For generations, farmers here in the West Mamprusi district have struggled to simply grow enough crops on a few acres of land to feed their families, let alone meet the region’s growing demand for food. Lack of training on good agricultural practices, poor access to modern farm machinery and inputs, and weak links to profitable markets are just a few of the barriers the farmers face.
But the farmers’ futures are beginning to look brighter, thanks to the work of TechnoServe (TNS) and John Deere. A nonprofit organization, TNS focuses on promoting business solutions to poverty in the developing world.
Since 2013, John Deere and the John Deere Foundation have partnered with TechnoServe, enhancing the lives of more than 47,000 farmers in northern Ghana and western Kenya. Through the innovative Mobile Training Unit (MTU) program and demonstration plots, smallholder farmers received training in agronomic best practices, basic business skills, and conservation agriculture.
The results are life-changing, with farmers’ incomes increasing by as much as $30 million, according to John Deere Business Development Manager, Geoff Andersen.
Farming as a Business
Now, John Deere’s focus expands to introducing mechanized farming through farmer contractors, and elevating what used to be a hand-to-mouth existence, to a business.
“Africa is critical to closing the food gap between potential yields and what smallholders actually achieve on their farms,” noted Jason Brantley, John Deere’s managing director in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Our goal is to move them into mechanization so we can improve their yields, thus significantly improving their incomes and livelihoods. Mechanization is truly transformational for the African smallholder farmer.”
Recent grants from John Deere to TNS established both a loan guarantee fund to facilitate lending to contractors in order to mechanize, as well as intensive financial and entrepreneurship training, providing them the best chance for success. Funds will also support rent-to-own contracting businesses aimed at smallholder farmers.
Amos Bangmaligu is one of those farmers who has adopted farming as a business and now serves his community as a contractor or Mechanization Service Provider (MSP). Read his story here.
Deere Volunteers Offer Skills-Based
A volunteer team of 12 John Deere employees from the U.S. and the South African branch traveled to the West Mamprusi district in late 2017 to observe the impact of TechnoServe’s work and identify meaningful interventions that could create long-term improvements in the lives of local farmers. They were joined by representatives of PYXERA Global, a company focused on solving global challenges, which has organized other John Deere employee volunteer trips.
Unlike other volunteer experiences, this trip leveraged the employees’ brains over their brawn. An initial challenge was helping an underperforming rice mill get up to speed.
A Lasting Impression
John Deere, in partnership with TechnoServe, teaches farming best practices to farmers living in the West Mamprusi District in northern Ghana, and provides them with the tools and information to maximize growth.
A Lasting Impression
Turning Out Solutions at the Nasia Rice Mill
Rice is a major staple in Ghana, second only to maize in terms of consumption. Yet, about 60% of Ghana’s rice is currently imported, mostly from Southeast Asia.
While Ghana has suitable agronomic conditions to produce rice throughout the year, poor farming practices, substandard seed quality, and lack of mechanization have created inefficiencies leading to the need to import.
Braimah Saibu wants to change that, while at the same time, providing better job opportunities for local residents who previously had to leave the region to find work. In 2015, he launched the Nasia Rice Mill in the village of Walewale and now employs 74 full- and part-time workers, many of whom are widows. “I want them to find better jobs here so they invest in their kids’ education, decrease poverty, increase food availability for families, and reduce unemployment,” he said.
When the mill was created, it was expected that the increased access to processing facilities would boost rice production in the area, as farmers would not have to travel as great a distance. However, the mill currently operates under capacity, and faces several challenges that impact its effectiveness and efficiency.
The group of Deere volunteers spent two days with Braimah and his staff, reviewing operations, identifying challenges, and providing recommendations to optimize the mill’s processes. With that information, the group helped Braimah create a business plan that would allow him to apply for a government grant to expand his business.
“You taught us how to fish,” said Braimah. “What you came here to teach us is very, very perfect.”
Striving for Food Security with the District Assembly
Another group of Deere employee volunteers focused on working with the West Mamprusi District Assembly Agriculture Department to promote both mechanization and the critical role of mechanization service providers also known as contract farmers.
The department’s main objective is to achieve food security in the area by coordinating all activities related to agriculture development.
Team members sat down with area farmers to better understand their needs. In particular, the group met with female entrepreneur farmers who are some of TechnoServe’s most enthusiastic followers. Read more here.
The volunteer teams presented their findings and recommended improvements to the chief administrator of the West Mamprusi District at the end of their week-long stay. The chief administrator agreed to provide funding and/or in-kind support to TechnoServe to execute the improvements, which related to further mechanization, shea nut processing, and building warehousing or agri-centers in the district.
Looking Ahead: A Win-Win Situation
For 2018, John Deere has committed to a nearly $600,000 grant for TechnoServe to support smallholder farmers and contractors in Ghana and Kenya.
Specifically, the grant will support partnerships with local dealers to invest in rent-to-own contracting businesses, and purchasing equipment for demonstration plots and farmer training.
“This shared value approach is an investment that can create sustainable solutions in Africa,” said Mara Downing, President, John Deere Foundation. “We are committed to continuing our partnership with TechnoServe as we work to bring mechanization and technology to smallholder farmers. We see this as not only a business opportunity, but the chance to help Africa become self-sufficient in their food production.”