In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, smallholder farming is a perilous occupation. Although agriculture represents a quarter of the economy, the sector is unready to meet the food needs of a population expected to double over the next generation. Meanwhile, the burgeoning youth population faces 50 percent unemployment against a backdrop of three insurgencies in the past twenty years.
To help prevent the spread of insecurity in Nigeria, a revitalized agricultural sector that offers its youth attractive prospects for a viable income is urgently needed. Babban Gona is an investor-owned social enterprise serving small networks of smallholder farmers with a model created specifically to attract youth. The members receive development and training, credit, agricultural inputs, marketing support, and other key services. Besides increasing each farmer’s yield and income to 2.3 times the national average, the Babban Gona franchise works to demonstrate that the smallholder segment is a viable model for investment and to attract massive new capital to the sector.
Low yields, lack of market access, and exposure to risk trap smallholder farmers in poverty, driving young people to urban centers where their prospects for employment are often grim.
Babban Gona applies bargaining leverage, economies of scale, and technical assistance to improve yields and livelihoods using an agricultural model designed to attract young people .
Kola Masha aims to create a viable future for Nigeria’s young people in agriculture, breaking cycles of poverty and unemployment that make them vulnerable to extremist groups.
With access to better seeds, fertilizers, and markets with bargaining power, farmers increase food security and invest in the education and health of their families.
Smallholder farmers gain reliable and low-cost access to quality inputs, credit, training, and market access. This drives increased yields and profitability, while reducing risk and attracting sustainable sources of financing and government buy-in. Youth are attracted to careers as agriculture entrepreneurs.
Growth and independent replication
Babban Gona seeks to reach as many smallholder farmers as rapidly as possible, and shares elements of its model with agriculture groups, government, the World Bank, among others.
Kola was born in Nigeria and began his career as a youth-musician, rapidly transitioning to a 6 year career in Nigerian television as a presenter and using his television show as a platform to discuss often overlooked issues such as environmental conservation and HIV. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota (BS) and MIT (MS) where he continued his passion for driving positive change in his community. This culminated in being awarded the Commencement Award, in recognition of exemplary community leadership. Kola worked at GE Healthcare operations before pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School. In 2007, due to his mother’s failing health, Kola moved back to Nigeria. It was there working at Notore, located in the heart of the Niger Delta, that Kola witnessed firsthand how insecurity manifested. Kola realized that as oxygen is to fire, so are unemployed youth to insecurity. In Nigeria alone, a wave of 20 million youth entering an over-saturated labor force in the last twenty years caused youth unemployment to skyrocket, triggering not 1, not 2, but 3 insurgencies.
To do his part to solve the challenge, in 2012 Kola moved to a small village in Northern Nigeria, an impoverished area most recently impacted by insurgencies and brutal bombings, with an idea. To halt the spread of insecurity by unlocking the power of agriculture as a job creation engine. Due to its high need for labor and low skill requirements, farming had the potential to create jobs and draw millions of young people into the sector. This is where Kola launched Babban Gona, a business dedicated to empowering smallholder farmers to transition from subsistence to highly productive and profitable commercial operations. As Managing Director, Kola Masha brings to Babban Gona leadership experience in venture capital, corporate finance, business development, marketing and operations.