Mrs Salma Abdulai’s name is synonymous with Fonio, an underrated yet highly nutritious ancient grain native to most West African countries among them Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, including in her native country: Ghana. Over and above being packed with rich nutrients, this African cereal also holds deep traditional values to the locals such that back then it was mostly reserved for chiefs and royalty.
She holds a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Agriculture Technology (Economics and Extension Major), and a post-graduate degree in Agricultural Economics. She capped her qualifications with another post-graduate degree in MPhil Agricultural Economics and also boasts extensive experience of working on different projects with NGOs serving the farming community.
Mrs Abdulai founded AMAATI Co. Ltd, an agro-processing business that specialises in cultivating Fonio to economically empower local small-scale women farmers. In addition, she assists them to market their produce for both local and export market. She says she formed the company to mobilise women to scale up the cultivation of the crop using the communal infertile lands. Most of these lands have been severely degraded through poor farming methods and failure by authorities to train the community on how to till the land.
Fonio is not only the staple diet for the poor and drought-prone northern region of Ghana but it also has unique characteristics, for instance, it is:
- drought resistant and can grow in poor soils without the need for specialised implements or fertilisers
- matures in eight weeks (compared to 16 weeks for maize, rice) and harvested twice in a season
- grows on marginal lands and continues cultivation for three years,
- rejuvenates the soil and women can grow Fonio and other food crops.
- We buy the Fonio at guaranteed market prices at farm gate. AMAATI Co. Ltd then processes it into different product forms for local and export markets.
Mrs Abdulai is no stranger to farming having grown up in a rural area where her father was a farmer. She says growing up she used to witness her mother and other women in the neighbourhood slaving in the fields trying to feed their families. But she says despite the back-breaking and physically punishing tasks they perform tilling the land, their income was so meagre they could not survive let alone sustain their livelihood. AMAATI Co. Ltd was therefore founded to specifically improve their conditions by providing them with necessary training and knowledge on how they can best cultivate Fonio.
Lack of access to land
As Mrs Abdulai continued to interact with the women it dawned on her that women in the rural savannahs were excluded from having access to fertile land based on patriarchal and cultural considerations. They only had access to barren lands that can hardly support food crop cultivation and production thereby threatening food security. She engaged the local chief who released 10 acres of land to the women. After the first farming season they harvested 1200kg of Fonio. She then decided to set up a processing unit where raw Fonio could be processed for the market. The unit also runs and markets Fonio produce on behalf of the women.
Today the employees at AMAATI Co. Ltd are women majority of them being young – 80% women and 20% men. Not only that, five of her board members are also 60% female all determined to impact and touch lives of vulnerable women in the rural savannah. Mrs Abdulai does not only assist the women to be selfless but she also teaches them to learn more about sustainable farming practices as well as about the impact of climate change. Furthermore, she also educates them about the need to diversify their crops as this is one of the effective ways of lessening the impact of climate change.
She says their future plan is to invest in their supply chain with the aim of increasing their supplies by 500%, improving technology enhancement, and increasing their market penetration by 70% and 30% for local and export market respectively. This will increase their smallholder base to 100,000 farmers in the next five years, says Mrs Abdulai.