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Warc Africa

Woman picks plants in arid field in West Africa

Where resilient farmers meet regenerative agriculture

  • Case Study
  • Agriculture
  • West Africa
  • 2019
farmers worked with Warc
of farmers reached are women

Warc sells quality seed and fertilizer to farmers and purchases their produce at consistent, transparent, and fair prices through a decentralized, hub-and-spoke model. By learning what farmers really want and need, the company has been able to pivot its business model into a key resource for farmers in West Africa.

The problem

Africa is a paradox: a largely agrarian economy but a net importer of food. An estimated 33 million smallholder farmers contribute 70% of the food supply. However, Africa’s agricultural productivity is stuck, lagging both its population growth and its own potential. There are a number of factors – regional instability, poor quality inputs, lack of productive expertise, inaccessible markets, and degraded soils. 

Low agricultural yields drive greater import of staple products, making regions more vulnerable to external pressures. Meanwhile poor yields force farmers to clear more land to produce food for their families, contributing to an alarming decrease in tree cover. Current credit-based approaches to this problem are not working – farmers continue to earn low amounts at subsistence levels, with limited profits to invest in growth and resilience to climate shocks. This pattern reinforces the cycle of poverty.

The solution

Warc Africa is a farmer-centric, climate-positive model that provides end-to-end solutions across a growing number of agricultural value chains. Warc operates a decentralized network of sourcing hubs, establishing market connections at the village level. Hubs sell quality fertilizer and seed, then buy farmers’ harvests at a consistent, fair price. Each hub employs women from the communities, building strong local networks and pathways to steady employment for an overlooked population. 

With a focus on regenerative agriculture, Warc sets up demonstration plots and offers training to farmers to enable their transition to more climate-resilient and productive farming. Currently Warc buys maize, soy, and shea, operating in over 75 trading hubs (and growing) all over Northern Ghana, and providing jobs to more than 150 women.

“They have a very good relationship with us ensuring we receive fair prices for our produce, which improves our income and livelihood, allowing us to pay our water and electricity bills.”

The origin

Warc originated in Sierra Leone in 2011, establishing a rice farm and working with local farmers to improve yields through regenerative agriculture. In 2018 the company expanded its operations into Ghana, and pivoted to its current operating model.

The impact

Warc Africa reaches more than 20,000 farmers across their trading hubs. These farmers are gaining access to quality inputs, transparent and reliable prices, and immediate payment. 100% of Warc’s payments to farmers are done through mobile money or bank transfer, which allows them to pay farmers instantly while reducing the risk of handling cash. Regenerative agriculture practices strengthens and protects farm soil health in the long-term, improves water cycles, and increases resilience to climate change. Warc’s hubs serve as a key knowledge transfer point for farmers to learn about those practices.

Farmers in Upper West Ghana double their incomes within a year of selling to Warc, through a combination of higher yields and reduced costs in accessing markets. By employing economies of scale to bring inputs, training, and grain markets to remote farmers’ doorsteps, these women-staffed hubs ensure higher produce prices and better access to credit-free inputs, raising farmer incomes by $100 per acre. Farmers then stay with Warc as they provide reliable access and an opportunity to scale their operations. Longer-term, some farmers have more than tripled their incomes by selling to Warc.

The investment

Acumen invested in Warc Africa in 2019 as its first institutional investor to build out their operations in Sierra Leone focused on raising subsistence farmers out of poverty. In addition to the initial equity infusion, Acumen provided critical debt financing to the organization during the COVID-19 crisis, enabling their operations to continue and pivot.  

We have played an active governance role through Board engagement, navigating critical moments in Sierra Leone, building on lessons learned, and pivoting to a new approach in Ghana. Warc has successfully reinvented itself and is poised to scale its financial and social impact to the next level.  

The story

Warc Africa is a story of resilience. Warc’s founder Emiliano Mroue and current CEO Chris Zaw saw the devastating impact of hunger and poverty in farming regions that are fertile and abundant. They knew they could make an impact on multiple interconnected fronts – poor yields, poverty, deforestation, and economic instability. Both men came to this work with a deep commitment to stewardship of the land and an understanding of regenerative agricultural practices. They saw a vision for thriving farming communities, regenerated land, and food-secure homes. 

But it took multiple iterations and pivots to truly understand what could work. Warc began by operating its own plantations, which would bring farmers in, train them, have them act as ambassadors and trainers in their own communities, then loan them equipment and inputs. But this approach struggled. Warc learned that farmers did not want credit, they wanted consistency. They did not want to be told how to change their generational agricultural practices, they wanted to observe, ask questions, and determine for themselves. 

With this realization came recognition of the importance of meeting farmers where they are. Deep listening and learning helped the company understand how farmers currently behave, what their needs are, and how to build trust.

“I was lacking some experience in farming, but the company training on conservation and preservation in agriculture has really improved my soil health and reduced the labor cost. I am now able to save some money for other purposes.”

Customer of Warc Africa

Instead of farming land directly, Warc refocused on getting farmers what they needed – quality inputs (seeds and fertilizers), trading hubs at the village level to reduce transport time, transparent pricing, and direct payment. Warc realized that by employing women in village trading hubs, they were able to build trust in communities. This approach was met with initial resistance but eventual acceptance once farmers, family members, and village leadership saw the value of the work. Warc has grown in less than two years to 75 hubs, employing 150 women. In 2023 alone they traded more than $13 million in maize, soy, and shea. 

Warc is now layering on additional services to farmers – installing silos to store and retain more inputs and make logistics more efficient, increasing demonstration plots for regenerative farming, and – as they build adoption – seeking strategic buyers who will pay a premium for climate-smart agricultural practices. Through their community presence and conversations with farmers, Warc saw that the region is fertile in shea, a highly valued nut for its moisturizing and high fat content. The collecting season for shea coincided with the low farming season, however, and steady market access did not exist. Warc started training women to inspect and trade shea to provide income consistency to farmers in the region, who are now increasingly seeing Warc as their go-to resource for a range of farming needs.

Warc’s journey in many ways is just beginning. They aspire to be a leading player in Africa’s agricultural revolution – moving subsistence farmers not only out of poverty but into prosperity and enriching the earth while doing so.