Somewhere in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State, an entrepreneur is spreading the word about organic farming to her community. She’s teaching women to grow bulky, nutritious cassava, potatoes and plantain, and placing the basic materials they’ll need to do this in their hands. And she says that this is just the start of a project that should eventually empower countless farmers across the country.
Rita Robert Otu is lighting the torch paper for a revival of sustainable agriculture in her corner of Nigeria. Through her enterprise, the Beau Haven Farms, she’s tackling rural malnutrition one crop at a time, by empowering local women with the skills they need to grow bio-fortified food.
Her efforts are paying off. Earlier in 2018, Beau Haven Farms was named one of Nigeria’s Top 100 Emerging SMEs. This recognition was facilitated by Connect Nigeria, in association with Union Bank. But ultimately, this was really the public applauding Beau Haven Farms for the crucial work it’s doing to help rural women grow crops sustainably and put food on their families’ tables. The venture received enough votes from its appreciative followers to put it on our exclusive list; it had beaten thousands of other businesses on the way to achieving this.
The unfolding journey of Beau Haven Farms began in 2015. Rita had obtained a Masters in the Economics and Management of Rural Development from the University of Manchester, and was mulling possible ways to improve the lives of the people of her community with the skills she gained in her formal training.
“When I came back, I just thought of one possible way I could help fight malnutrition in Nigeria,” she recounted, in an interview with Connect Nigeria. “Having worked with my father (who’s also a farmer) all these years, I decided to set up Beau Haven Farm.”
Prior to this, she had gained useful experience at another enterprise, where she distributed bio-fortified cassava to rural women and taught them how to grow the crop.
Beau Haven Farms takes on some of these functions as well, so the experience came in handy for Rita. It currently grows bio-fortified potatoes, plantains and vegetables, and trains the women who cultivate these crops to do so organically and efficiently.
But at its core, it presents as a principle driven social enterprise. This is something Rita is always eager to point out.
“It’s not just about the farming,” she said. “What we do is sustainable agriculture. We also train women, because they’re the nutritional guardians of their families; when women eat right, families eat right.”
She also appears to be quite pleased with the role her team has played in easing the entry of these women into the practice of cultivating certain foods.
“Women may not have the money to buy the (cassava) stem and start growing,” she explained. “They may not know what it means to start an organic farm. That’s why we go into the rural areas to train them.”
The training sessions are conducted by the staff at Beau Haven Farms, which consists of part-timers and volunteers. In about three years, they’ve gone from reaching women in five hundred households, to covering several local governments in Akwa Ibom State.
Rita says Beau Farm will be shifting gears in the coming year. They plan to implement a farm ownership model, which should give the women they train an increased control over greater swathes of their value chain. A mobile app that’ll connect women who grow cassava is also said to be in the works.
Feature Image Source: The Story Exchange