The Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) organization has been working to establish a Farm Service Center (FSC), for the last four years. On June 28, 2017, CNFA began the process of establishing two more centers in Arsi Zone of the Oromia Regional Sate.
The project partnered one female and one male Ethiopian entrepreneur, Tsegereda Solomon and Abreham Endrias, to provide grants matched by the grantees. It leveraged a total of 60,000 Euros. According to CNFA the grants help demonstrate the viability of the FSC model as a platform for large-scale partnerships through supplying quality and affordable farm inputs, technical knowledge and services that link smallholder farmers with new agricultural technologies, innovations and best practices to improve productivity.
Capital spoke to Rebeka Amha, program manager of the Farm Service Center Project with a background in Economics and the agro-chemical sector. Rebeka talks about the goals, success stories and challenges of the program.
Capital: Tell us about the Farm Service center.
Rebeka Amha: Farm Service Centers are one stop shops where you can get different agrochemical inputs, small equipment for both crop and livestock sectors are provided in a professional and organized manner. They are unique because they are expected to hire six professionals, thus providing expertise.
For example when you go to a pharmacy, you buy what you need with a prescription but also you are given advice on how to use what you have bought. So for the Farm Service Center is not just selling the inputs but also provides an expert to tell the farmers how to apply the products, they give them technical demonstrations.
The centers have proper storage facilities because the chemicals are sensitive to the environment and need to be handled carefully.
They also have training facilities for the farmers, customers and input suppliers.
Capital: What kind of trainings do these centers provide to the farmers?
Rebeka: They could be about anything related to farming; applying agro-chemicals or using livestock feed. Trainings are given based on needs of farmers and the product supplied by the Farm Service Center. If the center sells vegetable seeds, then they will have a demo plot where they can show how the seeds will work the best. All the trainings and assistance is completely free.
Capital: How many centers are in the country currently?
Rebeka: If we look at the partnership with GIZ, we are working on five Farm Service Centers but CNFA started this project around four years ago where it established six centers in the Oromia Region with USAID funding that was proven to be successful.
We use matching grants; it’s a 50-50 matching fund which also motivates sustaining the business. Because it was proven to be successful, USAID expanded the project to 20 additional centers.
CNFA is working closely with the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA) to establish these additional 20 centers so countrywide there are 31 such centers.
Capital: What would you say has been the major impact of the centers in the work of the farmers and productivity?
Rebeka: Being able to get the inputs needed from one center is very convenient. The quality of the products at the centers is taken very seriously. We support the centers so that they can negotiate with multinational companies so that they will be able to get a timely inventory.
The other advantage is affordability; the items that are available are reasonably priced and this saves time because it shortens the time frame of purchasing different things from different places; that is one of the advantages of a one stop shop.
Capital: It sounds like it works well but what challenges do these centers face?
Rebeka: The whole process of establishing the centers and the entrepreneur selection process and , getting the right candidate is tough.
Many are interested but they need to have the leadership skills and commitment to support the community. Some people might be more into helping the community and may lack the entrepreneurship skill. That is why we go through a rigorous process to find the right entrepreneur.
After the grant has been awarded, sometimes capital will become a challenge; they might be ready to invest but with the inventory and construction cost all added it leads to capital constraints. But throughout the process we motivate and support them.
Capital: So after the establishment of the centers, you do continue to monitor the progress they are making?
Rebeka: Yes we do. We provide technical capacity support for the grantees, the staff, looking at the challenges they have. These are businesses and they need to earn money, they need to be able to provide good customer service and sustain themselves.
Capital: Are you looking at establishing more centers in the future?
Rebeka: That is what we are hoping for; these centers are very important and we have seen the positive effects. We also work very closely with the government, we want there to be a close linkage.
If government experts in the field of agriculture find some problems on the ground then they can get some solutions from the Farm Service Centers and from the experts there. So we want it to be complimentary and supportive.