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In Niger, fertilizer shops give a new start to agriculture

Innovation / -

La formazione è un veicolo di sicurezza alimentare in Niger

The IARBIC project is promoted by the FAO in Niger. The idea is to boost agricultural production through new forms of financing and fertilizer sales. A key role is being played by farmers' associations.

Farmers know that crop yields are affected by a multitude of variables, ranging from the climate to which farming techniques are employed. But they also know that in low-fertility lands, the variable that makes the biggest difference is the use or lack of use of quality fertilizers. Through the IARBIC project, the FAO in Niger is trying to remedy low agricultural production by improving access to quality fertilizers. To do this, the network of cooperative shops that sell fertilizers is being developed and strengthened, along with the farmers' organisations that manage them. The goal is to also develop new forms of financing (warrantage) for farmers who want to purchase fertilizers.
A cooperative approach
Farmers' cooperatives are formed to manage the shops. The members receive training in bookkeeping as well as in new agricultural techniques required to increase productivity, such as the rational and appropriate use of quality fertilizers. But new forms of financing are also required to help the farmers purchase fertilizers, especially when they have no money. The solution devised by the initiative is called warrantage. This scheme frees farmers from having to sell their produce immediately after harvest when prices are low. Part of the harvest is stored in warehouses and kept, while the other part is used as a guarantee to get a loan to buy fertilizers.
Revolutionary warrantage system
The greatest success of the initiative lies in the creation of the farmer's associations, who are responsible for managing and promoting the shops as well as for the warrantage. In the five years the project has been running, 264 businesses selling quality fertilizer have been opened, and 100 warehouses have been built for warrantage. The warehouses serve the needs of over 100 thousand farmers. The data show a significant increase in the consumption of quality fertilizers and greater diversification in the selection of types. The shops play a crucial role in spreading information about the proper use of fertilizers. Also, women are actively involved in the program, successfully carving out an equal role for themselves. The initiative has been extended to other organisations in Niger and is beginning to spread to Mali and Burkina Faso.

Five questions for FAO. New financial schemes for more than half of the agricultural villages in Niger

Innovation / -

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Thanks to the project IARBIC, communities of farmers can take advantage of credit by investing in agricultural fertilizers, that can result in a crop yield increase of up to 100 percent. FAO, which spreads its strategy to improve food security in the world, responds to our questions.

At Expo Milano 2015, visitors will be made aware of FAO project thanks to the video screened in Pavilion Zero. What message would you like to convey with your approach to the issue of food security?
IARBIC shows that food security is achievable even in the most vulnerable regions of the world. Our strategy was manifold to address the complexity of food security: by empowering the farmer organizations (FO) and developing their capacities to manage joint fertilizer orders and a network of inputs shops; by engaging all stakeholders to multiply the efforts; by developing a number of innovative financing schemes, such as the inventory credit system known as ‘warrantage’ (now available to some 100,000 farmers), as well as a € 653,000 guarantee fund for 8 farmer federations. This strategy gave small holder farmers, around half of which are women, access to the right qualities and quantities of agricultural inputs. Training was essential to provide farmers with key skills and technical knowledge.

What difficulties have you encountered while working on your project? How did you overcome them?
The problems were particularly challenging given the ambitious national scale of the IARBIC in a country with drought affected soils and low fertility. Also, small holders were not fully organized and often lacked the capacity to organize the activities and the resources to buy the most basic agricultural inputs. In addition, Niger has a rapid population growth and some regions are affected by travel restrictions due to insecurity. It was only possible to overcome these constraints through the involvement and engagement of the farmer organizations and all actors such as the services of the Ministry of Agriculture, NGOs, or other development programs.

Since the submission date, how has your project developed to date?
At the end of the IARBIC project in 2013, we had 264 inputs shop established. When combined with shops built in previous projects, there are now 783 shops covering over half of Niger’s agricultural villages. On top of that, we organized 375 farmer field schools and 750 demonstrations reaching about 7,500 farm households. The results of these efforts were impressive: over half of the country’s farmer villages have achieved yield increases of up to 100 percent. Now, we continue supporting the farmer federations in enhancing their economic activities, by addressing the problems they are facing with obtaining and managing credit.
What developments do you expect in the long term for your idea?
We look at consolidate the achievements of the IARBIC phase to make them more sustainable in the long run. We also want to further scale up the good practices. In the near future, the goal would be therefore to further strengthen the capacities of farmer organizations, unions and federations to formulate and negotiate business or micro-projects on the basis of the guarantee fund. In addition, we think it is crucial to make the farmer organizations more efficient and effective and to enable them to better follow up on their performance. The monitoring of their performance will also enable the FOs to do sound decision-making.
Do you intend to replicate the project in other countries or in other contexts?
Programs such as IARBIC are much needed, especially in regions where the private input sector is fragile and farmers struggle to get access to good agricultural inputs. Joint input orders and input shops can be used by any farmer organization, particularly in remote areas to improve access to quality fertilizer and seeds. Also the ‘warrantage’ scheme can be replicated by farmer organizations or communities, particularly in countries with only one rainy season and a long dry season. The good practices are promoted through advocacy and visibility measures. Also, exchange visits have taken place between Niger and its neighboring countries. Farmer Field schools are widely spread now and Burkina Faso introduced also the warrantage scheme.

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