Before they were small-scale garri processors in a tiny corner of Kontagora in Niger state and now they are well known processing group hoping to export garri onto the international market.
The Rahama Women’s Group started out as a band of women who bought and stored seasonal produce—millet, groundnut, guinea corn, sorghum, beans when it was in season expected to be sold when the season was over for a little profit.
They also sourced cassava from cassava growers around Kontagora and elsewhere in Niger state to be processed into garri.
The little profit helped them run their families and sustain their livelihood, but it was always never enough.
Hassana Zaki recalls how the group started out since it was registered in 2005.
“We were petty traders who bought and sold farm produce. We produced garri using local ways of production,” she says.
The production was completely manual and tasking. They peeled the cassava tubers, washed and grated them, put the paste in bags to press the water out and then fried the garri in large pans over a fire.
The entire production gave them 20kg of processed garri a day. The women sold it in the local market in Kontagora.
That changed in 2016. That was the year the group was introduced to Value Chain Development Programme, a programme implemented by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
The programme’s goal includes improving the value chain for rice and cassava across nine producing states.
VCDP taught cassava farmers in separate groups, modern agronomic practices, provided them high-yield, high-quality cassava stems which expanded their production.
“We had farmers who produced cassava in large quantities. When VCDP came, they invited the groups to come together, since we already had farmers who farmed cassava a lot, we decided to go into cassava processing.” says Zaki.
The 17-member group learnt modern cassava processing—more mechanical and less manual. Once the cassava was peeled, it was washed in large quantities, grated, sorted and pressed mechanically. After that, it was transferred onto large mechanical fryers and fried immediately. The women did not have to wait days for the grated cassava to be pressed and aired before frying. They fried immediately, and then allowed to cool before it was bagged. It all happens in a modern structured processing centre VCDP built for the group after the training.
“We were producing low quality garri before, without training, with nothing, we just saw how people produced their garri and decided to go into it without much knowledge,” says Zaki.
“When VCDP came, we were trained. They helped us with equipment and this boosted our production. We start producing in large quantity and quality.”
With mechanisation, better processing and reduced time, their production capacity increased twelvefold, from 20kg a day to 240kg a day.
They didn’t have to always take the garri to market. Buyers go to the factory instead.
“There is competition as there are a lot of people producing garri, frying it in front of their homes. They don’t have a factory like ours and the quality of the garri is not like ours. Ours, we fry till it is dry, then we cool and bag it,” explains Zaki.
Am I fulfilled? Yes, I am. I thank God, FGN and VCDP. We are able to produce, get a lot of income from it, finance our children to go to school, meet our daily needs and employ more people in the factory, and they also get their daily income.”
The Rahama Women’s Group currently employs 12 people working at the factory, including guards and cleaners, all paid.
“I am able to pay for children’s fees and one of my daughters is even schooling abroad. That’s a lot of achievement for a garri processor. We are also able to buy more equipment for the factory. We bought a jack and an extra mechanical fryer to expand production,” says Zaki.
Every morning, Zaki leaves home in her SUV. She doesn’t strike the picture of a poor processor. She is the epitome of targeted investment, diversified income streams and successful strategy.
“Whatever you are, our needs are unlimited, so you need support to add to your income, because you have a lot of expenses on your head, your family. You need to expand. You don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” says Zaki.
“That’s why we formed the cooperative, for us to expand.
“We have plans to go beyond this level. We are expanding to process other cassava products we are not making now. We do mainly garri, starch and combo bits. We want to start making odourless fufu with export quality. VCDP is helping us get our NAFDAC number. If we are able to get this, we’d like to export our product.”
They need a regulating licence for export from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control. The number will be stamped on the product packaging. Currently the garri the group sells is packaged in 1kg, 2kg, 5kg, 10kg, 20kg portions to penetrate the market better and ensure any income level can afford a portion appropriately.
Also on the cards are plans to process flour from fortified vitamin-A cassava to be used in cakes, combo bits, chinchin and bread.