The First Mile Project is about how small farmers, traders, processors and others from poor rural areas learn to build market chains linking producers to consumers. Good communication is vital. The project encourages people in isolated rural communities to use mobile phones, e-mail and the Internet to share their local experiences and good practices, learning from one another. While communication technology is important, real success depends on building trust and collaboration along the market chain. Ultimately farmers and others involved develop relevant local knowledge and experience and share it – even with people in distant communities – to come up with new ideas.

The First Mile Project is supported by the Government of Switzerland and is implemented in collaboration with the Agricultural Marketing Systems Development Programme (AMSDP) of the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania. The AMSDP is a seven-year programme to increase rural poor peoples’ food security and incomes by improving the structure and performance of the country’s crop marketing systems. Technical assistance for the First Mile is provided by the International Support Group.

The First Mile story

In mid-2005 the First Mile Project started working with small farmers in parts of Tanzania to improve their access to markets and market information.

The project tackled two main challenges: access by rural poor people to relevant information and knowledge and to communication technologies such as mobile phones, the Internet and e-mail; and their access to other key people in the market chain, including processors, traders and consumers.

As the First Mile Project leader, Clive Lightfoot, said at the time, “The project brings together the communication and marketing dimensions. Marketing has a tight connection to immediate income and is very dependent on information – not just price information but market intelligence such as information about product quality and what is coming into the market. It is very information-intense. We’ve coupled that with the potential to make an income, and that is what is driving this project.”

The project set out to:

  • facilitate learning among local groups to improve market linkages
  • generate locally developed good practices in building markets
  • empower small farmers to get access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), based on their own needs

A little less than ten months later, in March 2006, project participants met in Morogoro, Tanzania, to discuss and assess the impact of their work on market chain development.

After just one agricultural season, they agreed there had been considerable impact on their access to markets and on their production and incomes.

The First Mile Project did not start from scratch. It built on the foundations established by the AMSDP, and particularly on its work to strengthen the organization, leadership and financial management of producer groups. The core groups set up by the AMSDP to implement its activities in the districts were crucial in enabling the First Mile team to reach farmers. In some districts the core groups became the intermediaries, helping farmers negotiate with others in the market chain and helping them share and develop ideas over the Internet. Two other key initiatives established by the AMSDP are savings and credit cooperatives and the warehouse receipt system, which enables farmers to store their harvest and sell it in bulk at the right time. This gives them better bargaining power and higher profits. And if an emergency arises while they are waiting to sell, they can borrow cash through credit cooperatives. In Babati district farmers doubled and even tripled their earnings when they were able to store their harvests, get access to credit and build alliances with other farmers to sell in bulk.

Source: IFAD

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