By Pranav Sridhar, Associate at 60 Decibels
“The Lean Data findings really highlighted the seriousness of the current situation and compelled us to take immediate action.”
In a nutshell: Psaltry International (PIL), a company that buys unprocessed cassava from Nigerian small-holder farmers, used Lean Data to identify and resolve critical challenges faced by their farmers.
Insight: Farmers reported significant expenses and other challenges with transporting their cassava to sell it to PIL. Even when farmers were able to get their product to PIL, they sometimes experienced delayed payments from the company.
Action: The company has commenced the process of setting up new mini-processing plants closer to farmers to address the high transportation costs. They also shared the Lean Data study’s results with local banks and have secured a letter of intent that they expect will result in a new loan.
Impact: the proposed mini-processing plants will decrease farmers’ costs, resulting in higher earnings for their families for growing cassava. Debt financing will allow the company to make farmer payments on time, increasing farmer satisfaction levels and smoothing incomes.
The 60dB Interview:
At 60 Decibels, we are passionate about raising up the voice of customers so socially oriented enterprises can serve them better and create more impact. This month, we spoke with Yemisi Iranloye, CEO of Psaltry International (PIL). Yemisi and the PIL team impressed us with the speed of their responsiveness to the results from their Lean Data study. They’re taking immediate action to boost farmer satisfaction and grow their business.
> Q: You are a busy CEO with a lot on your plate and I’m sure a long to-do list. Why did you decide to use Lean Data and put impact measurement at the top of your list?
A: I was keen to understand what our farmers think about us and whether or not our understanding of what they like and dislike is in fact true. Making sure we have well-engaged farmers is of tremendous importance. Also, post-harvest losses are one of the biggest challenges our farmers face when growing cassava, and we were intent on learning more about this and how we could resolve it.
> Q: It’s fantastic to hear that you are so invested in hearing from your farmers! What stood out as the top farmer insights from the Lean Data study?
A: We were surprised to hear that more than 90% of farmers reported not having access to a good alternative. There are undoubtedly other organizations that operate in the same environment, so this means that they see something special in our offering. These results validated our approach to support farmers in a holistic manner. We give them access to financing, agri-inputs, and other non-agricultural services in a manner unmatched by our competitors.
On the other hand, 40% of our farmers were experiencing challenges with high transportation costs and late payments. While we were aware that these were issues, the proportion of farmers who experienced challenges was surprising.
On this topic of transportation costs, we have to remember that the cassava is 70% water — that adds significantly to the weight of the crop. Some of our farmers travel 50 km or more to our processing plant. That’s expensive for them both in terms of time and effort.
> Q: This finding about transportation costs seems fundamental to your work at PIL. Are you making any operational changes as a result?
A: While we had been thinking about similar challenges within our team, the Lean Data findings really highlighted the seriousness of the current situation and compelled us to take immediate action.
Post the study, we are mobilizing resources to set up three mini-processing plants closer to distantly located farmers. This will minimize farmers’ transportation costs and allow us to complete dewatering the cassava roots closer to the farm. The first plant will be kicking-off soon, just a few months after the study was completed.
> Q: Wow, that’s incredibly fast turnaround! That’s great to hear. You also mentioned that farmers aren’t always paid on time. Why is that?
A: We struggle with late payments primarily because we lack access to the right kind of financing. Nigerian banks do not understand the working capital requirements of cassava cultivation and processing. It’s a capital-intensive crop, and we need to support farmers with upfront financing both for this year and the following year’s harvest. But we are unable to raise steady working capital debt, so we have been unable, so far, to offer timely payments to our farmers.
> Q: That makes sense. Are you able to do anything to address this issue?
A: Yes. In fact, we’ve taken the results of the Lean Data study directly to the banks to present the working capital challenges the farmers’ described. The clear data and the way it was presented in the study, along with farmers’ voices the Lean Data study captured — together these really made our case for us. We have already received a letter of intent from a Nigerian bank and we are hopeful that our funding requests will now be approved. We were also in talks with an investor to raise additional funding and sharing these in-depth results has definitely helped move that process along.
> Q: Apart from the operational feedback, were there any other insights that you found useful?
A: Despite the challenges they faced, over 80% of our farmers mentioned a willingness to continue working with us in the mid- to long-term. Given the high farmer turnover in our industry, this was reassuring feedback, especially to our buyers and suppliers.
> Q: And finally, our favorite question: is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience with Lean Data?
A: Working with the 60 Decibels team on this project was a great experience. The team’s promptness and quality of insight were both very good. We look forward to repeating this experience in the future, and we invite you to join us to the opening of one of our new processing plants over the next few months!