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Maize: a yellow revolution in motion

Djènèba Sanogo is a member of the “Sinignèsigui” cooperative located in Loulouni in southern Mali. She is also one of the 240 women who received an input credit, facilitated by 2SCALE, through an off-take contract with Société Nama et Fils (SONAF), a company that sells dry cereals and serves as a driver for the partnership in yellow maize in Mali.

This partnership is based on a network of 20 agribusiness clusters (ABCs), which mainly include 43 input suppliers, the National Bank of Agricultural Development (BNDA), microfinance institutions Soro Yiriwasso and Kafo Jiginew, sesame collectors, and a large network of 27 466 smallholder farmers (of which  42% are women ) from whom SONAF collects maize. It then sells the maize on local markets (flour milling companies, poultry farmers, traders in Bamako and Kadi) and to those in the subregion (Senegal and Niger).

Until 2014, SONAF imported 80% of its raw material from Côte d’Ivoire. One of the objectives of the partnership is to curb this trend and to integrate 10,000 small yellow maize smallholder farmers into the SONAF’s supply system so that the company substitutes these imports with yellow maize produced in the Sikasso region. The volume targeted is 30,000 tons by the end of 2017.

To be able to build on this new business opportunity, access to credit for these farmers will need to be improved in order to allow them to buy the right fertilizers. If this access to fertilizers is a major concern for smallholder farmers in Sikasso and West Africa, it was particularly so for Djènèba Sanogo and the other female producers involved in the partnership. This was true for several reasons, explained Youssouf Traore, facilitator of the partnership for 2SCALE in Mali: “In Sikasso, like almost everywhere in Mali, fewer than 5% of women own land, and land property is generally the first form of collateral required by banks. Moreover, women are less educated and less informed than men, and few are bold enough to cross the threshold of a bank to seek credit.”

To improve this situation, 2SCALE initially conducted an assessment of the specific needs of these female farmers, followed by a series of gender sensitization trainings that improved gender sensitiveness on topics such as Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM), seed selection and storage techniques, maize quality standards, maize traceability, types of contracting and business relationships. “ To ensure women participation, 3 learning plots –out of 6- were setup on farms owned by female producers. Additionally, we made special arrangement like transport facilitation for women to be able to participate the trainings and field visits”, said Youssouf Traoré.

Parallel with these training sessions, 2SCALE also facilitated the establishment of an access to credit facility for inputs backed by an off-take contract with SONAF. This arrangement enabled 4 producer organizations (POs) comprised of 1,200 producers (including 233 women) to benefit from a credit volume worth 127 million FCFA.

“As part of the partnership, I received 5 bags of mineral fertilizers including three 50-kg bags of NPK and two 50-kg bags of urea. I used this to fertilize my maize field, which is 1 hectare, and this year my yield increased considerably: I had 2 tons of yellow maize on the same plot, whereas in previous years my yield was barely one ton per hectare. By doubling my yield, I repaid my in-kind input credit which was 800 kg of yellow maize, and I was even able to help one of my comrades to repay his input credit. The partnership is a great opportunity for women because for once, women from my village are participating in trainings and inter-cluster field visits for sharing experiences. Most importantly, men took the initiative to plow the fields of women who are members of the co-operatives and they did the job in time. This allowed us to repay our credits in the time agreed,” said Djénéba.

On SONAF’s side, Adama Dissa, Managing Director of the company, said that thanks to this innovative institutional arrangement, his company managed to collect more than 27,898 tons of yellow maize in the Sikasso region (the target in 2015 was 20,000 tons). This has helped reduce its imports from Côte d’Ivoire by 80%.The company has now established supply contracts with buyers in Niger, Senegal and Mali. It is supported in this dynamic by a credit facilitation negotiated by 2SCALE with the local bank BNDA. This credit facilitation has increased from 70 to 300 million FCFA.

“I worked in the past with many projects, but the experience with 2SCALE is really very different. What really changes is the quality of the relationships I could build with the networks of producer organizations that provide me with maize. The organizational model supported by 2SCALE thus allows us to better understand each other and to work both on short and long term issues, while developing a spirit of fairness in transactions. Thanks to this grassroots networking, I am now elected to the highest level of interprofession in West Africa, and I have the confidence of banks,” said Adama Dissa, CEO of SONAF.

Women are much more reliable partners

Notwithstanding this unprecedented progress, the sustainability of the relationship between the company and its partners remains an important challenge, raising the question of loyalty and respect for contracts, particularly by some producer organizations where leadership is not always transparent. To address this challenge of strengthening business ties, 2SCALE facilitated a Business Development Forum on yellow maize in Sikasso in January 2017. The forum was followed by a series of coaching at the village level and enabled SONAF to understand that there is no unique strategy that is systematically applicable to all POs. “My ambition is to maintain lasting ties with producers and secure the supply of the company. The rural world is complex, and every PO has its own specificities and local truths, but in the future we will focus on small organizations where everyone knows everyone and where there is more truth and solidarity. Experience has also shown that women are much more reliable partners. We will work to increase their yellow maize production,” Dissa promised.

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