Improving the Lives of Small-Scale Farmers in Africa

by Vanessa McGrady |November 30, 2022

Hajara Philibus grows maize (corn) on her 12-acre farm in Northern Nigeria’s Kaduna State.

When not tending her crops, the mother of four children ranging in age from 8 to 30 also runs a small general store out of her home, selling everyday items like soap, spaghetti and cooking oil. But farming maize — the area’s most important crop — is her main source of income.

In her community, maize is both a central food staple present at most meals as well as a valuable source of income that farmers sell to buy essentials for their families. When she started farming five years ago, Hajara struggled to eke out a living. Her farm’s yield simply wasn’t enough, even with the proceeds from the land that her husband farms.

However, since then she’s increased her yield tenfold. She credits that growth to a partnership with Babban Gona, a mission-driven agricultural services company that supports entrepreneurial farmers by providing the fertilizer, seeds and crop protection products that drive agricultural success.

Babban Gona, which means Great Farm in the Hausa language, seeks to create opportunities for underemployed young people through jobs and training in agriculture, opportunities that have helped create a stabilizing ripple effect for rural communities. 

When small-scale farmers like Hajara follow the Babban Gona model, they get access to training and education, financial credit, agricultural resources and support with harvesting and marketing their crops. Babban Gona reports that the farmers they work with improve their yields, reduce costs and increase their market prices, all of which make farming more profitable.

Creating a new kind of farm

Babban Gona’s managing director, Kola Masha, is a Renaissance man of sorts. After earning an MBA with honors and a master’s degree in engineering, he pursued a varied career that has included gigs as a musician and television talk show host as well as periods as a corporate executive in operations, health care, finance, sales and marketing roles in companies around the globe. Now, he’s taking all that experience and channeling it into his work for Babban Gona.

Babban Gona reports that the farmers they work with improve their yields, reduce costs, and increase their market prices, all of which makes farming more profitable.

“The end goal is to create 10 million jobs,” Masha says. “We want to unlock the potential of agriculture as a job creation engine. Our strategy has been to invest in businesses that would increase the profitability of small-scale farmers. We do that by basically addressing the underlying structural reason why small farmers are poor: their small economies of scale.”

To maximize its impact, Babban Gona looks to companies like Citi to help expand what the company can offer. Meanwhile, Citi collaborates with organizations like Babban Gona as part of its social finance efforts to accelerate access to basic services, boost job creation and scale social infrastructure development in emerging markets. The financing provided to Babban Gona contributes to Citi’s $1 trillion commitment to sustainable finance by 2030, which includes activities in social finance, such as education, affordable housing and basic infrastructure, healthcare, economic inclusion and food security.

“Citi is in more than 90 countries around the world, and more than 50% of the markets that we are in are considered emerging markets,” says Jorge Rubio Nava, global head of social finance at Citi. “Around 25% of them are categorized as low-income by the World Bank. This puts us in a very unique place to be a major contributor to the development of more inclusive systems around the world.”


A man and woman walk through a corn field

Cultivating success

Rubio Nava calls Masha "visionary" and notes that regional small farms produce 80% of the food supply in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and there are more than 50 million families that earn a living from agriculture. But fertilizer and other resources that increase productivity require access to capital, which is where Citi comes in.

"When we talk about our global footprint, we need to understand what it really means," says Rubio Nava. "It means that we have a local balance sheet, local teams, colleagues that understand local dynamics. We also have local capabilities, local currency. We are the perfect intermediary between global investors and local communities."

As part of its social finance efforts, Citi aims to invest in opportunities for 15 million low-income households, including 10 million women, globally by 2025.

Kola Masha, Managing Director, Babban Gona
Kola Masha, Managing Director, Babban Gona - Photo courtesy of Kola Masha

Going from hungry to thriving

Masha notes that prosperity such as Hajara's leads to a substantial impact in the lives of people in several ways. "The first is they have access to better, more nutritious food," he says. "Second, they have access to better education. Third, they have access to better health care. And finally, they have the capital to invest in and better their homes. When we look at our members who have been with us for the longest period of time, you see this dramatic transformation in their lives and the lives of their families."

Hajara and her family now have enough to eat, her children are getting a better education and she's planning to expand the store in her home into a standalone shop. She was able to buy a bike for her son and is even looking forward to a long-held dream of hers — flying in a plane to Lagos, Nigeria's largest city.

After seeing what was possible for Hajara's family, other community members began partnering with Babban Gona. "Their lives have changed because of the quality input they're getting," Hajara says through a translator. "That leads to them getting higher yields and more money to feed their family better and take them to better schools."

Women and children gathering

Impact on a grand scale

Stories like Hajara's are becoming more common as Babban Gona grows and receives more support. "One of the things that makes Babban Gona particularly unique is the depth of impact that we have on our members," says Masha. "The typical farmer, on average over the last 11 years, achieved net incomes that are more than double the national average."

This success is only possible with outside investment. "The impact from banks like Citi has been absolutely transformational," Masha says. "Over the last three years, we've grown five-fold as an organization. We've grown to the point where, today, we're the single largest corn-producing entity in Africa. And really, that has been fundamentally driven by our ability to access capital from companies like Citi."

For Hajara, the impact of the programs goes beyond profit. "The biggest and most important decision I made in my life is joining Babban Gona," Hajara says. "I've helped a lot of women in our community by giving them loans, and now I'm happy that I'm a leader in our community and that they will also benefit the way I am benefiting."

Vanessa McGrady

is a writer and the author of ROCK NEEDS RIVER: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption (Little A). She lives in Los Angeles with her daughter, husband, their two dogs and an immortal fish.

The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.