It was refreshing to hear an inspiring story about efforts to lift the lives of farmers in the country, as narrated by Rural Urban Development Initiative (RUDI) chief executive Abel Lyimo the Chief Executive Officer. The agency oversees a project out to empower smallholder rice farmers in Morogoro and Mbeya regions.
The recount of how the Norwegian-supported project, Building Rural Incomes Through Association (BRITA), was implemented in Kilombero and Mbeya is a model whose replication could see more farmers in the country lead better lives and contribute more to the economy.
The story of where the small holder rice farmers were coming from and where they stand today reads better than the mere calls that the media routinely run, exhorting farmers to improve methods of farming, planting, harvesting, etc., without bothering to check whether the message was taken up.
A meeting in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday was told how a group of rice farmers rose from the weak position of simple price takers in 2007 to owners of eight rice milling machines and 18 warehouses alongside being able price negotiators for their produce.
Lyimo points out: “In 2007 the farmers had no access to any formal storage facilities and thus couldn’t enjoy good market prices as the harvest season progressed. But today they have eight milling machines for paddy compared to none in 2007. We are now talking of 18 warehouses from one then and farmers are now bulking and selling produce together.”
He adds: “But the best thing is that the farmers are now able to negotiate prices with big regional traders like Smart Logistics Ltd from Kenya and Union Service Store from Moshi where previously they were price takers.”
It is as simple as that or, as some would argue, as complicated as that.
But there is no escaping the basic truth, as reiterated by Norges Vel Chief Executive Director Ragnhild Maatla Salomonsen, that farmers have to come together and undertake collective marketing as the only way they can raise their negotiating power, making them less vulnerable to traders who approach them individually and offer low prices.
President Jakaya Kikwete sent out much the same message in remarks during International Year of Cooperatives celebrations in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday. He reminded the farming community that they were stronger working together than as individual players.
The outcome of the Norwegian-backed effort is that over 20,000 farmers have benefited.
According to Lyimo, for the first time the farmers are accessing finance from commercial banks – with NMB having dished out 228m/- and 300m/- to Kilombero and Mbeya farmers, respectively, in the 2010/11 season.
“But the best thing is that the farmers are now able to negotiate prices with big regional traders like Smart Logistics Ltd from Kenya and Union Service Store from Moshi where previously they were price takers,” he said.
This is surely a wonderful story that changed the lives of the 20,000 farmers. We have heard it. It is our hope that policy makers and all actors in the agricultural sector will closely study the project cited, with a view to replicating it to stop a few crafty people short-changing poor farmers.