Drink to sorghum!

Sesame is big business in northern Ethiopia, generating huge export revenues but also draining soil nutrients through continuous monoculture. One solution is to rotate sesame with other crops such as sorghum. Until recently, few farmers were willing to rotate, simply because there was no market for sorghum. Now they have a guaranteed and virtually unlimited market, thanks to 2SCALE linkages with Meta Beer (owned by multinational giant Diageo).

2SCALE teams first worked with Diageo/Meta to identify and test sorghum varieties suitable for brewing. Once the tests proved successful, we worked with the brewer, farmer unions and the government agency for cooperatives to develop contracting and pricing mechanisms.

In October, Diageo/Meta signed a legally binding forward contract with four farmer unions for the supply of white sorghum. The initial order is for 2,300 tons, to be increased if the first season goes well. Price will be determined based on a pre-selected reference market, ensuring a price that is attractive to farmers as well as the brewer. The  unions and their constituent Primary Cooperatives will mobilize sorghum from their members and receive a commission from the buyer. Quality standards have been agreed; farmers will receive a 7% premium for meeting these standards.

In parallel, we worked with government agencies and the Netherlands-funded Sesame Business Network (SBN) to develop an integrated support program that will be rolled out in early 2017. The program includes a range of measures to improve the competitiveness of clusters: improved production methods, extension support, access to seeds and fertilizers, and technologies to reduce post-harvest losses. 2SCALE worked with national research centers and SBN to develop two training manuals (for development agents and for farmers) to disseminate simple, low-cost methods to increase sorghum yields; more than 12,000 copies of the manuals were distributed. Twenty trainers were selected and underwent intensive training from sorghum experts. The trainers then trained 150 government extension agents (82 men, 68 women), who in turn trained more than 2,500 farmers – who set up more than 2000 demonstration plots on their own farms. Field days at these demo sites attracted 8,600 farmers (1,500 women) this season. In addition, 61 primary cooperatives (with over 10,000 farmer-members) have introduced new post-harvest storage technologies, with encouraging results after the first season.

With a market secured and technical support in place, we expect that farmers’ incomes will rise by 20% next season.

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