CTA’s PEJERIZ project is applying technology in the field, encouraging mechanisation and coaching young entrepreneurs to create jobs in the rice value chain in Mali and Senegal. Launched in March 2018, the project is already making a difference.
“For this plot, we have worked with the PEJERIZ project and used the RiceAdvice app”, says Brahima Fall pointing to a green, lush and healthy-looking rice paddy in the Senegal River Valley. The contrast with the adjoining paddy plot with dry and yellow rice leaves is striking. Brahima is one of more than 50 young graduates in Senegal and Mali trained by the PEJERIZ project to use the app, and help farmers apply the right amount of fertiliser at the right time.
The PEJERIZ project, which is a partnership between CTA, Africa Rice and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, was launched in March 2018. The young people involved, as well as those who work to support them, speak highly about the changes they have seen so far and of their ambitions for the future. “We thought that being a farmer meant being poor. With the project we have learned to organise ourselves and make a decent living,” says a young Malian service agent working with the project.
Baréme Diarra, a 26-year-old service agent, interacts with the local rice farmers in Baguinéda in Mali’s Koulikoro region, and enters their data on her tablet. “It is very rewarding”, she says. Diarra notes that the farmers now feel more in charge of their fields. “With this data, I can tell the farmer how much fertiliser to use, and when to use it,” she explains.
Innovative business models for increased incomes
The project has so far trained 55 service agents and 10 coaches – young graduates like Diarra or Brahima – to deploy the RiceAdvice application, which was developed by AfricaRice. The agents enter the data into the app on their tablets and discuss the recommendations for crop management with the farmers.
“With the PEJERIZ project, we empower rural youth in Senegal and Mali to develop innovative commercial services in the rice sector. Advising the smallholder farmers by using the RiceAdvice app is one of the promising business models being currently tested. For now, more than 1,500 rice farmers have already signed on for the RiceAdvice service. In Mali, for the 2018 season, the farmers who applied the recommendations from RiceAdvice have seen an increase of their yields of 15%. For 2019, we expect to reach out more farmers and see a significant increase of their revenues,” explains Vincent Fautrel, CTA senior programme coordinator on value chains and project manager for PEJERIZ.
The service agents are employed by the Centres for Mechanised Services, colloquially known as CEMA’s, which have also been established by the project. These centres provide farmers with mechanisation services such as soil preparation and harvesting.
“The PEJERIZ project is helping to overcome the deficit of agricultural equipment for mechanised services in Senegal,” says Mohammed Mobé, who works with a CEMA in Senegal’s Rosso district. “For rice processors like me, it allows me to more easily acquire the raw material from paddy when the farmers have access to such equipment.”
To ensure long-term impact that supports wider economic growth and poverty reduction, the project works closely with and coaches 80 youth-led micro, small and medium-sized enterprises that operate across the rice value chain. “The coaching aspect is essential. We do not just offer training and leave the young people behind,” says Fautrel.
Yacouba Coulibaly provides incubation services for the project in Mali and supports the young entrepreneurs to develop and/or upgrade their businesses. He is passionate about supporting youth-led businesses in the rice sector not only to increase the food security of Mali, but to help bring about peace in the country which remains mired in conflict.
High level political support
The potential of these kinds of projects, which combine technology with coaching to create youth employment, is recognised at the highest political level. In the capital cities of both Mali and Senegal, the national ministers of agriculture have expressed their support to the PEJERIZ project and the steps taken to create youth employment. Moussa Balde, Senegal’s Minister of Agriculture, has established a committee to scale up the work of the project in order to replicate its methods across the country. Whilst Mali’s Minister, Moulaye Ahmed Boubacar, has confirmed his government’s support to the project in recognition of the promising early results.