How have innovation platforms helped African farmers grow healthy crops and nutritious vegetables?

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Mapenzi at her market stall

Vegetable market trader, Mapenzi Mchuzi, is a single mother of five children. She lives and works in the Dodoma Region of Tanzania. Like any mother, she wants to be able to put nutritious, healthy food on her children’s plates, ensure they get a good education and safeguard their futures by making a steady income.

For smallholder farmers and market traders like Mapenzi, a new opportunity has arisen in the production and sale of African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs). Rich in vitamins and minerals, AIVs play an important role in nutrition, food security, and food diversity. Awareness of the nutritional benefits of AIVs is growing among many East African consumers.  As a result, demand for fresh vegetables is providing commercial opportunities for farmers growing AIV seed and produce, and other stakeholders along seed and vegetable value chains – the stages of producing, regulating and selling produce.

However, the farmers’ ability to meet the growing demand for vegetables has been limited by a lack of access to good quality seed and technical knowhow.

Communication and links between people working across the different levels of the seed and vegetable value chains can be weak. In Central Tanzania, for example, farmers trained to produce high quality seed had difficulty accessing markets and were challenged by seed regulations confining sales to a limited area. Vegetable growers using the high quality seed had problems selling the vegetables they grew.  In Northern Tanzania, contract seed growers were suspicious of contracts with the seed companies written in English that they didn’t understand.

But a new innovative approach is helping to change the picture.

The CABI-led Good Seed Initiative (GSI), working in partnership with World Veg, Horti-Tengeru, INADES, used an innovation platform approach to find creative ways of addressing problems and exploiting opportunities in the seed and vegetable value chain. An innovation platform is made up of diverse stakeholders, who communicate, cooperate and share tasks to carry out activities needed for innovation to take place. They address shared problems and are facilitated by a neutral person or organisation (in this case the key implementing partners).

Activities evolved over a period of time, building on successes and learning from failures. The GSI innovation platform members include representatives from Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA), Tanzania Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI), seed companies, agro-dealers, farmer groups and non-governmental organisations, among others. Platform meetings allowed stakeholders to share ideas and knowledge as well as plan for and review activities to address bottlenecks in the value chain.

Mutually acceptable win-win ways were found for everyone to benefit from the AIV opportunity. Seed companies discussed how to make improvements to contracting arrangements with out-growers and, as a result, translated contracts into Swahili and cooperated in activities to strengthen farmers’ capacity to negotiate and profit from contracts. Seed growers reached out to markets in order to sell their seeds with support from TOSCI, and market traders connected to farmers growing vegetables.

Ruth Chiwanga, a Seed Inspector with Mpwapwa District Council in Tanzania, said, “The innovation platform meetings are the perfect place where stakeholders meet and interact. I have noticed during the meeting we have farmers and traders and agrodealers and other stakeholders, and when they come together, they exchange information.”

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Watch the Good Seed Initiative video here

GSI has made a difference to the lives of people like Mapenzi. She describes how she benefited from the innovation meetings by accessing new information and training, and connecting with AIV producers. While attending an innovation meeting in 2014, Mapenzi met local farmers and dealers. The farmers at the meeting complained about there being no market for the vegetables they grew. But Mapenzi told them that at Kibaigwa market there was ready demand for their produce, especially during the dry season.

The farmers now sell to Mapenzi, who distributes to other sellers in the Kibaigwa market. She has a regular supply of two orders per week, but if there is a deficit of nightshade, for example, she can call a farmer directly to bring her more produce. Since making these connections, she can supply bigger customers such as a local restaurant and a school with fresh vegetables.

Before she worked with GSI, her opportunities were limited by a lack of access to good quality AIV seed and markets in which to sell the vegetables. But the initiative has helped her to build a stronger future. Thanks to the project, she sells nearly 500 kilos of vegetables a week. With her improved income, Mapenzi has more financial security.

“I am a single mother. I have used the income that I get from selling indigenous vegetables to take my children to school and I have also started building a house.”

AIVs are improving food security and generating income for rural and urban communities in Africa. Ultimately, the aim is to hand over the role of innovation broker to local stakeholders, making this project truly sustainable and working towards the wider goal of improving livelihoods and nutrition in Tanzania.

For more information about the Good Seed Initiative, see CABI’s project page.

Partners in GFAR, itself a global innovation platform, are taking forward the concept of farmer-centred multi-stakeholder innovation in a wide variety of contexts www.gfar.net, working together to make agri-food research and innovation more effective, responsive and equitable, towards achieving Sustainable Development outcomes.

This blog post is part of GFAR’s Partner Spotlight on CABI (12-16 December). For more information on the Partners in GFAR, and to become a Partner, visit the GFAR website!


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