Harnessing Expertise Across Sectors: How Industry Leaders Came Together to Develop Best in Class Tool

October 6, 2021

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A picture of farmers and a bag of fertilizer

This post was originally published on the SCOPEinsight website.

Agro-input retailers are very important to the success of their local agricultural communities. To help those communities, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) has become an expert at professionalizing and supporting agro-input retailers worldwide. The creation of the SCOPE Input Retailer tool is one way of helping to provide this support. Read how CNFA, the IFCBayerSyngenta, and SCOPEinsight developed an approach to propel small agro-input retailers into powerhouses in their communities.

The importance of strong input retailers

A strong, professional input retailer can have a massive impact on its local agricultural community. An effective input retailer should – at a minimum – provide seeds, fertilizers, agro-chemicals, and knowledge to their customers. Research in India found that agro-input retailers are a very commonly used source of information for farmers. Professional and knowledgeable input retailers are well-positioned to help their farmer clients become more productive and profitable. On the other hand, low-quality inputs and unreliable input retailers can have a significant negative effect on both farmers’ yields and their likelihood of adopting new technologies. Input retailers are incredibly important to their local agricultural communities, and their influence should not be underestimated.

CNFA is a leader in supporting input retailers

CNFA has more than 20 years of experience working with input retailers to professionalize and support their local communities. They have created multiple models and tools to strengthen input retailers, which thereby increases farmers’ access to high-quality inputs and services. One example is their Farm Service Center (FSC) model, which is a one-stop shop that offers a comprehensive array of agro-inputs and services. Through efforts like these, CNFA both supports existing input and service networks and invests in new ones.

The work CNFA does with input retailers has a massive positive impact on the agricultural communities around them. Each FSC location can provide up to 20,000 local farmers with information, equipment, and financing. Successful CNFA activities to support agro-input retailers have resulted in thousands of input retailers receiving training and over $100 million of additional sales generated of quality inputs. CNFA’s work allows input retailers to thrive, and when input retailers thrive, so do their agricultural communities.

The co-development of a SCOPE Input Retailer tool

To strengthen input retailers, it is important to have a tool that can assess their level of professionalism. That’s why we created the SCOPE Input Retailer assessment tool, along with CNFA, the IFC, Bayer, and Syngenta. The tool is part of an integrated solution for input retailers known as the Last Mile Retailer (LMR), which includes an assessment, training, coaching, and improved market participation.

By working together as five different industry leaders, we were able to apply a systems approach to this program creation. An important aspect of a systems approach is allowing each actor to play to focus on their area of expertise. In the creation of the Last Mile Retailer, we leveraged our expertise in creating data-driven, standardized tools to create the SCOPE Input Retailer tool. IFC used their expertise in creating training curriculums to develop the LMR curriculum. CNFA ensured both the assessment and training programs were pragmatic based on their practical expertise working alongside input retailers around the world. Together, we were able to create something greater than any of us would have been able to do on our own.

Tool case study: Hinga Weze

In 2017, CNFA began their 5 year USAID Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze Activity. This $32.6M USAID-funded initiative is intended to strengthen the Rwandan agricultural sector. One of the major goals of Hinga Weze is to increase sustainable agricultural productivity. This is done by training over 535,000 farmers on best practices and by strengthening a network of 318 input retailers in 10 districts of Rwanda.

To achieve this goal and to measure the impact of the services provided, CNFA assessed 31 Rwandan agro-input retailers with our SCOPE Input Retailer Assessment Tool. This has allowed them to receive targeted assistance based on their strengths and weaknesses. As a result of the data from the Input Retailer assessments, the 318 agro-dealers completed training and coaching on internal management, financial management, record keeping and warehouse management. This has led to many improvements across a growing network of professionalized input retailers.

Aside from improved financial performance, the project has facilitated the input retailers to increase their sales and innovate in the market.  In this context, the supported dealers have created a credit scheme that links agro-dealers to farmers, which has helped thousands of farmers to access inputs they normally would not be able to afford. This opportunity has helped many of these farmers to double their harvest since they are now able to invest higher amounts into their production.

Another aspect of the CNFA model is delivering marketing events that link agro-dealers with farmers. These events have allowed agro-dealers to sell more than 467,000 KG of blended fertilizers with a value of around $230,600. Moreover, the marketing events have become good sessions for input retailers to bring their products closer to their clients, who often live in remote areas. This shortens the distance that farmers have to travel to access quality inputs. As part of the CNFA program, agro-dealers in Rwanda have completed new supply contracts and established linkages with global agribusiness companies such as Corteva.

CNFA has also emphasized the importance of using local inputs for climate-smart production and worked with private sector actors to strengthen the local seed production and distribution systems. In this regard, private seed producers have received Hinga Weze grants to boost their seed production and distribution businesses. This has led to increased availability and accessibility of quality seeds, locally produced and distributed to farmers through input retailers. This model has served to support the current Rwandan seed system policy of both self-sufficiency and self-reliance in seeds production and distribution. The supported seed grantees were also linked with Rwandan input retailers and CNFA-supported Farm Service Centers to facilitate farming communities to access seeds at a more affordable cost. 

In Rwanda, CNFA’s work on the model of Farm Service Centers has helped farmers to access increased agro-inputs at lower prices on a regular basis as well to access relevant trainings and/or information related to farming, thereby increasing their productivity and sales. With the support of this model, many farmers can shift from subsistence farming to market-oriented production systems and professionalization.  This will be an important contribution increasing to food security in Rwanda.

Are you interested in hearing more about the successes of this project and the use of the Input Retailer? Then sign up for our webinar (October 19 at 3pm CET).