The final week of this Parliament has been a busy and exciting one for the APPG on Agriculture & Food for Development. On Tuesday members of the APPG met with Sylvia Banda from Zambia and Kola Masha from Nigeria – two inspirational African agribusiness entrepreneurs whose visit to Parliament coincided with the second roundtable in our Smallholder Agribusiness Development inquiry.
Sylvia Banda is the Managing Director of Sylva Food Solutions in Zambia. Since 1986 Sylvia has created small businesses like Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited, which offers courses in hospitality and food processing and production and has trained over 16,000 students since its inception. Her businesses have successfully created markets for local farmers and emphasised local cooking methods. Her innovations include the 'Sylva Solar Dryer' for processing traditional vegetables, fruits and other food products, and the 'Matebeto Mobile Kitchen' – a kitchen on bicycle wheels. Sylvia founded Sylva University, the first and only university offering courses in catering south of the Sahara. Sylvia is an Ashoka Fellow and was awarded the Fellowship in recognition of innovation and intelligent methods of promoting nutrition in Zambia food through Post Harvest Training workshops. Earlier this year Sylvia was appointed as a Board Member of the Industrial Development Corporation by the President of the Republic of Zambia.
'Knowledge sharing is power' explained Sylvia. 'Often people in Zambia look down on indigenous foods and they don't understand the nutritional value of their local foods.' By working with women smallholder farmers post-harvest Sylvia has changed that by teaching processing and marketing skills, ethics and nutrition. Her company, Sylva Food Solutions, buys the crops and processes the products, packages them and markets them locally. Sylvia displayed her products: pumpkin soup, moringa tea, dried vegetables and the porridge, which is being used in a school-feeding programme. Despite the challenges, including poor roads and insecure land tenure, Sylvia demonstrated the transformative impact of training farmers and sharing knowledge and business skills.
Kola Masha is the Managing Director of Doreo Partners in Nigeria, an impact-investing firm focused on the African agriculture sector. Doreo invests in early stage businesses that increase the profitability of smallholder agriculture, which in turn creates market forces that attract young people into agriculture, thereby unlocking millions of jobs. Doreo's flagship investment, Babban Gona, is an innovative Agricultural Franchise model that works to de risk smallholder farmers. This de-risking enables Babban Gona to deliver sustainably priced, low-cost, and long tenure credit, with repayment rates of over 99.5% to finance a value chain traditionally considered too risky to finance. Formerly a Senior Advisor to the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, Kola has been recognised for his leadership in driving positive change on the African Continent, having been awarded the Eisenhower Fellowship and Rainer Fellowship.
Kola summarised the work of Babban Gona, which means 'Great Farm' as 'We grow dreams'. Essentially, he explained, Babban Gona makes smallholder farmers rich by unlocking their two assets: land and labour. In 2014 Babban Gona supported 2,000 farmers and has the goal of 1 million farmers by 2025. The impact is clear: yields under the Babban Gona model are 5X the national average. On these small commercial farms, farmers are able to think about their future and educate their children. Utilising an agricultural franchise model, farmers are given a holistic set of services, which includes training, credit, inputs, storage and marketing. Talking about the extremely high levels of unemployed youth in Nigeria and the link between unemployed youth and the insurgencies, Kola said: 'Agriculture is the solution in Nigeria.'
The afternoon roundtable, chaired by Jeremy Lefroy MP and Lord Boateng, included presentations from Sylvia and Kola as well as 2degrees, Diageo, Mars, Farm Africa, Self Help Africa, TechnoServe, Partners for Food Solutions and the Ethical Tea Partnership. A much more detailed write up of the event is available here and notes of the first roundtable on 'Government support for smallholder agribusiness development' are available here. This inquiry will continue in the next Parliament with roundtables focused on innovative finance and catalysing the business ecosystem in the summer.