Philomena Muthoni Mwangi stands at the entrance of her agrodealer shop, Farm Care, in the village of Ngarariga. (Photo: Jerome Bossuet/CIMMYT)
Agrodealers play a pivotal role in delivering the gains of the green revolution to millions of smallholders in Africa. Reaching even the most remote corners of the continent, they give farmers access to agricultural inputs and services.
So far, seed systems research has mainly focused on the factors influencing farmers’ adoption of or seed companies’ investment in new varieties. However, little is known about independent agrodealers, who play an important role in the “last mile” of seed systems, distributing improved maize seeds and fertilizers as well as giving agronomic advice. There is a gap of knowledge about who they are, their needs and constraints, and the ways in which they secure and develop their businesses.
Understanding how to better support agrodealers is important for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), to ensure that new varieties reach the largest possible number of farmers. Under the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project, CIMMYT has launched a new research effort to better understand agrodealers in Kenya, with a specific focus on maize seed marketing.
Researchers are now testing the tools and expect to begin field work in March 2019, during the next maize planting season. “We want to collect detailed quantitative and qualitative data about the way agrodealers outsource and choose their maize varieties, and how they market these seeds to farmers,” explained CIMMYT associate scientist Pieter Rutsaert, who leads the study. This research will help government agencies, NGOs and funders to design better interventions related to agrodealers, for greater and more sustainable impact.
CIMMYT researchers Jason Donovan (left) and Pieter Rutsaert (right) discuss the research study questionnaire with consultant enumerator Victor Kitoto. (Photo: Jerome Bossuet/CIMMYT)
The million-shilling question
The way questions are selected and phrased, and data collected, is critical. “Figuring out how to ask the right question to the right person is a hard business, especially when we ask agrodealers to evaluate their own performance,” recognized Rutsaert. For example, it could be challenging to estimate the importance of maize seed sales if owners are hesitant to provide details about their businesses to outsiders. Anticipating the challenges of collecting reliable and comparable data, Rutsaert’s team will use visual tools, like illustrated cards, to facilitate conversations with interviewees. They will also use innovative exercises, like the shop investment game, where owners are asked how they would invest one million Kenyan shillings (about US$10,000).
Standing behind the counter of her shop, selling bags of feeding supplements for dairy cattle and small pesticide bottles on dusty shelves, Philomena Muthoni Mwangi explained she had run out of maize seeds for sale. This small agrodealer in the village of Ngarariga, in central Kenya, will restock her maize seeds from a big agrovet shop nearby at the onset of the rainy season.
This is quite common, as agrodealers do not take risks when it comes to selling new varieties. Not knowing the future demand, leftover seed stock after the planting season would severely reduce Mwangi’s potential profit, as margins per bag are low. To address this issue, CIMMYT researchers will conduct an intercept farmer survey in the coming weeks, to better understand what farmers look for when buying maize seeds.
Agrodealers are not a homogeneous group. Ranging from large one-stop shops to small shacks, their business models, seed marketing strategy and type of clients may differ a lot. This study will provide useful insights to design targeted seed scaling strategies that consider all kinds of agrodealers, moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach.
The Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The 70-year-old owner of a farm input shop in Kikuyu town, Kiambu County, answers the questions of CIMMYT researchers. (Photo: Jerome Bossuet/CIMMYT)