In August 2015 Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation initiated four partnerships with private sector companies in Ukraine focused on enhancing the productivity of small-scale farms. As in many countries, small-scale farmers in Ukraine lack access to knowledge, financing, and quality inputs. The four partnerships are working to mitigate barriers in the agriculture sector and increase productivity and profitability among farmers. Through this work the companies have realized several key lessons for success.

Farmer Adoption Requires Behavior Change

One of the largest hurdles for adoption of new products or services in Ukraine is the cultural norms and attitudes of farmers. Many farmers have used the same practices for years, and with limited resources are hesitant to invest in something new without seeing its benefits firsthand. Agribusinesses must convince farmers of the benefits of a product or service through capacity building and demonstration. In the case of AGROBONUS LLC, an agro-input distributor that established a new soil testing business, the company found great success in using seminars to promote both behavior change and its soil testing services. The seminars were designed to demonstrate the advantages of knowing soil content and adjusting nutrient application for maximum production. Agrobonus began to conduct seminars explaining the benefits and offered farmers a free first test so they could experience firsthand the soil testing process and Agrobonus’s recommendations. These seminars and free tests clearly benefited the farmers, but they also helped provide Agrobonus with a much deeper understanding of the challenges small-scale farmers face and what they expect from soil testing services. Understanding these challenges, Agrobonus is able to better design seminars to build capacity and promote behavior change among farmers, which has led to widespread adoption of its services.

Creating Demand

Many partners have realized that in order for farmers to be repeat customers, they must create market demand for the farmers’ end product. Without an end market for crops, farmers will not continue to return to purchase products or services. For example, Agrico Ukraine Ukraine supplies high quality potato seed to farmers. Through engaging with small-scale customers it learned that many small farmers could only sell potatoes at small local markets. These small markets bring small profits, making it difficult for farmers to invest in quality seed again the next year. Agrico realized an opportunity to help its clients access larger markets, while also catalyzing growth for the company. By buying back potatoes, packaging them, and selling them on to an existing network of retailers, Agrico will create new markets for its small-scale farmer clients, increasing their profitability and enhancing loyalty among its repeat customers. This allows Agrico to grow both its seed potato and consumer potato business.  

Importance of Strong Networks

Strong networks are critical to the distribution of products and to knowledge transfer, and can greatly increase outreach to farmers. BAYER, an agrochemical producer working to better educate farmers, is working with strategically selected distributors to provide capacity building to farmers. Using a training the trainers method, Bayer trains distributor staff in various topic areas designed to increase farm productivity and profitability. In turn, the distributor staff train the farmers they work with on a day-to-day basis. By using this method, Bayer has been able to reach a much larger number of farmers over a wider geographic area than if the company were to conduct the trainings itself. Additionally, Bayer is able to reach farmers through networks they already know and trust, which can increase the rate of adoption of practices. Over the last two years, Bayer has piloted this method of engaging with farmers and has seen such great success that it plans to fully integrate the practice into its core business model.

This September will mark the end of Partnering for Innovation’s work in Ukraine. But the companies it works with there will continue to build the capacity of small-scale farmers, while integrating lessons learned into their business models. By applying these and many other lessons, the companies will continue to expand their reach in Ukraine, building sustainable businesses that help farmers produce more and make more money.