Helping Africa’s Smallholder Farmers help themselves
Photo Credit To Sasakawa Africa Association

Helping Africa’s Smallholder Farmers help themselves

TEXT: Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA)

Africa has almost 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and an agricultural sector that employs 65% of the total labor force. Despite the huge potential this offers, the continent remains a net importer of food crops, largely because many smallholder farmers, which consists majority of farmers in Africa, still rely on rudimentary and antiquated techniques and technologies and have little or no access to agricultural markets.


These smallholders remain the continent’s lifeblood, producing around 80% of Africa’s food requirements. They face a host of challenges, which are being made worse by the impacts of climate change, including poor soil fertility and erratic rainfall.

These smallholders remain the continent’s lifeblood, producing around 80% of Africa’s food requirements. They face a host of challenges, which are being made worse by the impacts of climate change, including poor soil fertility and erratic rainfall.

It is vital to build the capacity of smallholders to improve their lives through better access to improved seeds, fertilizers and other farm inputs, value-adding agro-processing equipment, and wider access to markets where they can gain income from surplus production.

But knowledge of these areas among smallholders is generally very limited, including simple technologies and techniques that could improve their working lives considerably or about the benefits of pooling their resources.

Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) is one international NGO that has been working across the continent for the last three decades to help fill those knowledge gaps by collaborating with governments to support farmers through trainings and improved access to agricultural technology. SAA may not be well known in Japan, where its administrative headquarters is located, but it is prominent in the African agricultural development sector.

Ryoichi Sasakawa, the late philanthropist and founder of the Nippon Foundation, together with Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the “Green Revolution” and the former US president, Jimmy Carter, founded the organization in 1986. Over the years, it has operated in 14 African countries, and today its staff of around 170 people focuses on four countries, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, and Uganda, where it has country offices under the Sasakawa Global 2000 (SG2000) name. SAA’s regional headquarters is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Training the trainers

Agriculture ministries in most African countries have organizations devoted to training farmers on the use of better techniques and practices, known as agricultural extension services, but many are severely under-resourced and the techniques being taught are often outdated, so their reach and impact may be limited. While research institutions have developed plenty of improved technologies and techniques, they struggle to reach the wider population.

This is where SAA has a key role. By working with ministries, the Association helps extension services reach more farmers, improve training for government extension officers, and work directly with rural communities to give them better access to resources.

SAA’s main extension principle is “capacity building and demonstration”. The Association provides training for extension staff on agronomic practices to help them establish model demonstration plots that can be seen by farming communities across the country.

SAA’s main extension principle is “capacity building and demonstration”. The Association provides training for extension staff on agronomic practices to help them establish model demonstration plots that can be seen by farming communities across the country.

After they have been trained, extension staff then train motivated farmers who are willing to host demonstration plots using new technologies on their farms. Often, the yields from these plots are three times higher than those from conventional methods–a dramatic improvement that encourages the uptake of such technologies among neighboring farmers, and demonstrates the impact of “extension.”

SAA’s approach now covers the value-chain from securing high quality inputs to marketing products and access to credit. Private sector service providers are also SAA’s key partners, such as local shop owners selling farm inputs, agro-process equipment owners hiring out their services, and financial institutions.

Simple changes, big improvements

Crop storage is one area where relatively simple technology promoted by SAA has made a big difference.

Traditional on-farm crop and food storage is often highly ineffective, with destruction of crops by insects, rodents, and birds resulting in losses of 20% or more if crops are stored for a long period.

SAA trains extension staff and farmers on improved storage management, including the use of inexpensive, hermetic, oxygen-free storage in bags, metal silos and sealed plastic tanks. These containers have been shown to be highly effective in controlling pests without using dangerous chemicals, and keeping grains fresh for at least six months.

Open-the-bag ceremony organized by SAA in Hawassa, Ethiopia; farmers gathered to witness the effectiveness of hermetic grain storage bag sealed six months ago. / Credits: Sasakawa Africa Association.
Open-the-bag ceremony organized by SAA in Hawassa, Ethiopia; farmers gathered to witness the effectiveness of hermetic grain storage bag sealed six months ago. / Credits: Sasakawa Africa Association.

Meanwhile, the introduction of improved machines and equipment has facilitated the establishment of rural agro-processing enterprises. This is of particular help to rural women, who are a focus for SAA, who carry out farm work and crop processing using time and labor-consuming traditional methods, while also raising their families.

As a result of SAA activities, around 5,000 women in Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, and Uganda are now engaged in value-adding agro-processing enterprises, making products they can then sell at a premium, earning valuable income for the family.

The challenge now is to enhance the financial, infrastructural, and policy support to prevent smallholder farmers from reverting to antiquated farming methods. This will require a strong commitment from national leaders to push the adoption of and scaling up the most effective practices.

For more information about Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA), please visit the official website: www.saa-safe.org.


Related posts

Leave a Reply

The store is currently undergoing maintenance — no orders shall be fulfilled. Dismiss