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ZFU-Econet Wireless bilateral partnership in Zimbabwe

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Southern Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change because smallholder subsistence farmers rely almost entirely on rainfed farming. Weather patterns such as drought, floods and erratic rainfall therefore have a significant impact on the food security and incomes of a largely poor population with little capacity to adapt.

As part of its project to scale up climate-smart agricultural (CSA) solutions for cereals and livestock farmers in Southern Africa, CTA works with a partnership formed between the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) – which represents over 1 million farmers across Zimbabwe – and global telecommunications organisation, Econet Wireless.

CTA’s involvement builds on an existing partnership between ZFU and Econet that was established in 2015. In the partnership’s initial phase, ZFU provided farmers with services and information, via the mobile network and internet provided by Econet at a discounted rate. By mid-2017, the services, known as the ZFU EcoFarmer combo, were providing 39,000 farmers with crop advice, weather index insurance, and funeral cover.

Following CTA’s involvement, the bilateral partnership now offers a larger bundle of services under the original subscription price of US$1 per month. The new package includes the full range of services from the original combo, plus access to additional satellite weather information in real time – improving the range and accuracy of the local weather station-sourced information that was provided in the original package. The updated combo package also includes free phone-in information on drought-tolerant maize seeds and crop and livestock advisory services.

“I am finding the texts very useful, and guidance on when the rain is coming, and when to sow seeds and apply fertilisers, has helped me to improve my yields,” says Winnieildah Hamamiti, a farmer from Zimbabwe’s Zyimba District. Within two months of implementation, the updated combo has reached a total of around 10,000 farmers, including those that have been upgraded from the original package. Generally farmers have used these services to switch from local maize varieties to hybrid drought-tolerant seeds, which have a shorter maturing period and which can survive with little water. Farmers are also using the weather data to make decisions pertaining to their farm planning – when they should plant their crops and/or apply fertiliser, for example.

In addition, CTA has supported the partnership to develop a digital registration platform for farmers, which helps to mitigate the challenges encountered with the initial paper-based registration system. The partnership has recently also assisted farmers to negotiate lower inputs costs for registered farmers with inputs suppliers (maize seed companies).

As a bilateral partnership, both partners share equal responsibility for the initiative’s implementation, reinforced with regular project meetings, a joint project implementation plan and a legally binding Memorandum of understanding stating the purpose, activities, duration and financial provision in the partnership. The partners also share an online portal containing project statistics – including farmer subscriptions, billings and payments – allowing for transparency among the project’s stakeholders, as well as easing the overall flow of information.

The project forms part of CTA’s work to promote sustainable partnerships as a means of rolling out CSA initiatives at scale. By developing a network of diverse stakeholders that are equally responsible for an initiative’s success, and who draw mutual benefit from the partnership, it is hoped that the project’s initiatives will be sustained beyond the donor funding stage, and can achieve a broader reach. In the case of the Zimbabwe partnership, ZFU benefits from a greater capacity to provide useful agricultural resources, which in turn boosts membership numbers and therefore income from membership fees – which can then be reinvested into the products on offer. Meanwhile, for Econet, the partnership has given access to a wide pool of new clients – smallholder farmers – to whom the company are able to market their services. For the actors involved, then, the partnership promises commercial gain, which tends to be a significant factor in ensuring an initiative’s sustainability.

In recognising the need for diversity in the formulation of sustainable partnerships, CTA’s scaling project also seeks to engage the public sector, which is able to bring existing structures – such as extension networks – to the table. Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Agriculture has helped to facilitate the scale-up of the ZFU-Econet initiative through its regional agricultural extension network. In particular, extension workers have provided often sceptical members of the public and local political leaders with project information, playing a vital role in validating and legitimising the work of the partnership.

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