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Volunteer in Nigeria
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Agribusiness Volunteers in Nigeria and Worldwide

Give and Gain in a Developing Country

Volunteer in Nigeria
Typical housing along the road in Gombe, Nigeria

This time, I had to answer "yes" to the question on the immigration card asking if I’d been on a farm, and then had to report to the quarantine area. I spent two weeks in Nigeria in late June as a volunteer for the U.S. government’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program, a program financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). My assignment was coordinated by Land O’ Lakes, the large dairy cooperative in Minnesota.

You don’t have to be a farmer to participate. I’m just a city girl from New Jersey. But I enjoyed helping a man with a dream in Gombe by putting together a business plan for his vision of a livestock/dairy farm and processing facility. I’d written business plans before, but not for a developing-world farm.

A Third-World Business Plan

The Gombe region supplies meat for the entire country. Jiri Farm is owned by Alhaji Bello Babayo Dukku, an educated, generous, and prominent member of the community. He had some land and about 30 cows. Now that he was retired, he wanted to develop it to generate income as well as leave a viable business for his children and future generations. More than that: he wanted to share the knowledge by building a training center onsite for other farmers in Gombe. Finally, he wanted to help raise the local standard of living by bringing the first clean, packaged milk and meat to the area. It was a tall order, with many constraints.

We worked through a plan, shifting the initial emphasis from a farm to a basic milk and beef processing facility. A plentiful supply of milk and meat could be purchased locally, and there was a huge unmet need for packaged, sanitary food at food service facilities and among consumers. And the local university was willing to cooperate.

The problem, as with all small businesses, is capital. A large investment would be needed for a dam, fencing, and access roads to the site, to say nothing of the processing facility and equipment. Low interest loans were available from the Gombe State Cooperative Financing Agency, but Alhaji must raise some funds through private sources.

Working with the Fulani

Working on this project brought me inside the lives and livelihoods of the Fulani people. I did some basic market research interviews with potential customers. I was taken to farms and remote villages whose smiling children had never seen a white face. I stayed in a local guest inn and ate pounded yam and pepper soup with goat.

Alhaji lived inside a walled compound with two wives and an extended family. He received guests every day in his parlor. We were driven wherever we needed to go, and his wife often sent us hot meals, complete with dishes, silverware, and other necessities. I spent some time with one of his wives, a beautiful, smart woman who had run businesses in Kano before marrying.

Gombe State, with about two million people, is a bustling microcosm of Nigeria. Its main road is lined with hundreds upon hundreds of shops. Its sprawling central market offers everything from cattle heads to trinkets. Townspeople in colorful traditional Muslim dress compete for space with goats and constantly honking cars.

Everything is Challenging

Nigeria is for the adventurous traveler. The mad traffic, constant power outages, and lack of basic services can test the nerves, and the poverty can be overwhelming. The drive to Gombe involved over 20 police stops, sometimes requiring bribery.

Since Nigeria is a cash-only society, credit cards and ATMs are nearly nonexistent. Internet access is lacking, except in the cities. Phone service is also spotty.

During my stay there was a civil strike protesting rising fuel prices. I saw fires on the highway, and there was violence in Abuja and Lagos. Many businesses, including banks, were closed.

Nigeria’s a tough place, but once I managed to bathe and wash my hair in the dark with cold water, scant water pressure, and plastic buckets and bowls—I knew that nothing could faze me.

Being a Farmer’s Helper

You can participate in the Farmer-to-Farmer program by contacting any of these organizations:

Each has its own projects (listed on the sites) in 33 countries in Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the former Soviet Union, and parts of Asia. Assignments can run from two to six weeks. Travel expenses are paid. A written report is required upon completion. Expertise is needed in crop, dairy, fish, and livestock farming; food processing; business and market development; cooperative development; finance; training; trade; and other areas.

DONNA ROSA is an international business and marketing consultant who feels that a passport is a terrible thing to waste. She has worked in 20 countries and volunteered in South Africa and Kosovo.