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TEDGlobal 2017

Kola Masha: How farming could employ Africa's young workforce -- and help build peace

Filmed:
669,177 views

Africa's youth is coming of age rapidly, but job growth on the continent isn't keeping up. The result: financial insecurity and, in some cases, a turn towards insurgent groups. In a passionate talk, agricultural entrepreneur Kola Masha details his plan to bring leadership and investment to small farmers in Africa -- and employ a rising generation.

- Agricultural leader
Kola Masha is the founder of Babban Gona, the first for-profit social enterprise in history to be awarded the prestigious Skoll Award, due to its financial sustainability and highly scalable impact. The organization is part-owned by the farmers they serve. Full bio

Since 1997, researchers
at the University of Sussex
00:12
have monitored global trends
in armed conflict.
00:17
Their research clearly shows
00:21
that in Africa, over the last 10 years,
00:25
armed conflict has gone up by sevenfold.
00:28
Let's think about that:
00:32
sevenfold in a single decade.
00:34
Why is this?
00:40
We believe, as oxygen is to fire,
00:42
so are unemployed youth to insecurity.
00:46
We have a lot of youth on this continent.
00:50
Youth like Sandra,
00:54
who, on a Saturday morning in March 2014,
00:57
woke up excited at the prospects
of getting a coveted job
01:02
at the Nigerian Immigration Services.
01:07
She kissed her daughter goodbye,
01:10
left her home,
01:13
never to return.
01:15
Sandra and 15 other young Nigerians
died that day, applying for a job,
01:16
in the ensuing stampede,
01:24
as tens of thousands of people applied
for a few thousand open positions.
01:27
In the last 20 years, 20 million youth
have entered the Nigerian workforce alone.
01:38
Today, half our population
is under the age of 18.
01:45
That's almost 80 million people
01:52
that will be entering the workforce
in the next 20 years.
01:55
My friends,
02:01
if a wave of 20 million people
entering the workforce
02:03
triggered Niger Delta crisis,
02:08
Fulani herdsmen crisis
02:11
and Boko Haram,
02:14
I ask you:
02:16
What will four times that number do?
02:18
To do my part to solve this challenge,
02:23
in 2012, I moved to a small village
in northern Nigeria,
02:26
in the center of the area
most recently hit
02:32
by the spread of insecurity,
brutal bombings and searing poverty,
02:37
with an idea:
02:43
Could we create an economic buffer
to halt the spread of this insecurity,
02:46
by unlocking the power of agriculture
as a job-creation engine?
02:53
We knew this had been done before
in countries like Thailand,
02:58
where, in 1980, they suffered from
the same economic challenges as us.
03:02
Today, however, Thailand produces
two million cars a year --
03:07
more than the United Kingdom --
03:13
with over 30 percent of its workforce
03:15
as highly commercial,
profitable small farmers,
03:18
with an unemployment rate
of less than one percent.
03:22
How did they do this?
03:29
In the 80s, Thailand dramatically improved
the productivity of its small farmers,
03:31
ensuring that it was able
to start to dominate
03:39
export markets for produce.
03:44
Building on this strength,
they attracted investment
03:47
and started to process,
03:49
being able to export higher-value products
like starch from cassava.
03:52
Finally, coupled
with investment in education,
03:57
they started to expand
to even higher-value manufacturing.
04:00
To make our idea a reality
and follow a path similar to Thailand,
04:06
we knew that we would have to sell
young farmers on farming.
04:12
A young man in northern Nigeria,
04:20
for the purpose of today's
discussion, we'll call "Saminu,"
04:22
made it very clear to me
that this would not be easy.
04:27
Saminu grew up in a beautiful village
in northern Nigeria.
04:31
And he tells wondrous stories
of playing for hours with his friends,
04:35
running up and down
the beautiful rock formations
04:39
that dot the countryside around his home.
04:42
Despite this beauty, Saminu knew
04:45
that the first chance he got,
he would leave.
04:48
He did not want to be a farmer.
04:52
Growing up, he saw his parents
work so hard as farmers,
04:55
but barely get by.
05:00
As he says, they had "babu" -- nothing.
05:03
Young farmers like Saminu
05:11
do not have access to the cash
05:15
to buy the farming products
to pair with their hard work
05:18
to be successful.
05:22
When their meager harvest came in,
05:26
desperate for cash, they would sell
most of it at fire-sale prices,
05:28
when, if they could just wait six months,
they could get 50 percent more.
05:33
Hence, Saminu left to the city,
05:38
where he soon realized
that life was not easy.
05:44
He borrowed a very old motorcycle,
05:48
with tires that were
more patches than tires,
05:52
to become a motorcycle taxi driver.
05:55
He lived in constant fear every day
05:59
that his precious, tattered motorcycle
would be ripped away from him,
06:03
as it had before.
06:07
But he got it back, thankfully.
06:11
He knew of others, however,
who were not so lucky --
06:16
other young men who,
once they'd lost their motorcycles,
06:19
became destitute.
06:22
Angry, these young men set
out to wreak vengeance
06:25
on a society that they believed
had turned its back on them.
06:28
Saminu told me that
they joined insurgent groups,
06:34
often acting as getaway drivers
in bombings and kidnappings.
06:40
To end this cycle of insecurity,
06:47
we must make farming a viable choice.
06:50
We must ensure that these young men,
on their small farms,
06:53
can earn enough money
to make a life for themselves;
06:57
to make a future.
07:01
The question now is how.
07:03
Recognizing that Africa
has grassroot-level leadership,
07:06
we simply developed a model
07:10
to bring the professional management
and investment to scale
07:12
to these grassroot leaders.
07:16
We called it "Babban Gona" --
"great farm" in Hausa.
07:20
Upon reaching the village in 2012,
07:26
I traveled from community to community,
07:31
trying to convince people of our idea,
07:33
trying to recruit farmer members.
07:38
We failed woefully that first year,
07:43
barely recruiting 100 brave souls.
07:46
But we persevered.
07:51
We kept doing what we promised,
07:52
slowly we gained their trust.
07:56
More farmers joined us.
08:02
Fast-forward now five years.
08:04
With a passionate and committed team
08:06
and the tremendous support
of our partners,
08:10
we grew dramatically,
08:14
today, serving 20,000 small farmers,
08:17
enabling them to double their yields
and triple their net income
08:21
relative to their peers.
08:28
We are very proud of the fact --
08:31
(Applause)
08:33
Fast-forward three years,
08:38
Saminu has earned enough money
08:40
to buy three goats for his mother
to start a goat-rearing business,
08:42
owns his own retail store
08:47
and bought not one, but two motorcycles,
08:50
with vanity license plates: "Babban Gona."
08:55
(Applause)
08:58
My friends,
09:04
in the next 20 years,
09:07
over 400 million Saminus
are entering the African workforce,
09:09
with potentially half of them
having opportunities in agriculture.
09:14
To unlock these opportunities,
through models similar to ours,
09:19
they would require 150 billion dollars
a year in financing.
09:24
This is a big number.
09:32
But if we can tap into commercial debt,
it is a small number --
09:34
only 0.1 percent of all the debt
in the world today,
09:39
10 cents out of every 100 dollars.
09:43
This is why we designed our model
09:47
to be very different from conventional
agricultural development programs.
09:49
In a few short years, we have shown
that our model works,
09:53
is high-impact and can turn a profit,
09:58
attracting commercial investors
10:02
that do not typically invest
in small farmers in Africa.
10:04
Imagine a world where millions
of young men across Africa,
10:09
hardworking young men,
10:15
have other options.
10:17
I know these driven, ambitious young men
10:19
will make the right choice.
10:26
We can realize this dream
10:31
if they have a choice.
10:36
Thank you.
10:41
(Applause)
10:42

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About the speaker:

Kola Masha - Agricultural leader
Kola Masha is the founder of Babban Gona, the first for-profit social enterprise in history to be awarded the prestigious Skoll Award, due to its financial sustainability and highly scalable impact. The organization is part-owned by the farmers they serve.

Why you should listen

At Babban Gona, Kola Masha oversees Nigeria's largest corn producing enterprise through a program that franchises thousands of mini corn farmer cooperatives across northern Nigeria, increasing the profitability of the smallholder farmers by three times above the national average. This dramatic increase in net income is accomplished by delivering an integrated holistic package of training, farm inputs and marketing services, on credit. Babban Gona has been able to deliver this credit while maintaining one of the highest repayment rates in the world, currently above 99.9 percent. The project was created to attract youth to agriculture and away from the looming instability of extremist groups.

Prior to moving back home to Nigeria, Masha held multiple leadership roles in leading global organizations, including General Electric and Abiomed. Upon moving home to Nigeria, he gained extensive public and private sector experience as a Senior Advisor to the Nigerian Federal Minister of Agriculture and as CEO of a subsidiary of the Notore Group, one of the country's leading agricultural conglomerates.

More profile about the speaker
Kola Masha | Speaker | TED.com