Solving the rice problem

Solving the rice problem

London, United KingdomRokel, Sierra Leone
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We want to make homegrown rice the preferred choice in Sierra Leone. By empowering rural farming families with the best processing and packaging facilities, we will make their produce the highest quality and most competitively priced option in the local market. Furthermore, by selling their premium rice products into organic markets internationally, we will enable them to achieve greater incomes.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In Sierra Leone production and consumption of rice is beset with problems. Being the predominant staple food, this is particularly important considering the country's population growth. Sierra Leoneans reached six million in 2011 of which a quarter lived in the five largest cities. With some of the lowest household incomes in the world, the majority of income is spent on staple foods. Prices therefore directly impact a family's ability to eat adequately - consumers face poor quality, at unfair prices. Several factors contribute to the problem. Rice growers lack adequate storage and modern processing facilities severely restricting their production potential. The sheer distance from key urban markets results in them achieving an unacceptably low price for their produce.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

With no storage facilities farmers are forced to sell their rice soon after harvest when supply is at its highest and prices at their lowest. Thus the first step of our solution is to build a secure warehouse which will allow us to choose when to sell. With insufficient income to spend on transport, the best markets are inaccessible due to poorly maintained roads and the sheer distance between rice growing areas and the big cities. The second step of our solution therefore is to site easily accessible collection points within rural areas where we will buy farmers’ produce for trucking to our warehouse. Finally, the only processing available to these communities is manual labour, which is both time consuming for a large section of the community and often results in poor quality rice unable to compete with imported rice. The third step of our solution is to procure modern milling machinery enabling us to process and package rice for key urban and export markets.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We visited a farming community off the Rokel river who despite growing a variety of crops and rearing livestock, still lived in abject poverty - with numerous cases of malnourished children - as they were selling a lot of their produce at below market prices in order to immediately meet basic necessities and repay debts. Our ability to store rice and process it to a high quality enables us to achieve a higher price in retail markets. Furthermore, our efficient collection point system enables us to source from rural communities while keeping costs to a minimum. This model means farmers are no longer a victim of their situation and can finally get a fair price for their produce. During the growing season, we will provide farmers in our selected areas with technical assistance, by partnering with the agriculture departments of local universities, and where appropriate also provide inputs such as fertiliser. On harvest, we meet farmers at designated collection points, inspect paddy quality, weigh their produce, and then immediately settle payment in full. Sierra Leone fortunately has modern mobile networks enabling us to send data from remote areas. We are developing an app which will allow section chiefs and our field personnel to continually collect data on production, and by using mobile GPS pinpoint crop issues as and when they arise. This data will be reflected on a live map so we can monitor our supply, provide immediate assistance to farmers in case of crop-threatening issues and if required re-site collection points if terrain becomes inaccessible.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

A large proportion of rice is imported into Sierra Leone, with four companies dominating the market. Importers pose a challenge for domestic rice growers due to their ability to buy large quantities of rice from cheap Asian suppliers. We will compete by supplying competitively priced high quality and locally sourced rice direct to retailers. There is also an Argentine entrepreneur who has recently started growing rice in the fertile Southern swamplands - his business is contributing towards self-sufficiency in rice for the country, and is likely to ultimately benefit consumers by stabilising prices. The government is helping smallholder farmers by introducing mechanisation on their farms. There are also government programmes studying hardier and better yielding strains of rice.

Founding Story

We were listening to a lecture at Imperial College London when the realisation hit us that the supply chain we took for granted in the UK could be applied to many African countries, significantly improving the marketplace for staple foods for both consumers and producers. A friend from Sierra Leone had told us of the difficulties they faced in obtaining basic food at an affordable price. After spending a few weeks in the country, we knew that it didn’t need to be this way. We found that the country’s markets were inefficient, meaning that growers got a low price for their produce and consumers paid too much. We realised that by combining our professional experience in business development and bringing goods and services to market, we could solve both problems, effectively reducing the distance between producers and key urban consumers.
About You
West Africa Milling Company
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

West Africa Milling Company

Organization Country

, LND, London

Country where this project is creating social impact

, N, Rokel

Age of Innovator


Gender of Innovator


How long has your organization been operating?

Less than a year

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for less than a year

Social Impact
What solution(s) does your initiative address to help emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and thrive in underserved communities? (select all applicable)

Access to supply chains, Access to economic opportunity.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

We have held open fora with rural communities, district and paramount chiefs to introduce them to our plan and win their support.

We have made an agreement with the Department of Agriculture of Njala University to deliver specialist technical assistance directly to smallholder farmers with our sponsorship.

We have held discussions on national radio in Freetown introducing our model, and making them aware that we are ready to make deals with urban shop holders and rural producers.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

By the end of the first year, we aim to have penetrated one chiefdom with collection points, creating a network of farmers from whom we will regularly source paddy. We then aim to have established relationships with and sell to retailer networks within Freetown, the capital and most populated city.

By the end of the third year we aim to have increased the number of collection points in the key rice growing areas to cover an entire district, and sufficiently expanded our retail network in Freetown to distribute our increased supply. Furthermore, we aim to have put in place extension programmes in the chiefdoms we operate in and look to provide improved seed, fertiliser and ultimately machinery, to help communities farm better and increase their earning potential.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Distribution to a plethora of small retailers selling rice across the city brings us up against Freetown’s congested roads - it can easily take 4 hours to get from one side to the other during the day - and presents a significant logistical challenge. Our order management and delivery system will need to incorporate smart routing to ensure we meet delivery windows efficiently.

Furthermore, a lack of reliable power presents a challenge to production, necessitating the use of generators and thereby increasing the cost of running a processing plant. The use of fossil fuels can be kept to a minimum by using local labour - thereby also providing employment - and machinery only where necessary to ensure high quality and cost effective rice production.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Complete warehouse and begin to penetrate one chiefdom with collection points.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Finalise contracts with smallholder farming communities

Task 2

Design and build warehouse

Task 3

Hire vehicles and recruit drivers

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Finalise milling plant and distribute to retailers

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Finalise contracts with small and medium sized retailers

Task 2

Source machinery and build milling plant

Task 3

Place advertising on national and local media

Tell us about your partnerships

Rural farmers will require technical assistance and training to increase their yield per hectare of land. We have agreed to partner with the Agriculture Department of Njala University to help meet this goal. We will provide their students with 3-6 month projects in order to progressively introduce modern farming techniques to rural communities.

We are currently talking to a number of international development organisations and NGOs with a view to bringing international assistance to rural communities, including the Livelihood Solutions Fund.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

For those looking to become involved in agriculture in developing countries, we can share the lessons we have learnt, the research we have conducted, and cost and pricing information.

We will require legal services, particularly drafting commercial contracts in accordance with Sierra Leonean law. We are also looking to hire experienced staff and investors experienced in similar businesses.