Haji Mahmud Ahmed is a humble farmer, but a dreamer. Nevertheless, he has never dreamt of shaking hands with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.) nor hugging him. His dream has always been to be a better person by working hard. His hard work earned him to speak eye to eye with the PM. In December when the Prime Minister visited a clustered wheat farm in Ginir woreda, Bale zone of the Oromia region Haji Mahmud shook hands with the PM and share words with him.

“I shook hands with the Prime Minister, I even gave him a hug, a big hug,” says Haji Mahmud with smiles all over his face. “This happened just because I am one of the smallholder farmers who is growing wheat with other fellow farmers in the newly introduced cluster farming approach.”

The ATA introduced the new farming approach in 2014 through its Agricultural Commercialization Cluster (ACC) Initiative. The Initiative was developed as an approach to integrate geographically targeted interventions to ensure rapid, sustainable and inclusive development for prioritized agricultural commodity value chains. Smallholder farmers who take part in the cluster are provided supports that range from training and advisory services to facilitation on introductions of new technologies, input supply, and market linkages.

Ato Nigussie Teshome, 48, another dreamer, met the Prime Minister during his visit to the area. He grows bread wheat besides Haji Mahmud’s farm. He highly appreciates the cluster farming approach not only for the introduction of new farming technologies and inputs but also an equally important aspect of the market linkage. “We don’t have to worry about the market,” said Ato Nigussie. “What we are concerned much is how to increase our productivity as the market is already secured for a much better price than the local market.”

Haji Mahmud and Ato Negussie land is identified as one of the potential areas for wheat as a priority commodity. “A few years back development agents and experts from the Woreda Agricultural Office provided training on the practices and benefits of cluster farming to farmers in my village” remembers Haji Mahmud. “As I am always eager to do something new to change my life, I was willing to participate in this cluster farming approach, and here I’m.”

ATA facilitates market linkage for products in the ACC intervention woredas by coordinating a contract farming where buyers and producers sign agreements before the harvest is done. In many cases, the buyer provides supports to smallholder farmers including the provision of improved seeds, fertilizers, and agrochemicals and mechanization services. They also take the produces with the better price of the product in any of the country’s markets and take the products at the farm gate with no transport cost to the farmers.

Haji Mahmud and Ato Nigussie have witnessed a remarkable change in their lives with the improvement of productivity year after year. Last year, for example, both smallholder farmers were able to produce 65 quintals of wheat per hectare. This year as they have used better inputs such as improved seed, fertilizers, and agrochemicals as per the recommended standard they expect 70-80 quintals of yield per hectare. Previous to the introduction of the cluster, very strong farmers were only able to produce 30-40 quintals per hectare.

Many of the farmers now own houses with corrugated iron sheet roof. This is seen as a sign of having better means. Many of them are also able to buy modern household goods such as modern beds and Televisions.

Tibebu Jiru, 26, is a young development agent who has been working as a crop expert in that kebele in the past three years. “The number of people who are participating in the Kebele has been growing year after year, Tibebu said. “In the current harvest season, every household in the kebele is under the cluster farming.”  All the 817 households have participated in 19 bread wheat and two durum wheat clusters cultivating 2,549 hectares of land.

The Cluster farming has particularly very useful in employing mechanization technologies and the prevention of post-harvest losses.  They can rent tractors, combiners or agrochemical spray machine in a group as they prepare their lands, take care of weeds and pests as well as harvest crops at similar times.  This also gives a cost minimization as mechanization service providers can provide the services easily.

The dreamer Haji Mahmud dreams for himself and the fellow smallholder farmers who work alongside with him to own a combiner and a tractor of their own. “If we continue increasing our productivity year after year we can save some money and buy those combiners and tractors,” said Haji Mahmud, in a confirmed mood. Nothing is impossible for a dreamer ‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer’.