The aim of the STARS (1) program is to improve access to financial and non-financial products for farmers. The program is already successful in Senegal where the onion crop season achieved real performance.
How did this come about?
Firstly, we started by identifying the main constraints of the onion value chains, through the M4P (2) approach. This investigation revealed that producers benefit the least due to low access to inputs of quality and their poor productivity. Using the M4P approach, STARS solved the low access to quality inputs by contracting the best input providers of seeds and fertilizer. Seeds and fertiliser are very important production factors in order to achieve high yields.
Secondly, business models were developed with companies such as SFC and Elephant Vert to allow farmers to uptake seed and fertilizer. STARS promoted the farmer field schools approach where the companies didn’t supply inputs only, they offered also advice about best practices.
This combination of best inputs and required agricultural techniques enabled higher yields in onion production. Indeed, in the past farmers had difficulty to harvest 25 ton per hectare. By using new technologies, adopting the best practices and using high quality seed and fertilizer, some farmers achieved yields up to 70 ton per hectare.
“By using good seed and good fertilizer we got a good yield”, a farmer said , “I learnt a better way to fertilize without wasting and with homogeneous application” added another. Indeed one thing is to get inputs of good quality, another is knowing how to use them. Inclusive business models, through farmer fields schools, combining adequate inputs and coaching and knowledge transfer on how to optimize their usage, is one of the best ways to improve agricultural production.
Moreover, in addition to support provided by input companies, this experience showed that farmers in onion production need to be strengthened in terms of capacity building. According to this farmer of more than 20 years experience in agriculture, “In the past, we used large spacing for transplantation but now we use space optimally and we get better yields”.
Furthermore, it is necessary to come up with a better practical combination of knowledge provided by input suppliers and completing also other aspects not covered by coaching provided by companies on the best usage of their own inputs they deliver. For that, farmers with limited agricultural skills need to get support from agricultural specialists in terms of capacity building, specifically for farmers in horticulture. This, because, horticultural crops are one of the most challenging crops in agriculture.
When business succeeds, hope begins to emerge. Results obtained by onion farmers encourage them to invest more and more in agriculture. “Now I planned to install a mini drilling , to hire a farm hand and double my onion exploitation for coming years”, tells a farmer who started onion production just 3 years ago. With his performance in onion production, this farmer is definitely convinced by horticulture (onion, and other crops) as an economic empowerment engine. He trusted me these words “I was a dressmaker but now I am in agriculture and will never leave it”. Combining good quality of inputs together with the best agricultural techniques has proven to be the way to improve onion production both in quality and quantity.
by Dada Gueye, STARS Program MERL Advisor
1. Strengthening African Rural Smallholder (STARS) is a five years program that runs in Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Senegal. It is implemented by ICCO and funded by Mastercard Foundation.
2. M4P: Making Markets Work for the Poor approach