There are about 25 million people with disabilities (PwDs) in Nigeria. This number makes up 29% of the 84 million PwDs in Africa; over half of whom are women. When compared to other regions, the North East is home to most PwDs in Nigeria due to the ongoing conflict and insurgency. PwDs in Nigeria, like in many countries, experience varying levels of human rights abuses and are excluded from society with inadequate access to education, health care and other services. Essentially, disability and poverty are related in that poverty increases people’s vulnerability to disability while disability fosters poverty due to lack of employment, poor access to education, poor wages, and higher cost of living due to disability, among others.
Hafsat Iman’s foray into hibiscus aggregation was by happenstance. While seeking ways to make more income, she purchased a small quantity of hibiscus, which she later sold at a profit. It’s now been about 7 years since that first sale and the business has become her primary source of income. The journey, however, has not been without pitfalls for this middle-aged widow with four children, especially being a deaf person. However, support from family, her community and training received have made the journey bearable and brought her to where she is now; a deaf woman succeeding at hibiscus aggregation despite all odds stacked against her as a person living with disability.
“My hibiscus business was borne out of my desire to have more income to cater for the needs of the family. Sewing and knitting are normally casual work and I need all the money I can put my hands on. The major challenge I face as a deaf person aggregating hibiscus is communicating with farmers and potential buyers of my products”
Hafsat lives with one of her daughters, Salma, in the Hadejia area of Jigawa State in Northern Nigeria. She purchased her first quantity of hibiscus with money made from her tailoring and knitting business which, at the time, was her primary source of income. She bought the hibiscus when it was in season and cheap and sold after season when price rose making appreciable profit from her first sale.
“It all began when I bought a small quantity [of hibiscus] and later sold it at a higher price. That experience made me realise that aggregation business is worth investing in.”
Encouraged by profits made, Hafsat decided to continue the business and so invested more time, effort and resources into it. With the support of her daughters, other family members and people in the community, Hafsat grew her business and built a loyal customer base.
“My family plays a big part in my business; my two daughters, Aisha and Salma, serve as my translators. My brothers and sisters support me in promoting the business as well as loading and offloading the products. My daughter Salma is involved in all the activities that I do at home, she supports me in cleaning the hibiscus or supervising the women I engage to do the work. The community supports me by patronising my business and serve as translators in the absence of my family. My neighbours are especially helpful in promoting my business.”
However, after some time the business began to dwindle. Hafsat said she was losing large quantities of hibiscus during post-harvest storage, customers were rejecting her hibiscus citing poor quality, her customer base was declining, which meant she had to travel far to find buyers, and the price she was getting for her product was no longer encouraging. So, weighing her options, she strongly contemplated cutting her losses and closing the business.
It was while she was contemplating leaving the business that she heard of and participated in a training on post-harvest handling and processing (quality standard cleaning) of hibiscus provided by one of Propcom’s partners, KB Global, a large scale aggregator supplying the export market through TOON Consolidated Company Limited. The training could not have come at a better time as Hafsat said she learnt the importance of properly cleaning hibiscus prior to selling. She said they were taught how to market their products and linked to KB Global offtakers who bought their cleaned hibiscus in bulk.
She added that KB Global would only buy their hibiscus provided they were cleaned to expected quality standards. Having this direct linkage to KB Global offtakers meant that Hafsat had a ready buyer for her hibiscus and it eliminated the cost previously incurred for transportation to seek new buyers.
“KB Global trained us on how to clean hibiscus and buys from us at a good price. Before, I didn’t clean the hibiscus before selling. [So], the price was not good enough and I didn’t make good profit. The market was difficult to predict as the offtakers enjoyed monopoly. They determined hibiscus prices at will. However, with KB Global the price is more attractive and profitable despite the additional cost of cleaning.”
Hafsat no longer thinks about closing her business. In fact, with the training and support received from KB Global, she expanded her business and now employs seven people, four women and three men. With profit made from the business, Hafsat is better able to care for her family’s needs and offer support to others in her family and the community.
“I aggregate over 2,000 kg of hibiscus every month and generate around N60,000 (approximately £126) during the peak period. I use the money to take good care of myself and my children. I pay for their education, health and food. I also support other members of the family.”
Hafsat’s status in the community has greatly improved. She says she’s no longer a liability but is now accorded respect to the extent of being consulted on all matters that affect her family and even the community. She hopes to acquire a warehouse and further expand her business, making more income and employing more people in her community in the process.