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P4P Stories from the field

A closer look at the farmers whose lives are being changed by P4P.

In 2010, two-thirds of all illiterate adults in the world were women. In 2011, P4P’s global gender strategy projected that literacy training was one of the necessary steps towards empowering women farmers, particularly due to their lower literacy levels than men. This was confirmed by emerging lessons learned, which show that functional literacy is crucial for women to learn other skills, allowing them to manage farmers’ organizations and keep records of financial transactions.

In promoting smallholders’ access to markets, P4P has emphasized support for women farmers, assisting them to improve agricultural production, access markets, and make decisions about their lives and livelihoods. Providing women with capacity development, including basic literacy, is a vital first step to overcoming the gender gap in agricultural skills and productive resources. However, a wide variety of further interventions are also required to effectively empower women farmers.

Developing capacity through P4P

After participating in P4P training, many women realized the limitations posed by their inability to read and write. This led to some farmers’ organizations making arrangements to provide functional literacy training for their members.  Literacy programmes have a variety of benefits, boosting women’s confidence, assisting them participate more fully in their households and communities, allowing them to better follow their children’s schooling and enabling them to keep records. Literacy training has been provided to P4P-supported farmers in diverse countries, including Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guatemala, Honduras, Liberia, Mali and Mozambique.

As a post-conflict country, DRC has posed a variety of challenges during the implementation of P4P, including lack of basic infrastructure and distrust among farmers following civil conflict. Encouraging women’s participation in P4P proved particularly challenging, in part due to a low literacy rate, with 43 percent of women over the age of 15 unable to read or write. This rate is even higher in rural areas. To increase women’s participation, literacy programmes were implemented in both districts where P4P operates, through partnership with a local NGO called BUCODED in the Kabalo territory in the eastern Katanga province, and Oxfam in the Bikoro territory in the western Équateur province. Through this project, nearly 2,000 women have been provided with literacy training in Swahili and Lingala. The programme also provided training in basic calculation skills and information on child-raising, sanitation, family planning, women’s rights and HIV/AIDS prevention to further improve the lives of women and their families. Local governments have been vital partners in project implementation, with support from the national government.

Increasing women’s engagement in DRC

Since the beginning of the literacy project in DRC, women’s participation in P4P-supported farmers’ organizations increased by 19 percent in Kabalo and 34 percent in Bikoro.  Now, not only do more women participate in village farmers’ organizations, many have taken on leading roles, with 13 percent of leadership roles now occupied by women, from five percent previously.  One such woman, Moma Maua Evaristine, who participated in the literacy project, is now the president of her farmers’ organization. The group, which is called BONIGE, has 25 members, of whom three are women. Moma says that thanks to the literacy programme she is now able to better manage her household, live and work independently, and participate in her farmers’ organization by managing the group’s warehouse.

“I am happy to have responsibilities as a woman in a group of men, because in my society, it is often said that a woman should not speak in a group where there are men, and especially should not speak directly to them. What I am doing now is a great joy to me,” Moma says.

In DRC, implementing the literacy programme has proven challenging due to a lack of timely funding, which has limited the number of spots available and caused the programme to be limited to nine months rather than 18. A symbolic fee of US$ 1 was a requirement for participation, contributing to the funding of parts of the training. Despite the introduction of this fee, interest in the training is still higher than the availability of resources can provide for. P4P and partners hope to respond to continued demand for literacy training by organizing a literacy activity focusing specifically on income-generating activities. 

Rural women in developing countries often lack basic literacy skills, making it difficult for women farmers to benefit from training activities which could improve their agricultural production and increase their incomes. Because of this, in many pilot countries, P4P has incorporated basic reading and writing skills into training in order to promote their participation.

By linking local agricultural production to school meals, Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programmes multiply benefits for rural communities. They can increase enrolment, improve nutrition, boost local economies, improve smallholders’ livelihoods and develop government capacity. Due to varied country contexts, each HGSF programme is unique, but are generally characterized by the incorporation of local food purchases into government-run school feeding programmes.

In Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique the link between P4P and HGSF has been strengthened by the Purchase from Africans for Africa (PAA) initiative.

Benefiting rural communities

In Malawi, smallholder farmers are providing 10 primary schools with locally available foods, including fish, groundnuts and bananas, as well as staple grains. The project is currently being scaled up. Since the beginning of the HGSF pilot in Malawi, enrolment has increased by approximately 15 percent in participating schools. Serving nutrient-rich meals made from fresh, traditional foods can promote diet diversification, a lesson which many schools, such as the Hanja Chafa Primary School in Ethiopia reinforce through nutrition education. These efforts support improved nutrition at both household and community level, as children take this knowledge home with them. In Malawi and Ethiopia, through the PAA Africa partnership, FAO supports these efforts by providing inputs and training smallholder farmers in improving production.

The assured market presented by HGSF programmes can work as an incentive for smallholder farmers to invest in increasing agricultural production. In 2014, Malawian farmer Clara Bamusi earned nearly 80,000 kwacha (US$ 200) from her sales of maize, soya, sweet potatoes and ground nuts to the Ching’ombe Primary School. “The greatest benefit has been the reliable market,” says Clara. “With my earnings I bought double the fertilizer and hybrid seed, and because of these inputs I was able to grow and harvest more bags of maize this year compared to last.” HGSF programmes can specifically support women farmers through an emphasis on crops which women traditionally farm and market, such as pulses. This has been a focus in Zambia, where 30 to 50 percent of pulses required for HGSF are procured from P4P-supported farmers’ organizations.

Ensuring sustainability

Ownership by governments and communities is vital for the success and sustainability of HGSF programmes. National governments have already demonstrated their full commitment, in many cases seeking guidance on how to best link smallholder farmers to school feeding programmes. For example, in Honduras, WFP has worked with the national government to improve these links, including through exchange visits with WFP’s Centre of Excellence in Brazil. The national school feeding programme in Honduras reaches 90 percent of schoolchildren in the country. In 2013, nearly half the maize and beans required for the programme were provided by P4P-supported farmers’ organizations. In Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal government partnerships are further strengthened through PAA Africa, which is inspired by the Brazilian learning with institutional local procurement. Strong partnerships between national and district governments and WFP have allowed for more effective uptake by schools and farmers’ organizations.

The HGSF model has the potential to increase community engagement and participation. This is particularly true when procurement is decentralized, enabling district authorities or schools to purchase food directly from local smallholder farmers and their organizations. In Malawi, procurement committees composed of parents, community members, teachers and pupils receive training in procurement planning, negotiation and delivery terms. This allows schools to negotiate directly with farmers to most cost-effectively purchase nutritious food. They are also provided with a recipe book to guide their choice of foods, as well as guidance on how to ensure that students’ nutritional needs are met.

Moving forward with lessons learned

Emerging lessons learned suggest that HGSF efforts can be most effectively linked with P4P-supported farmers in those districts with the greatest productive potential. Many farmers’ organizations also require continued support to aggregate and market quality commodities. Linking smallholder farmers with school feeding in Kenya proved challenging due to the different implementation areas of the two programmes. To address this, additional farmers’ organizations near HGSF implementation areas are now being targeted for capacity development from P4P and partners. Though further support is required to increase their capacity, three farmer’s organizations have now supplied food to nine schools. Infrastructure and equipment, such as processing and storage facilities have also proven vital to success. In order to assist smallholders to sell to HGSF programmes in Ghana, P4P is working to link farmers’ organizations with processors.

Though progress has been made, many challenges remain. For example, in Liberia, limited funding and high local prices in comparison to the import parity price (IPP) makes purchasing rice from smallholders challenging. To assist smallholder farmers to be more competitive in the local market, the production of cowpeas and their incorporation in school feeding programmes is now emphasized. Regional initiatives such as the West Africa Rice Organization are investing in cost-effective production, which helps to further reduce costs for farmers. Purchasing local commodities from smallholder farmers at a cost slightly above market prices is sometimes necessary as a transition measure.

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Home Grown School Feeding programmes implemented by governments with the support of partners, including WFP, are increasingly providing assured markets for smallholder farmers. At least half of the 20 P4P pilot countries report linking smallholder farmers’ organizations to school feeding programmes. By strengthening government ownership and fostering community engagement, this should enhance sustainability.

More than a decade of civil war in Liberia left the agricultural sector in pieces. The limited infrastructure in place prior to the conflict was destroyed, and displaced communities returned to overgrown land. The few remaining farmers’ groups were loosely organized and struggled to produce high-quality rice in large quantities. When the P4P pilot was initiated in 2009, mistrust was pervasive among farmers – of one another, of the Ministry of Agriculture and of WFP. Identifying cooperatives to join P4P proved difficult, and members were wary of working together and therefore hesitant to hand over their rice to be sold collectively to WFP.

“Farmers were worried they wouldn’t get paid, especially since cooperatives didn’t have the capital to pay them immediately at the time when they delivered the rice,” says Lonnie Herring, who was working with Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Many Liberian farmers also doubted that producing high-quality, local rice in greater quantities was possible or worth the effort. Local rice, traditionally milled by hand, was sold by the kilo or in “sardine can” quantities, and was considered inferior to imported rice. Without trusting that their efforts would pay off, many farmers were unwilling to invest the time and resources needed to increase production.

Increasing capacity and trust

Addressing these issues proved challenging, in part due to a lack of supply-side partners in the field. However, P4P, in collaboration with FAO, other UN agencies and the government’s Ministry of Agriculture, soon began supporting smallholders to rebuild relationships while developing their production capacity in a culturally relevant manner. Groups worked together to rehabilitate lowland production areas, using an approach which mirrors the Liberian concept of kuus – communal farming groups that work together to prepare and harvest fields. While lowland production areas are more environmentally friendly and produce three times as much rice as upland areas, the rehabilitation process is lengthy and labour-intensive.

“Working in the swamps, which even had leeches in them, wasn’t easy,” recalls Danlette Dillon, the deputy chairlady of the Welekemei Rural Women’s structure in Sanoyea. Despite difficulties, the group came together to prepare the swamp area for rice planting. The group then joined P4P and was able to deliver the full contracted amount of 35 metric tons (mt) (35,000 kg) in the 2013 procurement season.

Improving community

Connections within farmers’ communities have also been reinforced as participants have shared the benefits of capacity development. For example, the War-Affected Rural Women’s Structure was contracted by WFP to process rice for another farmers’ organization, benefitting both groups. The Welekemei Rural Women’s structure has begun passing on their knowledge by voluntarily providing training to other farmers in the region, particularly focusing on youth. With the money earned from sales to WFP, they’re hoping to build a guest house, hut and training area to expand their work.

In many areas, P4P has been closely connected to other WFP projects. The Kpayaquelleh United Women’s Association was originally a participant in WFP’s community grain reserve (CGR) project. The CGR programme not only develops smallholder capacity by providing them with training and allowing them to gain experience managing money, but also encourages individuals to work together to benefit themselves and their communities.

Building businesses

One of P4P’s greatest achievements in Liberia has been the building of trust among smallholders, enabling them to work collectively and take ownership of their businesses. Far from the mistrust which once made collaboration difficult, today farmers’ organizations function as businesses, with more timely deliveries and fewer defaults. Plus, groups have reported increasing membership as other farmers are more interested in participating.

For WFP, this shift has made local procurement easier and increasingly efficient, though Liberia’s lack of adequate roads still poses a major logistical challenge. “Instead of waiting, we have groups calling us saying ‘these [farmers] have rice, when are the trucks coming?’” says Herring.

Lessons learned from P4P in Liberia have highlighted the importance of timely funding for WFP food procurement in order to ensure reliable and consistent demand. Without sufficient funds to buy food, WFP cannot keep its commitment to the smallholder farmers and risks endangering the trust and relationships built.

Today, a sense of entrepreneurship has been built by the P4P-supported farmers’ organizations. For example, the Kpayaquelleh farmers’ organization is expanding their labour force and farm size, while the War-Affected Rural Women’s group has opened a bank account for the whole group. These business decisions reflect a larger shift among farmer groups. “Everyone in P4P is business-minded now,” says Danlette Dillon.

Korpo Kwala echoes this sentiment. “We want to be the best business people around,” she says.

Story by Eliza Warren Shriner


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In many post-conflict countries, an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion may make collaboration among smallholder farmers challenging. In Liberia, P4P has assisted smallholders to overcome this challenge. By helping farmers to re-build relationships and grow their businesses, the pilot has been driving a shift of mind-set among farmers and their communities. 

Agricultural production in Sierra Leone is currently recovering from the decline caused by a decade-long war, with about two-thirds of the population dependent upon subsistence farming for their livelihoods. These smallholder farmers have limited access to the resources necessary to effectively aggregate and market quality crops, including storage facilities and training in business and best agricultural practices.


The P4P pilot has tested innovative methods of supporting smallholders by responding to context-specific challenges in 20 countries. In Sierra Leone, working with the ABCs has proven to be particularly effective. Within the ABCs, smallholders can purchase inputs, hire equipment, undergo training and access services such as processing, storage and group marketing. The agro-centres are governed by farmers’ organizations, with support from FAO, IFAD and government agencies. This fosters ownership of the ABCs, which is an important step towards sustainability. To date, 193 ABCs have been established.

In Sierra Leone, IFAD, FAO and WFP collaborate with the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) to implement the government’s Smallholder Commercialization Programme (SCP). The SCP aims to increase smallholder farmers’ capacities and improve their ability to aggregate and market quality crops collectively to formal markets. Under the SCP, smallholders are grouped into farmers’ organizations, and supported with training in agricultural production and collective marketing. Several organizations then work together within an ABC to process and store crops.

WFP as a source of assured demand

P4P facilitates the link between the ABCs and WFP demand, providing farmers’ organizations with an incentive to improve the commercialization of staple crops such as rice or pigeon peas, as well as practical experience selling to an institutional buyer. P4P also provides smallholders with training in post-harvest handling and quality control, assisting them to produce high quality commodities. This should prepare smallholders to ultimately access commercial markets beyond WFP on an increasingly competitive basis.

Mariama Koroma, the chairwoman of Holima Agricultural Business Centre, says: “I have gone through a lot of training orchestrated by FAO, World Vision, WFP and others, so I have acquired a wealth of knowledge and experience in governance and management. That is why we don’t have problems in our farmers’ organization. I am confident that I can comfortably manage this Agricultural Business Centre.”

Progress made but challenges remain

Local food prices in Sierra Leone are volatile and often higher than the international price of the same commodity, notably for rice. Because WFP’s procurement policy obligates the organization to buy maximum quantities of food at no more than the import parity price, procurement from smallholder farmers in Sierra Leone has been limited. Despite these challenges, in total, WFP has procured some 1,100 metric tons of food commodities from smallholder farmers’ organizations in Sierra Leone since 2009. Of this, four ABCs have contracted with WFP to date, selling a total of 140 metric tons of rice, 15 metric tons of pigeon peas and 5 metric tons of gari, a form of processed cassava. These crops are then distributed in WFP’s School Meals and Food for Assets programmes.

In 2013, a joint assessment was carried out by the Programme Advisory Group (PAG), GAFSP, FAO and P4P to evaluate the ABCs in terms of their skills and capacity. As a result of this evaluation, 21 ABCs were identified as potential WFP suppliers. Though procurement by WFP has been limited, smallholders have been effectively prepared to produce and market higher quality staple commodities. Efforts to facilitate linkages to quality markets beyond WFP, such as government or eventually private sector traders and millers are ongoing.

Article written by Marta Ortiz Nuñez, P4P country coordinator, Sierra Leone.








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In Sierra Leone, government partners, FAO and IFAD have established Agricultural Business Centres (ABCs), providing smallholder farmers with access to training, equipment and storage. Since 2010, P4P has linked the ABCs to WFP’s demand for quality crops, providing smallholders with an incentive to invest in production and taking advantage of capacity development opportunities.

The post-conflict environment presents unique challenges for P4P’s work promoting smallholder market access.  In DRC, the country’s transportation infrastructure has suffered from destruction and a lack of maintenance due to armed conflict. Lack of road, rail and water transportation in combination with large distances between smallholder farmers and markets often limit smallholders to selling their crops through barter systems close to their farms. In the Kabalo and Bikoro territories, where P4P works, communities have been fractured by years of armed conflict. The country’s agricultural production has also been reduced to a subsistence level despite DRC’s agricultural potential.  DRC has more than 80 million hectares of fertile land that could be cultivated year-round, but less than 10 percent is cultivated each year.

Photos of the same location before (top) and after (bottom) rehabilitation.

Partnerships and community ownership for improved infrastructure

Implementing P4P in DRC meant that WFP not only needed to design a programme that developed the capacities of farmers and their organizations, but also focused on rebuilding infrastructure.

P4P is working in close collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Through a joint funding mechanism supported by the Belgian Government, the two UN agencies are working hand in hand to support the government to strengthen the capacity of smallholder farmers and rebuild agricultural markets affected by years of disruption and armed conflict.

Since 2009, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), as a P4P partner, has worked with local companies to reconstruct sections of roads and build culverts. P4P and partners have facilitated community cohesion and ownership by supporting the formation of community-led road maintenance committees and involving local government and local businesses in the work. Communities were encouraged to contribute with materials and labour through WFP’s Food for Assets programme, which provides food in exchange for work on the rehabilitation projects.

Making connections: positive impacts      

Road rehabilitation has been crucial to revitalising markets and connecting farmers to economic opportunities, allowing smallholders to transport their products to larger structured markets with shorter transportation times. With access to these markets, farmers are able to obtain a better price for higher quality grain than at the farm gate. P4P also partners with OXFAM to better facilitate the aggregation of crops and to reduce post-harvest losses by constructing warehouses along the rehabilitated roads midway between communities and markets.

“This project taught us how to farm and how to save in order to increase our production.” says Florent Banza, a P4P-supported farmer who opened a small village pharmacy with profits from increased production and sales.

Roads open new business opportunities

One of P4P’s key objectives in DRC is to link smallholder farmers to traders in order to re-establish trader networks and link farmers’ organizations to sustainable markets. Before the road rehabilitation project started, traders were wary of buying from smallholders due to their unreliable and long transportation times. As a result of the new roads and improved transportation, traders started negotiating with smallholder farmers directly, now more confident in receiving their purchased crops on time.

Road rehabilitation efforts have also had other benefits. Links to urban centres have improved, which has increased access to health services for nearby communities. Plus, the warehouses constructed along the rehabilitated roads have provided new employment opportunities to rural individuals and have reduced post-harvest losses, successfully enabling farmers to sell higher quality grain. In the future, links between smallholders and processors along these rehabilitated roads could open up possibilities for the production of value-added foods.

More efforts needed to support smallholders

Despite the many successes of the rehabilitation project in Kabalo and Bikoro, challenges remain for smallholder farmers. Due to limited access to vehicles, smallholders still require WFP logistical support to transport commodities to warehouses. Transportation over greater distances, where roads have not yet been rehabilitated, still proves challenging.

Due to the limited production among smallholders, storage facilities were operating at only 20 percent of their total capacity between 2010 and 2013. Further capacity development is needed for smallholders to increase their production and maximize the use of warehouses.

Article by Daphne Hendsbee, P4P

In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), P4P has explored how infrastructure improvements can catalyse agricultural development. Nearly 200 km of rural farm to market roads have been rehabilitated in partnership with the government, FAO and UNOPS. This project, combined with community-led maintenance on another 300 km of rural roads, has successfully linked previously-isolated farmers to traders and more profitable markets.

In Afghanistan, micronutrient deficiency is widespread, with 55 percent of children stunted due to malnutrition. In order to improve nutrition, P4P facilitates the local production of fortified flour and other nutritious food using staple crops grown by P4P-supported smallholders whenever possible. One vital component of this work is the development of a market for soya and soya-based products in partnership with Nutrition and Education International (NEI), with financial support from the Republic of Korea. P4P and NEI are engaged at all levels of the soya value chain, working with farmers to expand production, assisting processors to increase capacity and implementing an awareness-raising campaign in order to educate the public about the benefits of fortified soya and wheat blended flour.

Nutritious food produced with smallholders’ crops

The initiative emphasizes soya because it is rich in protein and amino acids, and adding soya flour to micronutrient-fortified wheat flour can also increase vitamin and mineral absorption. In Afghanistan, fortified flour is produced by local millers using the wheat grown by smallholder farmers, who are supported by P4P in collaboration with the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED).  This flour is also used to process high energy biscuits for use in WFP’s emergency programme.

As soya production expands, it too will become a vital component of high energy biscuits, as well as a fortified wheat and soya flour mix. This will boost the effectiveness of these nutritious foods, and provide P4P-supported farmers with a market for their crop. An advocacy campaign carried out in collaboration with NEI aims to raise awareness on the importance of micronutrients and increase demand for locally-produced fortified foods, which will help to develop a sustainable market. The campaign is being carried out in collaboration with the government’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

Increasing production of soya

NEI and P4P have supported smallholder soybean farmers with the provision of pre- and post-harvest agricultural equipment to increase their yields and improve crop quality. Over 10,000 smallholder farmers have been organized into associations and trained in soybean cultivation by NEI, including topics such as pre- and post-harvest handling and storage. In 2012, P4P-supported smallholders produced 1,700 metric tons (mt) of soya, which was purchased by NEI, private sector soya flour processors and soybean seed producers. It was also used to supplement nutritional intake at the household level. In order to more effectively utilize their land, farmers will be trained to diversify crop production by producing both soya and wheat. This will allow them to benefit from soya’s capability to enrich soil after it has been depleted by the wheat harvest. At the moment most smallholders produce only one of the two crops. Women’s involvement has been encouraged by P4P and partners, with over 3,200 women farmers supported to grow wheat and soya. Women are also trained to utilize soya flour as well as wheat when preparing naan bread for household use in order to improve nutrition.

In February 2014, a workshop was held to train agronomists on soybean research and production in order to facilitate the development of soybean seed varieties suitable for the climate and soil conditions in Afghanistan. This is expected to have a ripple effect as the agronomists share their learning with the farmers they support. One participant, Mr. Nasrullah, a research agronomist at the Kapisa Farm Service Center, says, “we were given important tools that will help the Kapisa team better train and oversee the 200 farmers producing seeds for the coming season.” Sixty agronomists from 13 provinces participated, including members of the Agriculture Research Institute of Afghanistan (ARIA), which has worked with NEI to develop and release five new climate-suitable soya varieties since 2005.

Reduced WFP demand encourages sustainable solutions

Though the project has already made significant achievements, challenges still remain. WFP’s reduced demand for high energy biscuits has made for a slow start, as the project lacks the catalyst of an assured buyer procuring large quantities. However, steps towards a more sustainable solution are being taken: it is planned that these nutritious foods, produced by local processors from soya and wheat grown by smallholder farmers, will enter directly into local markets in Afghanistan.

In order to reduce malnutrition in Afghanistan, P4P works with Nutrition and Education International to support smallholder farmers and agronomists to produce soya for use in locally-produced nutritious foods. These products will enter into the market in Afghanistan to increase the protein intake and micronutrient absorption of vulnerable populations.

Some basics on aflatoxin:
  • Aflatoxin usually develop on food such as maize and groundnuts, in regions or countries with climates of high temperature and humidity.
  • Aflatoxin is a type of mycotoxin, which result from fungal growth.  This is normally caused by the improper drying or re-wetting of crops.
  • Once aflatoxin occurs, it cannot be eliminated without making food unsafe for human consumption.
  • High aflatoxin levels can be prevented by improving farming, storage and transportation practices.

WFP sets quality requirements for the commodities it procures to ensure that beneficiaries receive food which is safe for consumption. The same standards are applied to purchases from all suppliers, be they smallholder farmers or large companies, without exception. This has posed a challenge for P4P, as smallholder farmers often lack the knowledge and resources to produce crops that meet these standards. Plus, smallholders are sometimes located in difficult-to-access rural areas where inspection companies and local laboratories may have a limited presence.

The prevalence of aflatoxin, a poisonous chemical compound linked to liver cancer if consumed regularly over an extended period, poses a particular threat to food safety. Aflatoxin generally develops on crops such as maize or groundnuts due to insufficient drying, as the presence of excess moisture allows the growth of aflatoxin-producing moulds. This can be prevented through appropriate post-harvest handling techniques. At an early stage of the P4P pilot, purchases from P4P-supported smallholders highlighted the need to address the root cause of quality control problems. This triggered the creation of WFP’s Food Quality and Safety unit  in November 2009.

Preventative and proactive approaches

Aflatoxin poses a concern because of the large volume of maize procured through P4P. In order to address this problem, a field testing kit called the Blue Box was developed in collaboration with P4P Guatemala. The project was launched after several incidents in which commodities supplied by P4P-supported farmers in Guatemala were rejected by WFP because they did not meet quality requirements. The Blue Box was designed to screen grain quality and detect problems such as the presence of aflatoxin at an early stage, therefore reducing rejections.

Each Blue Box contains grain sampling and grading equipment, a moisture metre, an aflatoxin test kit and other supplies to allow on-the-spot screening of food quality parameters and grading at any stage of the supply chain. The Blue Box has been effectively used by farmers’ organizations, storage facilities, and WFP procurement. Since 2011, 26 WFP Country Offices, 14 of which are P4P pilot countries, have begun incorporating the Blue Box into their programming.

In order to address quality issues, both early detection and prevention are necessary. While the Blue Box facilitates early detection, capacity development is vital to preventing the development of food quality problems. Along with training on how to use the equipment, P4P and partners have provided training sessions in post-harvest handling. Topics include drying, sorting, storage and transport, as well as inspection and testing. Additionally, P4P has supported the provision of equipment and infrastructure to improve post-harvest handling, such as improved storage facilities and drying equipment on a cost-sharing basis.

The Blue Box

The field testing kit was originally named the "Blue Box" because the equipment was housed in a blue container. Today it is no longer blue, but the name is still commonly used.

Positive results for farmers and governments

The early detection of quality problems has reduced the number of rejected deliveries and led to savings for farmers, who then do not pay unnecessary transportation costs for commodities that might ultimately be rejected. In addition, the Blue Box, as well as related food quality and safety initiatives, have raised awareness about the risks of aflatoxin. When Bornwell Kaunga, a farmers’ organization manager from Malawi, spoke at P4P’s fifth Annual Consultation, he described how increased awareness about food safety has been vital to his community. He shared the story of one mother, who previously sold the healthy part of the grain while feeding the diseased parts to her children. After learning about the dangers of this practice, Bornwell quoted her as saying, "This is one of the most important things we have learned, I am now able to keep clean grain in my house and that gives me happiness in my heart.” Through these efforts, more farmers have also learned that quality crops can generate higher prices.

WFP’s increased advocacy for the enforcement of national quality standards, the establishment of quality monitoring protocols, and the adoption of best practices contributes to the global agenda to address major food quality and safety issues. This also enables WFP to take part in broader discussions about global health policies. In South Sudan, the Blue Box launch, as well as dialogue around aflatoxin, catalysed improvements in the national laboratory capacity, and initiated systematic screening of local maize produce. The Blue Box also enabled WFP to increasingly influence and contribute to local policy design and execution. For example, in Ethiopia, aflatoxin testing is not required by national standards, but thanks to WFP’s extensive collaboration with the government, it has been endorsed systematically through support to Cooperative Unions. Similarly, in Kenya following severe aflatoxin outbreaks, WFP has collaborated with the government to increase public awareness, improve post-harvest handling and storage, and increase testing capacity.

Lessons learned about equipment & training

The challenges faced by the WFP Food Quality and Safety unit, and the Blue Box initiative in particular, have generated lessons and technical knowledge about how to deliver training effectively, and what kind of equipment is most suitable in the field. Comprehensive guidance has been developed to increase the effectiveness of Blue Box training sessions. The Food Quality and Safety unit has found that that in order to be most effective, hands-on training should be carried out by WFP staff in the local language immediately after the delivery of the kit. Lessons learned indicate that participants benefit most when specific individuals are assigned to take responsibility for quality control, undergoing training and using the Blue Box tools. Efforts to improve food quality were most effective when combined with pre-existing national policies, standards and market infrastructure. Incentives, such as higher margins for quality crops, proved particularly effective.

Procurement from P4P-supported smallholder farmers has played an integral role in changing the way WFP approaches food quality and safety. These purchases have illustrated the importance of addressing the root causes of quality issues through prevention and early detection, and have enabled WFP to take a leading role in advocating for better food quality standards.

Niébé is a variety of cowpea grown by many smallholder farmers, primarily women, throughout West Africa. The drought-resistant bean thrives even in the dry, arid soils of the Sahel and neighboring countries and improves soil quality by fixing nutrients.  The crop is also highly nutritious, acting as a common source of protein. Because niébé is often farmed and controlled by women, it provides them with an entry point to earn income within the agricultural sector, while simultaneously improving nutrition and resilience.

Despite the benefits niébé offers, a number of factors have made local purchases of the bean difficult. In Liberia, for example, production has been kept at subsistence levels. “Farmers are not used to growing beans as an independent crop,” says James Legg, P4P country coordinator in Liberia. In Mali, niébé is usually grown alongside other crops in small quantities, keeping production at subsistence levels. Elsewhere in the region, high-quality seeds can be expensive, and acquiring enough land to grow large quantities can be difficult for women, who sometimes struggle to access land. Niébé is also difficult to store properly. Without proper preservation techniques, the bean is prone to infestation, which has deterred many farmers from growing it for sale.

Triple bagging of niébé 

Improving niébé production

In order to help farmers in the region to increase production levels and improve crop quality, P4P and partners provide support to smallholders that reflects production conditions in the country. This support includes training, agricultural inputs and tools specially designed for niébé. In Mali, for example, P4P-supported farmers’ organizations are equipped with triple bags (PICS) specifically designed to extend its shelf life. The benefits of these bags, combined with proper storage techniques, have been clear to many farmers’ organizations, allowing them to aggregate and sell larger quantities when prices are high. The bags were so successful that one farmer’s organization, the Sabati Women’s Association, in Zantiebougou, Mali, decided to buy them directly from the supplier. “The women saw how well they worked and wanted to buy the bags themselves,” says P4P regional coordinator Isabelle Mballa.

Learning and innovation has been another important component to assisting smallholders to grow niébé as a commercial crop. In Ghana, WFP partner, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), has worked to establish crop demonstration plots and Farmer Field Schools for each of the 26 P4P+supported farmers’ organizations in the region. These one-acre plots have allowed ADRA and Ghana’s Crops Research Institute (CRI) to identify high-yielding niébé seed varieties to be used as “foundation” seed. WFP plans to distribute these seeds to the 26 organizations—which have a membership of 48 percent women—and will also continue to work closely with government partners to train farmers in best practices.

Empowering women and improving nutrition

Across West Africa, more farmers’ organizations are now producing higher quantities of niébé, in some cases allowing for purchases by WFP and other buyers. Five out of seven large P4P-supported farmers’ organizations in Burkina Faso are now growing the crop, as are all participating farmers’ organizations in Mali. In Burkina Faso, WFP is planning to purchase 920 metric tons (mt) of niébé through forward purchasing facilities. Farmers’ organizations in the country have also sold niébé to markets beyond WFP.

In Burkina Faso, 96% of participants in cowpea sales to WFP are women.  Similarly, among farmers’ unions now producing niébé in Liberia and Mali, the members are primarily women. This means that much of the money earned goes directly into women’s hands, giving them a stronger voice and raising their status in their households and communities. P4P and its partners are also raising awareness for the added benefits of women controlling their own land. Preliminary monitoring data shows that women’s access to inputs and land has improved in some countries during the course of the pilot.

“By giving women the necessary means and specific training to increase production, they were able to increase their revenue and gained autonomy,” Yves Aklamavo P4P country coordinator in Burkina Faso, says.

Thanks to money earned through cowpea sales, Azeta Sawadogo, from Pella, in northern Burkina Faso, was able to buy a bicycle. This allows her to balance the time between farming and caring for her family. Because the bicycle saves both time and labour, she is now able to go to markets to sell cowpeas and spices, and can quickly return home from working in the fields to prepare meals for her family. Communities are also increasingly taking advantage of the legume’s nutritional benefits. In Liberia, niébé will be used in WFP’s school meals programme. In Mali, efforts are also being undertaken to improve nutrition by educating women about the benefits of consuming the crop.

Moving forward

Although great strides have been made to make niébé a viable commercial crop in West Africa, procurement is still limited due to high prices and low production capacities. In Liberia, niébé is still very expensive, and in Ghana it is too costly for WFP to procure from local smallholders. To address some of these challenges, work is ongoing to implement the infrastructure necessary to increase production and improve market access. A recent networking meeting in Liberia brought together actors with a stake in the agricultural sector to identify opportunities and possible synergies among producers and buyers. However, it may take three to four years before farmers produce enough to sell to these markets. In Burkina Faso, WFP plans to construct two 50 mt storage facilities on a cost-sharing basis to improve post-harvest handling, enabling farmers’ organizations to aggregate niébé and sell it collectively.

Other commodities in West African countries have similar benefits. One example is pigeon peas, which are widely purchased and consumed in Sierra Leone. Because of their nutritional benefits, these peas have already been incorporated into WFP’s school feeding programme. After a successful first purchase of 10 mt in 2013, WFP plans to purchase 60 mt of pigeon peas for school meals in 2014.

Story by Eliza Warren-Shriner, WFP, West Africa

In West Africa, P4P is working closely with partners to develop the capacity of smallholder farmers to produce a protein- and nutrient-rich crop called niébé (cowpeas/black-eyed peas).  Through training as well as the provision of equipment and improved seeds, P4P has helped smallholders engage in collective sales and access new markets, opening up opportunities for farmers—especially women—across the region.

Proper food and nutrition play an essential role in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, allowing patients to stay healthy longer, increasing the effectiveness of the treatment and reducing its side effects. However, due to the effects of the disease, HIV-positive individuals often face increased difficulties providing for themselves and their families. The combination of food insecurity and HIV/AIDS can result in higher levels of poverty, malnutrition and increased health risks. This in turn can act as major barriers to seeking and adhering to treatment.

The three-headed monster

“In Sub-Sahara Africa, HIV/AIDS is intimately enmeshed with its dreaded twins, poverty and hunger. The three heads of this monster feed off of each other and no medical care system can by itself expect to break the vicious downward cycle,” says Cleophas Chesoli, Associate Safety Net Programme Manager, Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH).

AMPATH works with the Government of Kenya to provide medical treatment for HIV/AIDS patients, most of them residing in farming communities with high agricultural potential. The majority are food insecure due to poverty compounded by the effects of HIV/AIDS, which has an impact not only on those living with it, but also on their households and communities.

WFP has partnered with AMPATH since 2005, with the provision of vital food assistance to compliment medical treatment provided to patients. Since 2009, P4P has added a new dimension to the partnership. The main goal of P4P’s engagement with AMPATH has been to complement food assistance and medical treatment by supporting beneficiaries to exit food assistance and become self-sufficient. This has been accomplished by assisting HIV/AIDS-affected farmers to increase their agricultural production for household consumption and also for sale to the market. Not only has this provided farmers and their communities with a sustainable source of income and food, but has also increased their resilience to shocks.

  • The Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) is collaboration between Indiana University, Moi University, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and other North American universities.
  • Since AMPATH began working with the Kenyan Ministry of Health, they have treated over 160,000 HIV-positive persons at over 500 clinical sites throughout western Kenya.
  • WFP and AMPATH feed 31,000 HIV-affected persons daily.

Giving back to the community

One participating smallholder was previously unable to continue working on her farm due to the effects of HIV. However, food and medical treatment provided by AMPATH and WFP enabled her to regain her strength, and support from P4P allowed her not only to begin farming again, but to learn more productive farming practices and gain larger profits on a sustainable basis.

The trust built by AMPATH throughout years of living and working in the targeted communities has been vital to reaching HIV/AIDS-affected smallholders. Today, 40 percent of AMPATH’s patients are members of farmers’ organizations supported through P4P.

Not only have members of P4P-supported farmers’ organizations contributed to their own food and income security by producing more and selling to WFP, they have contributed to their community as a whole. In December 2012, two farmers’ organizations donated staple crops to AMPATH to be distributed to other patients who require food assistance.

Lessons learned from targeting

At the beginning, the initiative faced challenges due to the vulnerability of HIV/AIDS-affected households, and the stigma associated with the disease. At first, new farmers’ organizations were created entirely of smallholders living with HIV/AIDS. However, it was soon discovered that integrating these households into pre-existing farmers’ organizations was more effective, as the community and other service providers were more receptive to this method. This also provided farmers’ organizations with a better platform for business success. Today, many farmers involved in P4P have been able to overcome the stigma attached to their disease and regain ‘normal’ lives.

As lessons from the five-year pilot project are being compiled, the example of P4P’s collaboration with AMPATH is emerging as a successful and sustainable model for addressing the food needs of HIV/AIDS affected people. The potential benefits of encouraging newly infected individuals to embrace this model to attain food self-sufficiency at an early stage of the disease have also been recognised.

In Kenya, the P4P pilot has enabled a remarkable transformation of WFP’s support to HIV/AIDS-affected farmers. By further developing WFP’s partnership with the health sector organization AMPATH, the project has combined medical treatment for HIV/AIDS-affected smallholders with capacity development and organizational support. Now, farmers who were once recipients of food assistance are increasingly supplying food for themselves and the market.

In Guatemala, poverty and malnutrition are widespread. Chronic malnutrition or stunting occurs among 50 percent of children under the age of five, the fourth highest in the world. The Maíz Chapín contra el hambre project seeks to address malnutrition by promoting the consumption of nutritious foods and food supplements. It will also bolster the Government of Guatemala’s efforts to fight hunger and rural poverty by supporting P4P’s work in developing the capacities of smallholder farmers and their organizations.

Linking smallholders to the private sector

Through this programme, WFP will provide processed, nutrient rich foods to at-risk populations. These supplementary foods will be bought from agro-industry companies which have agreed to purchase the necessary basic grains from P4P-supported farmers’ organizations. This will provide smallholders with a new market for their yields, thereby providing opportunities to increase their incomes.

In Guatemala, P4P’s focus has been to strengthen farmers’ organizations by providing technical assistance and capacity development. The Maíz Chapín contra el hambre project will scale up capacity development in areas including improved agricultural production, storage and transformation, environmental practices, commercialization and institutional strengthening. . The links to credit and insurance already initiated through P4P will be reinforced and expanded.


  • Under the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, national leaders in 46 developing countries, including Guatemala, have committed to prioritizing efforts to address malnutrition.
  • Participating countries are supported by four global networks: development partners, UN Agencies, Civil Society and Business. All four networks operate under the SUN Lead Group, which is appointed by UN Secretary General.
  • SUN supports specific nutrition interventions including food fortification, micronutrient supplementation, and treatment of severe malnutrition.
  • The initiative also encourages various nutrition-sensitive approaches which prioritize agriculture, clean water and sanitation, education and employment, health care, support for resilience and women’s empowerment.

Improving nutrition

The supplementary foods will be distributed to targeted beneficiaries. The project specifically targets pregnant and lactating women as well as infants and children aged 6 to 23 months, to foster healthy cognitive and physical development, combatting the effects of malnutrition and breaking its intergenerational cycle.

Through the project, WFP will also establish partnerships to assist food insecure people, particularly women, to create home gardens and soil conservation activities to increase targeted households’ resilience against natural and economic shocks. WFP and its partners will also form mother-to-mother support groups. These groups will discuss feeding and care practices, equipping mothers with the tools to provide their children with adequate nutrition.

Focus on women

The project will especially emphasize the participation and leadership of women in farmers’ organizations and their communities. Gender equality training will be provided to both men and women to demonstrate the tangible benefits of increasing women’s active participation in and gains from farming activities. Women will be specifically targeted for leadership training. The initiative will also work with farmers’ organizations to develop and implement gender equality policies, and to organize knowledge fairs and exchanges of experience between both men and women participants.

Women play an important part in improving nutrition, as women are generally the primary caregivers of children and take the leading role in food preparation. Women have been found to spend their increased incomes improving the lives of their children by investing in education, health care and nutritious foods.

Partnerships vital to project

Maíz Chapín contra el hambre is sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development of Canada (DFATD), and has been made possible by partnerships between WFP, the national government, the private sector, and NGOs. It will be implemented in eight departments and target some 42,000 beneficiaries.


WFP recently launched a new project in Guatemala linking P4P with the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement. This initiative, called Maíz Chapín contra el hambre (Guatemalan Maize Alliance Against Hunger), aims to improve nutrition and increase farmers’ income by using their surplus to create supplementary foods for at-risk populations.