Kola Masha is the Managing Director of Babban Gona – an agriculture franchise that seeks to improve the productivity of smallholder farmers. He is also the MD of Doreo Partners, an agriculture-focused African impact investing firm. In this interview, he shares why Babban Gona (Great Farm) focuses on smallholder farmers: Excerpts:
What is the idea behind Babban Gona?
For us, we see the potentials that Nigeria has from agriculture stand point and recognize that the potentials will be fully achieved if we are able to help smallholder farmers reach their full potentials. In Babban Gona, basically what we are focus on doing is enabling the thousands of small-scale farmers to access technology and services they need to attend their full potentials.
What sort of services are we talking about?
Like any small business, the ability to access the capital that you need to buy quality product to increase your productivity is very critical. We help smallholder farmers to access products and services that will dramatically increase their productivity.
We provide four key services required for smallholder farmers to be successful: access to credit using new approach to de-risk members of the farmer groups, raise cost effective capital to finance the small scale farmers under Babban Gona scheme.
Secondly, we provide the appropriate balance of agricultural inputs at the right time, applied in the right way, at highly competitive prices. This ensures that members of Babban Gona attain optimal levels of productivity and product quality, while minimising negative environmental impacts.
As an organisation, we also provide the necessary capacity that helps these farmers to establish strong democratic farmer groups.
Smallholder farmers in our scheme get access to our market services that assure good warehousing practices, access to good markets and increased profits.
So in Babban Gona, all of these are combined to help small scale farmers reach a level of production that is more than two times the national average.
Which area do you offer these services?
We are primarily operating in northern Nigeria.
How many smallholder farmers have so far benefited from this project?
As at today, 20,000 smallholder farmers have benefited.
Are you expanding the number of farmers to benefit in the future?
Well, our goal as an organisation basically is to support over time, up to a million farmers. That is where we see ourselves going to; but we are not going to get there tomorrow, but that’s our objective.
How do you select the smallholder farmers that benefit from your technology and services?
I would not say there are special criteria, but just like any other organisation that is looking to provide financial support, you have to ensure that the beneficiaries meet certain standards before you provide them with such support.
How will you describe some of the challenges smallholder farmers that you’ve been working with face?
There are several challenges, including but not limited to, land fragmentation, broken value chains, poor access to finance, inadequate cash flow, lack of extension services, and limited access to good markets. But at the end of the day, one of the most critical challenges is low level of farm productivity. If you look at the average yield of crops in Nigeria, often times, it is only 20 per cent of the yield of fellow farmers in other markets. So it is already a challenge to enable farmers get those high yield.
The reality is that we are helping these farmers overcome this low productivity challenge by ensuring that we can combine hard work with all the products and services that we have to support them.
Do you have any other project that you’re planning to introduce in Nigeria?
Not at this time. We are constantly looking for ways that we believe can help people in rural communities, but at this time we are concentrating on the work we’re doing with smallholder farmers.
What has been your major challenge as a player in the sector?
As an organisation, we, just as many other organisations in Nigeria, are growing very rapidly and we have to be able to identify and attract the talents and resources that we need to support the organisation. This is a challenge not only to businesses in Nigeria, but all over the world.