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From Brazil to Ethiopia: Experiences On Empowering Farmers

In June, top officials will gather in Ethiopia to assess the achievements of the two-year-old Purchase from Africans for Africa programme, a groundbreaking, Brazilian-inspired initiative to empower smallholder farmers that has been rolled out in five African nations: Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal. Brazil’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Isabel Cristina de Azevedo Heyvaert, saw the results during a WFP field trip to the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).

HANJA CHEFA, Ethiopia — With five children in school and a thriving farm, Alemetu Johannis has plenty to smile about. After repaying one loan, the 36-year-old farmer is now applying for another, spinning big dreams for herself and her family in this drought-prone pocket of Ethiopia's Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region (SNNPR).

"Yes, I have benefitted," says Johannis, dressed smartly in a tan suit and clasping a black mobile phone that is testament to her success. "There is change in my house; not just because we now eat butter and milk but also because I can afford to send my children to school."

A member of a cooperative union in SNNPR's Boricha district, Johannis is also on the front line of a groundbreaking programme to empower smallholder farmers and their communities, with the government's purchasing power acting as an economic driver.

Spanning five African nations including Ethiopia, the initiative is known as Purchase from Africans for Africa, or PAA. Brazil is sharing its experience and funding the Ethiopian initiative whose spirit—and acronym —mirrors its own acclaimed food purchase programme, Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos, which has transformed the lives of millions of Brazilian smallholder farmers.

"More than a decade of PAA in Brazil has definitely changed the country's economic and social landscape," says Brazil's Ambassador to Ethiopia, Isabel Cristina de Azevedo Heyvaert, who met with Johannis and other farmers in Hanja Chefa village, an hour's drive from the regional capital of Awassa. "It has built capacity, supported markets and lifted millions over the poverty line. That's why we are sharing this experience with Ethiopia."

Launched in 2012 and piloted by SNNP's regional government, Ethiopia's own PAA is expected to benefit more than 10,000 people, most of them school children, and incorporates two key WFP programmes. The Purchase for Progress (P4P) programme aims to boost the productivity of smallholder farmers and better link them to markets. These local growers also supply the food for nutritious school meals at Hanja Chefa primary and more than 50 other schools in the SNNP region, as part of our Home Grown School Feeding initiative.

Thinking big

But PAA has a broader reach. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is supplying seeds and technology to improve smallholder production. And the regional government, which already invests in school meals, is also buying locally grown food from participating cooperatives to supply regional hospitals, universities and prisons.

"If farmers produce based on market demand and improve their productivity, it will help assure their food security," says Sani Redi, Agriculture Bureau Head and Vice-President of the SNNP Region. "The Brazilian experience will help us to promote productivity, market linkages and help us strengthen cooperatives."

Around the village of Hanja Chefa, where farmers till small plots of maize, kidney beans and enset, or false banana, the initiative is already bearing fruit. Last year, farmer Johannis and other female members of the local cooperative secured a US$200 loan from a local micro-credit institution, with support from WFP. They used the money to buy the crops of fellow growers, reselling them at a profit.

The women quickly repaid their loan, taking a first step towards accessing broader financial services that are key for smallholder development.

"Now we will ask for another loan to buy goats and sheep and also start a business selling soap and coffee," Johannis says.

With a 98 percent loan repayment rate, participating cooperatives have proven they can be attractive customers for banks and other creditors. Giving their members access to credit and other financial services fits into PAA's underlying message: to build up local capacity and then move on.

"Brazilian farmers who were in your situation today no longer need assistance," Mauricio Burtet, head of WFP Ethiopia’s P4P programme, tells farmers here. "That's what we expect to happen for you."

A community effort

PAA is bringing other advantages. At Hanja Chefa primary school, children tuck into a daily nourishing porridge of locally grown wheat, maize and beans under WFP's Home Grown School Feeding Programme.

"Communities feel this programme is their own," says Principal Thomas Woldemichael. "People know their production is being eaten by their children. That gives them a good feeling."

children having school meals donated by wfpEnrollment has doubled since school meals began at Hanja Chefa three years ago, and today more than half the student body is female. The primary school boasts a 95 percent attendance rate.

"The meals encourage students to go to school," Woldemichael adds.

In 2014, P4P plans to buy roughly 37,500 metric tons of local grains from smallholder farmers in Ethiopia to supply WFP’s programmes in the most food-insecure areas of the country—enough to feed more than 2.5 million people for a month. For its part, Brazil is funding school feeding for seven primary schools, including Hanja Chefa.

"We want other African countries to share the strong results we achieved in Brazil,” Ambassador Azevedo Heyvaert says. “And what we see here is very encouraging.”