Farmers' networks driving agricultural growth

Farmers' organisations continue to play a critical role in Africa's agricultural development acting as a vital link between farmers and decision makers, or between producers and the market. Small scale farmers increasingly appreciate the importance of working within associations and networks, creating a good time to let these organisations weigh into the debate.

Some of the questions being asked include: What do African Farmer Organisations see as their role? What is hindering them to operate at full potential? What can be done to improve their operations and based on this, what kind of support would strengthen their capacity as well as the accountability to their members?

To respond to these and other questions, as well as advance the agenda of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), a 5-day meeting and field trip was held in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia from 12th November where more than 250 participants from 46 African countries attended. The participants came from diverse development and policy-making sectors including the African Union and NEPAD, knowledge-based institutions, civil society organisations including ACORD, regional economic communities and farmer organisations. The theme of the meeting was: "farmer organisations - the vital link to equitable and sustainable agriculture growth in Africa".

The meeting helped to create awareness of the critical role of farmers' organisations in the development of agriculture in Africa and advance country-based agricultural programmes supporting capacity and role in efficiently linking farmers to network of relevant actors in the sector. This was also a good opportunity where participants exchanged information and experience on the role of farmer organisations in linking farmers to the wider network of relevant actors in the agriculture and agri-business sector.

Farming experiences from African countries

Jean Marie Ndashimiye, CAPAD.

"There is need to continue lobbying and advocating for better agricultural policies that favour growth of farmers' organisations, agricultural cooperatives and investment schemes, access to micro-credit and reduced interest rates offered for agricultural credit and loans", said Mr. Jean-Marie Ndashimiye of Burundi's Confederation of Agricultural Producers' Associations for Development (CAPAD).

Burundi has a national plan for agricultural investment which is a strategic framework for prioritization and planning for investments in the agricultural sector within the period of 2012 to 2017. One positive result observed has been an increase in the national budget for agriculture from 3.6 to 6.7% during the financial year. Fertilizer subsidies have also been increased by the Burundian Government by 36% making them more affordable and accessible to small-scale farmers.

A best practice in farming by M'Pourié hydro-agriculture project in Rosso, Mauritania was shared by Mr. Sidi Mohamed Cheikh Ahmeida. The project has been involved in training sessions conducted in March and April, development of 1300 hectares of land over a period of 6 months, provision of cows and management of a credits and loan scheme providing 70% of funding to small-scale farmers and receiving 30% allocation from the Mauritanian Government.

"The M'Pourie project has helped to significantly increase agricultural production and also provide employment opportunities to young people", says Cheikh Ahmeida.

The project has been successful in producing an average 3,000 tons of rice in M'Pourie region in 2012, a yield that is expected to go up with the allocation of more land by 600 hectares. In addition, it has succeeded in producing animal forage and related produce including rice bran and animal straw.
Many poor communities depend on women to grow most of the food they eat yet women farmers struggle due to lack of extension services, credit, inputs and productive assets. It is time to ensure greater policy space for smallholder farmers, particularly women smallholders.

Some small-scale farmers and women's rights organisations at the local level are quickly beginning to respond to these gaps by mobilising greater participation among women farmers. "We are creating women's caucus groups to discuss how best women can organise themselves in their countries to discuss the CAADP issues. This involves sharing experiences and seeing how to overcome the difficulties faced by women at national level. They therefore ensure that women also benefit from resources to be able to increase production in our countries", says Saquina Mucavele of Women, Gender and Development (MUGEDE) in Mozambique. She attended the Tunisia forum and shared her experiences with the other participants.

A field trip to Ennejma Cooperative Society

A group of participants had an opportunity to travel 200km from Tunis to visit Ennejma Cooperative to study its milk collection facility, animal feed production system and rabbit abattoir. Created in 1986, the cooperative provides farmers with agricultural inputs, manages milk production, provides food for livestock, provides training for small-scale farmers and manages rabbit meat processing.
Today, Ennejma Cooperative boasts of producing more than 40,000 litres of milk per day compared with only 1,000 litres when it was established, an increase in production by 400 per cent. The Cooperative works closely with 76 milk collection centres with a total of 682 members.

"Before the establishment of Ennejma Cooperative, it was taboo to sell milk in public, most people would not buy due to social and religious restrictions, and if you were found by the authorities you would be arrested. But that has changed thanks to the work of the cooperative changing societal attitudes and showing in practical terms the value of agricultural invesment", explains Ben Becher Leith of the Maghreb Farmers' Union (UMAGRI).

The cooperative is also involved in producing animal food using corn produce, barley, wheat bran, soya and vitamins which are used to enhance milk production. The workers are able to produce more than 3 tons of food products per hour. In addition, it also has a capacity to process more than 600 tons of rabbit meat in a year, although at the moment it is only utilising 20% of its capacity. Most of the meat is sold to the national armed forces and the rabbit skin is sold to other clients who use it to make mats, ornaments and other aesthetic products.

These and many other experiences have had a positive impact on the participants, providing them with fresh lessons, creative ideas for agricultural development and opening up new corridors for networking which will prove to be useful in the days to come.

ACORD has transitioned from addressing the consequences of poverty and exclusion, towards interlinking practical work and research at community level with strategic advocacy at national, sub-regional, Pan African and international levels. These experiences therefore provide rich and meaningful knowledge that will continue to advance its mandate in the area of livelihood and food sovereignty.

Song and dance at the close of the CAADP forum. Photos by Hannah Chira/ACORD

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