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Good Nature Agro working successfully with small-scale farmers in Zambia

Exclusive interview with Newton Phiri, Seed Supply Manager, Good Nature Agro in Zambia, an exhibitor at the upcoming Agritech Expo Zambia in Chisamba in April, where Newton will also be an expert speaker at the interactive training workshops on: “Benefits of planting legumes: A climate smart, drought resistant crop.”

Can we talk about some highlights for Good Nature Agro in Zambia in the region during 2017.

On average, smallholder farmers producing for Good Nature have increased production by 220% and incomes now average $382 per hectare – an increase of more than $250 on typical mono-crop maize production.

Given this resounding success we have expanded our reach to work with 5,000 small-scale farmers, up from 2,200 in the previous season. Since its founding in 2014, Good Nature has bucked the status quo of how companies source from smallholders by investing more in our growers and extension agents to increase productivity per hectare instead of investing less to cut unit costs. This has paid off with a nearly 220 percent increase in yield for farmers producing legume seed for Good Nature.

This growth has called for an increase in staff capacity; Good Nature’s full-time staff has increased to 23, with more than half of our employees permanently in the field supporting growers. Good Nature’s extension team of Private Extension Agents (PEAs) – lead farmers who share in the revenue of the company – has increased to 130 agents overseeing 40 growers each.

Good Nature Agro sold 760 metric tons of seed in 2017 through a variety of channels – a volume we intend to triple in 2018.

What are some of the exciting plans and projects in the offing for this year?

Good Nature will hold the grand opening of our Lusaka office in the beginning of April 2018 – a long overdue expansion from our cherished but remote headquarters in Chipata, Eastern Province!

Exciting new partnerships with Klein Karoo and Pula Crop Insurance are set to continue getting new, improved legume varieties to more farmers, including beans, pigeon pea, and green gram. New varieties of groundnut are reaching scale and will soon be ready to revolutionise the groundnut sector. Good Nature’s partnership with ICRISAT is focused on continuing to scale varieties that are high-yielding, early-maturing, disease-resistant, and ready-made for the export market.

Closer to home, Good Nature will expand our sales footprint from stocking just 40 agro dealers in 2017 to nearly 300 in 2018 as we ensure our seed is available nationwide.

What in your view are the main challenges in the agri sector in Zambia currently?

Smallholders have their own, segmented value chains away from commercial agriculture. In smallholder value chains buyers don’t expect quality products and as a result they pay rock-bottom prices. Good Nature’s model is designed to include smallholders in the value chains, allowing them to access previously unobtainable profits.

Experts estimate by 2050 there will be an additional 10 billion people to feed. Combine that inconceivable thought with a changing climate raises the question where the required 70% increase in food production will come from. We as a sector must respond with smarter crop portfolios and a renewed commitment to investing in the soil, as only the soil can mitigate unpredictable rainfall that can be far above or far below what used to classify as normal.

Enforcement in the seed sector is improving year-on-year but at the end of the season when markets open up, too many legumes are coming into the country uncertified or being purchased in open markets and being passed off as seed. The ramifications are continued distrust in the quality of legume seeds – especially public varieties that have the greatest potential to increase yields for the country’s smallholders.

How important is cooperation between the agri sector and government?

The government continues to be a highly-trusted partner to farmers throughout the country.

Government views, programs, and outreach extend to far more smallholders than any other entity. The Agricultural sector and Government should talk constantly to increase clarity of how programs such as FISP will be delivered and how the sector and Government can collaborate on increasing smallholder incomes nationwide.

What would you want prospective investors to know about Zambia? What is it like to do business in this country?

Zambia is open for business! The country has open-minded and straight-forward taxation for industry; relative stability in politics, the economy, and Forex; and a strong industry that new companies and investors can immediately engage with.

You are a speaker in our interactive training workshops. What will be your message at this year’s Agritech Expo Zambia?

Farmers are still reeling from this season’s unreliable rains. I will use the interactive workshops as a platform to promote the low cost, reliable, high return of choosing to plant legumes. Good Nature Agro is working to secure access to certified seed to small scale farmers across the nation and I will demonstrate the difference they could experience for themselves by purchasing quality seed over recycling.

How important is continued training in the farming sector?

Government offered agricultural extension services do not cover the country equally and in some areas only one agent is provided for every 5,000 farmers, a figure that needs to be reduced drastically. With the challenges facing agriculture outlined earlier – climate, transparency, quality of output – farmers need trusted advisors they can engage with every week, every month, for donkeys years! These advisors need to be able to help farmers see the long-term picture as investments in climate-resilience, soil, quality, and improved relationships with industry take time to develop.

Anything you would like to add?

We will be showcasing our full suite of legume varieties at the Agritech Expo, but our stand will also be an interactive educational display offering farmers of all sizes answers to why they should be growing legumes!

Agritech Expo Zambia – Zambia’s leading outdoor agriculture expo – will take place 12 – 14 April 2018 in Chisamba, Zambia.

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