This story appears in the November 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Africa’s most populous country can’t feed itself. Despite boasting more than 80 million acres of arable land, Nigeria relies heavily on imported food. Meanwhile more than two million young Nigerians enter the workforce each year only to face a 25 percent youth unemployment rate. Extremist groups like Boko Haram pull recruits from this restless demographic.
Can encouraging youth to take up hoes instead of arms help resolve these issues? “Just as oxygen is to fire, so are unemployed youth to insurgencies,” says Kola Masha, a Nigerian-American entrepreneur. “Why has it become so easy for disgruntled individuals to raise a mini-army? Because young people have limited economic opportunities.”
Masha runs Babban Gona—Great Farm—which aims to lift young, small-scale farmers out of subsistence by boosting their yields and access to higher priced markets. Agricultural investment is the most effective form of foreign aid in reducing conflict—while other types of aid can exacerbate it, says Edwin Price, director of Texas A&M’s Center on Conflict and Development.
Programs like Babban Gona are being launched across the continent. “Nigeria is seen as a trendsetter,” says Evelyn Ohanwusi, who heads an “agripreneurs” project run by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. Using that program as a model, the African Development Bank aims to create 1.5 million agribusiness jobs for youth in the next five years across some 30 countries.