Recently there has been talk in the media and farming fraternity about agro-dealers and their importance to the agricultural sector.
Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) is at the forefront of training agro-dealers in rural communities in Zimbabwe in a move aimed at strengthening agro-dealer capacity and networks in the supply of inputs, business management and provision of extension services. Ultimately the project will accelerate agricultural production.
Country director of Agmark Kenya, James Mutonyi, said an agro-dealer is an individual or organisation that transacts business in agricultural products and can offer provision of extension services and advise.
Mutonyi said: “Big or small agro dealership is about buying and selling of agricultural product.”
One of the pioneers of agro-dealer training programme, Samuel Muchena, said agro-dealers are an important constituency in agriculture as they ensure efficient, timely availability of inputs and output markets to the farmer.
“Agro-dealers strategically positioned can make a difference saving the farmer both time and money sourcing for inputs at the cost of spending time in their fields,” he said.
Muchena reiterated that apart from ensuring the availability of inputs, agro-dealers can be a conduit of information on the latest innovations and technology to the farming communities.
“Assuming the role of technical and extension services to local farmers, it is amusing how much people value information from agro-dealers. A well-equipped agro-dealer has enormous benefits for the farmer,” added Muchena.
Africa Centre for Fertiliser Development agricultural economist Midway Bhunu said challenges facing smallholder farmers is lack of finance for inputs.
Smallholder farmers hence rely on government, which might not come in time while financial institutions are not keen to finance smallholder farmers because they lack accepted form of collateral.
“Agro-dealers can be handy in resolving lack of finance for inputs, as they are located nearer to the farmer and have a personal relationship which makes it easier for the farmer to access inputs on credit,” Bhunu said.
Bhunu emphasised that “agro-dealers can engage in commodity exchange with smallholder farmers in exchange with inputs which financial institutions may not be at liberty to accept; one can exchange a goat for equivalent fertilisers or seed.”
He said agro-dealers have a network for output markets and can solve liquidity problems for the farmer.
“Should need arise the agro-dealer can provide the much-needed cash at the convenience of the farmer,” he added.
Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company (ZFC) technical advisor Themba Pilime explained that agro-dealers are a very important component in agriculture.
If well trained they can provide the farmer not only with inputs but product knowledge which assists a farmer to make decisions on which product to use, when, how and in what quantities.
“Wrong use of inputs such as fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides can have a devastating effect to the farmers’ yield and at times can cost life,” said Pilime.
“We value agro-dealers because they are a channel of information on the latest innovations and technologies and they, added the advantage of being trusted in their communities” he said.
Zimbabwe National Agro-dealers’ Association chairperson, Percy Zingoma, said agro-dealers are strategic in agriculture and can be utilised as a conduit of information with respect to market and product information.
“Producers of agricultural products can utilise agro-dealers to advertise their products; with adequate training they can offer advice to farmers on a number of alternatives a farmer can use to achieve optimum results,” he said.
In remote areas where farmers have to travel to the city to look for inputs and output markets, agro-dealers make a difference in terms of the farmers’ profit margins.
In some areas extension officers are not easily available to give advice to farmers neither are producers of these products accessible.
“Agro-dealers bring products closer to farmers reducing transport cost and time spent on the field,” he said.
Zingoma emphasised the need to strengthen the agro-dealer network in the country particularly in the rural areas to benefit the smallholder farmer facing challenges of finance, accessing lucrative markets, latest innovations and technology.
“The network would strengthen their capacity in the supply of inputs, business management and extension service provision. This will lead to the development of national and regional networks of certified rural agro dealers,” he said.
Against this background Comesa, through its specialised agent Alliance for Commodity Trade in East and Southern Africa with support from the European Union, designed a project called Comesa Regional Agro-Input Programme, aimed at building the capacity of agro-dealers as a response to the rising food price phenomenon by increasing agricultural productivity through enhanced access to financial resource and inputs.
Retlaw Matatu Matorwa is a Harare-based freelance writer