Emilia and her farmers

By Katrin Glatzel

Meet Emilia Abibo Savio, one of three agrodealers in the Sussundenga district in central Mozambique. Emilia used to own a small shop in the city of Chimoio. After the death of her husband in 2007, she decided to expand her business and opened a small shop to sell agricultural inputs and fertiliser. Emilia’s story is an example and also a symbol of the important role of agrodealers in helping a country harness its agriculture potential.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Civil unrest over 20 years, frequent droughts in the south of the country, coupled with heavy floods near the many waterways that transect the country, have thus far inhibited an agricultural transformation in Mozambique. Even so, Mozambique could be a regional breadbasket. The country has much potentially usable arable and irrigable land, in many agricultural production zones, particularly in central and northern Mozambique. Sesame, pigeon peas, and cashew exports are significant and rising, not to mention exports of industrial crops such as cotton, leaf tobacco and sugarcane. Yet, the production of grain and most other food crops remains stagnant, while irrigated area is way below what is needed to increase yields and total agricultural output. In addition, the use and application of fertiliser remains low.  The uptake of fertiliser at just under 5% and is an indicator that farmers find it difficult to access fertilisers, let alone purchase it at a price that will allow them to obtain sufficient and reliable returns from their investments. Agrodealers can play an important role in making fertilisers and seeds more easily and readily accessible to remote farming communities, while at the same time provide much-needed advice on the type of seeds and fertiliser suitable for certain soils.

However, relative to its neighbours, Malawi and Tanzania, Mozambique’s government does not have a long history of promoting the adoption of fertiliser by smallholder farmers, which would help increase yields and reap the benefits of the arable land still available. However, over the last several years, this has started to change. At policy level, it has involved the formulation of a fertiliser strategy and regulations for the fertiliser sector. Furthermore, a voucher-based fertiliser and seed subsidy program targeting 25,000 smallholder farmers was undertaken in central and northern Mozambique between 2010 and 2011. Finally, there has been important new private investment in fertiliser supply and blending, particularly in central Mozambique, to serve farmers and agrodealers in Mozambique and its neighbouring countries.

Going the distance

agroSmallholder farmers in Mozambique face many challenges when accessing fertilisers. One of the major challenges is the distance to the nearest supplier. Without adequate roads and infrastructure, farmers struggle to get enough fertiliser for their crops. In remote farming communities, up-to-date technology often does not reach farmers on time. Most farmers purchase fertiliser only once a year, with most doing so just before they apply it to their maize or vegetables. Farmers in some areas of Mozambique, for example, purchased two bags of fertiliser in 2010 on average, while in other provinces farmers were only able to afford one. On top of that, the average distance farmers have to travel to the nearest fertiliser supplier or agrodealer is around 22 km, usually on dirt roads using public transport, bike or on foot.

Just a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Emilia in the Sussundenga district. In 2008 the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) started to support her small shop through the Mozambique Agrodealer Development project, which involved business management training and helped Emilia acquire a good understanding of best agronomic practices. At this point Emilia’s customer-base was growing rapidly to around 150 customers, and so she decided to build a slightly larger shop.

Small, but growing

agro2In the second phase of the AGRA project, Emilia received advanced business management training and developed into a hub-agrodealer. Emilia boosted her sales by training farmers on integrated soil fertility management, the use of chemical fertiliser at the right amounts, and selecting appropriate seeds, herbicides and pesticides, through demo plots. She also multiplies seed of maize, sesame and cowpea. Input sales have increased from 2 tons of seed and 7.4 tons of fertiliser in 2009/10 to 65 and 54 tons of seed and fertiliser respectively, in the 2014/15 season. Emilia’s monthly sales now come to around USD 1000.  Emilia receives continued support from AGRA and the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) to get access to financing to expand her business.

Emilia now serves 300 farmers and used her profits to buy a sunflower processing machine to produce and sell sunflower oil for cooking. Emilia also has a farm in the interior of the Sussundenga district and a pick-up truck that she operates as a taxi. She now owns 60 hectares of land of which just over half is used to grow maize, sesame, fruits and vegetables. The rest is used as grazing land for her cattle. Not only was Emilia able to successfully grow her own business, and help farmers in Sussundenga District boost their agricultural yields, she was also able to send one of her sons to the Universidade Politecnica in Maputo from her income.

Agro-dealers are key figures in successfully implementing a green revolution in Mozambique. With poor infrastructure in large parts of rural Mozambique it remains a challenge for smallholder farmers or farmer associations to access the badly needed inputs to bring the best out of Mozambique’s soils and receive the necessary training and knowledge to do so. This presents a unique opportunity, in particular for Mozambique’s youth. Around 300,000 young people enter the work force annually and 70% of 35 year-olds lack stable employment. In order to serve the needs of the approximately 4 million farmers in Mozambique more Emilia’s will be urgently needed.

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