Aiah Fundowa has lived in Njagwema, the main village of the Fiama chiefdom in Sierra Leone’s eastern district Kono, all his life. He is the head of the “Quendordonya Farmers’ Association” and also acts as a marketing agent for its umbrella body “Bassankoe Agricultural Company Ltd”.
The Bassankoe organisation was formed in 2009 to market agricultural commodities, bringing together four lower-level groups in thearea. World Vision had supported the feeder groups since the end of the civil war in 2002 to increase their productivity, and in 2009 facilitated the formation of the umbrella group in order to market cocoa collectively.
Since then, Bassankoe has grown to include 22 feeder groups across the neighbouring chiefdoms. To become a member, a group has to sell produce through Bassankoe to demonstrate its commitment. In total, 300 farmers are part of the Bassankoe group, of whom 144 are women. Sixty-five percent of the membership is smallholder farmers, cultivating between 1 and 5 acres: “Anybody can become a member, irrespective of your background or where you live; we incorporate everybody,” Aiah says.
Sales to WFP
In 2010, World Vision introduced Bassankoe to P4P to market quality rice collectively. They signed a contract with WFP in December 2010 for 500 bags of 50 kilogram (25 tons) milled rice at a unit cost of Le 115,000 (US$ 26 per bag, or US$ 520 per ton). After 347 bags were collected by WFP, the agreement was amended with an increased unit price to Le 135,000 as market prices had gone up. Under P4P, WFP is able to renegotiate contracts under special smallholder-friendly conditions. Bassankoe was responsible for collecting the paddy from the farmers. Drying, milling and cleaning were done in Njagwema.
In 2012, Bassankoe supplied 600 bags of rice (30 metric tons) to WFP. The arrangements for post-harvest handling were similar to the previous year. All in all, 60 percent of the 600 bags came from the members and feeder groups and the remaining from the outside.
After the first year of selling to WFP, Bassankoe disbursed production loans to its members and feeder groups, with the condition to contribute paddy rice to the upcoming WFP contract. In the 2012 contract, WFP paid Le 145,000 per bag, and the group could kept Le 10,000 (US$ 2.30) as service charge. This meant that each farmer received Le 45,000 (US$ 10) per bushel of paddy rice contributed to the sale to WFP, as about three bushels of paddy rice are required to produce one bag of milled rice. Any profit kept by Bassankoe, after deducting the payments to the farmers and discounting the operational costs, is re-invested in the next season, offering production loans to the membership.
Aiah feels that doing business with WFP has made a major difference in his life. In the 2010/2011 season, he had a 15-acre swamp field, from which he sold 10 bags to WFP through Bassankoe, earning over Le 1 million (US$ 230). In the next season, he increased his fields to 25 acres, from which he sold 55 bags and earned nearly Le 7.5 million (US$ 1,700): “With the money, I have built a five room house. That was not possible before. It was very difficult to earn money.”
The bulk sales are also helping the other members: “The women and the youths are benefitting a lot from our services and loans. Now most of the women that are involved in the group are able to pay school fees for their children.”
Limitations exist, but Aiah is confident that they can be overcome little by little. They include limited availability and high costs of transportation, limited storage space, limited cash available during the production season for rice (though not for processing of rice as WFP linked the organisation to a bank ), machine breakdowns and high costs of inputs.
Tackling these limitations one by one, the organisation has begun to build its own store. The land has been secured and some construction materials bought. Part of the proceeds from the upcoming sale to WFP – taking place at the end of March – will go into buying materials for the roof.
There is definetily a lot of motivation on side of the farmers, as Aiah makes clear: “We need a tractor; we are planning to work so that we can afford to get one. We want to redouble our effort; next year we want to supply WFP with 1,000 bags of rice!”