A paradigm shift from grassroots to agribusiness focus in west Kenya

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As we enter the final year of N2Africa Phase 2 activities, the outreach team in west Kenya shifts strategically from promotion of BNF technologies at the grassroots level to working more closely with the agribusinesses that produce and market them. This move reinforces the commercial momentum in the delivery of BNF products, particularly inoculants, blended fertilizers and certified legume seed, beyond the project’s lifetime. Toward this end, N2Africa and its partners recently launched the One Stop Shop Operation Mechanism (OSSOM, sounds like awesome), a network composed exclusively of agribusiness interests promoting BNF input technology products and legume marketing and processing operations. (See the meeting report).

OSSOM members include 15 “One Stop Shop” agrodealers; and four input suppliers including MEA Fertilizers Ltd. (manufacturers of BIOFIX inoculants and SYMPAL blended legume fertilizer), SeedCo (producers of certified soyabean seed), Western Seed Growers Association (licensed to produce certified legume seed through out-growers), and Bayer E.A (releasing a new liquid formulation inoculant in 2017). These input manufacturers are located elsewhere in Kenya but have posted product representatives to west Kenya and linkages are being formed between them and OSSOM’s input retailers. In addition, OSSOM has established a warehouse specifically handling BNF technology products for its members. Included among OSSOM members were those operating both legume grain marketing collection points; and commercial-scale soyabean processing operations, particularly milling, flour blending, roasted beverage and snack production.

Also in attendance were representatives of the Ahero Irrigation Scheme where over 2000 rice farmers are interested in introducing soyabeans into their production systems. This planning meeting and launch signifies a major paradigm shift from grassroots operations, formerly led by the WeRATE Innovation Platform, to agribusiness promotion and “last mile” input delivery as every OSSOM member operates a profitable agribusiness enterprise relating to BNF and legume technologies (see Table).

Left: Participants at the launch of the One Stop Shop Operation Mechanism (OSSOM) in west Kenya, March 2017

Right: Josephine Ongoma (OSSOM Manager, left) and Ms. Echessah (MEA Fertilizers Ltd., right) discuss input supply strategy for the newly established OSSOM warehouse

OSSOM’s shift from farmer outreach to agribusiness networking is timely but not without difficulty. Previously grassroots farmer groups were reliably commissioned by WeRATE to conduct on-farm technology tests and farmer field days, and were provided modest incentives to do so; but now OSSOM’s agribusiness operators consider BNF technology products alongside other product lines and evaluate them in terms of return on seasonal investment. Also, gender balance is no longer reinforced because we work with business as it stands and are in no position to dictate gender relations to owners and their employees. For example there was only 32% women participation at the OSSOM launch because fewer business operators are female. Compliance with N2Africa M&E requirements is now more difficult because most forms are geared toward grassroots rather than agribusiness participation. And there is always the issue of business competition among members. No matter how friendly, businesspersons will always keep secrets from their competitors and this may likely carry over into their willingness to accurately report sales and price information. But all this not withstanding, our shift to agribusiness interests seems the best way to ensure a more lasting impact from the N2Africa project as it is more focused upon laying commercial pipelines of proven input products to committed legume producers into the future. Isn’t OSSOM awesome?

Paul Woomer, Welissa Mulei and Josephine Ongoma