African woman standing by a vegetable stall
Sida-funded ASDSP project aimed to transform Kenya's agriculture sector into an innovative, commercially oriented, competitive and modern industry.

Improving rural livelihoods with profitable and innovative farming

Through the more than 50 projects NIRAS manages in the agricultural sector, we are helping rural populations across the globe lift themselves out of poverty, creating promising futures for future generations and minimizing migration to urban areas and abroad.

30. May 2018

As you are reading this, young people all over the world are leaving their childhood homes in rural areas and moving to cities or abroad in the quest for a better life. Global migration is on the rise, and the lack of prospects in poor, rural areas is one of the main drivers behind this migration.   

As a result of this growing trend, development aid donors and organisations are increasingly focused on creating better livelihoods for farmers.   

“More efficient agriculture is key to a stable and decent life for farmers,” explains Kristina Mastroianni, technical director of agriculture at NIRAS. “Subsistence farming is not enough. People everywhere need money in their pockets to be able to invest in equipment and inputs and to lift themselves into middle class rather than living hand to mouth.” 

Ensuring self-sustained change  

With close to half a century of experience in agriculture projects, NIRAS has been around to see development aid evolve over time. The current movement is towards more long-term aid targeted at regions that previously mostly received crisis/humanitarian aid.

“Donors want to create sustainable change that will support itself in the future. For instance, there is a growing realisation that many of the internally displaced persons in Africa will never return home. We need to help them build on what little they have where they are, for instance through land tenures that enable them to gain stable access to farmland,” says Kristina.

To achieve long-term change, it is important that NIRAS remain in the background. Our goal is to provide technical assistance and develop the capacity of relevant institutions and stakeholders, but ownership must remain with locals who spearhead the projects.

One way we assist is with the “unclogging” and strengthening of value chains. Special effort goes into targeting bottlenecks because often only a few issues are holding back the entire chain. There might be a lack of infrastructure or labourers, insufficient inputs – such as seed, fertilizers or animal feed – or poor access to new technologies that could make the value chain more efficient. It might also be that stakeholders need to improve their business or contract negotiation skills or that markets require greater coordination. 

NIRAS works to tackle bottlenecks in the value chain so money can start trickling backwards from the market to the farmers.

A major issue in many value chains is a lack of trust and understanding among stakeholders and towards organisations and institutions. Often NIRAS will bring the actors together in value chain platforms to discuss the best way forward, while simultaneously training local governments and organisations in good governance to enhance transparency and accountability.

No case is exactly the same, but once the value chain has been fortified and the bottlenecks dissolved, money starts trickling backwards down the chain, from the market to the farmers.

“We recently worked with a group of dairy farmers that created a cooperative and started working with contract farming, meaning they started to produce exactly what the local processor needed and promised a steady supply. The processor was willing to pay a premium for that service, which also minimized costs for both the farmers and the processor,” Kristina explains by way of example.

Making few able to do more 

Since farming in poorer regions is still often a very physical job, the “lack of hands” caused by migration is a problem. Furthermore, migrants mostly tend to be male, which means females and children are left behind to manage the physically demanding work.  

“Most of the people we work with are businesswomen, and we see women as central players in the future of agricultural business,” says Kristina Mastroianni.

To support female farmers and agri-business owners, NIRAS typically works to ensure improved access to financing to upgrade equipment and enable the purchasing of other inputs. A more modern farm will be able to produce a larger output with less manpower. 

Modern technology in farming also means better hygiene and quality of the products. Thus the modernisation process promotes equality between the developing and the developed world by allowing smallholder farmers in for instance Africa or Eastern Europe to compete with European farmers and sell to European consumers.

Last but not least, modern equipment usually makes production more environmentally friendly, especially when coupled with education on how to farm in the most sustainable way.

Innovative and exciting agriculture

All together, the efforts to upgrade farming also aim to make the whole sector more attractive to future generations, ensuring the presence of effective farmers and improved livelihoods all over the world in 50 years.

“What I’ve learned from my years in the field is that people everywhere need roughly the same things and have the same drive and ambitions,” Kristina remarks. “We need to make young people see agriculture as an innovative, modern and meaningful sector that they want to join. That’s key in Kenya as well as in Denmark. It also goes hand in hand with the sustainable development goals of ending hunger and poverty while protecting the environment.”

To learn more about NIRAS’ work in the field, read our brochure NIRAS: Your Partner in Agriculture Sector Development.