Africa Lead II recently completed an evaluation of the USAID-funded Market Linkages Initiative (MLI) Program. Two years had lapsed since program end and USAID wanted to measure the return on their investment across six countries including: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda. The evaluation team travelled to all participating countries and met with program grantees at Grain Bulking Centers (GBCs) and Village Aggregation Centers (VACs) to examine the usage and economic returns on the assets acquired via the MLI project.
The evaluation team interviewed MLI GBCs and VACs beneficiaries to learn how the grantee businesses have progressed since the end of the project in 2011. While some countries were doing better than others, the team observed that 62 percent of the program beneficiaries maintained very high to good returns on the investment based on a five-point rating scale. The results affirm that key investments in the provision of grain storage and processing facilities, equipment and training continue to generate sustainable value add.
Lessons from the evaluation include: the group that generated the highest return on investment tended to include creative, smaller companies that were well linked to markets and were able to buy directly from and train farmers. Beneficiaries noted the importance of post-harvest cleaning and handling training to an improved end product.
Knowledge exchange between owners of GBCs and farmers resulted in a large impact on “downstream” participants, allowing them to hear first-hand what the market demanded of their products. It also allowed those end-users an opportunity to understand the “downstream” issues and how to work together.
“The use of moisture meters has brought valuable knowledge to the farmers and has reduced transport costs. Before MLI, rejected produce was very high as farmers were bringing wet grain. Now farmers only bring produce that is well dried”, said Bernard Mwangi, Managing Director of Mama Millers, Kenya.