The Story of Gwarina Community
Gwarina is a rural community in Niger State, Northern Nigeria. For over 40 years, the community has been cultivating rice at a communal level. During rice season, all adult male members of the community assemble at the community farm where they cultivate rice. The next time they would converge would be during the harvest time. Part of the proceeds from the farm gets shared in cash and kind to every family in the community while the rest is used to finance community development projects.
For this rural community, their major market has been traders from Kano who visit the community during the harvest period to buy their rice. Most times, these traders buy off all of the rice harvested and sell processed rice to the community.
Sadly, because Gwarina never had an alternative market for rice, they were compelled to sell their commodities at whatever price the traders offered.
Sometimes, due to communal conflicts in communities linking Gwarina to Kano from where the traders came, these traders were forced to cancel purchase appointments. Whenever this happened, Gwarina community recorded huge losses.
One of such catastrophic incidences happened in 2003 when a fierce communal conflict kept the traders off for over 3 months. The community had packed the harvested rice into sacks and kept them under tree shades. However, the longer the traders delayed visiting, the more rodents destroyed the harvest. Eventually, the community could not sell any of the harvest. The post harvest losses was nearly 100%.
Consequently, there was such extreme poverty and deprivation in the community that many households lost members to starvation. Malnutrition was very rife while pandemic outbreaks became the order of the day. Infant mortality spiked even as fertility rates skyrocketed.
As poverty deepened, casual sex became more and more rampant. Minors got pregnant while a number of girls came down with vesicle vaginal fistula. Sexually transmitted infections became very widespread as life expectancy reduced precipitously.
The community could as well then be described as a hopeless case as young people were emigrating to other communities where they hoped for greener pastures.
Agricultural Industrialization Changes the Narrative
However, the story changed two years later when the World Bank assisted FADAMA Program was extended to that community. The program emphasized not only on commodity production, but also on value addition. FADAMA leveraged the existing communal structure to access a wide and commercially reasonable expanse of land for the agricultural project.
Under the FADAMA program, young men and women were recruited from the various households that made up the community. They were trained on modern rice cultivation methods. They were trained on how to apply some of the modern productivity enhancement tools to boost productivity in rice farming.
In addition, the FADAMA program provided solar powered irrigation systems that allowed farmers to cultivate rice for up to three times a year. This greatly boosted the tonnage of rice produced on the communal farm.
Access to agricultural inputs like fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides as well as disease resistant and fast maturing rice varieties was guaranteed through a partnership between the World Bank and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). This increased the yield per hectare by 800% compared to seasons before the intervention.
Most importantly, the FADAMA program built the capacity of the community to process the rice they produced. The program trained most especially women on modern rice processing techniques and thereafter, in partnership with the federal government poverty alleviation program, provided them with some of the tools needed to establish cottage rice milling enterprises.
Fortunately, Gwarina was located on a 33KV transmission line linking Niger State and the neighboring state of Kaduna. Since this high voltage line passes through very remote and unhabited areas, it is usually not load-shedded. Thus, residents of Gwarina community enjoy round-the-clock power supply. With this, women involved in rice processing were able to carry out their milling operations with very minimal overhead cost.
The Gains of Agricultural Industrialization in Gwarina
Because these women were able to add value to their commodities, especially rice, their market changed dramatically. They were no longer reliant on those traders for the sale of their products. In fact, it turns out that it was even residents of Niger State that were buying their products. Import substitution had seen rice traders distribute the rice milled in Gwarina rather than import rice from Kano as was the usual practice.
Even after the FADAMA program stopped directly intervening in the community, the productivity structure created kept up scaling the growth impact.
For instance, as women were recording higher profits in their businesses, they were able to procure better machinery to enhance the quality and quantity of their output, enabling them to compete with products imported from Asia. Also, they invested in establishing other milling factories and expanding employment opportunities for more and more people especially youths.
Also, as more and more cottage rice milling enterprises were sprining up, the demand for harvested rice increased. This not only almost totally eliminated post harvest losses in rice production, but increased the price of the commodity, yielding greater profits to rice farmers.
Farmers were thus encouraged to convert large farmlands that hitherto remained fallow into large rice plantation. So much jobs were created that even the young people who had emigrated the community for greener pastures were returning in numbers.
Huge Social Impact is Created
The women entrepreneurs involved in the rice milling business have been able to generate so much wealth and by extension reasonable disposable income which they are investing in the education, nutrition and healthcare of their families. They have also pulled together resources to construct roads that link their factories, spread across the community, to markets within and outside the state.
Apart from establishing a school in the community, these women ensure that National Youth Service Corps members sent to the community to teach in the community schools are very well taken care of. In fact, I was one of the beneficiaries of this exceptional gesture. All through my service year, I alongside my colleagues had the very best of experience with our nutritional, logistics and financial needs met by communal contributions led by women entrepreneurs in Gwarina.
What’s also very interesting is the tremendous social change this agriculturally-based economic transformation has caused.
Before the intervention, women in Gwarina were practically considered as second class citizens. There was severe marginalization of the women folk in the community. In fact, when communal resources were shared, women weren’t considered as beneficiaries. For instance, widows, divorced or unmarried women were not entitled to any share of the communal earnings whether or not they participated during the cultivation.
It was so bad that women whose husbands traveled or were in one way or the other unable to receive the household’s share of the communal earnings had to wait until their husbands were better disposed to claim their entitlement or forget it altogether.
However, with the FADAMA-led Industrialization Program on rice which gave women considerable advantage in the aspect of the rice value chain with the highest financial gain, women became far more prosperous than the men. They were thus not only able to influence conversations especially on issues affecting them, but were able to prevail on traditional leaders to abolish traditions inimical to women’s dignity and prosperity.
The Demographic Impact of Agricultural Industrialization
This dramatic shift has seen a huge decline in underaged marriage as women now decide what ages their daughters are eligible for marriage. Also, the community has seen far lower maternal and infant mortality as well as precipitously reduced incidence of vesicle vaginal fistula. Fertility rates are on the decline as women are more able to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights. Incidence and spread of sexually transmitted infections are on a declining trajectory even as uptake of contraception has witnessed some impressive increase.
Most importantly, enrollment rates for girls in schools has spiked in previously unimaginable ways. Women are able to sponsor their girls through school, providing them with sanitary materials that keep them in school. Incidences of harassment of girls in schools has reduced even as the percentage of instructors that are women keeps increasing steadily.
In the area of healthcare, the community in partnership with the National Primary Healthcare Development Authority was able to set up a primary healthcare centre in the community. As a result, access to vaccines, especially for infants, has increased significantly even as affordable treatment for some of the common tropical health conditions is now taken for granted.
10 years since the intervention program, Gwarina is now a totally different community. This community has been totally transformed from a zone of economic misery to a zone of economic prosperity. Thousands of people in this community have been lifted out of extreme poverty into wealth in such an inclusive and sustainable manner.
Scaling the Impact Of Commodity-based Industrialization Across Africa
The Story of Gwarina is a typical demonstration of the power of agricultural industrialization to transform communities from zones of economic misery to zones of economic prosperity.
Over 70% of Africans are involved in agriculture. This means that whatever we do to agriculture will determine the fortune of over 70% of Africans. Again, on the African continent lies 65% of all arable land left to feed 9 billion people in the world by 2050. This means that Africa’s disposition to agriculture will determine the future of food not just in Africa but the world over.
Therefore, the best strategy to guarantee global food security and effectively lift hundreds of millions of Africans out of poverty into wealth is agricultural industrialization, especially that which is based on the commodities produced in Africa.
No country or continent in the world has achieved shared prosperity without building industrial value chains around its commodities.
Africa must move from the bottom to the very top of global value chains if we are to benefit from our commodities.
There’s no reason why Africa should produce 75% of all the cocoa beans in the world, yet enjoy only 5% of the over $125 billion chocolate market. What’s the brain surgery in making chocolate! Africa must urgently industrialize around its commodities, so that those involved in agriculture can truly beneficiate from agriculture.
Without agricultural industrialization, Africa is never going to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals neither is the continent going to meet its Agenda 2063.
The time to industrialize agriculture in Africa is now!