Northern Nigeria is renowned for being largely a successful agrarian region in outlook, although it’s been impacted by insurgency in some areas. Executive Director of Babban Gona Farm Services, Lola Masha, in this interview with JOY OBAKEYE, reveals other critical issues bogging down overall growth and how innovative solutions can unleash the region’s full potential in agriculture.
What is the Babban Gona model and how sustainable is it?
The Babban Gona Agricultural Franchise Model is designed to provide support for smallholder farmers, with a key service of professional management which we discovered to be one of the missing links to farmer productivity.
We have accomplished this by structuring them into farmer groups which we call ‘Trust Groups’. Each trust group is under the leadership of a Trust Group Leader and has up to 4-5 members.
So far, the trust groups have successfully helped to optimize our member farmer’s yields, provided them with optimum prices for their output and largely reducing their production costs.
This largely influences not just a growth in their profitability, but also impacts positively on their food security and livelihoods.
The suite of services provided by the trust groups are: Training and Development, Financial Credit, Agricultural Inputs and Output harvest and marketing support.
Through the Babban Gona model, we also unlock several employment opportunities for members of communities in which we operate through the planting season.
Our unique model has proven to be sustainable, and the success rate we have experienced since inception goes to show this with a 99% repayment rate till date.
How regionally inclusive is the Babban Gona project?
Our solution to tackling the cyclical forces that keep smallholder farmers in poverty was never regionally driven, even though for now we are mostly in the Northern part of the country and currently running in five states: Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Plateau and Bauchi.
Our goal is simple; To make smallholder farmers richer and to end the cycle of insurgency. I will say however that we are working towards scaling across the country into other regions and crops at the right time and with strategic partnerships, the right systems, tools and innovation in place.
How many staple crops are captured under the Babban Gona project?
We currently partner with smallholder maize farmers, and have successfully piloted rice.
Besides the FMO $4m line of credit, what other funding does Babban Gona have?
We have been fortunate to establish and maintain relationships with both private and public sector investors as well as DFIs who have consistently supported our vision.
Are there any concluded or ongoing partnerships and collaborations Babban Gona has with stakeholders from the public and private spaces?
Yes! Absolutely. There are partnerships and collaborations we have with stakeholders in both the public and private spaces and we are thankful for their support.
How can the Babban Gona project help to scale up youths and women participation in agriculture?
We understand the importance of having youth and women fully involved in agriculture. Our team currently has several young persons on board and one of our goals is to tackle the problem of unemployment and put an end to insecurity crisis that we are facing in Nigeria.
We believe that if we can adopt innovative practices and leverage the use of technology in agriculture then we can attract the youth and change their perception about the sector.
We currently have 40% of our member base as youth. Our training and development sessions run via our Farm University platform has given them a paradigm shift.
To examine why the participation of women in agriculture is low, we undertook a study in the northern states where we operate.
The bulk of the feedback was distance from the input collection points, and their unwillingness to interact with male extension agents.
In response to this, we have tried to ensure that our input collection centres are at most 15-25 minutes away, and recruited female extension agents for this segment.
We also set up Women in Economic Development Initiative (WEDI) with the goal to increase the net incomes of women in our communities by providing them with a viable business opportunity, with the aim of transitioning them to become full Babban Gona farmer members at the end of a two (2) year period.
So far we have been able to reach over 1,200 women interestingly across our existing hubs and hope to reach much more in order to ensure women’s inclusion in Nigeria agricultural sector.
What is your assessment of Nigeria’s agricultural landscape in terms of appeal to investment?
At Babban Gona, we believe that Nigeria is positioned to be the next major agricultural investment destination as Brazil was in the late 1990’s and early 2000.
In terms of appeal to investment, there is a lot more that can be achieved within the Nigeria’s agricultural landscape.
What we can do is to leverage on the unique properties of Nigeria’s agricultural sector and concentrate on its latent potential which can be unlocked through cost-effective capital.
We are yet to scratch the surface of the potential that can be unlocked through the right kind of financing within the Nigerian agricultural sector.
How realistic is your intention to make one million smallholder farmers more money by 2025?
We are optimistic that we can meet our vision of making one million smallholder farmers. It is a process that we are willing to not just talk about, but work our way through.
Babban Gona is not relenting but scaling rapidly. Despite the challenges, we have plans in place and are establishing strategic partnerships;
through these we believe we will be equipped to meet our goal of making one million smallholder farmers richer, and year-on-year unlock entrepreneurial opportunities within agriculture for more and more farmers.
What forms the basis of qualification for would-be beneficiaries of your programme?
The basic qualification for a would-be beneficiary of our programme would be to be passionate about farming, and willing to transition from a traditional mindset and pattern of farming to a more commercial, sustainable one.
Through our training and development sessions with the farmers (executed through our Farm University), we equip these farmers with the missing skills they require to make sustainable profit.
What is in place to help participating farmers surmount the hurdles of low yield and minimize post-harvest losses?
We understand that post-harvest losses are one of the challenges that rural farmers face. At Babban gona we have adopted and still employ an innovative storage solution that helps smallholder farmers address the problem of food loss and wastage as a result of poor storage after harvest.
Our hermetic cocoons have enabled us to attain a historical post-harvest loss rate of less than 0.1% and helped our small-scale rural member farmers to reduce wastage and damage to their grains due to moisture, pest and fungi – further improving the energy content and reducing the levels of aflatoxin in them.
For the low yields, our farmers benefit from the end-to-end suite of services we provide from the beginning of the planting season (in the form of training, inputs etc) to the very end (down to the bags, threads and needles needed at harvest).
After harvest, the farmers bring their grains to us and we store for sale at a later date. This implies that we supply them with agricultural inputs that they need to ensure profit which is evident in the increase in their profit.
We have been able to dramatically increase the productivity of tens of thousands of smallholder farmers by two times the national average and their profitability by 2.5 to 3.0 times the national average.
We prioritize innovative ideas like this, and pay attention to ways of improving smallholder access to storage options which will go a long way in tackling post-harvest wastages.