Theophilus “Theo” Agada and Bassey Archibong are determined to change the narrative that agriculture — which accounts for approximately 22 percent of Nigeria’s GDP — is not an option for youth in Nigeria. While the lack of access to land, capital, and modern equipment are well-known barriers to entry into agriculture, so are limited start-up knowledge and practical business skills. Entrepreneurship is a crucial factor that can unlock access to the tremendous growth potential in Nigeria’s agriculture market, especially for youth and women. Theo and Bassey are helping them open that door.
I first met this dynamic duo in the mid-2000s when Making Cents International worked in partnership with Chemonics International on its MARKETS activities in Nigeria. Theo worked as a program officer, and Bassey was the director of Household Economic Strengthening. Making Cents was engaged to support micro and small enterprise development, and one of the tools we brought was our customized curriculum called Microenterprise Fundamentals (MEF), an interactive program using Making Cents’ training-of-trainers’ methodology. We worked with the MARKETS team to adapt the curriculum to local context and to roll it out, initially primarily with Nigerian women. The project was a success! In fact, it was extended twice—first through Bridge to Markets and then through MARKETS II—running in total from 2005 to 2017.
While we were working on MARKETS II, we realized that though MEF worked well, it needed to be tweaked to maximize its potential with youth and women. We revamped the program based on lessons we learned and the needs of the community. We also set up a team of local master trainers who could lead the facilitation of training-of-trainers to scale up the delivery of the curriculum. At the same time, we showed Theo and Bassey the nuts and bolts of MEF and how to adapt it.
True skills building lives beyond the initial facilitation point and has a ripple effect in the community. Teaching someone to ride a bicycle is not the same as helping someone become a bicycle expert. To master it, you show them the parts, how they work together, and how to troubleshoot problems, so, if the bicycle ever falls apart, they have all the knowledge they need to repair it and can share their skills with others.
We wanted Theo and Bassey to own the MEF, and, oh, did they! By the time the work was completed on MARKETS II, they were well versed in MEF, and other organizations were starting to approach them about facilitating the curriculum in other regions of Nigeria. In 2017, Theo and Bassey ventured out on their own and started the company Agropedia Africa to address the needs of rural communities. A critical part of their model was the delivery of MEF. As this training was in great demand, they reached out to Making Cents in December 2020 to reproduce the materials in Nigeria, enabling them to grow their business even further. We were excited for what this opportunity meant, both for them and for the recipients of the training, and we agreed to let them use it free of charge as long as they stayed at the helm of managing the quality of MEF that everyone had come to respect. We also connected them directly with our product suppliers in South Africa, so that they can get training materials as needed.
When we caught up with Theo and Bassey this month, they shared that they currently have a pool of 60 active trainers who have hosted more than 4,300 MEF trainings to date. And who are the people in these trainings? They are youth with small enterprise management skills who are starting their own agro-businesses.
“For any business to succeed, that businessperson [must appropriately] allocate resources. The problem with many small businesses is that they put all of their money in expenses,” Bassey explained. “Part of the training’s business simulation is to teach them how to allocate, so that they have money for the business, money for expenses, and money for savings.”
The course, lasting between three and five days, prepares participants to make informed decisions and take advantage of opportunities in their business and personal lives. When effectively applied, these new skills help entrepreneurs transform their budding businesses into larger enterprises over time.
“If you take a look at Nigeria currently…you know that the way to survive in this country is entrepreneurship. The government is doing everything it can to encourage entrepreneurship in every facet. So, getting the youth involved in entrepreneurship is key,” Theo added.
In addition to MEF, Agropedia Africa offers soil testing and farm measurement, and they have developed a phone app called AgropediaApp. They want their new app to become the Amazon of agriculture. The app is helping farmers with digital financial services, such as processing electronic money transfers, and links farmers and their produce with traders and consumers through a business intelligence module.
Theo and Bassey are working hard to grow Agropedia Africa. Their success means there are thousands of young Nigerians who now have the skills to build a future in agriculture. I am humbled and honored that Making Cents was able to play a small part in that process.