Speaking at the 2016 Cracking the Nut Conference, NCBA CLUSA Senior Technical Director Todd Crosby and Regional Finance Manager Aissata Wane revealed an innovative approach to bringing agriculture and nutrition solutions to hard to reach communities: franchises.
Over the years NCBA CLUSA has developed various models to connect the private sector with rural communities, one of the most sustainable development methods insuring people have links to markets after the end of a project. Providing quality inputs such as seed and fertilizer and connecting rural farmers with services and training meant bridging “the last mile” for many private sector companies. These public-private partnerships started with the village agent model, an innovation sprung out NCBA CLUSA’s USAID-funded PROFIT project in Zambia 10 years ago.
Village agents were employee representatives of specific companies such as seed providers and fertilizer companies. In Zambia, the model was industry based. Linked to these companies, 600 village agents provided more than 100,000 rural smallholder farmers access to quality goods and services they normally could not find otherwise. Many village farmers would have to travel hundreds of kilometers to buy quality seed, and the seed available in their small towns was neither good nor many times was it actual seed. The village agents acted as a sort of broker, clustering orders, bringing products directly to the clients.
They were also trained in new farming techniques like conservation agriculture, supporting their farmer clients to increase their yields. When Crosby visited 10 years later, he was impressed by the clear sustainability of the model, which had village agents making commission on their sales. There are now more than 4,000 village agents serving over 250,000 farmers in Zambia.
“We are allowing businesses to flourish in places where businesses usually don’t,” Crosby said.
Taking this industry based model and flipping it on its head, Crosby went to Senegal where NCBA CLUSA was implementing the first USAID Feed the Future project, Yaajeende, which was recently extended for two years. Instead of linking companies with village agents, communities themselves elected Community-based Solution Providers (CBSPs) who could take their order up to a myriad of trusted companies with quality products.
This community-up approach meant CBSPs, whose name came from the agents themselves, saw themselves as creating solutions to issues like malnutrition and drought.
“People started talking in terms of their mission. ‘I helped my community solve malnutrition.’ Rather than ‘I sold X amount,’ like in Zambia,” Crosby said. He recounted the story of one CBSP in Senegal who was working with pesticides. With improper labeling, his brother’s wife had accidentally thought the pesticides were sugar and poisoned their children. The CBSP took it upon himself to educate the community, making a living bringing in quality products, but also training farmers on proper storage and usage for health safety. “He saw himself as protecting the community,” Crosby said.
The other way the community-up approach works is that it provides a direct line of communication between village farmers and input providers. When rains were delayed last year, communities asked their CBSP representatives for short-cycle and drought resistant seeds, able to grow even though they had to plant later. As of 2015, CBSPs were working with five verified firms, able to solve community challenges through a combination of products.
CBSPs are also more linked to local governance groups that can identify community issues quickly. They can also help with product aggregation with their links to markets, and help to sell surplus. Being grounded in a food security framework, many solution providers sell products beyond the typical agricultural inputs to include nutrition trainings, fortified flour and interests in horticulture. This brought in many more women, like Hapsatou Kah, who is bringing in large incomes through value-added nutritional products.
But there were still some challenges. Training across the villages and across firms is not standardized. To help address these issues, the Yaajeende project is developing the next chapter—the CultiVert® Franchise.
“We want to further professionalize the model,” Wane said, discussing the challenges. The USAID Yaajeende project developed various social marketing campaigns such as “Mangez Orange” (Eat Orange) to address Vitamin A deficiencies and the Celludam clean water campaign, among others. To standardize these campaigns across the villages, through a trusted provider such as a CBSP, would bolster both the CBSP and the reach of quality and trusted products. The franchise CultiVert (Grow Green) balances choice (which increases through vetted firms instead of agents being tied to one) with quality (which many communities did not have) with standards, in training and pricing. A basic training package is being developed for the first round of “franchisees” including businesses management skills.
Drawing on the cooperative principles, Crosby noted that the CBSPs under the franchise model are looking to “the mission, not just money and to solutions, not just sales. It is a very close tie to Principle 7, concern for community in business.”
As CultiVert gets going over 2016, we will continue to follow the model. To learn more about Community-based Solution Providers, check out this video.