Henry Kaliisa is no stranger to tough situations. As head of AgroDynamics, Ltd., Henry’s job is to connect smallholder farmers to commodities buyers, helping farmers to find buyers for their crops, establish fair prices, and negotiate the transfer of goods once harvested.
“We work on contract farming with thousands of smallholder farmers and large, commercial companies,” he said. “We’ve been doing this since 2011, and over the years we have grown through several challenges and come up with innovative solutions to meet those challenges.”
One main challenge that Henry has encountered in his work is the issue of side-selling. Side-selling is when a farmer who is contracted to sell his crops to a company post harvest, decides instead to sell to another party. This is a common issue in places like rural Africa for a number of reasons.
“This often happens, in my opinion, because the farmers have an impatience that is driven by poverty and their need for money. Most of the farmers we work with live in very remote areas and live in poverty. If someone from an alternative market comes in and offers then a slightly higher price, many are swayed to take it,” he said. “If you are lucky, a farmer will call you and tell you they’re getting a higher price and ask you to match it, but if you’re not they’ll just sell it.”
When this happens, Henry and his team must scramble to find other suppliers in order to fulfill their contracts. Over the years, Agro Dynamics Ltd. has come up with several innovations to help keep side-selling occurrences down, one being the AgroTracker, a new agribusiness information management system that allows Agro Dynamics to both monitor and help their farmers with their crops. Through the AgroTracker, Henry and his team take in the biodata and information on all their partner farmers and monitor plant health and activity in real time. They’re also able to provide farmers with guidance on the type of seed they need to use, the amount of fertilizer and irrigation required, and other details to ensure they have a successful crop.
“We can monitor the situation on the ground from many miles away, and this is helping us to answer so many questions,” Henry said. “This system is becoming very critical to fighting side-selling, because if our farmers know that we are monitoring them and we are communicating with them regularly then they are less likely to sell to someone else.”
In addition to the AgroTracker, Henry and his team use group dynamics to mitigate the issue. In each community where they work, they involve the chairperson and treasurer of the local farming coop in crafting contracts with farmers, and they also include incentives for farmers who follow through on contracts and fines for those who don’t.
“Through these measures, we have really been decreasing the prevalence of side-selling,” Henry said. “And with all of the training and education we are providing the farmers they are also learning how to better negotiate contract work. It’s been a work in progress, but we are pleased. We have seen side-selling go down 85 to 90 percent.”
Henry said he is very encouraged by the work that the World Food Bank is doing, particularly in the area of helping farmers access microfinancing for inputs. As someone who grew up in a farming family, Henry says this access to inputs and education is extremely important to farmers.
“I was born into an agricultural family, so everything I am doing now I learned from the primary source – my parents,” he said. “I am really passionate about farming and supporting and impacting positively so many farmers.”