Ensuring the next harvest
FAO agricultural fairs help thousands of poor farm families in southern Africa
Mbabane, Swaziland – FAO has distributed over 1 000 tonnes of seeds, as well as fertilizer and tools, to more than 110 000 poor farmers in three southern African countries through a system of mobile trade fairs.
The agricultural inputs distributed in Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland total US$ 7 million and are enough to plant an estimated 50 000 hectares of crops.
"This is a significant contribution towards ensuring a successful upcoming harvest for tens of thousands of families," said Anne Bauer, Director of FAO’s Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division. "The more we can support quality farm outputs and help diversify crops and strengthen capacities, the fewer people will need food aid and other handouts next season.”
Through a unique voucher system pioneered by the non-governmental organization Catholic Relief Services, farmers attending the fairs receive vouchers with cash values between US$15 and US$75, so that they can choose what to purchase among the seeds, fertilizer, tools and tillage services on offer.
The fairs in Lesotho and Swaziland were funded by the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission (ECHO), and the Government of Norway. While the fairs in Mozambique received funding from South Africa and Flanders.
Maize cribs empty
Many of the farmers identified to take part in the fairs are elderly, as the high death toll from AIDS has left many rural households and orphans in the region in the care of grandparents. Others are single mothers or those caring for ill family members or large numbers of children.
All beneficiaries have access to land and are willing to work. All suffered from either drought-related crop failure early this year or flooding. Natural disaster-induced crop failure has thrown rural families, already reeling from six years of drought and inclement weather, into deep crisis.
“The lack of cash over the past ten years has left maize cribs empty,” said John Weatherson, FAO Emergency Coordinator in Swaziland. “The draught oxen population is greatly reduced. The cattle population has been hammered by drought, with cows either dead or sold as a coping mechanism.”
In Lesotho the drought was so severe that in July the government declared a state of emergency, following a United Nations survey that estimated that 30 percent of the country’s people needed humanitarian assistance.
Drought likewise struck nearby Swaziland, leaving 40 percent of the population of just over one million with acute food and water shortages. The country’s harvest was the worst in living memory.
Mozambique was hit with three natural disasters over the last season – flood, cyclone, and drought – resulting in cereal losses as high as 99 percent in affected areas.
Giving farmers a choice in their own recovery
FAO has organized input trade fairs in southern Africa for the past four years. The fairs are an efficient means of getting supplies to people in need, while allowing farmers an opportunity to choose the crops and tools that will allow them to reap a successful harvest.
Previously, FAO and other relief agencies provided a pre-selected combination of seeds and tools. But this method did not adequately meet the precise requirements of tens of thousands of beneficiaries living in different agricultural zones and conditions.
Fairs boost local economies
The input trade fairs not only help farmers pinpoint their own needs, but also give a major injection to local agricultural suppliers.
Pre-selected dealers sell seeds such as maize, sorghum, tomato, potato, wheat, oats, various types of beans, peas, spinach and other vegetables. A wide variety of basic farm tools like hoes, sickles, and ox harnesses are also on offer.
“When you stay in Maseru, you sell 1-2 spades a week,” said Thabiso Lebese, a trader at a fair in Maputsoe, Lesotho. “Today I’ve already sold ten, and ten digging forks.”
The fairs also represent a sizeable market for local farmers who produce surplus seeds and other inputs. At a fair in Lesotho, in one day alone, 420 customers spent vouchers totaling US$ 13 200.
FAO works in close partnership with government agricultural extension workers and NGOs to conduct the fairs.
“There is heavy involvement of the Ministry of Agriculture. This is a highly manageable intervention with minimal input from FAO,” said Weatherson. “It has been a roaring success, with national impact.”
The World Food Programme will follow up the trade fairs by providing food assistance to the same vulnerable farmers.
11 December 2007
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