Until a few years ago, farmers in Mozambique had limited options for purchasing improved seeds. Without locally produced varieties, they were dependent on large multinational seed companies, who often did not have stock in the areas they lived and, if they did, seeds were priced higher than what that average farmer could afford. Farmers were forced to replant grain from the previous year, resulting in much lower productivity than they could have otherwise achieved.
Over the last few years, TechnoServe has worked closely with a group of farmers around Gurue, Mozambique to help to grow their capacity, production and ability to produce seeds locally. These farmers grew their lands to a current average area of 27ha of production/farmer and received co-financing for equipment such as tractors, threshers and irrigation systems which increased their yields and quality as well as allowed them to support neighboring farmers through equipment rentals. As these farmers grew, 33 of them formed a cooperative called Cooperativa dos Produtores da Alta Zambézia (COPAZA).
With the technical assistance of TechnoServe, COPAZA focused on producing high quality soya seed to be sold to local farmers in the area at low cost. To support this seed value chain, COPAZA entered into a joint venture with a local investor to set up a seed processing plant in Gurue called Sociedade de Beneficiamento de Sementes (SBS). The business model is that COPAZA members produce seed, the seed is then sorted, cleaned and packaged by SBS, and then COPAZA members act as sales representatives for SBS, selling seeds to their network of smallholder farmers.
One of the biggest success stories is Alexandre Santos. Mr. Santos is a farmer with an entrepreneurial spirit. This season, he was able to sell 15 Tons of improved soya seed to 178 smallholder farmers. With the average for COPAZA members being 2.5T sold to 16 farmers, this is quite a feat. How did he do it? His approach was rather than to target individual farmers, to target farmer cooperatives and sell directly to them. This removed the burden of having to manage 178 different clients, which COPAZA members do not have time for, down to just a handful of interactions with the farmer associations. This approach allowed him to increase his sales and impact.
The idea behind this was even bigger. Alexandre not only produces soy, but is also a soy trader, buying from smaller farmers to resell at a premium. Having worked for many years on an individual basis, he found it difficult to manage multiple buying contracts and to ensure high quality. Thus, he found a farmer cooperative that would not only respect the contracts, but also one that he could work with throughout the season providing technical advice and selling mechanization services and inputs to ensure a high quality output. Having created strong links with the association, when they were approached by another development project to support them, they used those funds to purchase their seed from Alexandre.
Due to his success over the years, he has been able to grow his personal production area to 62 ha over the last 5 years, with about 18 hectares dedicated to growing soya and pigeon pea seeds this year. He plans to buy the soy, currently being harvested by the association, creating a real market for these small farmers. Mr. Santos and his seed sales are a sustainable link in the value chain, making available improved seed at affordable rates and, for the first time, providing smallholder farmers with a real option to invest in seed.