From donuts to salt blocks, how one woman built a resilient business in Niger

REGIS Halima Salt 500 333 12c23REGIS Halima Salt 500 333 12c23Halima displays her livestock salt licks.For anyone who has lived in or visited Niger, or many of the small towns across Africa, entrepreneurs—usually women—on the side of the road selling snacks, produce and one-off items are ubiquitous. But getting beyond that level of entrepreneurship takes partnership, training and investment. For Halima Ibrahima, from Hanou Gazané village in Niger, what started as salt licking block for her own sheep became a resilient and growing business.

Small animals like sheep and goats, known as ruminants, need minerals for their metabolism, basic development, overall health and bone strengthening during gestation and growth. Most daily fodder does not provide enough minerals—particularly calcium and phosphorus—and deficiencies can cause lack of appetite, low fertility, dull hair and weak growth. To fill the mineral gap, livestock farmers often give salt licking blocks to animals as a food supplement.

In Niger and Burkina Faso, NCBA CLUSA implements the USAID | REGIS-ER project which supports livestock farmers to improve the productivity of their animal fattening activities, especially for small ruminants. One of the solutions is to produce salt licking blocks to strengthen their own cattle, but also to sell to other breeders and diversify their income, providing economic opportunities and resilient diversified income streams.

Back in 2014, like most women in her village, Halima was selling donuts. She knew it wasn’t sufficient, but she wondered if she had any other options. Her community saw her potential and nominated her to attend a USAID | REGIS-ER project training in her area, where she learned about home gardening. Halima began growing moringa and baobab. “My yard became a true demonstration plot. That was a milestone for me,” Halima said.

She was also trained to make salt licking blocks and started her activity with a small sum of capital from the project. “I first made a humble production, then a second batch and, thank God, I have been able to sell to the last block. That cheered me up, and I wanted to do more!”

People were commenting on the two sheep Hamila was fattening for their stoutness and shiny coat. She told them how her salt licking blocs helped with growth and health. “Showing what it could do for my own animals, that gave the best value and publicity to my products,” she said.

But Halima had bigger plans.

In 2016, during a fair organized by the REGIS-AG and REGIS-ER projects in Maradi—two partnering USAID projects lead by CNFA and NCBA CLUSA—she made 95 000 FCFA (over $150 USD) from the sales of two sheep, plus profits from her salt licking block sales. The short fattening time for Hamila’s sheep, the first in 1 month the other in 3 months, was made possible by her salt licking blocks. Impressed with the shortened fattening time, a client introduced her to a breeder in a neighboring village. He became a business partner.

REGIS Halima Field 500 333 967e5REGIS Halima Field 500 333 967e5Halima stands in her conservation agriculture field.“Ever since, we have collaborated and established a strong relationship,” Halima said. He provides one bag of millet, one bag of salt, one bag of cement and one bag of urea, and Hamila makes the blocks. They equally split the profit coming from these ingredients. Hamila is also starting another partnership in a neighboring commune. She struck up the deal when she noticed another livestock breeder was placing wholesale orders up to 3,000 FCFA. In preparing for the future, she saw a business opportunity. “One day, I’m convinced that he will place a very large order," she said. 

As her salt block business grew, Halima knew to think ahead. She invested a part of her profits in a half hectare field using her some of her own savings and 15,000 in credit. She fully reimbursed the credit after three licking block production cycles. Accessing financing, especially for women in Niger, is difficult and it is clear she was trusted to make smart investments.

In 2016, only two years since her first training with the REGIS-ER project, she totaled a over 110,000 FCFA net profit, (over $180 USD) or more than half the average income in Niger just from salt blocks. And now with the field, she is looking to diversify and expand her income.

To strengthen her chances to succeed with her field, Halima linked up with the REGIS-ER project again and was trained to become a conservation farming lead producer. Despite the lack of rain last year, she was able to harvest 15 bundles of millet and 20 of cowpea and sorghum.

The success had positive impacts on her whole family. “Thanks to these sales, I can handle some family expenses such as children’s school snacks, school clothes and sometimes medical fees,” said Halima. And her family is helping out and learning business sense too. “When I’m away from the house, I trust that the children can make the sale.”

Hamila’s husband has seen her potential, and they are working together more. Hamila got her own mobile phone to handle her business and helps her husband purchase peanut seeds, the cash crop in the region. “And I also created a retail gas and kola nuts shop for him,” she said.

The quality of Halima’s products has made her famous—first at her village level, then in surrounding towns and even further in the region. After she attended an entrepreneurship training recently delivered by REGIS-ER, she decided to invest in an advertising board. She continues to invest in herself, get more training and expand her business.

“Before, I didn’t think I could ever reach this level. Now, I believe in my own strength and capacities,” Halima said. With her many new businesses like her home garden, conservation farming field and increasing her salt block production and sales coverage, she sees progress. “Thank God, I now see multiple opportunities ahead.”


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