Until 2010, Kawu Umar taught Hausa at his local school in the town of Guyuk in Adamawa State, Nigeria. This provided an annual income of 180,000 naira (£748) — enough to live on, but not to finish building his house. Although he enjoyed his teaching, he had always been interested in farming and kept a small homestead farm to supplement his income.
One day, his friend Alhaji Hamza Mohammed, a prominent businessman, told Kawu about a special sales program in which he (Alhaji Hamza) had been invited to participate. The program was run by Notore, one of Nigeria’s largest fertilizer companies, which had recently been privatized after years of government control. Participants attended a course, after which they could work as independent rural sales agents, or village promoters, for Notore. Abdul was already too busy with his own business and was unable to participate, but knowing Kawu’s interest in farming, his motivation, and business acumen, he suggested that Kawu should attend instead. Kawu jumped at the chance to learn more.
As part of the On-Track program, Notore introduced 1-kilogram packages for selling its NPK and urea fertilizers. This was an innovation in the Nigerian market, as fertilizers had always been sold in 50-kilogram bags for about 4,500 naira (£19). Most smallholder farmers earn 150 to 325 naira (£0.60-1.30) per day and could not easily mobilize enough cash during the planting season to buy fertilizer in 50-kilogram units. Some traders and retailers had filled this market gap by buying 50-kilogram bags, opening them, and selling smaller quantities of fertilizer, measured out by hand. However, opening the bag reduced fertilizer quality and the product was sometimes adulterated. Although many farmers solved this problem by coordinating with neighbors to buy 50-kilogram bags, Notore’s 1-kilogram packs resolved the volume constraint by allowing farmers to buy smaller volumes of individually sealed packages — at a price they could afford.
Notore’s On-Track program also represented an innovation in distribution. Government subsidies and controls on fertilizer distribution channels often meant that the 50-kilogram fertilizer bags were not available to smallholders. Families who were not politically well connected within their communities had difficulty accessing the fertilizer, and supplies for rural retail markets were often swallowed up by local traders. Notore’s program allowed rural farmers to buy the fertilizer through private sales channels in their towns. The village promoters served as local retail sales agents for the small packs.
Furthermore, course participants learned agronomic techniques for fertilizer application and seed planting, such as optimal spacing, burying, dosage volumes, and timing of applications. They also learned how to set up demonstration plots on farmers’ land to showcase these techniques using Notore fertilizer in side-by-side comparisons with the participating farmers’ current techniques and fertilizer. This allowed many farmers to see for themselves the impact of the new techniques and Notore fertilizer on crop quality and yield.
Kawu was excited about this opportunity and, after the course, signed up to become a village promoter for Notore. In his first season, from July to November 2010, he established five demonstration plots in local communities. He went to the local market some 25 times to promote Notore and talk to farmers about the benefits of fertilizer use and proper application techniques. Kawu rented a shop in his village and earned enough from fertilizer sales to pay two young men to take care of the shop, while he continued to teach Hausa during the week.
Through all of these village promoter activities, Kawu was able to sell more than 10,500 small packs of Notore fertilizer, earning 210,000 naira (£840) in net profit in just four months. This provided a significant boost to his modest teaching income and allowed him to continue construction of his home.
In addition to his financial gains as a new entrepreneur, Kawu’s work as a Notore village promoter has brought him non-monetary rewards. He enjoys additional visibility and status in the community because of his sales role and his shop in the village. “Many people come to me because they know I can teach them about good farming techniques,” he said. As a teacher, he likes to help other people learn new practices and improve their farms and he also learns from the results of the demonstration plots. He likes to apply his new knowledge and experience on his own farm to further pursue his personal interest in farming.
Kawu was just one of 150 On-Track village promoters who sold Notore’s 1-kilogram packs of fertilizer across 15 sites in Nigeria from July to November 2010. Fertilizer sales during this period totaled 217,254 kilograms. In 2011, Notore planned to expand its sales across 25 states and increase its rural sales force to 900 village promoters.