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One of the main challenges for producer organizations in Rwanda is to sustain agricultural training programs for their members once development partners or government support end their funding cycles. By introducing the fee-based service provider, farmers can continue to receive training in exchange for a small fee.
The STARS team in Rwanda noticed that producer organizations offering agricultural training to their members, did not disseminate these effectively, resulting in low impact. Farmer facilitators that were hired to do the job, often lacked the motivation and logistical means to train others. The training program was dependent on funding from external sources and therefore not sustainable.
“The question we wanted to answer is: Can we make the training program more sustainable when we use a business approach instead?” says Shyaka Francis, Value Chain Development Advisor, for the ICCO Cooperation STARS program.
Introduce Behavioral Change
Firstly, STARS facilitated the creation of a fee-based business model, which was piloted in four producer organizations. The preliminary results convinced other producer organizations to allocate a budget for agricultural training in their annual plans.
“The biggest change we had to bring was behavioral change. Farmers did not understand that they had to pay for a service that was free in the past. But the services they received were not perceived as adding value. So we had to convince farmers that we could bring quality and that their investment would pay off in the end. We slowly tried to convince them that payments will result in quality service, efficiency and most importantly, sustainability,” explains STARS country lead in Rwanda, Patrick Birasa.
Select the Best BDS Providers
The second step of the pilot was the selection of the best ‘ business development services’ (BDS) providers. STARS provided guiding principles for selecting the right profile, but did not get involved in the entire process; ensuring the producer organizations would own both the process and the results. Selection was based on agricultural and entrepreneurial skills, integrity, and motivation.
Train the Trainer
The fee-based BDS providers are trained by STARS in farmer field schools that are managed by the producer organization. At these schools, they provide training to their members. BDS providers also use their own fields as demonstration plots. Members receive training on the best agriculture practices such as seed preparation, nursery bed preparation for rice, weeding, handling and responsible use of fertilizers and chemicals spraying. They are also trained on entrepreneurial skills such as selling at the right time and how to effectively negotiate prices with buyers.
“I am happy that I received training from my BDS provider. Thanks to this I have advanced skills in seedling preparation and identifying different types of pest and disease and how to control them. I have better expectations for my production and I feel supported. Paying for a service that provides me with more profit is fine for me now,” farmer Claudine Murakete explains.
Introduce Fair Incentives
BDS providers received a fee ranging between USD 22 to USD 32 per month for the technical assistance to producer organization members. They also received a bonus when farmers increased their production. With work hours especially peaking during planting and harvest, BDS providers have enough time to do other activities as well.
“Since I started working as fee-based BDS provider for the producer organization Coprorika, I have trained more than 50 farmers in my group. They all planted at the same time, sprayed at the same time, and weeded at the same time. Their crops look very healthy with no disease. This was not the case in previous years. I have received payment from my producer organization for the services provided to the members. We are all happy and expect a huge increase in our production,” said BDS provider Emmanuel Sakindi, adding: “I am planning to acquire more skills to ensure that I give my clients value for money services.”
In twelve producer organizations, a total of 84 fee-based BDS providers who were selected by STARS, trained more than 10,000 farmers, of which 40 percent are female farmers. In addition, three non-STARS producer organizations started to show interest in the BDS model. And lastly, after seeing the results, the rice farmers federation of Rwanda has contacted STARS for replication in other rice producer organizations.
“We clearly see that the producer organizations that offer BDS services to their members are becoming more cost-effective and efficient. There is a level of professionalism we didn’t see before. Especially with chemical spraying. BDS providers have the right equipment and skills to control pests and diseases. This is why we want to partner with STARS to replicate the BDS model to other rice organizations,” tells Gahiza Appolonaire, president of Rwanda rice farmers federation (FUCORIRWA).
The Strengthening African Rural Smallholders (STARS) program is a five-year program (2017-2021) implemented by ICCO Cooperation in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. Adopting the market systems development approach, STARS improves access to finance and markets for over 200,000 smallholder farmers with emphasis on women and youth in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Senegal.