Company volunteers help Mbozi Highlands grow

Recent News

Mbozi Highland Economic Group Ltd (MHEG) is one of several companies to benefit from the Seeds for Impact program. A particular boost for MHEG was the help from volunteers at Syngenta. But there’s naturally much more to local seed business than a single program. We asked Managing Director Aron Mwalughelo for details.  

Syngenta Foundation: How would you briefly describe Mbozi Highland?
Aron Mwalughelo: We’re a ‘multi-business’ company, operating in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. Our core business is seed dealership (production, processing, marketing, and distribution) for sorghum, groundnuts, sesame, and maize seeds. We also support and trade with local smallholders.

What is your biggest challenge?
One of the biggest is Working Capital. We want to be the most reliable agricultural enterprise working with Tanzania’s smallholders. Expanding our seed production to meet farmers’ untapped demand requires working capital, which is hard to get here.

What has been MHEG’s greatest success so far?
We have engaged and supported a substantial number of women and young people in the production of improved seeds through contract farming. In addition, our well-established seed demo plots, grain model farms, and regular farmers’ field days have been very useful. They create awareness and accelerate smallholders’ adoption of newly released improved seed varieties. This has significantly helped us to increase our customer base and sales revenue. Operationally, MHEG now has great internal capacity. We have an excellent marketing and sales strategy. Our financial management system is well digitized for easy processes and transactions. We appreciate the Technical Assistance organized by Syngenta Foundation which has helped make this possible. MHEG also has robust and functional Standard Operating Procedures and policies. These cover areas such as HR, Accounting, Procurement, communication, and stakeholder management.

You’ve worked with ICRISAT to integrate more women and youth into seed production. Why are those two groups so important to you?
There are several reasons, of which I’ll mention the main ones. In rural areas, there are large numbers of both groups. They are already seed buyers and represent a potential future market for our business. Women and youth are also directly engaged in farm and food activities. Their involvement goes all the way from land preparation to food preparation. Women and youth tend to be ‘early adopters'; they are the most likely to adopt improved varieties.

Furthermore, young people can earn income by offering support services to our contracted seed producers. Examples include leasing out ploughs as well as seed planters, harvesters, and shellers. This equipment significantly reduces the producers’ costs and time investment. MHEG also works with youth to train seed producers and grain farmers on various topics. These young people are energetic, trainable, and have the mobility to reach more farmers in remote areas.

You’ve also worked with the Center for Behavior Change Communication on farmer training. What prevents smallholders from adopting new varieties?
In Tanzania, four main things get in the way. One is money: Improved varieties cost more than conventional ones, particularly groundnuts. The second barrier is a lack of knowledge about the new varieties. Smallholders who don’t learn about their advantages and benefits won’t pay extra money for them. Another issue is related to access: Smallholders may hear about a great new variety, but don’t know how to get hold of it. Fourthly, there’s financial risk. Crop prices fluctuate a lot, so harvest income is unstable. Farmers are therefore understandably reluctant to invest in trying out an innovation.

Those are major hurdles. How do you encourage smallholders to change their behavior?
We tackle the hurdles! For farmers worldwide, “seeing is believing”. Tanzanian smallholders are no exception. Our crop demonstrations and field days let them see new varieties in action. As a production company, it’s then our task to make sure the varieties they want are easily available. But that doesn’t solve their risk problem. We therefore also help them to find stable markets for their crops.

MHEG can’t do everything on its own. What other steps forward in agriculture would most help Tanzanian smallholders?
That’s true. We need to work with the government in offering advisory and extension services, for example. Awareness campaigns about the benefits of improved seeds are also crucial. But there is a lot MHEG can do itself. We work hard on changing attitudes, helping rural people to see that farming is a business and a great source of family income. We also urge smallholders to establish strong organizations. Getting together helps them both with advocacy and with access to services such as finance, bulk procurement, and farming technologies. We’ve also shown that MHEG can encourage seed farmers to use micro-irrigation to avoid the problem of unreliable rainfall.

Turning now to Seeds for Impact (SIP): Why did you enter the competition?
Because we see huge potential for growth in the Tanzanian seeds sector. Our country currently imports more than 60%, notably from Kenya, Zambia, and Malawi. That is a long, risky and costly way to get seeds that we could be producing locally!

How is Mbozi benefiting from SIP?
The program has already helped us create new smallholder markets for our groundnuts and sorghum seeds. We see a lot of potential for further strong, profitable and sustainable growth. By 2030, MHEG will be a big company. We believe we’ll have a huge market share and customer base.

What contribution have employee volunteers from Syngenta made?
Technical Assistance* forms a key part of SIP. The wide range of training modules means that companies get the support they need most. We chose financial management, sales, and marketing. The Syngenta volunteers with whom the Syngenta Foundation connected us have helped with all three. Their guidance has already made us a better company. We are proud to now have our own sales and marketing strategy and plans, as well as a modern financial management system, well digitized and functional. That has certainly made our work easier! MHEG is extremely grateful for the Technical Assistance provided by Syngenta employees working for free alongside their daily jobs – and to the Foundation for making that possible.

On a more personal note: What brought you into the seeds sector?
Seed is the engine of agriculture and development. There is good money in this business and a lot of untapped demand. As a businessman, producing good seeds is my contribution to improving food availability and human livelihoods.

What is your advice to young people contemplating a career in the seeds industry?
They should quickly go for it! The maths are easy: There are more and more people in the world, and they need to eat. Agriculture will continue to be a crucial sector, with the seed at its hub. Our industry has a great future.