Making tech available to smallholders to boost growth

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Copyright: Sven Torfinn / Panos

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Agriculture is the backbone of Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy, with many countries depending on it heavily, a reason many development institutions are investing in the sector.
This rhymes well with AU’s agriculture goals of shared prosperity and improved livelihoods to be attained by 2025 as stated in the Malabo Declaration on accelerated agricultural growth and transformation.
However, the African Union’s vision could be in danger if governments do not address the challenges that face smallholder farmers who are key partners as I learnt during a three-day field visit to southern Tanzania’s Iringa region last month (25-27 July).

“Many farmers in my neighbourhood want these storage facilities but they are not easily accessible because they are expensive.”

Violet Kasike

During the visit organised by Kenya-headquartered Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), I discovered that the famers have challenges such as inaccessibility to technologies and innovations that have been developed to help minimise post-harvest losses.
Under the YieldWise project initiated by the Rockefeller Foundation and AGRA to reduce post-harvest losses in maize, farmers have been linked to large buyers and taught on how to store their harvests safely.
This is through the use of facilities such as hermetic bags, and metal silos that can store grain safely for over two years without using chemicals.
However, a number of smallholder farmers in rural Iringa cannot access these facilities because of high prices as a result of heavy taxation. Similarly, acquiring farm inputs such as seeds and fertilisers is also a challenge and farmers have to sell almost a quarter of their harvests to repay loans used to purchase inputs.
In Violet Kasike, a smallholder farmer in Kiponzelo village of the region, I saw a farmer who is committed to improving yields and income from maize.
Although Kasike own a metal silo for storing maize, thanks to AGRA and a project for increasing rural incomes, she is concerned that her fellow farmers are losing for lack of storage facilities.
“Many farmers in my neighbourhood want these storage facilities but they are not easily accessible because they are expensive,” Kasike said.

According to AGRA, Tanzania loses up to 30 per cent of maize production a year due to post-harvest losses. This should indeed be addressed for the country to improve its agricultural sector.
Scientists and other innovators are trying their best to help smallholder farmers mitigate the challenges of agriculture on the continent.
For Africa to achieve the Malabo Declaration targets, there is a need for all partners, especially governments, to help smallholder farmers’ access technologies to help minimise post-harvest losses.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.