By Habiba Suleiman, Project manager-WACOT Rice

Impact investment aims at combining competitive financial returns with positive change for people and the environment. This underlies WACOT Rice’s growing interest in creating market opportunities for investments that support environmental and social goals. It is upon this foundation that WACOT Rice’s Trade Hub-supported rice out-grower program was established to integrate smallholder farming communities into its value chain operations.

Hauwa knew her father’s passing meant a long road ahead to getting her family back on track financially—a road made easier through her inner strength, good business sense, and USAID Trade Hub support. Photo credit: WACOT Rice

The launch and funding of this program came just in time for 27-year-old Hauwa, the second child in an extended family of four wives and 16 children. Hauwa’s father traveled a lot for work and her mother was consistently hardworking and busy, so she had to take responsibility for herself and her siblings at a very young age. In addition to being a civil servant, Hauwa’s father was also involved in rice farming in Kebbi State, Nigeria.

Unfortunately, Hauwa’s father fell ill while she was studying at a university. This led to a re-thinking of her career trajectory and desires and, ultimately, became the genesis of her foray into farming.

To help her father, she traveled to supervise his farm on weekends and reported the progress to him. Though Hauwa was hoping her father would regain his health, he passed away in the middle of one farming cycle. Being the only child who was familiar with his farm activities, Hauwa had to oversee the farm on behalf of the family and supervise its activities until harvest.

The next year, she wanted to cultivate rice but had no money, so she settled for a little piece of land and sold her phone and other items to raise capital. At harvest, she filled16 bags.

In 2019, Hauwa borrowed from her family to cultivate 0.5 hectares of rice during the rainy season to avoid irrigation costs. This proved even more difficult, as she had a limited understanding of agricultural input applications and had to rely on the advice of other farmers. Unfortunately, before harvest, there was a flood in Kebbi State that destroyed the farms of many smallholders, including hers. She lost everything! In 2020, Hauwa cultivated again, with savings and help from her cousin, who volunteered farm labor. This time, she was able to harvest 38 bags of rice paddy, from which she paid her cousin.

Little did she know, but in 2020, WACOT Rice became the company to be awarded a co-investment grant from the USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub. The $1.48 million grant and the company’s partnership with the Trade Hub was dedicated to support the Argungu Rice Out-grower Expansion Project (AOEP). As part of this initiative designed to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Kebbi State, the program started with 1,261 farmers. The company is currently onboarding an additional 5,143 rice farmers.

In implementing the grant, WACOT Rice is working with the smallholder farmers to maximize every stage of their rice cultivation process. Under the Trade Hub co-investment partnership, the company is also helping farmers access financing through the provision of farm inputs on credit, providing extension services, and ensuring the farmers are using high-quality inputs to improve yields and quality.

When Hauwa learned that WACOT Rice was seeking smallholder farmers under its Trade Hub project, she expressed interest in having her farm mapped and registered. This meant she was able to access quality agricultural inputs for two hectares, in addition to training on good agronomic practices and yield enhancement.

By the 2022 harvest season, she harvested 160 bags from which she repaid her agricultural input loans with 12 bags of harvested rice and shared profits with her cousin who had provided farm labor.

Following her training, Hauwa also applied for the role of field staff to provide support to female farmers in her community. Since then, she has been trained extensively on all areas of rice cultivation to support farmers in Argungu and now earns a salary in addition to profit from her improved harvests.

Hauwa sits among hectares of rice that have been sown and will soon be reaped under her management. Photo credit: WACOT Rice

“My younger ones in school no longer bother our mother. They call me when they need money for books, and I can send it immediately,” Hauwa told members of the WACOT Rice team when asked about the impact the project has had in her life.