Kola Masha: The wealthy entrepreneur waging a self-styled war against Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgents

For Jibrin Mohammed, a maize farmer in a rural community in Kaduna, every planting season comes with a sense of hope and expectations for a bountiful harvest.

But this feelings was only made possible some years ago, after years of toiling tirelessly in his 0.5 hectares of land but with low yields a result from the use of stale farming equipment. Additionally, most of the inputs that Jibrin needed for his farm were neither available in the local market, in the right quantity, nor of the prescribed quality.

Traveling to larger markets to buy bulk inputs at affordable prices was also not practical as Jibrin did not have the capital but he needed to increase his holdings and farm on a larger and at more profitable scale.

As if that was not enough Jibrin is likewise constantly faced with the humiliation of being exploited by local traders who bought his produce for very modest sums and travelled to larger markets across the country to sell his maize at much higher prices.

Back at home, Jibrin, who never saw or enjoyed the profits that these middlemen made on his produce, constantly struggled to meet is family needs. Faced with these mounting challenges, a once energetic and optimistic farmer was beginning to lose hope.

But everything changed the day Jibrin heard of Babban Gona. This new farmer service company had become the talk of the village and resident farmers had started creating small farmer groups in order to confirm their membership. But it was not the hype surrounding these events that swayed Jibrin. Babban Gona, “Great Farm” in Hausa was promising to transform subsistence farmers into intensive successful commercial farmers by not only bringing much-sought after inputs to their doorsteps but by also providing credit, agronomy and agribusiness training, and marketing services.

Still, joining was not an easy decision, no thanks to the skeptical farmers in the community. After much deliberation, Jibrin allowed the long-time optimist in him to take the upper hand and went to register with Babban Gona.

Once registered officially with Babban Gona, Jibrin enjoyed the full suite services offered by Babban Gona. He had access to a trained agronomist and extension offices that provided him advice and training on tried-and-tested planting techniques. This support – coupled with the high-quality inputs seeds, fertilizers and herbicides Jibrin received from Babban Gona – made him eager to harvest his crops.

As harvest kicked off, Jibrin and many other Babban Gona farmers were smiling their way to their farms.

Jibrin whose yield was over five times the national average was ecstatic! “I am so happy today because all that people were saying to prevent me from joining this organization never worked, and I would have regrets by now. Before now, the best I have ever gotten on this same piece of land is 20 bags and here am I getting 27 bags. If not that it happened to me, this would have been hard to believe”.

While Jibrin’s good yields increased his bargaining power with the local traders his Babban Gona membership enabled him to join the ranks of farmers who could bypass local traders altogether and sell to national buyers at 37% above the market price.

This influx of profits from these sales changed Jibrin’s life completely as he was able to escape poverty and meet his family’s needs.

Kola-Masha-Babban-Gona

But the story of Jibrin like many other farmers in the northern part of Nigeria won’t have been possible if not for the brainwork of Kola Masha, Founder and Managing Director of Babban Gona, an agricultural franchise.

In recognition of its work to increase the profitability of thousands of smallholder farmers like Jibrin in Northern Nigeria over the last 6 years, Kola Masha, Babban Gona emerged as one of the four winners of Skoll foundation award for social entrepreneurship, and also the first for-profit enterprise to win, which comes with  $1.25million.

The other awardees were Dr. Elizabeth Hausler- build change, Dr. Rajesh Panjabi-Last Mile Health, and Bradley Myles-Polaris.

Despite the accomplishment of his project getting international recognition, Kola who is also the Managing Director of Doreo Partners, an agriculture focused, african impact investing firm, still lives with regrets. According to him, his Babban Gona could have prevented  the dreaded terrorist group Boko Haram and help prevent hunger in Africa if only the project was started earlier than 2012.

“I truly wish I could have started 10 years earlier and 350 miles east of where we began in Northern Nigeria. Had we, perhaps we could have impeded the growth of insurgencies and insecurity in North Eastern Nigeria, and prevented some of the 20,000 deaths that insurgencies caused. Had we, perhaps we could have prevented the man-made famine that even now is affecting half a million children.”

He noted further that addressing insurgencies and insecurity, military intervention is thought of when the major part of the solution lies in engaging people, particularly young men, making them feel valued, supported, and encouraged, making them feel like they are an important part of society, contributing to the economy. To make them see that they have a future.

Although his success story hasn’t come without a glitch like every other venture, he said his company has put those experiences as part of the learning process towards building a $1 billion enterprise by 2025 that will enable a million youth to generate income to take care of themselves and their families.

The former Managing Director of  Notore Group, one of Nigeria’s leading agricultural conglomerates where he raised US$24 Million to develop an integrated agricultural trading, production and processing business believes the problems Africa faces are so large that we must look at innovative models to leverage social investment and commercial capital to solve these problems at scale.

A distinction Harvard graduate, Kola charges Africans to think big, “the challenges we face are massive. We must think fast, because we have so little time. We must think boldly. We need to go beyond conventional thinking and models of philanthropy and development assistance. We must create thriving enterprises of all kinds whose financial resources benefit people today and come back to help someone again tomorrow — and again, and again — multiplying the impact indefinitely.”