Coscharis Farms Limited, Sahel Capital

Using data to improve job quality

In 2015, Nigeria made self-sufficiency in rice a national priority. Small-scale farmers account for over three-quarters of the country’s domestic rice production, but due to lower than average yield, low rates of irrigation and mechanisation, and lack of storage facilities, it is difficult to meet the high demand this priority has created. Larger producers like Coscharis Farms, an integrated rice processor, can help close this gap while creating quality jobs.

Coscharis Farms is a portfolio company of Sahel Capital’s Fund for Agricultural Finance in Nigeria (FAFIN). CDC committed $15 million to the fund in 2017, and FAFIN invested $6 million into Coscharis Farms. The company provides jobs and vocational training opportunities through its farm, which is located in a state with a high percentage of arable land and where agriculture is a key driver of job creation.

Coscharis Farms’ operations encompass rice cultivation, milling, storage and marketing. The farm is producing rice on 1,300 hectares of land with 292 full-time equivalent employees—mostly farmers—and has the potential to create new employment opportunities as it expands its operations. The company is in the early stages of developing an out-grower scheme expected to reach 4,500 farmers in the first phase of project implementation. In 2019, Coscharis Farms built and commissioned a rice mill with an annual milling capacity of 40,000 tonnes, and signed a concession agreement to manage a 25,000-tonne silo complex adjacent for storage.

To assess improvements in job quality as a result of the FAFIN investment, CDC contracted a third-party consultancy to conduct phone surveys with a number of employees and contractors in December 2018. The survey questions aimed to understand worker profiles, employment journeys, satisfaction with the workplace, and challenges faced by workers.

Based on the survey, roughly 40 per cent of current employees were in precarious employment positions before getting a job at Coscharis Farms, of which 32 per cent were not employed and 8 per cent worked only sporadically. The biggest factors in decisions to work for Coscharis Farms were its status as a large, reputable company and the appeal of a regular job. According to the study, 62 per cent felt their quality of life had improved while working at the company.

However, 44 per cent of workers reported facing some type of challenge in their daily jobs, suggesting there was scope for the company to continue improving job quality and worker satisfaction. Some of the suggestions offered by the survey-takers included improving training, implementing a shorter work week, and offering overtime pay options. Coscharis Farms also faced some challenges in maintaining harmonious relations with the surrounding community, with some tensions raised related to land and the pollution of shared resources.

FAFIN, with CDC’s support, worked with Coscharis Farms to develop an action plan to respond to the E&S issues raised in the survey. The company employed an E&S manager trained to help address some of these issues. An E&S officer was subsequently hired to support him. As a result, new policies and practices have been developed to improve worker wellbeing and safety, incident reporting and root cause analysis.

On the HR side, Coscharis Farms has recently implemented a performance appraisal process that includes an assessment of training needs and a focus on career development. Some steps have also been taken to improve communication between management and staff, including establishing regular ‘town hall’ and departmental meetings, and introducing a suggestion box.

Looking forward, Coscharis Farms, FAFIN and CDC are discussing opportunities to increase worker satisfaction, productivity, and overall working conditions. For example, the company has developed a training programme to help staff to upskill and increase productivity.