Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Project to save farmers from bogus agricultural commercial products launched

Most small holder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to make ends meet and are always on the lookout for ways to boost their production. And they are even more desperate now in the face of unpredictable weather due to climate change.

Unfortunately, they sometimes fall prey and loose huge sums of their hard earned money to unscrupulous companies selling them ‘miraculous’ products that promise to increase their yields but which turn out to be fake or sub-standard and do  not live up to their claims.  

Moreover, the regulatory bodies established to control these products and safeguard farmers’ investments are often poorly funded, poorly equipped and the regulations are not up to date to include some of these new innovative products coming into the market such as bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides.

To address this, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) recently launched the second phase of the Commercial Products (COMPRO-II) project that aims to benefit two million smallholder farmers in East and West Africa by providing information on which agricultural products are genuinely effective to boost their production among the myriad currently available in the market.
IITA's Director General Dr Sanginga speaking during the project launch. 

 “We have all these products in the market which, like the witchdoctors’ potions, promise to solve all the farmers’ problems. Our concern therefore is that our poor small-scale farmers are using their little hard earned money to pay for products that do not produce results. So we first set out to understand the problem then see how to help them,’ said Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, Director General for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) during the launch that was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 16 May 2012.  

‘Under phase I of the project, with a grant from the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, we screened over 100 such products in the market to see which ones are useful. And out of these only three were found to be really effective,” he said.

The three were Rhizobium inoculants for legumes, mycorrhizal inoculants for tissue-culture banana, and fertilizer seed coating of for maize.

Rhizobium and mycorrhizal are bio-fertilizers that make use of useful micro-organisms that are naturally found in the soils. Rhizobium is a bacterium that converts the free nitrogen in the air into a form that plants can absorb from the soil. Mycorrhizal fungus assists plants to absorb nutrients from the soil and strengthen their resistance to soil-borne pests such as nematodes.

Fertilizer seed coating for maize on the other hand, avails essential nutrient to the crop on germination making it grow better, have better root development and become better established.

Participants drawn from the six project countries at the its launch.

The second phase will primarily focus on creating awareness and disseminating to farmers these tried and tested quality products to increase their production and building the capacity of national systems to continuing screening such products coming into the market.

“The project will engage with and support national institutions to put in place systems to continue screening these products to check their quality. This will ensure farmers are not wasting money on fake products that do not work,” said Dr Prem Warrior, a Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

At the end of the project, more farmers are expected to confidently use these products because their safety, efficacy, and quality will be ensured through institutionalized regulatory and quality assurance mechanisms.

“We want to make farmers’ life better. Using some of these productions that we have checked and ascertained their quality together with other good farming practices such as use of fertilizers and improved varieties, they can get better yields of maize, soybean and banana and improve their lives,” said Bernard Vanlauwe, IITA Director for Central Africa and the project team leader.

The project is targeting small-holder farmers in six African countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania.