Onion farmers in Burkina Faso's arid Sahel region are struggling to meet high demand for the vegetable, given its nutritional and financial value. But against the odds, one producers’ group is leveraging its aggregate strength and group business sense to fulfill large contracts and expand onion farming opportunities in the region.
It all began in 2015, when the Alah Yidi group in Burkina Faso's Seytenga region agreed to provide 16 tons of onions to a mining company operating in the neighboring city of Essakane. The company wanted to demonstrate its commitment to social responsibility by sourcing from local producers. The next year, the company renegotiated the contract, requesting more than twice as many onions.
Today, the Alah Yidi group has 96 members (among them 34 women) across three villages. Farming a total of 22 hectares, they grow onions, tomatoes, eggplants and cabbage. Following an exchange visit organized by USAID|REGIS-ER—a project NCBA CLUSA implements in the region—they will soon diversify their production with nutrient-rich moringa plants. The project also helped Alah Yidi fence in their land to clearly mark their cultivation area and prevent animals from straying onto the farm.
Before the 2015 contract with the mining company, the group had been looking for a sustainable outlet for their crops. Prices at local markets constantly fluctuated, and they weren't any more stable at markets just across the border in Niger. When the mining company released its proposal, the team from REGIS-ER supported Alah Yidi in writing their technical and financial offer and in negotiating with the business, which they bid on and won—a lucrative contract worth over $12 million West African CFA franc for 16 tons of onions.
Because of their connections with a local credit union through the REGIS-ER project, the group was able to access credit to purchase the inputs and seeds necessary to fulfill their contract.
Patrice Ouedraogo, a teller at Caisse Populaire Credit Union, said Alah Yidi was a "good candidate for credit" because it already had a checking account and a track record of responsible financial activity.
The Alah Yidi group was supported throughout the process to improve their business relations. At one point, when the group did not meet its production goal, it purchased quality onions from Nigerian farmers to meet its quota. REGIS-ER technicians advised the group to be transparent with their client. The mining company appreciated both the honesty and the timely solution to the problem. The Alah Yidi group came away with an even stronger reputation. In 2017, the company renegotiated the deal, increasing to 36 tons of onions.
The group fully repaid its loan before the due date. “I keep mentioning Alah Yidi as an example for candidates for credit because of their dynamism and seriousness,” Ouedraogo said.
Alah Yidi President Tamboura Amadi said the success encouraged the group’s members to grow even more onions and better organize themselves during the production process, with help from the Introduction to Management and Planning of Market Gardens, a great training tool for farmers of all literacy levels.
The success also meant some members earned enough through farming to stop supplementing their income by panning for gold—a hazardous activity in Burkina Faso that involves using mercury to recover minute flecks of gold caught in soil and sediment.
“The chemicals we use, bare-handed, on these unsupervised sites are so bad for our health," Tamboura said. "This contract made it possible for me to buy more small ruminants and extend my livestock activities and also put my kids through school more easily. I was also able to clear old credits. I can tell you that I’m in a better situation now," he added.
Alah Yidi Deputy Treasurer Aïssatou Ousseini has been growing onions since 2014. “I’m bringing in four to five tons of onions per year and I am so proud. This contract marked a drastic change in the way I grow crops, thanks to the credit we got for inputs and seeds. It has meant a chance to have a better life and to buy more food for my family and send my kids to school without putting the family at risk. I was also able to save money. I never managed any of that before," she said.
The group's reputation spread across the region and there are now many candidates who want to join. Thanks to the 2017 contract, 32 producers from Alah Yidi qualified for an even larger credit with the Bank of Africa, one of the region's larger financial institutions that is normally risk averse to agricultural investment. By professionalizing its business, the Alah Yidi group has succeeded in investing more, landing new clients and diversifying its production, outlets and income sources.