In July of 2016 I traveled to Iringa town, one of the largest maize producing regions in Tanzania. Iringa has a beautiful landscape, surrounded by rocky hills with gold maize fields ready for harvest. It is hot and dry—good weather for the production of high-quality maize.
Almost 40% of Iringa’s population depend on agriculture and livestock farming, so this was a much sought after opportunity for me to see the work that AGRA, our implementing partner under the YieldWise initiative, is doing with these smallholder maize farmers.
I found the farmers harvesting maize from their fields, cows lazily grazing and chicken crossing the road. While I missed my family back in Nairobi city, I loved the simplicity of the village life I was witnessing. Memories of my childhood years in Eastern Kenya begin to playback on my mind—back then, harvesting and threshing maize were laborious and dreaded activities. In Iringa I could not help but think of how best to identify motorized threshers so as to increase the efficiency of these process and especially maintain the quality of the grain; so I was looking forward to visiting farmers who were utilizing mechanical threshers.
Finally at the site we met Anne Viola, an agro-dealer whose core business is to sell the new Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags for storing maize without the use of chemicals. At the center of her shop she had a high-end projector and a laptop—fancy for such a small village shop. We learned that it was used to project videos to demonstrate to Iringa farmers the effective use of the PICS bags. She has thousands of hermetic bags in her store, a sight I have never seen in a single room despite being a well-seasoned agriculturalist.
“I started PICS business in 2015 through support from the Rural Urban Development Initiative (RUDI), one of AGRA’s implementing partners for the YieldWise Initiative. Last season, I sold 15,000 bags and I hope to sell even more this season. Business is good and the bag manufacturers are very supportive – they allow me to put a deposit of 25% of the value of the order for the bags and I can pay the balance after my sales,” said Anne.
Given the demand, she has created a distribution network of 10 sub-agents who source the bags from her on credit of about 200 to 300 bags. She gives the bags on consignment and the agents pay her as they sell them to farmers, says Anne as she shares her story.
We believe that increased access coupled with increased awareness of post-harvest loss solutions through demonstrations will lead to higher adoption of technologies and a reduction of food crop losses.
Through YieldWise, Anne hopes to receive support from the post-harvest loss (PHL) Revolving Fund offered by Equity Bank in Tanzania. The fund seeks to provide capital for agro-dealers to increase their stock and distribution capacity for diverse post-harvest loss reducing technologies such as metal silos, plastic silos, hermetic bags and hermetic cocoons. As a Foundation, we believe that increased access coupled with increased awareness of post-harvest loss solutions through demonstrations will lead to higher adoption of technologies and a reduction of food crop losses. One such technological solution is the hermetic bags, which studies have shown reduces grains loss by over 90%.
Anne’s vision is to expand her business and equip it with other post-harvest technologies, therefore making her business a one-stop shop for technologies including mechanization services. Anne is part of a new crop of PHL technology entrepreneurs supported by AGRA to improve their supply chain efficiency for PHL solutions.
The Rockefeller Foundation is leveraging on a network of over 4,000 agro-dealers who if had access to sufficient capital could catalyze farmers’ access to PHL solutions and bring about a revolution in reducing food loss.
With me were representatives from Pee Pee Tanzania Limited (PPTL) who manufacture PICs in Tanzania, and a sales representative from Agro Z bags. The PICS bags rep offered to send her more items for her business to further help the farmers. He pledged to send her a shipment of tarpaulins to complement the PICS bags, and to provide her with a motorbike to support in her distribution network.
The Agro Z bags rep also gave Anne Agro Z hermetic bags (different from PICS bags) for her sampling among the farmers and pledged to replenish that supply as soon as they finish.
As we leave her shop, I am optimistic that the YieldWise Initiative is enabling new and strategic market linkages and partnerships to reduce post-harvest loss.