It was a rather hot but pleasant day. There was a light buzz of excitement in the air because Tomato Jos was welcoming possible new farmers to the Tomato Jos family. The company’s outgrower team had been traveling to nearby villages for weeks, meeting with farmers, measuring land, explaining our program, and vetting farmers to see if they’d be willing and able to work with us this season.
And now, it was go time.
The contract meeting was held outside, under a refreshing shade coalesced by a number of tall dark leafy trees, behind the office. Tomato Jos was represented by Art (the VP of Farming), Ishaya (one of our field representatives who was acting as a translator for the group), and Mira (the Managing Director). We addressed a handful of hopefuls, and spelled out the guidelines of the Tomato Jos’ partnership deal one last time.
For the next twenty minutes, Mira gave a run-through of the Tomato Jos Farming and Sales Agreement, trying to be both thorough and time-conscious because coincidentally, it was Market Day, and the farmers were anxious to get to the market to sell other crops and buy food for their families. Mira underscored several important aspects of the agreement and answered the outgrowers’ most pressing questions, which were mostly about whether Tomato Jos could also supply loans for irrigation equipment and farming machinery.
You are probably wondering what makes a farmer eligible to be a Team Tomato Jos ally and what guidelines our allies must meet in their various farms. First of all, for the farmers to be admitted into our partnership program, he or she has to be a full-time farmer, and not someone who does one or many other jobs, with farming as a secondary occupation. Our farmers also need to have a few years’ experience in dry season farming, which is pretty different from rainy season farming because of the irrigation requirements. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have the capacity to work with urban youths who want to get into agriculture, though we try to support and encourage them by connecting them to other resources and inviting them to visit our farm. Finally, the growers in the Tomato Jos program must own at least half a hectare of land within a 30 minute drive from the Tomato Jos nucleus farm (which they must be able to prepare for tomato transplants), they must be willing to weed and irrigate their crops frequently, and they must accept to plant only tomato on the plots dedicated to Tomato Jos. These are the terms of eligibility.
Now, there are a number of objectives all growers must meet. One of them is Yield Target. Tomato Jos expects the third party farmers to produce fifteen tons of fresh tomatoes (that is equivalent to 100 -- 150 baskets of tomatoes, or a little more than two African Bush Elephants) per half hectare, each season.
We provide loans in the form of inputs (seedlings, fertilizer, etc.) because we want to buy a certain volume of tomatoes back at the end of the season, so that we can use them to make tomato paste. If farmers can’t meet our volume requirements, we have to resort to the open market, which can be both time-consuming and expensive.
Another requirement has to do with the Purchasing and Payment Terms. What we expect of our third party farmers is to sell their fresh tomatoes to Tomato Jos ONLY, without any side selling, and our agreement hinges on us buying those tomatoes at a fixed price that does not move up or down with the market price. And the outgrowers must agree to being paid only after they have fully supplied the fresh tomato equivalent of the input loans.
We spent a lot of time talking about Price Fluctuation and Side Selling, since the farmers had many questions about these areas in particular. Tomato Jos has set its buying price so that the factory can produce at a profit, but in the open markets the tomato prices are not fixed, so #TeamToamtoJos had to make double (and then triple!) sure that the farmers understood what they would be getting into. We were keen to stress that side selling is a major no-no and will be considered a breach of contract; all support and privileges from Tomato Jos will be lost if the farmer engages in this activity.
But it’s not all strict policies at Tomato Jos - we have some perks and incentives for the farmers, too! The farmers in our program who can abide by all our requirements and for completing the program successfully will be rewarded for their efforts. And down the line, Tomato Jos is looking to partner with banks who can open accounts for the farmers, and insurance companies who will protect our outgrowers against disasters such as a flood destroying their fields or a random herd of cows trespassing and eating the farmers’ crops.
After Mira’s oration, and the ensuing discussion, all but one of the congregated farmers were in tune with Mira’s vision. And so, the merry making began. Tomato Jos sealed the deal with new farmers, took plenty pictures of the contract signings, shared gifts of soy beans for planting, and provided food -- we enjoyed a hearty meal of “draw” or okra soup, a corn flour dish called tuwo, and “mineral” (i.e. soda).
Let the good times roll!
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