From Subsistence Farmer To Business Woman

Biba Sanou has dramatically expanded her business beyond selling crops to WFP. Copyright:WFP/Alladari Traore

Beyond enabling smallholder farmers to access quality markets, P4P has emerged over the years as a stepping-stone for many low-income farmers – especially women – to improve their livelihoods. This is the story of Biba Sanou, a woman whose involvement in P4P helped her move up the social ladder in Western Burkina Faso.   

Biba Sanou is a woman in her fifties with many responsibilities. Since her husband emigrated a decade ago, she has been the head of her household, caring for five children and making sure there is enough money to provide for food, housing and school fees. She is also the leader of Kouroudia women’s group, a P4P supported farmers’ organisation in Western Burkina Faso.

Access to credit key reason for success

For Biba and her farmers’ organisation, the P4P experience started in 2010. Through a number of training sessions on agricultural techniques, organic fertilizer production and use, business management, commodity quality management, and contract negotiation, P4P and its partners boosted the women’s skills and confidence. After these trainings, Biba and her fellow group members used WFP contracts to secure loans from a local micro-credit bank. The loans allowed them to increase the group’s sales, which, in turn, allowed them to start other farming activities, such as lucrative vegetable gardening. The loan also allowed the women to start processing and selling maize flour for additional income.

Biba proudly shares her experience of participating in the group, and particularly the benefits acquired from investing her first loan of US$100 in petty trade activities.

”As I paid off my first loan on time, I could continue to secured more substantial loans in the following years, tripling my initial loan amount” said Biba. By the third year she earned a total of US$1,000 from her activities, and managed to save US$300 after catering for her needs and those of her five children.

Farmers’ organisation provides resilience to drought

Biba took advantage of her increased knowledge and income to invest in improved farming techniques and inputs.  She also decided to hire workers for her farm which further increased her crop yields.

“I find it incredible that my fields now produce 3.5 metric tons of maize. Four years earlier, it was just half-a-metric ton harvested on the same piece of land”, she said.

Biba’s affiliation to P4P through her farmers’ organisation proved to strengthen her ability to weather shocks, as WFP provides an assured market, hence provides her with an income. In 2012 she earned US$340 from sales of her surplus food staples, a substantial amount of money by local standards. This was particularly helpful when a food crisis struck Burkina Faso and the rest of the Sahel Region, following a drought in 2011.

In order to increase her income further, Biba is also seizing the opportunity to sell cow-peas to WFP. P4P’s cow-pea procurement targets women since they control the production and marketing of this crop. 

Expanding the business and improving quality of life

As an example of Biba’s increased business acumen, she expanded her production portfolio after observing neighbouring markets.

“I knew that there was a high demand for groundnuts and vegetables in the neighbouring town so I decided to see if I could increase my income by selling to them” she said and added:  “I recently calculated a profit of US$600 from these sales”, she said.

Biba gives full credit for her life-changing success to the trainings and various market and credit opportunities gained through P4P. She especially traces the source of her success back to the coaching she received from a female field monitor at P4P's partners organisation Oxfam. “I was encouraged to believe that I can do this. My life is very different today. It is much better”, Biba said.

And Biba keeps on moving forward. Her latest investments are two goats and two bicycles. Together with her oldest sons, she is setting up a plan for how to expand the business to include livestock breeding. The P4P team in Burkina Faso is looking forward continuing to follow Biba’s exponential progress.

Story by P4P’s team in Burkina Faso

Read more about P4P and Burkina Faso

Small-scale, subsistence-oriented farming of approximately three hectares per household dominates Burkina Faso’s agricultural sector. Smallholder farmers suffer from low productivity due to low-input production systems and a dependence on rainfall. P4P Burkina Faso works with partners to improve productivity and smallholder’s access to inputs, and works with financial institutions to address credit issues. Thus far, P4P and its partners have provided over 5,000 smallholder farmers’ with trainings in quality management, storage, logistics, transport, contracting, accessing credit and developing partnerships. In addition, P4P is aiming to connect farmers’ organizations to the national food security stock agency as a sustainable quality oriented market beyond WFP. 56 percent of the farmers trained under P4P in Burkina Faso are women.