Lesson learned from commercialization of the Insecticide NemaPower in Honduras:
In Honduras, the practice of using chemicals to kill pests is deeply entrenched among smallholder farmers. We specialize in affordable, biological pest controls, so this tradition makes it tough to enter the smallholder market. However, we were confident that our product, NemaPower, could help farmers improve crop viability, reduce pesticide use, and increase exports with a natural solution to the age-old problem of annoying pests! NemaPower is a biological pest control product that uses beneficial nematodes—soil-dwelling microorganisms—to control a variety of common pests, including white grubs, coffee berry borer, and the diamond back moth. Through commercializing NemaPower, the most important lesson we learned was to be understanding and supportive of both the farmers and our distributors.
The first major challenge we faced was creating a niche market segment for NemaPower in a world dominated by traditional pesticides. The majority of farmers in Honduras traditionally use synthetics chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and thus were unaware of biological pest controls. We designed a multi-step training @@ !program to overcome this knowledge gap and generate demand. First, in partnership with the USAID-Funded MERCADO project, small groups of farmers participated in field days where they could use microscopes to see the nematodes at work first-hand. Afterward, technicians helped smallholders demonstration plots so they could see how NemaPower compared to traditional pesticides. Through these demonstrations, farmers were able to discover for themselves the importance and utility of biological pest controls.
While farmers were excited about our product’s performance and ramping up demand, we still had to organize the logistics of storage and distribution. In the beginning, farmers could order NemaPower either over the phone or through local USAID technicians but this is not commercially sustainable. Distribution itself depended on a network of technicians and couriers who had to deliver the orders individually.
To make distribution more efficient, we reached out to local cooperatives who could function as sales representatives. However, through visiting farmers, we realized that they often refused to buy the product from stores, as they were worried that it had not been handled properly and had expired. We learned that we had to provide our distributors with extra support. We launched a training program for the cooperative members so they could understand how to use, store, and handle NemaPower. In addition to this technical training MERCADO office in Marcala, Gracias and La Esperanza bought a refrigerator to keep product fresh for farmers needs. We have also recommended distributors buy refrigerators and had good response for example cooperatives like Agropecuaria Del Campo in La Esperanza, AgroPenman in Nueva Ocotepeque and AgroServir in Santa Rita and rural organization like Cañadas in Lempira, independent distributor like Antonio Benitez in Gracias, bought them and are selling products with good quality. Visiting smallholders also opened up new opportunities. We discovered that in addition to the cooperatives, individual farmers, rural organizations, and associations of vegetable that sell their products to Walmart were interested in selling NemaPower – helping us expand our sales network!
Identifying this gap with distributors allowed us to accelerate our interventions with smallholders and begin selling NemaPower. Additionally, through understanding farmer’s needs, we were able to create an effective training and marketing campaign. Through visiting farmers and receiving feedback, we were able to identify and remedy flaws in our distribution system. We discovered the importance of using technicians to build relationships with farmers. By having a technician nearby who could offer support, we could encourage farmers to continue using our product, identify flaws, and learn about new opportunities.
However, most of the distributors we contracted still sell chemical pesticides and do not offer biological pest controls as their prime product. In the future, We want to find a distributor who will only sell biological pest control products like NemaPower so the sale of our products will not only scale but also be sustainable.