RE: Supporting smallhoder agriculture: what are your experiences in using evaluation? | Eval Forward

Dear Richard and all,

At the IFAD funded Nema Chosso Project in The Gambia, we are trying to make a difference in smallholder agriculture by pursuing the 4Ps of IFAD, i.e. Public-Private, Producer Partnership building, as a strategy for empowering the smallholder to participate effectively and sustainably in agriculture value chains.

Our approach is that we formed smallholder farmers' communities into clusters, engaged a consultant to conducted an assessment of their potential in terms of their capacity to form a cooperative and participate in the agriculture value chain, as well as key challenges and opportunities to promote processing and marketing, being the upstream VC activities, which are highly under-developed. Thereafter, we provided training using local experts in topics such as group management and leadership, record keeping, basic bookkeeping and financial management, the cooperative approach and how to manage farmer cooperatives. Gambian smallholder farmers have had some good and bad experiences about farmer cooperatives and so we made sure the assessment exercise went further to identify possible causes of the collapse of the former cooperatives, which, to a large extent resulted from political interference and influence of local but powerful stakeholders at the community level. The diagnostic exercise identified key lessons, which we used to strengthen our approach.

Once the cooperatives were formed, the project provided support in terms of membership passbooks, as well as linking them to a public agency which supplies fertilizer to farmers on behalf of Government. This linkage allowed the cooperatives (6 of them) to negotiate deals with the dealer and agreed on credit buying of fertilizer with the project providing collateral. The project went further to pay upfront 50% of the total cost of fertilizer for the smallholders' cooperatives, so they only owed 50% of the total cost of fertilizer they received from the dealer.

The 50% paid by the project is a grant. This is to allow the cooperatives to sell the fertilizer at cost (i.e. with margin) to their members and beyond, and use the proceeds to defray the remaining 50% owed to the dealer and save the balance in their bank accounts, which the project facilitated them to create with local banks near them. By the end of the first season, all the cooperatives were able to pay up their loans with the dealer. We repeated this for the second year running and after the cooperatives had paid up again, they reported average savings in excess of US$200,000.00.

In addition, the project provided each of the 6 cooperatives production equipment (e.g. tractors, power tillers, transplanters, harvesters) and processing equipment (e.g. milling machines and threshers) so as to boost production and processing capacities. Each cooperative developed a management framework for their equipments. The equipments will be managed by youth groups residing within the same communities on a commercial basis and providing vital services to the members of the cooperative at a reduced cost, thus creating access to smallholders for increased production. Processing equipment would also follow similar arrangements, so that post-harvest loss is reduced and value is added for increased incomes.

After the first two years, these cooperatives are have obtained the capacity to operate as economic operators who can buy produce in bulk, process and package these and then sell to bulk buyers in the city. Interesting performance figures are already beginning to emerge. Now that the equipment are provided we can expect greater success. The challenge now is to closely follow and monitor the cooperatives to ensure financial proceeds are judiciously managed and that all members are well informed and participate in decision making, key features which are typical of cooperatives. We are also cognizant of the need to keep the cooperative principles working at full force: for instance, non-members should have no say in the affairs of the cooperative; all members have equal power and control. These ensure community leaders do not use their influence to break down the cooperatives as they did in the olden days.

You can access a story on this initiative by the Nema Chosso Project on the link below:…

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences on the possible follow up initiatives to sustain these cooperatives.