A version of this article first appeared in Milling & Grains Magazine, February 2020.
Agriculture and farming have helped revolutionize human history. Cultivating food helped create communities that turned into sprawling civilizations that became the basis of modern societies. However, there are unforeseen cases in human history that can cripple nations and be remembered as a dark period.
One striking example is the global pandemic caused by COVID-19. Thousands have lost their lives as of April 2020 and millions of people are being affected. Daily lives are remade to accommodate strict measures to avoid transmission of the disease. One very important aspect now is food security.
So, it is undeniable that the agricultural sector is still one of the most important industries for both developing and developed countries. In 2018, it has been estimated that 28% of the world's employed population--or about 1 billion people--working in the agricultural sector.
In general, around 1/3 of the food produced worldwide is still lost each year despite a large number of workforce and the multitude of projects that support this sector. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this amounts to an estimate of 1.3 billion tonnes of wasted or lost food.
In many cases, much of this loss occurs because of improper post-harvest handling. For example, some farmers store their commodities at high levels of moisture which leads to mold growth and accelerated quality degradation.
Insect and pest infestation is also a leading cause of food loss due to inferior storage facilities. Similarly, transporting agricultural commodities without proper tools can also lead to losses caused by insects and molds.
Most devastating are the effects of climate change on smallholder farmers. Without mitigating action, the rise in temperatures brought by climate change leads to a significant increase in mold growth and insect infestations.
In Nigeria, where the agricultural sector is a major part of the economy, these challenges are being addressed through the collective efforts of public and private entities.
One such private company is Babban Gona. This social enterprise aims to solve insecurity in Nigeria by working with smallholder farmers by offering tailored services and resources that they need.
In 2011, Babban Gona was founded to address the root cause of insecurity in Nigeria: unemployment. The insurgencies that disrupted once peaceful villages pushed the company to explore industries and look for a business model that would generate enough jobs to address youth unemployment.
In the journey to establish itself, Babban Gona recognized agriculture as the industry to look into. After all, the agricultural sector’s 26% fiscal contribution in 2016--the largest made by a single sector that year--helped Nigeria's economy slowly come out of recession. The potential is clearly present, especially with the fact that 67% of all jobs in Nigeria are in the agricultural sector.
Babban Gona’s business model is simple. The social enterprise acts as a farmer cooperative and provides services such as training, credit, agricultural inputs, and marketing services to ensure the success of smallholder farmers.
Adequate storage is provided to the smallholder farmers so the quality and quantity of their crops are not compromised. This practice ensures that their farmer members can sell their produce at competitive prices.
This storage system uses GrainPro Cocoons to ensure the integrity of the harvested crops. Using the concept of hermetic technology, the crops are kept safe in a modified atmosphere. Because the oxygen levels are kept so low, insects and molds are kept at bay.
Food safety is also addressed through the use of the Cocoons. Aflatoxin, which is a toxic substance caused by mold growth, have been observed to contaminate maize in Nigeria. Serious health hazards are linked to consuming food laced with this substance, so mitigating aflatoxin contamination is an important action when resolving issues concerning public health and food safety.
Thus, challenges such as insect infestation, mold growth, aflatoxin contamination, and oxidation are easily kept at bay with the use of these large-scale storage units. Additionally, collectively storing crops can help to significantly reduce logistic and warehousing costs.
With more to sell and the quality of their products secured, smallholder farmers can achieve higher profits without significantly increasing their expenses.
By understanding the smallholder farmers in-depth, Babban Gona is able to offer a holistic solution to address insecurities and effectively remove risks faced by its members. With the aid of technology and innovative solutions, Babban Gona impacts over 20,000 families in more than 1,000 villages within North Central and Northwest Nigeria.
In the face of certain obstacles such as the COVID-19 that brought casualties, insecurity, and economic disruption, these farmers can be protected by Babban Gona’s institutional support. The port closures, decreased mobility of commodities, unstable market conditions may as well be a blow to the Nigerian economy, but hopefully, it will not be broken.
With Babban Gona's actions towards the aim to impact 1 million farmers by 2025 and continued support during crises, Nigeria's agricultural sector will surely be transformed for the better despite current challenges.
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