During the March and November planting seasons in Tanzania’s Simiyu region, farmers and small agri-input distributors know they can rely on Suzana Lameck Sabuni to deliver quality and affordable fertilizer just when they need it. Suzy, as her customers fondly call her, is proof of the valuable contribution that women-led businesses make to the agriculture sector. And, despite a lack of access to finance and gender stereotypes, Suzy’s business is flourishing.
Agriculture contributes about 75 % to the Simiyu economy and employs about 80% of the working population in the region, where farmers grow maize, sorghum, paddy, sweet potatoes, millet and cassava as their main food crops. Cotton, groundnuts and sunflower serve as cash crops.
Suzy delivers fertilizers, seeds and other products to rural retailers who sell the inputs directly to farmers.
“We are usually limited by a lack of financial muscle to serve a bigger farming population, and customers are not always aware of the services provided by our hubs in their vicinity. In addition to these factors, I still have to fight against patriarchal stereotypes which dictate that women cannot prosper in business – that it is a man’s domain,” Suzy says about her day-to-day challenges.
The African Development Bank’s Africa Fertilizer Financing Mechanism (AFFM), through its implementing partner the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), has helped many entrepreneurs like Suzy to overcome obstacles. The AFFM is committed to creating enabling conditions to boost the distribution of fertilizer in Tanzania. The AFFM trade credit guarantee project, launched in 2019, facilitated agribusiness partnership contracts with input distributors, including women distributors like Suzy. The collaboration provided her with business management training. “The
AFAP training was so timely and catered to our needs. My main issue was managing my stock and working capital – the training contributed to our sorting that out,” said Suzy, who started her business in 2003.
To help Suzy better engage farmers and rural agro-dealers, AFAP encouraged her to attend the National Agricultural Exhibition in Nyakabindi, Tanzania, in 2019. She says she was able to distribute leaflets about her business among 373 exhibition participants and expand her customer base.
“Participating in the agricultural exhibition has helped a lot, as we were previously not selling in [Tanzania’s] Mara and Shinyanga regions. We have been receiving phone calls from different rural agro-dealers asking for various agricultural inputs, which we have delivered. This has helped us to know where they are located and cement the relationship between us. I see the potential to sell more in these areas,” Suzy said.
Overcoming financial and other COVID-19 related hurdles
Coronavirus-related lockdowns, border closures, and regional trade restrictions affected Suzy’s business, as she could not import inputs from countries that had closed their borders. Fortunately, Suzy was able to obtain fertilizer on credit from one of the major suppliers in Tanzania under the AFFM guarantee scheme to maintain her distribution capacity.
“Fertilizer purchase is capital intensive and has meager margins. As a result, it is not worth seeking credit from commercial banks, which have high interest rates and cannot eventually be serviced. More often than not, we lack valuable assets that we can use as collateral,” Suzy said.
“The credit facility with the suppliers plays a vital role in solving working capital constraints faced by agro-dealers,” she added, noting that she secured 90 metric tonnes of fertilizer on credit between October 2020 and January 2021 to serve 26 rural retailers and approximately 3,000 farmers.
“During these tough economic times due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is crucial for the Africa Fertilizer Financing Mechanism to not only facilitate access to credit for agro-dealers like Suzy but also to build their capacity in order to pave the way for the development of Africa’s agriculture sector,” said Marie Claire Kalihangabo, Coordinator of the Africa Fertilizer Financing Mechanism.
The AFFM project in Tanzania targets importers, blenders and manufacturers and aims to help 500,000 smallholder farmers gain access to fertilizer to increase their yields.