Putting the private sector in the driver’s seat to push agricultural innovations

Agriculture in most developing countries is characterized by small-scale farming that relies heavily on the public, rather than the private, sector for its delivery. However, the complex challenges faced by smallholder farmers call for novel approaches to delivering available technologies in appropriate forms to enhance adoption.

Agriculture in most developing countries is characterized by small-scale farming that relies heavily on the public, rather than the private, sector for its delivery. However, the complex challenges faced by smallholder farmers call for novel approaches to delivering available technologies in appropriate forms to enhance adoption.

Take the case of aflasafeTM, an aflatoxin biocontrol technology developed by IITA, the Agriculture Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, and several partners for Africa. AflasafeTM has moved beyond proof of concept: it has been consistently proven to reduce aflatoxins by 80 to 99% during both crop growth and subsequent postharvest storage, and throughout the value chain.

Aflatoxins are dangerous carcinogens produced by fungi when maize and groundnut become naturally infected when growing and/or during storage. Most aflatoxin-producing strains belong to the fungus Aspergillus flavus. Aflatoxins cause liver cancer, suppress the immune system, stunt child growth and development, and in some cases, can kill people and animals. It is estimated that in some seasons or regions, up to 40% of maize can be contaminated with aflatoxins. Aflatoxin exposure leads to reduced labor-hours owing to poor health. This leads to compromised productivity, and—in extreme cases—to premature death. Crops with excessive aflatoxin are routinely rejected in premium markets governed by stringent safety requirements on aflatoxin levels.

Although techniques and technologies to reduce aflatoxin contamination have existed for decades, several questions have been raised on the adoption and profitability of biocontrol technology, particularly by and for smallholder farmers.

A farmer examining an aflasafe bag

AgResults and the “pull” mechanism

A model for reducing aflatoxin and creating sustainable market demand for aflasafeTM along the maize value chain is being piloted under the AgResults Aflasafe Pilot initiative in Nigeria. AgResults develops and implements interventions that address aflatoxin contamination, and that boost socioeconomic benefits at every stage from when the crop is planted, through harvest, and all the way to the market. Through AgResults initiatives, IITA developed an innovative approach to the “pull” mechanism to overcome barriers to adoption of this new technology by smallholder farmers. The project covers 12 states in Nigeria.

This pilot is designed to demonstrate a successful model for increasing smallholder farmers’ adoption of biocontrol technology in Nigeria, thereby pulling farmers in. The breakthrough is achieved through reducing barriers that hamper widespread adoption, by offering farmers a premium per-unit payment for maize verified to contain a high content of aflasafeTM strains.

Since its inception in 2012, AgResults has been working with privatesector agricultural enterprises, termed implementers. Currently, implementers are the primary means by which small-scale farmers obtain aflasafeTM. In addition, implementers facilitate access to technical knowledge and inputs that farmers require to boost their productivity and move from being solely subsistence to commercial producers. The project provides monetary performance-pegged incentives of $18.75/t to the implementers, with a view to assuring that smallholders produce aflasafeTM-treated maize. Through a shared-value approach, smallholder farmers working with the implementers shared from both the performance-pegged incentives and premium received from buyers of the aflasafeTM-treated maize after sales.

When the private sector leads the way

The AgResults project has successfully demonstrated that private sector involvement in innovation delivery significantly influences how farmers can be reached with available technologies. It also proves that smallholder farmers can enjoy commensurate premiums from using the innovation. The initiative helps resource-poor farmers to access the technology, and to acquire the knowledge necessary for its beneficial adoption.

So far, 24 agricultural enterprises have worked with more than 30,000 smallholder maize farmers in 12 Nigerian states. The enterprises provide farmers with aflasafeTM, improve their farm-management practices, aggregate their produce, and ultimately link them to premium markets that command higher prices for aflatoxin-safe maize.

In four years, these smallholders bought 300 tons of aflasafeTM, which they applied on 32,000 ha of maize to reduce aflatoxin. Consequently, 96.6% of the maize grain-lots where aflasafeTM was applied saw a dramatic reduction in aflatoxin. In addition, the yield increased by 50% compared to the national average primarily due to the adoption of improved farming practices. Annually, on average, there is 53.6% aggregation of maize for sale, while 22.6% was retained at home, 7% was sold at the farm gate, and 16.8% was sold at different times before aggregation, also given to family members and friends.

Smallholder farmers have benefited greatly from premium payments for aflasafeTM-treated maize sold to food and feed industries. Grain lots from aflasafeTM-treated fields fetched, on average, a 542% return on investment on aflasafeTM from sale to anchor buyers. The total gross earnings of all implementers from the premium received from anchor buyers (72.4% of total earning) and incentives from AgResults (27.6% of total earning) were nearly 180 million Naira (or about $570,000).

These results demonstrate how AgResults contributes not only to upscaling the technology to improve smallholder livelihoods and health, but also to strengthening local economies through the pull mechanism.

References

AgResults Nigeria Aflasafe Pilot: http://agresults.org/en/283/NigeriaAflasafePilot20

AgResults Nigeria Aflasafe Quarterly Report Technical Report. IITA-Deloitte (Nov-Dec 2016), PJ 1773.

Bandyopadhyay, R., A. Ortega-Beltran, A. Akande, C. Mutegi, J. Atehnkeng, L. Kaptoge, A.L. Senghor, B.N. Adhikari, and P.J. Cotty. 2016. Biological control of aflatoxins in Africa: Current status and potential challenges in the face of climate change, World Mycotoxin Journal 9: 771–789.

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