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November 19, 2008

AGRA grants $2.5 million to kick-start Malian agro-dealer network

by Evans Owour

The Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA), has launched an ambitious US$2.5 million grant to support 820 rural agro-dealers in Mali who are primary contacts for seeds, fertilizers and other farm inputs that are necessary for increased productivity.

The move follows recognition by AGRA of the declining productivity and incomes of small holder farmers in Mali. An estimated 995,000 families in Mali will benefit from this program, growing their income by 30% while reducing by 30% the average distance farmers have to travel to access improved seed and fertilizer.

It is common for small holder farmers, who dominate Malian agriculture, to travel great distances to purchase seeds or fertilizers. And at the end of their journey they frequently find stores lack the specific items they need or are selling them at unaffordable prices.

“Farmers with poor soil, who cannot afford fertilizer or high yielding seed, and who have no way to get their harvest to market, cannot benefit from higher food prices…” Said Mr. Koffi Annan, chairman of AGRA, recently urging for action to fix perpetual food crisis faced by small holders in Africa.

Explaining the need to strengthen the agro-dealer network in Mali, Dr. Namanga Ngongi, AGRA’s President said, “Improved seeds, fertilizer, basic product knowledge and credit for small holder farmers are immediate requirements if farmers in Mali are to break from the cycle of poverty.”

AGRA will work through CNFA, Inc. to train and transform many agrodealer shop owners to operate small businesses closer to farmers in remote areas. They will sell affordable farm inputs in quantities needed by farmers. The agrodealers will also be transformed into providers of basic extension services - which farmers lack due to the ‘demise’ of public sector extension services in Mali. These dealers will be an invaluable source of knowledge and advice to farmers at the point of sale.

To ensure that shop owners stock up, Credit guarantees will be used to link the agrodealers to seed and fertilizer companies, as well as to commercial banks.

“The Mali program is modeled on highly successful agro-dealer strengthening programs in Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria, where small holder farmers are already giving testimonies of tripled food production in some countries where the program has run full circle,” said Dr. Joe DeVries Director, Program for Africa’s Seed Systems, AGRA.

In Malawi where this experience was developed six years ago, agrodealers are moving millions of dollars of farm inputs into rural areas, directly to the door steps of farmers. Even more impressive: each dollar invested in a credit guarantee for the agrodealers leveraged sixteen dollars of supply of farm inputs into rural areas by seeds and fertilizer companies - a capita leveraging ratio of 16:1.

“AGRA is helping train and certify thousands of agrodealers to make farm inputs easily available and affordable for farmers” explained Dr. Akin Adesina, Vice President AGRA.

Although every year fertilizer is imported into Mali and disbursed through a bidding method dominated by five large companies, concentrated distribution channels and lack of a functioning agrodealer network prevents inputs from reaching remote rural small holder farmers. In addition, information on new agricultural technologies is not currently well-distributed to agro-dealers or farmers in remote areas.

Africa Science News Service

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