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Not by technology and money alone – blog #4

Not by technology and money alone – blog #4

Publicado el: 10 - noviembre - 2017

Improved market relations for youth and women agripreneurs – A blog series on the importance of relational capacity strengthening in local agribusiness partnerships

In March 2017, 2SCALE1 consortium partner ICRA organised a review and capitalization workshop. ICRA agribusiness trainers, who have been training and coaching supply chain actors in the 2SCALE programme for several years, came together from Benin, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria. The objective was to collectively reflect and draw lessons from their work. The gathering included a write-shop to translate these lessons into stories. This resulted in a booklet of 15 stories illustrating the importance of strengthening functional capacities, i.e. relational and organisational “soft skills” that make local actors function better in their value chain as agribusiness partners. Each blog in this 6-weeks series showcases two stories from this booklet and highlights how the stories address a specific theme in agribusiness development. This week features stories on the themes of gender and youth.

Improving market relations for youth and women agripreneurs

In particular youths and women in agribusiness often struggle with weak linkages and relations to input- and output markets, and consequently with a lack of trust and access to credit from local banks. The below two stories show how capacity strengthening have supported young rice farmers from Nigeria and women soya processors from Ghana to seize their market opportunities.

From a spark to a flame: Nigerian youths farming with business in mind

Shimave Felix, a 25 year old agripreneur, was not the kind of young person anyone would ordinarily listen to a couple of years ago. He did not have the air of a local youth leader. Today, Shimave is respected and an example in his community in Zango, and his influence is growing fast. The young population in Nigeria’s North-Central region (sometimes called the “Food basket of the nation) is generally disinterested in agriculture. There are many challenges that make agribusiness unattractive, such as: a lack of inputs, an unavailable market and certain missing skills. So young people make statements like “…tah!, better make I go town go dey wash people motor get money than to farm” meaning “better to work as a car washer than to farm”.

But not for Shimave! His new journey began in 2013, when he joined 2SCALE field coaching sessions on good agricultural practices (GAP), including rice nursery management, use of improved seed, transplanting of young seedlings and water management. Shimave  took the lessons seriously and applied them on his one-hectare rice farm. His yields increased to about 3.1 tonnes of rice per hectare, compared to less than 1 tonne per hectare before. He expanded to three hectares of land and soon became a model for other young people who had left Zongo Village in Benue for the state capital, Markurdi, where they’d hoped to find jobs. When the youths returned home and saw the drastic changes in their friend’s farm, they wondered how he had done it. When they began to ask him to share his secrets with them, Shimave saw the opportunity to organise them into groups. Since then, three youth cooperatives have been formed under the umbrella ‘Zongo Youth Association’.

These young farmers then pooled their resources to jointly cultivate a total of 100 hectares of rice farm. Yet, despite all their newly acquired technical skills, the young producers still came up against obstacles: they were not organized enough to be able to sell at competitive prices and they could not access money to buy inputs. Being young farmers, no one was initially willing to give them loan. The young farmers for example organised a business meeting with Mikap Nigeria Ltd, Nigeria’s leading rice marketing company selling locally produced rice, to discuss their issues. They were however disappointed as Mikap decided not to organise inputs like fertilisers on credit.

The young entrepreneurs did not give up after their first disappointment. The coaching sessions continued and ABC coaches trained the young farmers on soft skills, like: how to build good business relationships and improve their negotiation skills. This allowed them, later on, to make deals with local input dealers on mutually agreed terms and discounted rates. The Zongo Youth Association started doing business with OLAM Nigeria Ltd, which offers good prices for their paddy rice and even provides them with better inputs (improved seeds, agrochemicals and fertilizers).

Rice business is gradually starting to boom and Zongo youths are now trickling back to the village to enter agribusiness. Shimave is carefully leading his association to stimulate young farmers’ confidence, through coaching in hard and soft skills development. He now leads about 60 young people. But unlike their predecessors they are doing it with business in mind, which they have learned through the several coaching sessions on economic analysis, crop budgeting and production efficiency.

A recipe for success: Banda-Borae women processing soya kebab

Rose, an energetic local business “champion”, has mobilised her colleague processors to form the ‘Cumoban women processors’ cooperative’ in Kpandai town, Ghana as part of the 2SCALE project. Prior to the project’s intervention, women processors were few in number and operated individually, processing limited volumes of soya beans. But now after two years of support, Rose and her colleagues are able to turn out large volumes of the highly nutritious soya kebab at an affordable price.

For the cooperative to become successful, the processors needed to improve not only their skills and techniques in the actual making of kebabs, but in other ways as well. A business coach, supported by ICRA agribusiness trainer Rowland Aggor, worked with them to improve their soft skills, like: group dynamics, leadership skills, building relationships with other organisations, as well as financial education. These enhanced skills helped the women to effectively manage their resources both as individuals and as a group.

As the women needed a reliable supply of quality soya beans to meet the predicted increase in demand for kebabs, the cooperative joined the existing agribusiness cluster (ABC) in Banda Borae district (earlier established by 2SCALE). This ABC unites various local-level actors (producers, input suppliers, credit union, etc.) in the soya value chain. Being members of the ABC, Rose and her colleague processors are more comfortable working with these organised producers as opposed to sourcing from the open market. Through their strengthened soft skills and close business relationships, the women now meet as equals with the producers’ organisations to negotiate on prices and volumes. Rose and her group received additional coaching to implement a village savings and loans association (VSLA). The cooperative now meets weekly to make contributions and to lend the mobilised savings to their members who are in need of credit. Through these savings, the group also plans to acquire some land where they will construct a shed to facilitate group processing.

By developing a special brand for the soya kebab, and packaging and marketing it in a new way, the Soya Kebab was promoted in every corner of Kpandai town and surrounding villages, and has become a household name among school children. These children and other low income earners in the region now have access to affordable (and tasty) protein, which they missed in the past. The women processors have also provided employment opportunities to other women and youth, who they recruit as sales persons. For the women, working together has greatly strengthened them and this initiative has been an inspiration to other women as well. As Rose says: “We are now financially independent, and also support the upkeep of our families and households.”

Please find the full stories in the ‘Not by technology and money alone’ booklet. Next weeks’ blog will feature stories on loyalty in farmer-firm relations and the governance of sustainable business relationships. Interested about the support services model of 2SCALE? Read all about it in 2SCALE’s thematic paper: ‘Strengthening Business Support Services for Agribusiness Partnerships’.

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