By Johnson Olaniyi
Across the world, agriculture is the mainstay of many economies. Apart from ensuring food security for populations, it provides jobs in huge numbers and accounts for a significant proportion the GDP of most countries.
Investment in agriculture is, therefore, a prerequisite for any country that wants to make social progress and achieve economic development.
In Nigeria and in some other African countries, the Mastercard Foundation has, in the last few years, been involved in facilitating agricultural ventures across the continent.
Set up in 2006 by Mastercard International but it operates independently under the governance of its own Board of Directors, the foundation arrived Nigeria in 2019 with a team from Canada.
The focus was to create 10million work opportunities in Agriculture, Digital and Creatives as focus areas.
In Nigeria, Mastercard Foundation’s financial inclusion programme has found expression in agricultural projects in different parts of the country and in this area it has recorded resounding success over the years using the Young Africa Works strategy. Its goal is quite ambitious – to enable 30 million young people in Nigeria secure dignifying employment by 2030.
The success it has achieved in agriculture can be ascribed to the painstaking process of selecting reputable non-governmental organisations as partners and setting ambitious goals.
A look at some of the programmes will reveal the impact Mastercard Foundation has made in Nigeria. In May 2020 the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) partnered with the foundation to start the Young Africa Works-IITA Project.
Young Africa Works IITA-project was designed to advance agribusiness opportunities to over 40,000 Nigerian young women and men with special focus on skills development, decent employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities to secure work in agri-food value chains for the next five years.
“Agriculture is among the most viable potential source of employment for young people in Africa,” said Chidinma Lawanson, then Country Head for Nigeria, Mastercard Foundation. “We are excited to see how our Young Africa Works partnership with IITA will make the agricultural sector more attractive to young people, particularly women by providing skills training in the agriculture value chain for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.”
The IITA project is for young people between the ages of 18 and 35 years living in Lagos, Kano, and Kaduna. This training focuses on agribusiness development that will provide young people an opportunity to grow their businesses through coaching and mentoring while they learn modern farming and value addition techniques. They are also being exposed to agriculture product marketing skills, market linkages, and career orientation through job placements and internship opportunities.
It affords participants the opportunity to acquire business and soft skills that will facilitate their integration into the professional field. The training covers the following value chains: maize, soybean, rice, horticulture, orange fleshed sweet potato, groundnut, aquaculture, and poultry.
“There will be no development in Nigeria without the youth. The best way to end poverty is to create opportunities, and this is what this project is all about. By creating career opportunities and youth-led enterprises, we are planting a seed of change for the next generation. It is in this line that the Young Africa Works-IITA project was developed by the youth, for the youth, and with the youth,” said Aline Mugisho, Executive Manager, Young Africa Works-IITA project.
In August 2021 Mastercard Foundation partnered with Value Seeds Limited, an indigenous crop seed production, solution, and development company, to empower 10,000 smallholder farmers in Nigeria with the distribution of farm supplements.
Women made up 70% of the programme’s participants and they were selected from 22 local government areas in five states, namely Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Benue, and Katsina. The agricultural supplements distributed included fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, agrochemicals, Knapsack sprayers, and sachet tomato seeds. In addition to the provision of farm inputs for maize and rice seedlings, the programme promotes financial inclusion, supports the improvement of yield, provides access to best agronomical practices, and creates linkages to premium markets.
In 2021, 4,000 women and youth were provided with farm inputs and training for agronomical practices, especially in maize and rice farming and an additional 6,000 women and youth were impacted in 2022. Between May and July 2021, Value Seeds was able to complete the first and second distribution of inputs to participants.
A female participant in the programme, Amina Marcus, noted that the interventions provided by the company through the provision of quality farm inputs and training had contributed to improving both her farm yield and financial standing.
“Before 2020, we had challenges accessing quality inputs, especially fertilizers and high yielding seeds. My highest yield, on average, did not exceed six bags of maize production. But last year, I participated in the programme and had access to quality smart seeds, fertilizers, and agrochemicals. Now, I can harvest 11 bags at a time. I would say the impact has been quite phenomenal in the last season with a better yield. I have been able to support my family financially and save up some money in the process,” she said.
Value Seeds Limited Managing Director, George Zangir, says he is excited to see a large number of Nigerian youth and women participating in the programme given how far-reaching the impact will be on the economy. “It is good to know that women in these locations are showing great interest in agriculture and especially farming. They are now fully involved in the entire agricultural value chain, which will directly impact our economy. As they say, when you empower a woman, you empower a nation,” he added.
Mastercard Foundation is also partnering with Nourishing Africa and US Africa Development Organisation to train 20,000 young Nigerians to become agripreneurs and provide grants to Nigerian MSMEs.
The programme called Entrepreneur Support Programme (ESP) was launched in Lagos in March 2021 and was designed to support grassroot MSMES across the Nigerian agriculture and food landscapes to rebuild and strengthen their businesses.
Leveraging ICT, data and innovation, Nourishing Africa, with Mastercard Foundation’s support, developed a four-step programme to directly back these MSMEs with training, financing, and support to ensure the scaling of resilient businesses that can withstand future shocks.
The Entrepreneur Support Programme (ESP) targets micro and small-scale enterprises run by young people between the ages of 20 and 40 engaged in critical food and cash crops and livestock value chains from the provision of inputs and primary production to processing, logistics, storage, and distribution in 11 states in Nigeria: Abia Anambra, Delta, Edo, FCT, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, and Oyo.
Through a rigorous application process that attracted more than 30,500 entries, 2,000 agripreneurs were selected to participate in ESP, which formally kickstarted in February 2021.
ESP has also partnered with faith-based associations, community, and women’s organisations to identify grassroots and women-led agribusinesses across Nigeria. These organisations include Whispering Hope Africa Initiative, AgriCayalyst Innovation, African Women in Leadership Organisation, Young Farmers Association of Nigeria, Senator Adeyemo Women Empowerment Cooperative, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), and Ogun State Ministry of Agriculture.
“The Entrepreneur Support Programme will impact the lives of Nigerian youths across the country, especially women, and create further opportunities for them to contribute to achieving our goal of national food security. Our aim is to empower and equip these agripreneurs with the tools and resources needed to create impact in the agri-food industry, not just in Nigeria, but across Africa,” said Nourishing Africa Programme Lead, Ify Umunna.
Another innovative programme that the Mastercard Foundation is supporting in Nigeria is a 100% youth focused hydroponics farming in Ogun State in partnership with a young wizard farmer called Samson Ogbole, the promoter of Eupepsia soiless farm. This programme will support about 15,000 young people under the age of 30 to learn and set up soiless farms together as a business thereby gaining enterprise from it and live in the growing farm city community. This type of farming requires very little space, is not dependent on rain, and multiple cycles of cropping can be done thereby enabling year-round farming. The Mastercard Foundation again is the leader in enabling this new sector and participants are drawn from all over the country via an online application platform. This will also provide a model that can be replicated across multiple states in the country with modifications. It is another approach to engaging young people gainfully in agriculture.
Another organisation has partnered with Mastercard Foundation is Women Farmers Advancement Network (WOFAN).
In July 2023, just last month, WOFAN, assisted by Mastercard Foundation, concluded the capacity building and distribution of labour-saving equipment to farmers across 10 states in Nigeria. The training and demonstration sessions were conducted in Adamawa, Nasarawa, Benue, Kaduna, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, and Bauchi, culminating in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where the final distribution of equipment took place.
The distribution event was attended by village heads, group leaders, extension workers, farmers, and WOFAN project partners. The atmosphere was filled with energy and excitement as participants and beneficiaries expressed their heartfelt appreciation to WOFAN and The Mastercard Foundation for the innovative initiative. They recognised its potential to significantly transform the agricultural sector in Nigeria.
During the exercise, the participants refreshed their knowledge on Good Agronomy Practices (GAP), with specific focus on rice farming. The session also included trainings on farm visits and familiarisation with the CommCare App. The facilitators emphasised the importance of safe pesticide use and provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suits to the participants, highlighting best practices in handling chemicals.
Throughout the exercise, more than 450 mechanised farming equipment, such as treadle pumps, power tillers, fertilizer broadcasters, multi-crop harvesters, irrigation pumps, and solar-powered sprayers, were distributed to the farmers. The beneficiaries were overjoyed to receive these tools at no cost, describing it as a life-changing intervention. They expressed their gratitude, acknowledging these resources would not only enhance productivity but also reduce physical stress.
According to Mr Attahiru Musa, The Village Head of Gawu, Abaji Area Council, FCT, “This is the first time I’ve seen a solar sprayer compared to the manual ones we used before, the solar sprayer will save farmers a lot of time, stress, and money”.
Hajia Maryam Lawal, Team Lead of WOFAN-FCT expressed gratitude to the Mastercard Foundation: “We are grateful for the outstanding work of the Foundation. Their support has enabled us to reach many women, whose lives have been transformed as a result. Our smallholder farmers are now armed with the knowledge and resources needed to thrive, and this positive change is evident in the smiles on their faces”. She added, “Our activities have gained credibility in the community, and we are proud to report significant positive impact across all our engagements”.
The ICON 2 funded by the Mastercard Foundation, aims to empower 675,000 youths, in 10 Nigerian states over a span of five years. The project’s primary objective is to help young people develop and sustain livelihoods that lead to an improved quality of life.
Mastercard Foundation is also involved in regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture institute, Regeneration International, describes regenerative agriculture as a set of farming practices “that, among other things, reverse climate change by restoring soil organic matter and rebuilding weakened soil biodiversity – resulting in both a carbon sink and improved water cycle.
“The basic idea, however, is to not only farm sustainably, but to farm in a way that increases humus. Practices are used which are adapted to the respective local conditions and take the people with them.”
In Nigeria, Mastercard Foundation has pioneered this with the Saianwara-Iju Regenarative Agriculture in five states targeting 200,000 beneficiaries. This work aligns with the current drive to showcase the role of regenerative agriculture in creating sustainable agro economies in Nigeria and in Africa as a means to resolving food security and nutrition at the rural agrarian communities. This work will significantly provide a model that can be scaled across all states of the federation with slight modification for the rain forest and mangroves in Nigeria.
Some of the earlier programmes of the foundation were Babangona Agriculture corn production groups, EDC MSME strenghtening, Jobberman linkage to work, DSN/Malezi radio education during covid, Agrolog- ginger production (Covid relief), WOFAN-rice, corn and groundnut (Covid relief), My World of Bags production of PPE for Covid relief), YPO- Covid protective gear production and Covid emergency response in Lagos. More recently new programmes have been commissioned across the thematic areas.
Mastercard projects typically have a five-year lifespan each except the Young Africa Works initiative, which is a decade-long programme. For its agricultural projects Mastercard Foundation has achieved remarkable success since coming into the country in 2019.
•Johnson Olaniyi is an agribusiness consultant and writes from Lagos