• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Masha: on a mission to creating one million jobs

businessday-icon

After serving as a special adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, Kola Masha decided to venture out on his own by setting up an agricultural franchise business called Doreo Partners. The motivation was spurred by the need to create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths across the country and to make an impact on the nation’s economic growth. He spoke with RITA OHAI on the success of his company and the principles that sustain an agri-business.

Doreo is an impact investing firm whose goal is to empower other businesses in solving Nigeria’s underlying social problem; which is spiraling youth unemployment.

Their investment thesis is very simple; at the foundation of it all is a desire to increase the profitability of multiple small and medium scale agri-ventures across the country.

The team at Masha’s company believe that if they are able to make farmers very lucrative, they can create market forces that will draw millions of young people into the sector.

With Babban Gona (a Hausa term that means ‘great farm’) being their flagship model, they state that they are on their way to producing about a million farmers by 2025.

Explaining how the system works, Kola, the brain behind the company posits, “Babban Gona is a model we have developed called an agricultural franchise where effectively what we do is franchise organizations that we call trust groups. These trust groups are businesses where farmers come together as a unit to help each other produce high quality grains at really high yield.

“We go out and identify a really great leader of that group and we work with that leader to form the franchise and then we deliver four services to them.  The first is training on how to run their group effectively and on how to migrate from a subsistence mindset to thinking about farming as a business and then finally this makes them farmers.

“The second is we get them access to credit so they are basically able to access the full suite of resources that they need to get best practice yields. And then finally we help them market their products.

“It’s truly a win-win for both the farmers and the buyers,” he says, “because we are basically playing a role to stream-line the process and get the farmers and buyers cost effective products.”

As opposed to the middle man who is more interested in the finalizing transactions, the chief executive officer of Doreo Partners informs that his projects are more about adding value than fiscal reward.

And he is recording tangible achievements in this area especially with his farmers beating the national average crop produce of 1.4 tons per hectare, by generating up to 6.9 tons on every hectre.

Giving further proof on how the soil has been good to him, he added, “The quality of maize we produce is the highest quality in Nigeria and it is gold standard terms of being able to eliminate key toxins.”

“Also we have grown about 30 fold over the last twenty-four months and we are working with 2000 thousand of Nigerian farmers in northern Nigeria,” he said.

Kola is certain that agriculture can be Nigeria’s job creation engine. Considering the fact that the food sector contributes about 22 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, this portends tremendous growth potential for this industry.

According to him, “Yields today are 20 percent of what they could be in other developing countries. It is labour intensive and also requires some higher skilled to lower skilled labour; for the quantity of jobs we are looking to generate in the nation, [agriculture] is what we need.”

Although Nigerians are more inclined towards getting  blue collar jobs due to the seemingly comfortable nature of these occupations, Masha is certain that meeting the 1 million-farmers target is an achievable feet.

He says, “If you look at the reasons why young people may not want to go into agriculture. It goes beyond the fact that it may be considered dirty work. However, the one thing Nigerians are, is that we are definitely entrepreneurial people and if we see an economic opportunity, we will pursue it.

“The reasons Nigerians do not go into agriculture is because they do not have access to large farm lands. Most of them get it through inheritance and these tracts of land are relatively small. If you have a small piece of land and you are getting low yields, the economic value is very small. Factor on top of that that agriculture is labour intensive. Traditionally, older farmers that have large farm bases are able to offset the costs because they have free labour sources in their children. Younger farmers don’t have that free labour source, they end up having to hire and that in its self further reduces their profitability.

“The model that we have put together really addresses all these issues. Whatever amount that they have, it is our prerogative to ensure that they can get a good living from that by optimizing their yields. In addition to that as part of the package they get, we offer mechanization services that reduces that burden on these farmers and enables them to effectively transition to be farm managers,” he revealed.

While the President has proposed a Transformational Agenda scheme designed to combat food insecurity and ensure national sufficiency in the local agri-sector by 2015, some stakeholders have tagged the objectives of the Agenda as overly ambitious.

With raging insurgency taking place in the North and the low amounts of rainfall recorded this year further fueling doubts, concerns surrounding this issue are gradually taking root.

Regardless of analytical projections by critics, Kola has a different opinion as he expresses, “I think food security by 2015 is feasible but I’m not exactly what the government’s definition of food security is. [he laughs]

“I am a simple farmer,” he continued, “but the reality is that the steps that the government is taking are critical. I believe the most important one was in liberalizing the seed sector and enabling high quality producing seed companies to access the market.

“However, if you look at how much fertilizer Nigeria farmers really needs to meet the output required for us to get to that point where we are producing yields that can put the country at the point where we are sustainable food wise, as well as the size of the market, there is no way that the government can completely meet these needs.

He further said that, “The next thing is to put in place institutions that create easier access to capital. They have started to do this with the NISRAL programme and I think the ability to actually access that capital is critical.”

Highlighting important steps the government can take to boost the crop-producing sector as an approach to meeting the set targets, he advised, “Quite frankly, if there is really one thing that they could do, it is in providing rural roads. This infrastructure is very valuable. Based on all the studies, when you bring in good roads to an area it dramatically improves the life of those people because you are reducing the cost of products that need to get there and you are helping them market their products most effectively so you are making them better business people.”

As with most valiant entrepreneurial ventures, there are a chunk of difficulties that the business owners need to surmount to reach a level of sustainable profitability.

For Kola, there have been two major challenges. The first being finding adequate human resources to carry out job functions and the other, sourcing financial capital.

This issues surrounding low-skill set among employees are things he believes are peculiar to Nigeria because of the inadequate attention paid to the educational system.

In his opinion, “Nigeria is worse off than other places because of the under-investment in our educational system.

“The educational sector [here] is seeing more volume than they had to bear about thirty years ago and requisite investments have not been made to increase the quality in line with the volume. As a result, many individuals have been left behind in that process.

Comparatively, he says, “If you look at Ghana that invests heavily in its educational system, you may have some human capital challenges but not to the same degree.”

As for whether he is willing to overlook any inhibitions and pursue his vision of establishing impact through the provision of services for his clients, Masha posits, “The journey has been worth it as I have been able to find that intersection between what I do well and what I enjoy doing.

“My family has always been one where we measure our success by the level of impact that we can have on society as a whole. I personally track every job I create on an annual basis,” he finished.

RITA OHAI