Should farmers buy commercial maize seed from agricultural input stores or just plant seed from the previous harvest?
Every agricultural season, small maize farmers in southeastern Uganda face the same dilemma. Should they shell out a few extra shillings and buy some commercial maize seed from the nearby farm input store, or should they just plant seeds saved from the previous harvest?
The advantages of the first strategy are obvious. The small investment in commercial seed can significantly increase future income from maize. About 28,000 UGX (about $8) buys enough seed to plant half an acre and can produce an additional 1.25-2.5 bags of maize – an additional income of between 88,000 and 176,000 UGX ($25-50). ).
The money may look good, but the risks involved with this strategy are just as real. Farmers do not necessarily know if the seeds they buy from the store are all good. So maybe prevention is better than cure and use own seeds instead of investing in a production input whose quality can only be determined when it is too late.
The experience of these small farmers may seem familiar. Many of us have been in a similar situation when purchasing a product or service – the reality doesn’t match the promise. Sometimes it’s because the salesperson is exploiting the fact that you don’t know as much as they do.
These sites, providing information on the quality of a supplier’s products or services, also encourage sellers to improve the quality of their offer.
Based on this idea, we piloted a clearing house for maize farmers and agro-input dealers in Busoga, Uganda, an area known for maize production. Initial results are encouraging: over time, the ratings of agro-input dealers improve, suggesting that they respond to poor ratings by increasing the quality of the services they provide and the goods they sell. they sell. We also find that the scoring system leads to increased maize seed sales by agro-input dealers and increased use of improved maize seed varieties by farmers.
Information center for agricultural input stores
Ahead of the second planting season of 2021, we asked randomly selected farmers to rate nearby agro-input dealers, on a scale of one to five. We asked them to rate general attributes (location, price competitiveness, product quality, stock, reputation), as well as attributes related to the quality of seeds sold by these retailers (yield, stress tolerance, reliability of germination, cultivation time and maturation period). ).
This information was used to calculate an overall score for each dealer, which was distributed to farmers before they started buying seed for the season. The ratings were also distributed to input dealers in the form of certificates indicating their overall rating, which they were encouraged to display in their stores.
Six months later, after the farmers had harvested their maize, we repeated the whole exercise. We again visited all participating farmers for updated ratings and these updated ratings were distributed again to farmers and input dealers before the first season of 2022.
The results of our ongoing study – still ongoing – show that grades improved between the two periods. At the time of the initial ratings, about 11% of all ratings given by farmers to agro-dealers were below 3. In the second round of ratings, only 5.4% of the ratings were below 3. At the higher end of the rating scale, the share of 5-star ratings given by farmers increased by 5 percentage points, from about 25 to 30 percent.
Ratings seemed to improve further when farmers were specifically asked about the quality of maize seed sold by the agro-input dealer. Most of the improvement appears to have occurred among dealers who scored particularly low in the first round of rankings. While about 12 percent of farmers gave an initial rating of less than three for seed quality, this was reduced to less than 5 percent in the second round of assessments.
Our preliminary results seem to suggest that agro-input dealers respond to reviews by ensuring that they deliver quality products to customers.
Better seeds for farmers
While these improvements in ratings over time are encouraging, the ultimate goal of the project is to increase sales of improved seed varieties by agro-input dealers and increase the use of quality seed by farmers. farmers.
The first results on these indicators are also encouraging. Agri-input shops in areas where the clearinghouse was set up reported selling an average of 1,330 kg of improved seed (hybrid or Open Pollinated Varieties) in the second crop year of 2021. Stores in areas where the intervention was not implemented reported sales of only around 860 kg during this period.
Additionally, we found that 62% of farmers in areas where the clearinghouse was established used improved seed varieties purchased from agro-input dealers (as opposed to farmer-saved seed) in the second season of 2021. In areas where the exchange center was not set up, only 58% of farmers bought improved seeds.
While a 4 percentage point increase in improved seed use may not seem to have a large effect, when you consider how input purchase decisions change slowly among smallholder farmerswe consider this to be a big change in a short time.
More importantly, we hope that in the longer term, a virtuous cycle will lead to increased farm productivity and incomes, as input dealers further improve the quality of their products and services in response to feedback, and that more farmers realize that investing in improved seed varieties is a reasonably safe and high yielding strategy.
Bjorn Van CampenhoutSearcher, Organization of the CGIAR system; Caroline MiehPhD student, KU Leuven; David Spielmanprincipal researcher, Organization of the CGIAR systemand Robert Sparrowassociate professor in development economics, Wageningen University
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