When Kola Masha founded Babban Gona, the space for privately run agriculture focused on social enterprises wasn’t a thing. And millions of farmers had to go it alone in the tough, unstable Nigerian market.
Farming in Nigeria is no light-weight occupation. While there’s always the potential to reap bountiful profits from it, the conditions are seldom suited to making this happen. Despite having a huge consumer base of over 200 million and an undersupply of several locally grown food crops, most farmers still live below the poverty line.
The key problems they face- widely known but only sparingly tackled –are the inadequacy of the available input and storage facilities, a lack of access to the right markets for their produce, and the ever-worsening land fragmentation that comes with the country’s exploding population.
The banks aren’t offering as much financial help as the farmers would hope for either. Lending institutions consider farming to be high-risk investment, so they seldom grant loans to people engaged in it. And when they do, the ‘assistance’ comes with prohibitively high interest rates.
Organizations like Babban Gona are helping farmers solve these problems. Since its founding in 2010, it’s helped over 20,000 smallholder farmers get hold of better inputs, increase their productivity, sell their produce at higher prices, and raise the quality of their farming practices. It’s the sort of turnaround that many in the fields of Northern Nigeria dream of. Thanks to Babban Gona, it is now a lived reality for a growing number of them.
One of Babban Gona’s principal operations is reducing the risk scores attached to farmers by the banks. This lets farmers access loans at costs well below the average charged by these financial institutions. They also get trained in the best farming practices, supplied with the right equipment for the crops they grow, and given a path to better markets for their produce.
This social enterprise works with a franchise model which allows for the replication of its farming group in as many communities as are willing to use it.
Masha and his team are drawing from decades of interaction with rural crop growers. Masha himself caught the fascination with the occupation early in his life from his grandfather who was a small scale farmer in one of the more rural districts in the United States. The Harvard and MIT trained executive has kept his fascination with the greens alive, even managing to live with rural farmers in between stints with large multi-million dollar companies.
All of this experience appears to be paying off; thousands of farmers who have come under the Babban Gona franchise have seen their revenues double or triple within their first year of joining it. It’s reported that over 99% of the loans taken out by members are repaid. Their annual incomes have also risen.
There’s still some way to go before Babban Gona reaches its target of helping a million farmers boost their practice and earn better from what they do. But Masha believes that the enterprise is showing enough potential to get more investors interested in funding agriculture. With that should come more financing for the work that it’s doing with crop growers, and ultimately, an army of farmers meeting the needs of a rapidly expanding population.
Featured image source: Skill Foundation