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In East Java, Indonesia, the profits from a successful rice crop feed families, pay children’s school fees, and cover other basic needs. Because demand for rice is year-round, it’s the primary crop cultivated by around 20 million farming households. But a very small insect—the wereng—is a persistent threat to these farmers. Wereng infestations can devastate crops and destroy livelihoods. 

Many farmers, lacking agricultural education, felt helpless. Until recently, “We didn’t know there were ways to protect our crops from the wereng pests, and our plants kept wilting easily,” says Rosidin, a farmer in the Mojokerto area. (Like many Indonesians, Rosidin has only one name.)

That’s changing now that IFC and Syngenta, a leading agricultural crop protection company, have established the Syngenta PartnerGrow Academy. The program is the first of its kind to train Indonesia’s agricultural retailers in small business development, management skills, and customer service. The retailers can then share their knowledge and help their customers solve farming-related problems.

The program’s focus on providing better services to rice farmers has already made an impact. By the end of the one-year pilot in April 2017, the project had benefited over 21,000 farmers in the region. Sixty-three percent of farmers had adopted the advice and changed their practices; 83 percent of farmers said they had received better service from retailers. After the successful pilot, the program will scale up to include other locations nationwide, starting with Sumatra.

After being trained, retailers help customers solve farming-related problems. © Syngenta

Small Pests Call for Large Measures

Maya Kholidah and her husband own an agricultural supply kiosk in Mojokerto. For them, the Syngenta PartnerGrow Academy solves a long-standing problem. Kholidah has always known that she could reach regular customers more consistently if she was able to provide better agricultural advice, but she didn’t know where to start.

Since she enrolled in the PartnerGrow Academy for agricultural retailer training, she has learned how to communicate to her customers specific crop protection solutions. With the new practices she and her husband have adopted, their kiosk is now a one-stop-shop for local farmers in search of agricultural supplies and advice.

The PartnerGrow Academy also instructed Kholidah in ways she can strengthen her business. For example, she’s learned how to keep track of daily sales and plan for the future. Before the training, the importance of having sales targets barely crossed her mind—but now she sets targets for next year.

 

The program is turning agricultural supply kiosks into one-stop-shops for farmers in search of supplies and advice. © Syngenta

Training the Trainers

IFC's efforts to instruct select Syngenta staff on the ground in Indonesia—preparing them as trainers for retailers like Kholidah —were key to the project’s success. “Training the Trainers” happened in two parts: first, Syngenta trainers were instructed in adult education and farmer engagement methods, preparing them for their role as facilitators. Second, trainers received detailed instructions on marketing, communications, finance, problem-solving, customer care, inventory management, and human resources management. “Coaching” rounds are completed after the training to follow up with retailers and meet subsequent needs.

Although the program focuses on retailers, the end result—a better life for farmers—remains central to Syngenta’s purpose, according to Parveen Kathuria, President and Director of Syngenta Indonesia. The company’s approach to smallholder farming success is “the right input at the right time”—which offers rice farmers freedom from the fear that a pest will blight their crop and threaten their income.

“Knowing exactly which crops need what kind of care can help realize full farming potential,” Kathuria says. This knowledge “increases [farmers’] income and ultimately improves their livelihoods.”

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Homepage photo: © Tri Saputro/CIFOR

Published in August 2018