Constrained by a lack of resources, public extension services in Nigeria fall far short of the goal of one extension agent for every 800 farmers. In this context, agribusinesses and social enterprises like Babban Gona play a key role in expanding small-scale farmers’ access to training. Babban Gona (“Great Farm” in Hausa), an innovative agricultural franchise. uses an outgrower model, partnering with farmers to increase maize, soybean, and rice production in their own fields. The organization works with groups of smallholders to achieve economies of scale, providing access to low-cost and high-quality inputs and production materials and facilitating marketing of harvests. Babban Gona has built a corps of local extension agents to offer one-on-one support and production advice to over 5,000 farmers.
USAID Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer John Moulton worked with Babban Gona to improve its training and extension services. With volunteer support, staff revised their annual trainings and created systems for supporting extension agents. Community extension agents learned to assess farmers’ level of knowledge and training needs. They also created annual work plans with checklists to allow them to monitor their progress. In order to better serve farmers, agents now visit farms on a more regular basis and are available to answer any immediate questions by phone. Babban Gona also started using demonstration plots to share best practices with the broader communities in which their farmers live. Finally, Babban Gona streamlined service delivery by creating special service units responsible for managing distribution and post-harvest processes. The new system is much more convenient for farmers, reducing wait times for inputs and payment.
Other volunteer assignments provided support on soil management and marketing techniques. Based on volunteer recommendations, the majority of Babban Gona’s farmers now use crop rotation to maintain soil fertility and prevent damage from crop disease and pests. Extension agents were also taught to work with farmers to identify optimal plant spacing and fertilizer application rates. Farmers have noticed significant benefits, with many able to decrease the amount they spend on fertilizer each year. As a result of F2F assistance, Babban Gona farmers increased yields by 56% (from 3.5 to 4.6 tons) per hectare.
Improvements in Babban Gona’s ability to serve female farmers has been one of the most significant impacts of F2F support. Tolu Owolabi, Babban Gona’s Director of Human Resources, described how a simple idea resulted in a dramatic increase in women’s engagement: “The advice given to us by Winrock F2F volunteers to recruit more female extension agents to serve as role models and attract women farmers really helped a lot. It has never happened before that we have this huge number of female farmers applying to be Babban Gona farmers considering the environment where we work. But with the application of this idea, we now have 100 women applying to be part of the Babban Gona project.”
In addition, the knowledge acquired from these trainings assisted Babban Gona in making improvements necessary to win the 2017 Skoll Award. The Skoll Foundation presents the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship each year to a select group of social entrepreneurs whose innovations have already had significant, proven impact on some of the world’s most pressing problems, and invests directly in the promise of even greater impact at scale. Kola Masha, Babban Gona’s Managing Director, made the following remarks
“Babban Gona farmers service limited wishes to appreciate Winrock for her diligence and cooperation in ensuring that both Babban Gona staff and member farmers get the best of up-to-date trainings through well-equipped and passionate volunteer trainers who have at several times of assignment given themselves to the training, improvement, and equipment of both our staff and member farmers for increased productivity. Your efforts have yielded great success, as your trainings did not only improve staff knowledge on agriculture but also improved both staff and member farmers development, thereby equipping them to face greater challenges and reducing crime rates to the greatest minimal.
Your excellent teaching skills and the admirable personalities of your volunteers has tremendously helped us through our journeys. Team Members were excited to learn new skills for seed production at our last training. The knowledge acquired from the trainings which were introduced into our activities has also provided our organization with the honor of acquiring the 2017 Skoll Award.
We greatly appreciate every form of impact you have made on us as an organization. We have learnt so much from you and we look forward to learning more, also kindly let us know how we may be of assistance to you at any time.”