Cultivating Opportunity for African Farmers

In the largely arid land of northern Ghana, the challenges facing smallholder farmers are many, yet their desire to improve their livelihoods is greater.

John Deere and TechnoServe launched the Mobile Training Unit program to train smallholder farmers in agronomic best practices with a goal of helping lift them out of poverty.

For generations, farmers here in the West Mamprusi district have struggled to simply grow enough crops on a few acres of land to feed their families, let alone meet the region’s growing demand for food. Lack of training on good agricultural practices, poor access to modern farm machinery and inputs, and weak links to profitable markets are just a few of the barriers the farmers face.

But the farmers’ futures are beginning to look brighter, thanks to the work of TechnoServe (TNS) and John Deere. A nonprofit organization, TNS focuses on promoting business solutions to poverty in the developing world.

While women provide an important share of the labor on family farms, men traditionally receive the vast majority of training. The MTU program is specifically tailored toward women.

Since 2013, John Deere and the John Deere Foundation have partnered with TechnoServe, enhancing the lives of more than 47,000 farmers in northern Ghana and western Kenya. Through the innovative Mobile Training Unit (MTU) program and demonstration plots, smallholder farmers received training in agronomic best practices, basic business skills, and conservation agriculture.

The results are life-changing, with farmers’ incomes increasing by as much as $30 million, according to John Deere Business Development Manager, Geoff Andersen.

Geoff Andersen, John Deere Business Development Manager, shares how John Deere's partnership with TechnoServe and the implementation of the Mobile Training Unit program and demonstration plots have led to improvements in agricultural productivity for farmers in northern Ghana and western Kenya.

Farming as a Business

Farmers in northern Ghana are breaking the cycle of poverty by learning to improve their productivity, access markets and finance, and increase their incomes.

Now, John Deere’s focus expands to introducing mechanized farming through farmer contractors, and elevating what used to be a hand-to-mouth existence, to a business.

“Africa is critical to closing the food gap between potential yields and what smallholders actually achieve on their farms,” noted Jason Brantley, John Deere’s managing director in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Our goal is to move them into mechanization so we can improve their yields, thus significantly improving their incomes and livelihoods. Mechanization is truly transformational for the African smallholder farmer.”

As a Mechanization Service Provider, Amos Bangmaligu is able to introduce the benefits of mechanization to farmers in his village.

Recent grants from John Deere to TNS established both a loan guarantee fund to facilitate lending to contractors in order to mechanize, as well as intensive financial and entrepreneurship training, providing them the best chance for success. Funds will also support rent-to-own contracting businesses aimed at smallholder farmers.

Amos Bangmaligu is one of those farmers who has adopted farming as a business and now serves his community as a contractor or Mechanization Service Provider (MSP). Read his story here.

Deere Volunteers Offer Skills-Based


Volunteers, including John Deere Financial President Cory Reed, met with area tractor owners and operators to learn more about the need for mechanization in Northern Ghana.

A volunteer team of 12 John Deere employees from the U.S. and the South African branch traveled to the West Mamprusi district in late 2017 to observe the impact of TechnoServe’s work and identify meaningful interventions that could create long-term improvements in the lives of local farmers. They were joined by representatives of PYXERA Global, a company focused on solving global challenges, which has organized other John Deere employee volunteer trips.

Unlike other volunteer experiences, this trip leveraged the employees’ brains over their brawn. An initial challenge was helping an underperforming rice mill get up to speed.

The Nasia Rice Mill is in the process of expanding, but it is experiencing challenges affecting its efficiency.

Turning Out Solutions at the Nasia Rice Mill

Rice is a major staple in Ghana, second only to maize in terms of consumption. Yet, about 60% of Ghana’s rice is currently imported, mostly from Southeast Asia.

While Ghana has suitable agronomic conditions to produce rice throughout the year, poor farming practices, substandard seed quality, and lack of mechanization have created inefficiencies leading to the need to import.

Braimah Saibu is the CEO of Tamanaa Company Limited, producers of Nasia Star Rice.

Braimah Saibu wants to change that, while at the same time, providing better job opportunities for local residents who previously had to leave the region to find work. In 2015, he launched the Nasia Rice Mill in the village of Walewale and now employs 74 full- and part-time workers, many of whom are widows. “I want them to find better jobs here so they invest in their kids’ education, decrease poverty, increase food availability for families, and reduce unemployment,” he said.

Women employed at the Nasia Rice Mill spend hours each day sorting rice by hand.

When the mill was created, it was expected that the increased access to processing facilities would boost rice production in the area, as farmers would not have to travel as great a distance. However, the mill currently operates under capacity, and faces several challenges that impact its effectiveness and efficiency.

The group of Deere volunteers spent two days with Braimah and his staff, reviewing operations, identifying challenges, and providing recommendations to optimize the mill’s processes. With that information, the group helped Braimah create a business plan that would allow him to apply for a government grant to expand his business.

“You taught us how to fish,” said Braimah. “What you came here to teach us is very, very perfect.”

The John Deere team discusses how they are working with the Nasia Rice Mill to put processes in place and develop a business plan to help grow and optimize production.

The John Deere team met with the West Mamprusi District Assembly agricultural minister to discuss mechanization and the need to grow the number of mechanization service providers in the district.

Striving for Food Security with the District Assembly

Another group of Deere employee volunteers focused on working with the West Mamprusi District Assembly Agriculture Department to promote both mechanization and the critical role of mechanization service providers also known as contract farmers.

The department’s main objective is to achieve food security in the area by coordinating all activities related to agriculture development.

Employee volunteers learned about local farmers’ needs by listening and informal conversation.

Team members sat down with area farmers to better understand their needs. In particular, the group met with female entrepreneur farmers who are some of TechnoServe’s most enthusiastic followers. Read more here.

The volunteer teams presented their findings and recommended improvements to the chief administrator of the West Mamprusi District at the end of their week-long stay. The chief administrator agreed to provide funding and/or in-kind support to TechnoServe to execute the improvements, which related to further mechanization, shea nut processing, and building warehousing or agri-centers in the district.

Looking Ahead: A Win-Win Situation

For 2018, John Deere has committed to a nearly $600,000 grant for TechnoServe to support smallholder farmers and contractors in Ghana and Kenya.

John Deere employee volunteers spent five days in the Northern Region of Ghana, identifying meaningful interventions that would improve the livelihoods of local farmers.

Specifically, the grant will support partnerships with local dealers to invest in rent-to-own contracting businesses, and purchasing equipment for demonstration plots and farmer training.

“This shared value approach is an investment that can create sustainable solutions in Africa,” said Mara Downing, President, John Deere Foundation. “We are committed to continuing our partnership with TechnoServe as we work to bring mechanization and technology to smallholder farmers. We see this as not only a business opportunity, but the chance to help Africa become self-sufficient in their food production.”

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Cultivating Opportunity for African Farmers


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