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A Women Farmers’ Cooperative on a Mission to Decrease Hunger

A Women Farmers’ Cooperative on a Mission to Decrease Hunger

In Nigeria, one woman is leading her community to use sustainable farming methods, as well as technology, to thrive.

A group of women farmers in Nigeria play a pivotal role in lessening hunger and increasing income levels in their community of Likoro, a village in Kudan, Kaduna State.

Led by Rabi Attah Habibu, members of the Likoro Women Farmers’ Cooperative grow maize, soybeans and rice to feed their own families and sell to others. Habibu began the group to ease hunger and malnutrition in her own community. Nigeria faces high levels of food insecurity, with an estimated 26 million people (about 12 percent of the population) experiencing hunger due to low farm productivity,  increased flooding because of climate change, soaring costs and restricted access to food because of violent conflict and displacement.

The cooperative’s success has been boosted through a partnership with Thrive Agric, a company providing technology and other services to aid African farmers. The West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), awarded a $1.9 million co-investment grant to Thrive Agric to support its initiative to help smallholder farmers in Nigeria. The Trade Hub partners with private-sector companies such as Thrive Agric to improve food security using a market-based approach.

Thrive Agric’s initiative involves bundling products and services normally out of reach for smallholder farmers through its Agricultural Operating System (AOS) apps, distributing them in rural areas through its networks and partnering with agriculture groups such as the Likoro cooperative.

Photo of women standing in a field of corn

Rabi Attah Habibu and her cooperative members proudly showcase their maize farmland. Photo Credit: Randy Haniel/West Africa Trade & Investment Hub

Women farmers in Nigeria encounter other obstacles because of traditional gender norms. “Women farmers like myself have to take care of the house, children, and my husband before going to the farm. We also have to leave the farm early to go back home to cook and take care of the house. So, we face problems in putting in the same time a man will put in to ensure he produces good yield. Some of us also face other challenges such as not being allowed to work,” Habibu said.

Habibu leveraged her position in the community to start the group. As the wife of Likoro’s chief, she had influence and a network. “I started to hint to those who were very close to me, ‘Come let’s go and start farming and see if we can find a way to help ourselves and our children.’” Five women joined Habibu to begin cultivating a plot that was less than a hectare. “We worked very hard.”

However, with little money for fertilizer and other supplies, that hard work did not yield much productivity at first, according to Habibu. That’s where Thrive Agric came in with training on sustainable farm methods and its AOS apps.

AOS consists of several apps that serve as the backbone of any agricultural operation. With this product, Thrive Agric leverages technology and strategic partnerships to provide farmers with financing (loans for inputs such as high-quality seeds, machinery, and fertilizer), insurance packages, technical support, and off-take (guaranteed purchase of crops for processing). AOS also links to current weather conditions and information on good farming practices. Thrive Agric field agents use the system to keep data on farm size and location, carry out soil testing and analysis, provide advice on farming methods and monitor farmers’ progress.

In working with the Likoro women, Thrive Agric honors traditional customs surrounding gender, such as providing women field agents to work with women farmers and talking with husbands in the community about allowing their wives and daughters to participate in the cooperative.

Thrive Agric chose to support agriculture in Likoro because of its favorable climate for agricultural activities, robust community cohesion, well-established farming networks of experienced smallholder farmers and openness to adopting new agricultural technologies and innovations.

Habibu’s group was chosen because of her influential role in the village and the fact that members of her cooperative would be effective advocates for women’s participation in agriculture, thereby fostering economic empowerment and growth among women in the community. According to Sabitu Al-Hassan, Thrive Agric field agent, “Given that our [Thrive Agric’s] model emphasizes collaboration within cluster groups to facilitate mutual support, these lead farmers subsequently recommend other farmers to join their groups. Consequently, when we interacted with Rabi…it became straightforward for her and her group members to be selected and form a cluster to collaborate with ThriveAgric.”

The partnership with Thrive Agric led to remarkable results. “Now we can produce the food we eat, sell, save, pay our children’s school fees, and help the community,” Habibu said. Her own annual maize production skyrocketed from 18 bags to 100 bags, and she alone now farms four hectares.

Overall, Thrive Agric’s broader initiative has helped 53,188 farmers, surpassing the initial goal of 50,000, and created 1,178 sustainable jobs across Nigeria, according to Samirah Bello, partnership lead for Thrive Agric. In Likoro, the cooperative grew from 18 to 76 members, now large enough now to operate location-specific groups, so that the women can better help each other manage their farms. “A group comprising five members operates farms located within the same communities and within a 5-kilometer radius of each other,” Al-Hassan explained.

“This proximity facilitates various forms of collective support, including the receipt of inputs, training sessions, cross-guarantees for loan services, and other interventions. For instance, if only one member has access to a phone to receive messages on good agricultural practices and weather information, they can disseminate this information to the other members. Similarly, when some members attend physical training sessions, they can share the knowledge gained with the rest of the group,” Al-Hassan said.

The cooperative plans to continue expanding, increasing the size of parcels to farm and further increase their yields. “We want to increase the number of hectares we work in, continue farming with Thrive Agric, and increase our produce. We also want to start saving to buy other things we need,” Habibu noted.

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