“I now know how to present myself to customers”
Mr. Ireso Denbal is not only a farmer, he is also the board secretary of the Meki Batu Union (MBU), one of our partners in Ethiopia. MBU is a vegetable and fruit growers’ cooperative union in Ethiopia with nearly 8000 farmer members. The partnership with 2SCALE is helping farmers to maximize profits through new methods of production and better market linkages. We asked Ireso about his life as a farmer and board member of the Union, as well as his experience with 2SCALE.
How did you get in touch with Meki Batu?
Before the Union was established I already was part of a farmer’s cooperative that is doing irrigation based farming. This cooperative was established because we had some challenges with market linkages and getting necessary agro-inputs for our produce, but even after that we still needed access to improved seeds and market linkage remained an issue, as well as knowledge on modern farming methods and fertilizer, and seed multiplication. Because of all these reasons we joined the MBU.
2SCALE organized several workshops to develop marketing and branding strategies, do you think this will help finding a market for your produce?
I am very positive about that. The trainings provided us with a lot of knowledge about how to find customers and how to present ourselves to them, and I feel like this will help us succeed in finding the market. We’re now getting a clear picture of the direction we should take to get the produce to the market. The workshops and trainings on marketing and branding did not only benefit the Union as a whole, it also benefits individual farmers as well.
Access to the market is one of the biggest issues, another challenge is the quality and quantity of improved seeds we want to use. MBU can still not give the quality and quantity desired by the farmers. We prepared the land but we’re not sure if we will get the seeds to actually grow vegetables. If we don’t find this supply we will continue to use the non-hybrid seeds that give lower yields, but we have to take that risk. The same accounts for pesticides. The farmers generally use more pesticides than necessary. If they have access to good pesticide they will use it in the right amount. But if they can’t find it they use the ones that are not as powerful and use a lot of it, which of course influences the produce, the quality of the land and the production costs. Timely supply of quality pesticides is an issue, if there is a pest and you don’t have the right pesticides the produce is still wasted. It would be good if 2SCALE could somehow help to make this available, because now it is in the hands of merchants and traders and the union has no power over that.*
What has changed in your life and business as a farmer after 2SCALE came in the picture?
As an individual farmer I was lucky enough to receive improved seeds for onions from MBU to use on my own land. I received training from 2SCALE on how to treat these seeds, although the care is almost the same as for more traditional seeds, but the improved one is more disease resistant so that changes the way you have to apply pesticides and so on. I worked very hard to grow the seeds and I’m positive that the yields will be very good. Joining the different trainings and workshops also brought behavioral change for me and I understand so much better now how to find a market, who I should target as a customer, how to talk to them. Before, I thought it was better to talk to rich buyers only, but now I have a better idea of how I should talk to customers to sell the produce.
If you approach a client now, what do you do different than before?
Before I was simply giving in to the rules of the brokers, even when they were not nice or cheating. They’d literally tried to make me go bankrupt or lose money, and I was adhering to them because I needed to find markets and sell produce. Now I can think of other people to go to, creating my own linkages with buyers. I’m considering to start a street shop to sell my produce once the crops are ready. Instead of being obedient I am now able to find my own market. MBU is buying a small part of my produce, but creating market linkages is a long process. If Meki Batu continues to work on that, they will be able to buy more from me. But for now I need to find my own clients as well.
Do you share your experience with other farmers as well?
Yes, I explain them the use of the improved seeds, but they are already quite aware of the products through the project. The onion seed is already trusted by other farmers so they will use it. Seeing me use it helps with trusting the seeds as well. However, with the seeds given by MBU, farmers can only cover a quarter of a hectare of land, so the farmers are a bit discouraged because small plots will not give enough benefits. It would be good to let the farmers test the seeds on larger plots.
What is your goal for the future?
Let’s first start implementing what we’ve been preparing so far in marketing and branding. I would like to reach a point where I can produce without fear. Where I can produce knowing that my products will find a market and get a fair price in return for my efforts.
What else should happen to improve the work of 2SCALE in your opinion?
There are times there is a lot of production and prices are very low. Farmers like me, who don’t have a lot of land, have to sell their produce for whatever price in peak season, because we cannot store. But our competitors, the big farms with huge areas of land, can store and get high prices for their produce when they sell during low season. Maybe 2SCALE could help with building a processing and storing facility that could take our products during peak season so we don’t have to give it up for an unfair price.
* In 2016 2SCALE will support MBU with setting up teams of spray service providers together with CropLife Ethiopia.