Smallholder farming is by far the most common profession among families living in poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, 80% of the food supply comes from small family farms, but most of these farms are producing only a fraction of their potential. Improving the productivity and success of smallholder farmers is imperative as we work to end extreme poverty. Even incremental increases in productivity would significantly improve local food security.
Smallholder farmers produce far below their potential yields, often due to poor farming practices and poor access to extension services. In addition to loans, which ensure farmers can invest in improved inputs, equipment, and workers, Opportunity International facilitates training in good agricultural practices to help farmers learn how to capably manage the health of their land, effectively cultivate their crops, and increase their harvests.
To help farmers build their skills, Opportunity International built networks of Farmer Support Agents who work within rural communities to provide training to farmers. These networks help farmers learn about best practices, give them somewhere to turn when they have questions about their crops, and connect them to reputable buyers and suppliers. This training is critical to improving smallholder farmers' yields—and, in turn, addressing hunger and poverty in rural Africa.
Farmer Support Agents
In much of Africa, low population density and low-quality infrastructure make it challenging to deliver financial services and training to farmers. Opportunity International has built localized networks of Farmer Support Agents (FSAs), local leaders who deliver training and extension services to farmers using a high-touch, high-tech approach.
Within a farming cooperative or group, Opportunity identifies strong lead farmers and trains them to become FSAs. The FSAs then become the primary trainers for farmers in their cooperative; they are armed with smart phones and videos covering topics like good agricultural practices and Farming as an Inclusive Business. When farmers have questions about their crops, they turn to their FSAs for advice. And when the cooperative needs to connect with suppliers and buyers, FSAs help facilitate group purchase agreements to benefit the entire farming community.
Through FSAs, AgFinance:
- Delivers agricultural best practices to farmers throughout some of the hardest-to-reach regions in Africa. With this approach, Opportunity can deliver rural trainings at a low cost.
- Captures vital information for financial institutions to reduce the risk of reaching and serving more farmers. Using digital tools and platforms, FSAs collect farmer profiles to paint a picture of farmers' livelihoods and cash flows, helping financial institutions design better products for rural clients.
- Builds local leadership and negotiating power so that farmers have stronger links to value chain services, increasing their profits each harvest.
Partnering on Good Agricultural Practices Training
In rural agricultural communities, few people have had the chance to gain a formal education or technical training in agricultural best practices. Opportunity International helps organize and deliver appropriate agricultural extension services to farmers. These services are often facilitated by Farmer Support Agents or other local market actors and advise farmers in good agricultural practices according to their specific crops or livestock.
As a result of these trainings, farmers:
- Increase their yields. Learning how to properly utilize inputs can drastically improve a farmer's productivity throughout the season.
- Build their skills in farm management. Through training, farmers learn how to better manage both the business and agricultural aspects of their farms.
- Earn more income. With significant yield increases, farmers can earn more at harvest and repay their loans in full without straining their household's cash flow.
- Improve the local economy. As their farms grow, they also create more demand for products such as fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation systems, improving the entire agricultural economy.
Farmer Support Agents use smart phones and videos to deliver specific training modules created by Opportunity AgFinance to their cooperatives and groups. Opportunity's AgFinance team is also preparing to launch a new e-learning platform to deliver even more training modules to FSAs, farmers, agribusinesses, and partner institution staff. Current modules include:
Good Agricultural Practices
These trainings improve farmers' skills and knowledge in areas such as planting techniques, irrigation, pesticides, crop rotation, and crop storage after harvest. These skills enable farmers to improve yields, protect their crops against weather-related shocks, and smooth their incomes year-round.
Farming as an Inclusive Business
These trainings educate families about the benefits of inclusive family farming, such as empowering women to make purchasing decisions and learn good agricultural practices alongside their husbands. When women are also involved, farms operate more successfully and productively.