A pair of hands letting a pile of beans slip through their fingers into a large white sack.

Train a Woman, Train a Nation .

A new approach to training farmers is creating jobs and increasing harvests in Uganda.

Edward Kyazze Sanyu founded his own business as a trader in Mubende District, but he had a problem. He used to buy maize and beans from farmers and sell it in bulk, but he had trouble finding enough high-quality products to buy. Even when he could find high-quality grains, it was time-consuming to source from individual farmers. Because of these constraints, he could only buy about one to two tons of maize and beans a day.

An Unexpected Idea

Four years ago, Edward decided to try something a little unorthodox: the village agent model. Introduced by the Feed the Future Uganda Commodity Production and Marketing (CPM) Activity, the village agent model involves a trader picking several trusted, business-minded members of the community — often farmers themselves — who act as a link between the trader and farmers. Each village agent would buy and aggregate maize and beans from several hundred farmers on behalf of Edward, who would pay the agents a commission based on the number of kilograms they supplied.

When CPM first explained the village agent model to him, Edward was skeptical: “When the village agent idea was introduced, in fact I thought it was not easy.” Yet he decided to give it a try and approached 19 farmers to ask them to become village agents. He selected farmers he had worked with in the past, who were educated, business-minded, and motivated.

Becoming a Village Agent

Because village agents make more money if they can sell more and better-quality grain, the idea is that agents work with farmers throughout the season to help them improve their production and the quality of their produce. To help village agents learn how to do this, CPM provided basic training in good practices, post-harvest handling, business development, recordkeeping, financial literacy, and other topics. In turn, village agents then provide the same training to approximately 200 or 300 farmers through frequent field visits.

Justine Nayiga is one of these village agents. She is an experienced farmer: After she graduated from school and was unable to find a job, she founded a group of youth farmers called KAMIKKA. Since becoming a lead village agent, Justine earns about $1,100 per season in commission alone for the maize and beans she sells to Edward.

Justine Nayiga is a village agent who has opened an input supply shop in Mubende, Uganda.

In addition to making money, Justine enjoys helping farmers. “Farmers are always calling me,” Justine laughs. For example, a farmer recently contacted Justine about a problem. Justine visited the field and, finding he had an insect infestation, recommended an insecticide for him.

“He was very happy,” she said.

Traveling Service Providers

In addition to buying crops from farmers and selling them to the trader, village agents offer a wide range of affordable and useful services to farmers. Village agents earn money from each of these services, and the more services they offer, the more they earn. If a village agent offers three to four services, he or she can earn $4,400 to $5,825 annually, equivalent to a full-time job.

For example, Justine runs an agriculture inputs shop that sells seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides. She also received training from CPM on the safe use and handling of agro-chemicals. Having access to a trusted source for inputs is crucial for farmers, because 40 to 60 percent of crop-protection products in Uganda are fake or substantially diluted.

Justine’s youth group also rents mobile irrigation kits to farmers for approximately a dollar a day and provides mobile maize-shelling services. They recently formed a pesticide spraying team that farmers can hire to spray their fields. According to Benjamin Sekamate, another village agent working with the youth group, farmers who are not confident in their ability to use herbicides or are too old to carry the sprayers will call the spraying team to do the work for them. The spraying team is in such high demand that it has even sprayed for large farming operations as far away as Gulu, more than 300 kilometers to the north.

“When you use mobile money, there is security for your money.”

Justine Nayiga, village agent

The village agents have also introduced the use of mobile money after taking a financial literacy workshop with CPM, which has been popular with farmers. “Here in the village, we do not have banks,” Justine says. “When you use mobile money, there is security for your money.” The farmers also prefer mobile money to dealing in cash because it reduces the number of trips they must make to town. Rather than bringing their crops to town to sell to the village agent, and then returning later to pick up the payment, farmers only need to make one trip and then are paid automatically through the mobile money network, which is widespread in Uganda.

Helping Farmers, Growing the Economy

Through these services, Justine and the six other village agents she oversees work with more than 1,300 farmers. Justine has seen a significant increase in production after they started working with farmers. Her farmers used to produce approximately 500 kilograms per acre per season but now, they produce closer to 2,000 kilograms per acre or more.

According to Maria Goretti Masala, a farmer Justine supports, “Before, if we had a problem with a pest, the crops would just die. It would be a total loss. Now, the challenge can be solved.” Maria’s seasonal harvest has increased by approximately 400 percent since Justine became her village agent.

After working with a village agent, Farmer Maria Goretti Masala has seen her crop yields increase by approximately 400 percent.

Farmers’ additional incomes have made a significant impact on their lives. “Before, farmers rode bicycles,” Justine remarks. “Now, they have motorcycles. You see houses made of bricks. Before we had mud.”

Farmers are not the only ones to benefit from the model. “Even as village agents, our lives have changed,” Justine says. Justine owns rental properties in town now and can pay school fees for her two children to attend good boarding schools. Edward, the trader who was one of the first to adopt the village agent model in Mubende District, has also been able to grow his business significantly. Now that he is buying larger quantities of crops from the village agents rather than small quantities from individual farmers, he can buy as much as 20 tons of grain a day depending on his access to capital, compared to one to two tons a day before.

“Before, if we had a problem with a pest, the crops would just die. It would be a total loss. Now, the challenge can be solved.”

Maria Goretti Masala, farmer

Through the village agent model, Mubende District has created a flourishing economy around maize that residents hope will grow for years to come. Mubende is now the second-largest maize-producing district in Uganda for the third year in a row, drawing buyers from Kenya, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For Justine, the village agent model is a way to take advantage of individuals’ ability to create positive change. “You can realize a woman’s potential when you give her a chance,” reflects Justine. “When a mother is trained, that mother will also train the child. When you train a woman, you train a nation.”