Farmers learn to run successful small businesses

Farmers learn to run successful small businesses

Farmer Business Schools have been adopted by national development programs, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in three Asian countries. The results were encouraging: some 3,500 farmers have been trained, about three-fourths women. They have learned new business skills, how to work together, and have developed new products to market.

The International Potato Center (CIP) developed the Farmer Business School (FBS) in the early 2010s. The FBS builds on the Participatory Market Chain Approach (also developed by CIP) for fostering innovations in root and tuber value chains. The FBS also adapts ideas from the Farmer Field School (FFS), where groups of farmers learn to use integrated pest management in the field. The FBS strengthens farmers’ capacity to respond to emerging market opportunities.

The FBS has an appropriate gender balance between men and women farmers. Small groups of 20 to 25 farmers learn about each other and how to work as a team. Through a facilitated process, they visit markets, learn about opportunities for new products or other innovations. They meet buyers, extensionists, suppliers and other support service providers. The groups prepare a business plan and develop their innovative products or marketing techniques, which they launch at a publicized event to potential customers and supporters.

After the success of FBS in Indonesia, IFAD invested in CIP’s FoodSTART (Food Security Through Asian Root and Tuber Crops) initiative to scale FBS through IFAD investment projects in Asia and to help farmers become more savvy entrepreneurs in dynamic value chains for roots, tubers and other commodities. In the first phase of FoodSTART, CIP established a collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), within RTB, and partnered with the Second Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project (CHARMP2) in the Philippines.

The Farmer Business Schools in the Philippines worked so well that the EU joined with IFAD to fund a second phase of FoodSTART (Food Resilience Through Root and Tuber Crops in Upland and Coastal Communities of the Asia-Pacific, or FoodSTART+) to support additional FBSs in India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The FBS curriculum includes climate change and gender perspectives and is now helping farmers to build enterprises based on nutritious products are fried. Farmers can use the FBS with any commodity, not just roots and tubers. For example, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has used Business Schools to develop not just sweetpotato and cassava products such as chips, jams, candies, and juice, but also bottled mussels, fish crackers, seaweed noodles, dried fish, and many other products.

Almost 3,500 farmers (76% women) have completed the FBS. These graduates, often working in groups, have established over 130 small enterprises in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. More than 100 outcome stories were collected with farmers sharing how the business experience had improved their lives.

FoodSTART+ Farmer business school participants preparing their highly nutritious products. S. Fajardo (CIP)
Thanks to FBS we have learned how to keep records of our expenses and calculate the profit and loss statements from our potato cultivation. It has benefited us so much that we now know how to price our products and understand what the buyers want. For instance, through the FBS, we have realized that there is huge demand for organic seed potato in the market and this gives us hope. But as the traders we have met have told us, we need to improve our packaging, says Sarlin Mawphlang a FBS graduate in Wahlyngkien, Meghalaya, India.

The farmers also said their groups had become better organized. Individuals and groups improved their business skills. Farmers forged better links with local markets. Gender equity was promoted, and new food security and income opportunities emerged as production, processing and marketing techniques improved.