Tanzanian Farmers Embrace Cooperative Model for Better Profits

May 18, 2017
Feed the Future Tanzania NafakaFeed the Future helps smallholder farmers increase rice and maize yields with better technologies and agricultural practices.

For years, whenever the rice farmers in Tanzania’s Nsonyanga village sold their rice, it was each farmer for him or herself. With no defined markets to sell their produce to, rice farmers traded through intermediaries who paid cut-rate prices and used unreliable weights and measures—such as tin cans—to determine the cost of their purchases. During the harvest season, when the supply of rice was high, these middlemen could pay even lower prices. 

Having fair and open access to the free market may seem like a basic right—but it can be a surprisingly difficult thing to negotiate alone, especially for women, youth, and disadvantaged community members. But today, residents of Nsonyanga are discovering just how profitable agriculture can be when they work as a team.

It all began when village farmers sat down with a Feed the Future project to discuss the challenges facing local producers. As they learned about the benefits of collective action and the negotiating power of farmers associations, one thing became clear: It was time to combine efforts and work together as one.

Before long, villagers united to form the Nsonyanga Farmers Group in September 2016. With support from Nafaka, they registered as a legal entity and started doing business right away, allowing them to aggregate their produce at collection centers and sell it under contract. This meant producers could negotiate better prices—whereas rice was previously sold for as little as $0.25 per kilogram. The group has since raised sales to $0.32 per kilogram.

The changes these farmers are bringing to their village are about more than profits though. With training from Feed the Future, they have ushered in a new wave of good agricultural practices, including better postharvest processing, record keeping and financial management, and basic business practices.

Gone are the days of measuring out rice in tin cans. “Today, we sell our produce under standardized weights and measurements at profitable prices,” said Maxwel Mndolo, chairman of the Nsonyanga Farmers Group.

Thanks to improved agricultural practices and technologies, residents have seen drastic gains to output, in turn increasing the number of women and youth interested in farming. As rice yields per acre have more than tripled, youth participation has risen over 50 percent from 2015 to 2016. Meanwhile, female membership in the farmers’ group has steadily risen from 113 members to 201 out of a total of 291.

By pooling their efforts, these farmers have achieved more than many thought possible. As they look to the future, they are investing more and more in their land and community. Members of the Nsonyanga Farmers Group have accessed over $10,000 in loans, as well as a loan to bring electricity to 136 households in the village.

Altogether, these improvements spell better income for farmers, access to markets, improved nutrition and increased productivity. “My life and that of other community members has positively changed due to the project,” said Mndolo. “We are better off than before.”   

The Feed the Future Nafaka (meaning “grain” or “cereal” in Swahili) Activity is funded by USAID and implemented by ACDI/VOCA. The activity aims to reduce poverty and hunger by improving the productivity and competitiveness of Tanzania’s most important staple crops: rice and maize.