Now in its fifth year, the UK government funded FoodTrade East and Southern Africa (FTESA) programme has disbursed 20 grants across nine African countries to the private sector and relevant institutions focused on building the capacity of smallholder farmers, storage, inputs, service markets, information & coordination mechanisms as well as policy regulation. Such interventions are aimed at unlocking cross border and regional trade in order to get more food to more people at an affordable and consistent price.
Mr Lazaro Mwakipesile from the Tanzania based Raphael Group Limited (RGL), a FoodTrade ESA grantee, reflects on the successes and challenges of his grant financed project.
A leading food grains processor and distributor in Mbeya, Tanzania, RGL deals with the processing, sale and distribution of grain products including rice, beans, groundnuts, sorghum and sunflower cooking oil, among others. Founded 27 years ago, RGL is a for profit company which works with smallholder farmers. Under the FoodTrade ESA project, RGL has formalised its relationship with farmers, working through contracts and providing them with Good Agronomic Practices (GAP) training. This has seen a boost in crop yields.
FoodTrade ESA has been funding the RGL Bean Marketing Center (RGBMC) since December 2015, supporting the company to set up a centralised marketing centre for the highly sought-after bean varieties grown in the Southern Highlands region. RGBMC works with Village Aggregation Centres (VACs) situated at the bean producers’ locations. The Village Aggregation Centres are co-owned by RGL and the bean producer groups.
The project has seen the construction of 22 VACs for crop aggregation and distribution of inputs, which cater to over 3,700 smallholder farmers. The project has also provided capacity building to over 5,800 smallholder farmers and facilitated best practice knowledge sharing among them. Together with the introduction of equipment such as weighing scales and premium prices offered to beneficiaries, RGL has been able to increase its exports and improve producer prices for the contract farmers.
Reflecting on the challenges faced during the implementation of the program, Mwakipesile flags; delayed rainy seasons which have affected planting, unreliable seed sources, delayed completion of farmer group registration as well as regional trade bans. In order to mitigate these challenges, farmers have been trained on proper planting timing and the use of quality declared seeds. Farmer business schools have further helped farmers to keep documents that enable them to access loans from banks.
Speaking on lessons learnt throughout this project, Mr. Mwakipesile says, “FoodTrade ESA targets all gender categories in project implementation and ensures project sustainability over the long run. Hence women feel empowered to participate, resulting in community enhancement especially here in Mbeya.”
Mwakipesile also notes that “a greater focus on governance and organisational structure of VACs, the farmer organisations and women’s farmer groups is necessary. RGL already works with multiple women groups in Mbeya including Mbalali Women Group. This aims at increasing the participation and engagement of women in farming, while ensuring that they have a better understanding of the beans cultivation cycle and business. It has been proven that in villages, women can well manage most of the family activities.”