10 years later, Zambia PROFIT project "instrumental in encouraging innovation" according to independent case study

Sustainability is the hallmark of successful development work. Now, ten years after the beginning of NCBA CLUSA’s Zambia PROFIT project, a case study prepared for USAID has confirmed that PROFIT’s interventions “sustainably altered the system dynamics of the input supply sector… at scale for all of Zambia.”

Running from 2005 through 2010, the  $22.4 million USAID funded PROFIT project, implemented in Zambia by NCBA CLUSA with Emerging Markets Group (EMG), developed a village-agent model to deliver quality farming inputs like improved seeds and fertilizer to smallholder farmers in the rural areas. This public-private partnership was an innovation that has positively altered how villages access quality products and brought the smallholder farmer to the attention of larger industries.

According to the study, the project sustainably impacted the input sector on two levels: that companies now saw smallholder farmers as a viable market; and that farmers began to trust legitimate vendors.

This trust was key. By nominating village agents from the communities themselves, PROFIT was able to use the social capital built at the community level. The barriers to the market were “social, not economic, in nature.” By nominating members of the communities as industry representatives, farmers’ adoption of improved techniques and inputs increased. This was pivotal to the PROFIT models success.



Village agents were employee representatives of specific companies such as seed providers and fertilizer companies. Linked to these companies, 600 village agents provided more than 100,000 rural smallholder farmers access to quality goods and services they normally could not find otherwise. Many village farmers would have to travel hundreds of kilometers to buy quality seed, and the seed available in their small towns was neither good nor many times was it actual seed. The village agents acted as a sort of broker, clustering orders, bringing products directly to the clients. 

They were also trained in new farming techniques like conservation agriculture, supporting their farmer clients to increase their yields.

When Todd Crosby, NCBA CLUSA’s Senior Technical Director, visited 10 years later, he was impressed by the clear sustainability of the model, which had village agents making commission on their sales. He estimates there are now more than 4,000 village agents serving over 250,000 farmers in Zambia.



“We are enabling businesses to flourish in places where businesses usually don’t,” said Todd Crosby, speaking about the PROFIT model at the recent 2016 Cracking the Nut conference in Washington, DC.

And these businesses have created a lasting impact in the country. According to the report, 70 percent of input suppliers were still using some version of the village agent, but more importantly every firm interviewed was targeting the smallholder market, and the majority have seen the percentage of their customer base and geographic reach grow. Over 85 percent of the firms said in interviews that, “PROFIT helped them recognize the value of the smallholder market.”

The first point of entry for the market was in herbicides, promoted through the conservation agriculture technique. The increased access to inputs also meant increased access to trainings and improved techniques. Combining these, smallholder farmers saw and understood that input benefits resulted in increased incomes, 20 percent higher even than normal increases for the period. The biggest income increases for farmers were when they had both “greater investment in improved products, and more precision [training] in how to apply them.” Participating smallholder farmers had double the amount of growth of maize sales compared to non-participating farmers. Input suppliers also started promoting small-sized packaging and the competition resulted in lower prices for farmers.

The PROFIT project implemented this change in a way that laid the foundation for the companies to sustainably continue to target the farmers beyond the project. By centering on facilitation, PROFIT “focused its resources on supporting input supplier’s capacities to think critically about their own marketing strategies…in the long run it was better for them to have to figure out their own strategy.”

Since the end of the project, the continued expansion into new geographic areas has had “acutely positive effects on women,” according to the report. By bringing the supplies closer to the community level, women farmers who cannot travel long distances because of family duties now have access to inputs that increased their productivity.

To continue the work started by PROFIT, the project staff founded the local NGO Musika, which has continued to support 86 percent of the original supply companies.

Overall the report concluded “what is clear, five years after the end of the project, is that PROFIT project’s interventions were instrumental in encouraging innovation.” As more companies continue to target smallholder farmers, the market is growing and rural farmers are able to access quality inputs and training.

This case study was prepared for USAID, funded by Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) by ACDI/VOCA's Daniel White. Since 2013, LEO has conducted research into projects that have addressed development challenges through a market systems facilitation approach. In Phase 1 of this research, LEO conducted reviews of 50 projects, with more detailed case studies of 9 projects. Phase II of the research consists of field-based case studies focused on expanding the learning and best practices from Phase I. The report on Zambia PROFIT is the first case study of these research reports.

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