Good Nature Agro uses digital tools to unlock better services for Zambian farmers

Carl Jensen and Sunday Silungwe, founders of GNA

Zambia has rich arable land, but only 15% of it is in use despite its predominantly rural population relying heavily on agriculture and 60% of households participating in it.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 50% derive their livelihood from agricultural activities.

This saw the Good Nature Agro (GNA) intervene.

The start-up believed that one of the ways to help smallholders move from poverty to the middle class was to use higher income-generating crops such as pulses.

Legumes also promote better soil health and are often used as nitrogen-fixing cover crops in the Western world.

By supplying pulse seeds and working with farmers on how to grow them, who to sell them to, and how to get good yields, the start-up works with smallholder farmers in Zambia to help them produce high-quality pulses. for export.

Founded by Carl Jensen and Sunday Silungwe, GNA’s goal is to create a group of smallholder farmers who are funded, trained and have access to high quality information and inputs.

“Our business is founded on the attempt to maximize the lifetime value, nature and long-term impact of the farmer,” said Carl Jensen, CEO and co-founder of GNA.

GNA’s main product is high quality, specialized seed for a range of legume crops including cowpea, groundnut, soybean, common bean and pigeon pea.

It also provides microbial fertilizers and inoculants that work with the soil to enhance nitrogen fixation.

The social enterprise first identifies high-value, high-end markets for pulses and establishes agreements with food processors. It then engages smallholders to fulfill these agreements.

GNA makes sure that they have a ready market that is transparent and that they know about before the start of the season. This is guaranteed by purchasing the entire harvest at the end of the season from the farmers.

Zambia’s high levels of poverty are bound to affect its smallholders. About 78% of the country’s population lives below the poverty line. Ultimately, this means farmers must find ways to survive between farming seasons.

GNA goes beyond providing seeds to include providing credit to 25,000 farmers, helping them cover an average of 80% of their input costs. Its financing model is flexible and some farmers can qualify for 100% financing based on their credit rating. GNA lends its own books and has only seen a 6% default rate across its entire portfolio.

“We have different credit ratings, so farmers start with relatively small packages, but then add additional hectares and inputs over time. And we bought the seeds and the commodities that are produced from those growers, usually at about a 25-30% higher price,” Jensen notes.

Farmers in GNA’s second credit tier or higher also receive pre-harvest advances two months earlier. Often known as the lean season in peasant agriculture, farmers are usually short of money and therefore make desperate decisions. The advance is useful and GNA recovers it at harvest.

By the end of the year, at least 35,000 farmers will be included/

By working with its subcontractors, GNA has very few criteria to be able to integrate small operators. This makes it very easy for farmers to join GNA’s outgrower program. From that point on, a farmer’s future grades will determine their progress.

“Our introductory package is relatively small and relatively affordable, where we’re talking about a half-hectare sample of soybeans that a farmer can access for around US$30. No other inputs are required, just seeds and an inoculant to help achieve that initial attachment,” says Jensen. And smallholders only have to pay half the amount upfront, so with the equivalent of US$15 in Zambian kwacha, a farmer can join the GNA program.

From the point of entry, GNA assesses farmers based on the quality and quantity of the product they bring to market, their participation in training, farming practices and whether there are any side sales. These are then used to construct a farmer’s subjective producer evaluation score.

“If they do well with these measures, they can do a much bigger package the following year.”

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