Every six months, AgResults’ Steering Committee (SC), comprised of representatives from all five AgResults donors and the World Bank, convenes. At these meetings, the Secretariat and External Evaluators give updates on pilot design and implementation. While useful for tactical updates, the meetings importantly offer opportunities for stakeholders to deliberate on critical issues, from adjusting pilot design to evaluating pilot impact. One particularly rich discussion occurred during the Fall 2017 meeting held in Zambia.
On the docket was the Nigeria Aflasafe™ Pilot. Although slow to start in the initial years, this past year explosive growth was evidence in aggregation of Aflasafe-treated maize, and a corresponding increase in pilot awards. While impressive on its own, one SC member pointed out that the total amount of Aflasafe sold in 2017 through a new project, the Aflasafe™ Technology Transfer and Commercialization Project (ATTC), has already surpassed that sold through the AgResults pilot, now in its fourth year. Does that mean that AgResults failed?
The initial design of the pilot included factors that, while critical to include, may have hindered the pilot participants’ ultimate ability to scale. First, as the goals were to increase consumption of Aflasafe-treated maize and create a sustainable market for this new product, it was needed to be able to verify that smallholder farmers actually used it – and that it worked in real-world conditions. The verification system was comprised of two components: verifying the total amount of aggregated maize, and verifying that maize was Aflasafe-treated. Therefore, a contest participant (implementer) would have to provide Aflasafe to farmers and then buy back the treated maize to satisfy contest requirements.
At the onset, it was realized that few Nigerian companies initially met the conditions to thrive within the contest’s parameters. For example, purchasing large quantities of maize requires significant financing, which most implementers have trouble accessing. This was a key factor inhibiting implementer’s ability to either participate or work with a large number of farmers in their schemes. Over the past two years, some implementers have scaled their number of participating farmers significantly, indicating that the AgResults prize is incentivizing implementers to change business models to increase maize aggregation. However, this growth is also due to significant price premiums of 17 to 50% that implementers have realized by selling the Aflasafe-treated maize. The premiums are an indication that the pilot has helped to create not just a general awareness but also a sustainable market demand for the product.
Because AgResults implementers must aggregate the treated maize to be eligible for the prize, they would always be limited by their access to finance to achieve significant scale to hundreds of thousands of Nigerian smallholder farmers, Instead, our implementers may have acted as “first movers”, setting the stage for other actors to benefit from the increased awareness and demand. ATTC, a program funded by USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, takes full advantage of the environment that AgResults helped to create.
ATTC helps commercialize Aflasafe across 11 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Nigeria, ATTC has partnered with HarvestField to distribute Aflasafe™ throughout the country, achieving relatively high distribution of the product in its first year. The number of smallholder farmers who end up using Aflasafe due to ATTC will most likely be one or two orders of magnitude greater than what AgResults achieves by the end of its final year in 2019.
Without AgResults, a program like ATTC might not have achieved rapid success. AgResults achieved a significant market awareness and brand recognition. It has proven that Aflasafe-treated maize is a viable product with significant price premiums that justify the cost of Aflasafe™ as an input. AgResults has shown that Aflasafe is a relatively foolproof product that results in extremely high effectiveness in reducing aflatoxins. Finally, we project AgResults to engage over 33,000 smallholder farmers in using Aflasafe by the end of the pilot.
Perhaps AgResults by itself has not fully created a sustainable market for Aflasafe™. As we monitor the pilot over its final two years, we will continue to review the evidence that AgResults generates to determine its contributions to a sustained market for Aflasafe™ in Nigeria.