Author: Linda Kabuzire, Finn Church Aid
HealthyFoodAfrica project’s Food System Lab Rwamwanja interventions focus on creating an attractive and favourable maize value chain for women maize producers and other value chain actors to increase their access to income.
FSL Rwamwanja has established a community-based extension structure consisting of 10 model farmers selected from the 1,000 FSL beneficiaries. The model farmers provide routine agricultural extension and advice to the rest of the FSL beneficiaries. The FSL has established an appropriate ratio of 1 extension worker to 100 farmers (1:100), which has resulted in timely access to desired advice, leading to rapid adoption of good agronomic practices and climate-smart technologies.
The smallholder women are adopting recommended soil and water conservation practices (such as minimum harvesting, where only the cob is harvested and the other parts are left and used as manure in the garden), intercropping to increase productivity, timely planting and good post-harvest handling practices, which have improved crop yields and grain quality. Farmers bring in their maize and bulk it collectively at their community group bulk storage facilities.
Longevity of the grain increases incomes
To promote storage efficiency, the FSL has developed the 36 bulk depots into 10 cluster depots at zonal and community levels. The FSL has promoted a direct link between the group depots and the cluster depots with strengthened internal management structures. These bulking activities have promoted large saleable volumes of maize, which are collectively sound and therefore attract favourable prices for the women.
The increased longevity of the grain in the depots, without compromising the quality of the grain, has attracted higher prices for the women. For example, in the last season (December 2022 – January 2023), while non-members sold a kilogram of maize at UGX 900 ($0.25) at harvest, FSL farmers sold their produce at UGX 1400 ($0.38) 1.5 months after harvest, making a profit of UGX 500/$0.138. On average, each woman bulks 2 bags/250kg and can secure an average additional profit of UGX 124,200/$34.5 compared to a non-bulking member. Some of the women who bulk for 3-3.5 months after the harvest normally earn UGX 700/$0.2 extra per kilo.
“We sold our maize at UGX 1200 last season, but those who sold theirs early, it was much less than that and those who were more patient are selling at a higher price of UGX 1500”, farmer Tusifu Valentine explains.
“Most members would benefit from these reasonable prices if we had bigger, more organised shops. We look forward to the day when all these things are in place and everyone is happy”, she adds.
Information and agricultural inputs from increased cooperation
The FSL has established a multi-stakeholder platform committee (MSP) with at least one member from each stage of the maize value chain. It meets regularly to share knowledge, discuss challenges and design necessary improvement plans along the maize value chain. For example, the creation of the MSP WhatsApp platform has resulted in the rapid flow of market information from maize processors and agro-input dealers down to farmers. This helps farmers to directly access important marketing information such as new agro-inputs available in the market and price status. In this way, farmers are not kept in the dark about market prices and are not cheated by middlemen.
FSL is currently in the process of establishing and legalising a farmers’ cooperative, an umbrella organisation that will bring together members of the 36 farmer groups. Once established, the farmers’ cooperative will act as a formal entity to link farmers directly to the wider private market, which will facilitate greater access to agricultural inputs such as climate-smart seeds, affordable fertiliser and a market for maize meal, bran and grain.
Intercropping and bio-fertilisers to tackle soil infertility
However, the FSL currently faces two bottlenecks at the first and last stages of the maize value chain. Soil infertility is high due to the season-to-season monocropping system, which retards the yield performance of the crop. However, the FSL has promoted a legume-cereal intercrop (beans-maize) to partially improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation.
The FSL Rwamwanja hopes to promote the use of bio-fertilisers or rhizobia to increase the nutrient content of the soil, thereby increasing productivity. The FSL’s initial plans were to add value to the maize by processing the grains into flour so that the women can sell it to the end consumer, minimising losses and making a good profit. FSL has not yet started value addition activities, but is in the process of setting up the milling plant. Once completed, women will be able to process maize into flour, which will result in high income returns from sales.