolio of US$1 million including production credit, input sales, and premiums in agricultural insurance, and also aggregates and commercializes 1,000 tons of maize per year for an estimated value of over US$300,000.
Throughout all of our interviews, producers echoed that they were continuing and even expanding their relationships with input suppliers, land preparation services, the agricultural insurance company, banks and microfinance institutions, and buyers.
Leveraging the Power of Data
Mr. Diane, the database manager, emphasized how Naatal Mbay’s focus on building data literacy had affected networks’ operations, constituting a major culture shift for the networks and farmers. Now, he says, collecting and utilizing the data is practically second nature. “Our database allows us to determine the quantity of inputs needed, the volume of credit required, insurance subscription requests, and we can forecast quantities that will be available for sale via contract negotiations.”
While Naatal Mbay provided some initial guidance and templates for collecting and using such data, during our visit we found that the producer networks have evolved in how they use their databases. For example, many are no longer collecting information related to Feed the Future’s monitoring and evaluation system that they do not find relevant. They are also independently starting to develop similar databases for other crops not targeted by Naatal Mbay, such as onions. A number of networks noted, however, that expanding beyond grains to other crops and introducing new innovative solutions continues to be a challenge at first, indicating that project support for a “jumping off” phase may still be helpful.
A Gradual Shift in the Cost Burden
To increase sustainability, over time Naatal Mbay reduced project funding to partners to cover costs of collecting and analyzing data and providing training and other services. This allowed the project to support networks financially while they successfully introduced new technologies and services, while also placing financial responsibility on the networks to assume the costs by project close. Even so, the question of the producer networks’ financial sustainability was on everyone’s mind at the end of the project.
We found during our visit that producer networks have continued making investments in mechanized equipment and are starting or developing plans for new activities, such as sheep breeding services to improve farmers’ livestock, local production of animal feed, and leveraging vocational colleges to better prepare young people in their communities to start professional activities.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for cost coverage, but all the producer networks we visited have developed a strategy to generate revenues to cover the extension service costs. Some networks take a fee on inputs purchased in bulk at a more competitive price or on the sale price of commercialized products. Some also generate profits on mechanized or value-added services. Other producer networks collect an annual membership subscription in cash or in-kind.
Good Extension = Good Results
During a recent Agrilinks webinar focusing on private sector-led extension, one participant queried, “Are farmers better off through these agent models or are the agents picking up the value added, with little left behind for the farmers themselves?" Naatal Mbay’s results help answer this question.
Through these farmer-owned services, producer networks have set off wide-reaching changes such as productivity increases, greater access to financial services, access to weather forecast and rainfall data, and subscription of 25 percent of their members to agricultural insurance, according to a USAID impact study conducted by Gaston Berger University. Maize producers saw their productivity increase by more than 180 percent, while that of rainfed rice producers rose more than 300 percent. According to an impact study conducted by local partner IPAR at the end of the project, these improved yields, access to markets, and risk management have contributed to an increase in annual income of more than US$1,000 per household, and the lean period was reduced from 3.9 months on average down to 1.6 months for households participating in Naatal Mbay.