Integrated eco-system to develop Sierra Leone's subsistence farmers

Integrated eco-system to develop Sierra Leone's subsistence farmers

Tormabum, Sierra LeoneFreetown, Sierra Leone
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Food production needs to increase, while agriculture's ecological footprint is a major stretch to the world. Africa, with 60% of available arable land and most of its population living on subsistence, calls for an innovative model that lifts farmers to a commercial and sustainable production.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Increasing food demand and agriculture's ecological footprint are a major stretch to the planet, consuming 75% of drinking water, being the biggest contributor of greenhouse gases (GHG) and eroding topsoil call for an innovative production model. Africa, Sierra Leone in particular, possesses vast natural resources, and on them 67% of the population living on subsistence, trapped in a circle of poverty that results in 40% of children malnutrition

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We function as catalyser of lending and supplier of technology to small farmers producing their main staple, rice. Farmers are given loans from partnering banks, used to buy us technology and know-how at a subsidized cost, increasing their production ten-fold. The crop is sold in the domestic market, substituting imports and contributing to food security. A production based on low-input SRI reduces methane emissions, consumes 50% less water and is based on organic fertilisation, further reducing GHG emissions, combined with a planned crop rotation to preserve topsoil. WARC’s NGO focuses on sanitation, building Eco toilets that eliminate open-air defecation, a main cause of the 20% child mortality rate, while generating organic fertiliser.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

A farmer signs up- a minimum of 55% women is targeted. She gets a loan from a partner bank to purchase a tech package at a 50% subsidized cost from us. She is trained on SRI, receives seeds and organic fertilizer produced with the eco-toilets from our NGO. We work her land with machinery, she plants, we irrigate, and she performs labor-intensive tasks. We harvest with machines, reducing 20% losses. Mechanisation, inputs and know-how increases her production ten-fold. A part is sold to repay the loan, a subsistence amount is given for free to her, and the remaining, or increased profit, is shared between her and us. The surplus is her first income, normally spent in education, purchasing other foods and improving her family's life quality.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

We aim to distinguish ourselves by creating a role model for Africa's agricultural revolution. A few players are engaged in agriculture, mostly in palm oil and some in rice. Their focus is on developing large farms, increasing food production, but with limited benefits for farmers. Other stakeholders, including NGOs, which cannot assure financial sustainability, support subsistence farmers. Yet, non-is like our ecosystem; we integrate banks with farmers, own organic fertilizer production and a nucleus farm to ensure financial sustainability and subsidized technological packages for farmers.
About You
The West African Rice Company
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

The West African Rice Company

Organization Country

, W, Freetown

Country where this project is creating social impact

, S, Tormabum

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Your Solution
Founding Story: Share a story about the “Aha!” moment that led you to get started and/or to see the potential for this to succeed.

I expose myself to social extremes. Trips to Afghanistan, Iran and Latam shaped who I am. One afternoon, in a remote jungle in Sierra Leone, I had a long talk with Dayo, who explained me that most people, 70% in fact, depend on agriculture to subsist, sector dilapidated during the civil war. Half of his family's money is spent in rice, which is mostly imported, exposing them to fluctuations in international markets, with small price hikes aggravating his poverty. The model shined out at that talk: improve production for small farmers, sell domestically and scale up quickly, designing it so that the greater the social impact, the higher the financial return. I went back to Germany and promised Dayo I’d be back. He's today working with us.

Select Sector(s): To which of Unilever's categories of sustainability does your solution apply?

Sanitation and Hygiene, Nutrition, Water, Greenhouse Gases, Sustainable Agriculture, Smallholder Farmers.

Measurable Impact
Audience: Who have you identified as your customers/recipients and why? How will you get your solution to them or engage them in your initiative?

Subsistence farmers are direct beneficiaries while the enhanced food security benefits SL. A farmer’s production is what a family eats in a year. Therefore their stakes are high, resulting in a strong resistance to change. Deeply embedded tribal traditions and culture pose further engagement challenges. We live in the village interacting on a daily basis with them and building a strong bond of trust. Having witnessed the benefits of technology and SRI in our own farms gives them a degree of security

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date and expected impact in the future?

Success is measured according to predetermined KPI:
- Employed 215 people in 2012, with 25% women. 800 are expected in 5 years, 40% women.
- Benefited 100 farmers in 2012 and expect 3,000 farmers in 5 years, with a targeted 55% women.
- Increase rice production by 20,000T in 5 years, reducing 15% import dependence (1.1% of GDP).
- Each farmer generates a min. of 5$ new income a day, for the whole year, 5x their current daily budget.
- Water savings of 14,190,000mt3 per crop, equivalent to the consumption of 317,000 Dutch people p.a, sequester 19,000T of Co2 per year, eliminate use of fossil fuel inputs and reduce GHG emissions.
- Improved sanitation for 2,000 people in 2013, and target 10,000 in 2017, significantly reducing child mortality while producing organic fertilizer.
- Reduce children malnutrition, mostly given in rural areas, who are the most benefited from the project.

Growth, Finance & Leadership
Scaling the Solution: How do you intend to scale your activities over the next two years (e.g., reach new markets, diversify solutions, etc.)? What will make this possible?

Mr. Narula, a WARC director, is one of the biggest organic rice producers in the world and brings his technical and manufacturing know-how. The collaboration with Cornell and Columbia Universities further strengthens the business model and technical viability of our solution
A boost in profitability is targeted:
-Fair trade and organic certifications, allowing exports of high margin rice
-Increase of 6-10x yields
-Gain more value, monetizing waste by converting husk to energy and commercializing rice bran, adding 800k$ of revenues in Y5
-Manufacturing high-margin products, eg rice noodles
The boost of profit, and good publicity, will allow us to raise concessional funds and involve further technical partners to accelerate expansion

Financial Sustainability: What is your business model to ensure financial sustainability?

A large investment in fixed assets is required. WARC develops a nucleus farm that produces enough output to cover all costs and generates a financial return for it's shareholders. As the planting window in SL is long, these assets are then available to farmers at a “variable cost only”, with the banks supplying the cash, effectively taking the production risk. This results in an overall lower costs, better technology and higher yields for farmers

Experience: Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

My experience as Corporate Manager at a Fortune 500’s HQs in Germany, managing a spend of 70M€, helped me develop strong management, analytical and organisational skills, key for this project. At this assignment, I have been awarded an Excellence Award twice and ranked as Top Manager (95 percentile). In addition, I have managed a 12-employee company in Argentina, raised funds for three NGOs, gave a TEDx talk and started up an SME in SL.