Although 91% of index companies offer extension services, these are concentrated in a small number of countries, with Nigeria, Ghana and Mali the most popular. As such, the majority of index countries (64%) either have one (Technisem) or zero companies providing training for smallholder farmers. Although companies are paying attention to young farmers, gaps exist in specific programs for women smallholder farmers and the use of technology in extension.
Extension services are vital for helping smallholders farm more productively, sustainably and profitably. Encouragingly, 21 companies (91%) report providing some form of agronomic training. However, the imbalanced nature of the seed sector in the region and limited capacity of many regional companies mean that only three, Seed Co, Syngenta and Technisem, provide training in more than one country. In nine countries (39%), no extension activities were reported. Technisem is the sole provider in a further five countries, and with reported extension services in 13 countries overall it displays clear regional leadership.
Ten companies are active in only one country, their home markets, with all reporting that they support smallholder farmers through training. Four companies are based in Nigeria, where Value Seeds demonstrates regional leadership through the work of its subsidiary, Manoma Integrated Links, which provides agronomic training in Kaduna State. Semagri employs a network of extension agents in Cameroon, who in 2017 organized over 30 field days and specific training workshops that each attracted up to 100 smallholders. Training was provided on technical skills, cultural knowledge (such as the seasonality of certain species) and disease recognition. In Senegal, Tropicasem reported a wide array of extension services, both offered in isolation and in collaboration with other actors, including economic development agencies and international NGOs, while its Novalliance partner Nankosem uses nursery training plots to engage smallholders in Burkina Faso.
With the exception of Technisem, the companies headquartered outside sub-Saharan Africa concentrate extension services and resources in established regional locations. Corteva Agriscience, through its Advanced Maize Seed Adoption (GAMSAP) program, and East-West Seed are active in Ghana; Syngenta, through the Syngenta Foundation, has a leading presence in Mali and Senegal, while Dutch-based Pop Vriend Seeds works in Nigeria, where the most companies – eight – report extension activities. As noted, French company Technisem is a clear outlier in this area, thanks to its wide presence. Significantly, some of these companies report sales in the countries lacking extension services. These companies are encouraged to consider rolling out training programs to ensure smallholders across the region are served, particularly given their relatively extensive resources compared to the majority of regional peers. The nine countries without any extension services, shown in the graph, should be at the forefront of smallholder-centric development planning in the region. These include Central African Republic, where East-West Seed and Technisem are present, and Chad, where Corteva Agriscience is one of only two companies with a reported presence.
Young people globally and in Western and Central Africa specifically face numerous obstacles when contemplating a future in agriculture, including access to land, infrastructure, markets, information and credit. Companies recognize these obstacles, with 14 companies (61%), 12 of them regional, reporting dedicated programs to encourage the next generation to enter agriculture.
AINOMA leads these efforts. Since 2015, the company has run a program called Operation School Garden, which promotes agriculture at 40 schools. By creating school gardens, AINOMA aims to contribute to food self-sufficiency in Niger, provide students, through practical and theoretical lessons, with knowledge on nutrition and environmental sustainability and promote agriculture as a viable occupation. Cameroon-based Semagri organizes workshops within agricultural training schools to establish linkages with young farmers, Tropicasem is involved in garden schools in Senegal and Value Seeds targets young smallholders as part of its collaborative program with the UK’s Department for International Development in Kaduna State. Da-Allgreen Seeds, Faso Kaba, Nankosem and Premier Seed report encouraging young farmers but do not provide any evidence to substantiate this.
Maslaha Seeds and Syngenta both see information and communications technology (ICT) as a means to target youth, with the former recruiting and training young farmers to teach their peers good agricultural practices. Corteva Agriscience works with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the 4-H movement on agricultural engagement in countries including Cameroon, The Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal.
NAFASO recently announced plans to build an agricultural training center to benefit youth in Burkina Faso and beyond. Companies currently lacking initiatives, programs or corporate strategies targeting the next generation should consider similar approaches to ensure agriculture at the farm level remains a viable livelihood option for young people in Western and Central Africa.
As software and digital tools become increasingly affordable and accessible and farm connectivity improves, technology is becoming one of the quickest ways to develop smallholder farming. Accordingly, index companies, both regional and global, are setting up programs to bridge the technology gap, with ten companies (43%) reporting such initiatives.
A key example is the use of mobile apps. The Syngenta Foundation, in partnership with AfricaRice, has developed the RiceAdvice app, which generates tailor-made recommendations that assist farmers in lowland areas to apply mineral fertilizer more efficiently. Between 2015-17, the foundation trained and engaged 230 actors as RiceAdvice service providers, who in turn guided 19,000 smallholders in Nigeria, Mali and Senegal through the rice-growing season. Furthermore, the foundation and AfricaRice launched a project with the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) to target 15,000 rural youth via ICT to promote entrepreneurship opportunities and strengthen market ties in the agriculture sectors in Mali and Senegal.
Value Seeds reports using the RiceAdvice app. The company also employs 100 ‘technology advancers’ as motorcycle agents to disseminate and promote technology information and advice to smallholder customers in Nigeria. East-West Seed’s CropWiki app is available in all index countries where it is present and provides information on the company’s varieties. Seed Co, which plans to expand rapidly in the region from its base in Eastern and Southern Africa, is also developing several intuitive apps that aim to provide smallholder farmers with agronomic and variety information.
Other companies, including regional players with more limited resources, also demonstrate innovative and notable approaches to ICT. BILOHF uses SMS to inform its smallholder customers in Côte d’Ivoire of expected weather variability, helping them to plan accordingly. In Mali, Faso Kaba uses an e-voucher scheme courtesy of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program, which allows telephone sales and therefore easier access to the company’s products. SOPROSA, also based in Mali, collaborates with the Malick Sidibé Vocational Training Institute of Koutiala, an agro-pastoral school, to train smallholder farmers via interactive modules. Maslaha Seeds, NAFASO and Tropicasem also report using ICT but do not provide any evidence to substantiate this.
While index companies are clearly investing in next-generation farmers, the same cannot be said for women smallholder farmers. Agricultural transformation in Western and Central Africa is hindered by issues facing women smallholder farmers, who make up a significant proportion of the workforce but lack access to key resources and control over how to use such resources. Sixteen companies (70%) do not report any specific activities for women smallholder farmers, while the remaining seven demonstrate a lack of corporate focus, with projects tending to be isolated and standalone.
A leading programmatic example was reported by Value Seeds, which is collaborating with DFID in Kaduna State on its Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL). The initiative targets 5,000 women (and youth) in the state, with the company providing inputs and technical support to women participants to promote agronomic growth and reduce poverty.
Other companies focus on women smallholders within the boundaries of their own seed production activities. SOPROSA engages approximately 850 Malian women as producers on an annual basis between May and October, and AINOMA reports training and building the capacity of women producers, including in the technical aspects of processing. Faso Kaba reports holding gender-disaggregated courses on improved seed production, packaging and storage techniques. Agriplus Mali is one of seven companies reportedly involved in a EUCORD project in Sikasso, Mali, which focuses on women farmers. However, Agriplus Mali’s specific contribution is unclear.
Syngenta and its affiliated Syngenta Foundation demonstrate leadership in their holistic approach to capacity building. The foundation leverages technology to benefit smallholders in the region, and particularly in Mali and Senegal. Syngenta, in collaboration with AfricaRice, developed the RiceAdvice app. In addition, it is targeting 15,000 youths via ICT to encourage entrepreneurship. The app is now also being used by other companies such as Value Seeds.
Technisem clearly leads its index peers with respect to the geographic scope of its extension services. The company offers training in 13 index countries and is the only company to do so in five countries – Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon Republic of the Congo and Togo. Technisem also has a notably large pool of dedicated extension agents, including 32 in both Burkina Faso and Cameroon.
AINOMA is at the forefront of regional efforts to promote farming as a viable livelihood option for young people. The company runs Operation School Garden in 40 schools across Niger, creating school gardens to promote agriculture and teach schoolchildren about nutrition and environmental sustainability.