As he pulled on his new blue rubber gloves, Ibrahim Bature thanked God. Just a few months earlier, he was just another young migrant in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, earning just 50,000 Naira (around USD 110) a month. But that was better than being at home in the Mararrabar Kantara community in the village Yaba, which falls in the Funtua senatorial Zone in the northern state of Katsina. But now he was back, working in the new factory that had been set up in his hometown in 2020 – and earning three times as much. And the reason was a favourite local food that had originated in the dry northern part of Nigeria: Kilishi.
Kilishi or beef jerky was a Nigerian delicacy, similar to biltong in South Africa, and as loved by all Nigerians. Seasoned with spices (yaji), chilli, groundnut cake powder, pepper, and salt, smoked over a woodfire and sun-dried, kilishi was produced over 3 or 4 days by family enterprises in small towns all over Katsina State. But it would take double the time during the rainy season, and the unhygienic conditions of flies and birds around the drying meat, had kept these businesses from growing. Sure, the locals loved their kilishi and the butchers continued their age-old practice, but the youth – like Ibrahim – migrated to nearby towns and cities in search of proper employment.
But the new solar-powered kilishi factory set up under the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) in 2020 (see Box 1) signalled a turning point in the history of Mararrabar, bringing prosperity quickly to the local community, and bringing back the youth who found gainful employment in their own hometown. A reason, indeed, to be thankful.
Box 1: Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP)
The World Bank-supported NEWMAP (2012 – 2021) aimed to address the severe sheet, rill and gully erosion that affected over 90% of Nigeria’s land area, caused a loss of roads, livelihoods, shelter, and human lives, and largely in poorer areas, and cost the country over USD 100 billion in economic, social, and environmental costs. Succeeding where Government of Nigeria (GoN) restoration programs could not produce sustainable results despite having spent around USD 250 million (before NEWMAP), NEWMAP scaled up from 7 States and USD500 million in 2012 to 23 states with USD400 million in additional financing by 2021.
NEWMAP pioneered a holistic approach for gully restoration with best practice engineering design and construction (with robust quality assurance), bioremediation (vetiver grass and trees on treated slopes), within an integrated watershed management framework (with participatory planning and implementation based on community involvement, and application of geospatial tools for improved baseline information). Flexibly designed site-specific soil and water conservation works (rainwater harvesting, stone bunds, bench terraces, check dams) were complemented by compensation to victims, environmental and social safeguards (covering all project aspects), innovative technology demonstrations (solar meat processing, fuel-efficient cookstoves) and small grants for alternative livelihoods, providing sustainable incomes for local communities. The Kilishi factory was part of NEWMAP’s innovative technology demonstrations.
NEWMAP helped transform GoN capacity to address environmental degradation, through capacity building, south-south exchanges, digitized EIAs, a Climate Change Guidance Manual, and flood early warning systems), and also helped GoN issue the first sovereign Green Bonds in Africa for climate change mitigation and resilience, raising $30 million in 2017 and $41 million in 2019 (with a third issue planned). NEWMAP’s success has led to an interest in new projects on the same principles in other parts of Nigeria by the World Bank, European Investment Bank, UNDP, and the French Development Agency.
NEWMAP’s interest in kilishi was primarily because of the firewood and charcoal used in its processing – since deforestation is a major national concern, especially in the arid northern part of the country. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, having lost around 410,100 hectares per year over the period 2005 to 2010, according to Conservation International. Tree-felling and bush-burning worsen land degradation and desertification, which is likely to worsen with climate change. NEWMAP’s Federal Project Management Unit (FMPU) in collaboration with Katsina State NEWMAP Project Management Unit aimed to demonstrate a sustainable and innovative way of making kilishi without charcoal and firewood – and using solar power instead.
In the Mararrabar Kankara community in Funtua Senatorial Zone, as elsewhere in Katsina State, Kilishi making was primarily done by the local butchers and their families. It was laborious and time-consuming work. They would first lay thin strips of raw meat on a wooden frame (see Figure 1), wait two or three days for it to dry (more during rainy seasons), and then apply condiments and spices, before smoking it dry – in the open, with flies and birds, and dust and other windblown particles settling on the drying meat. But people still bought their beloved kilishi. But drying 100 kgs of kilishi required around 20 kgs (a headload) of firewood, which was clearly unsustainable.
Figure 1: Traditional outdoor sun-drying of kilishi
By 2020, however, not only was firewood and charcoal getting scarce, but kilishi making was also not lucrative enough for the youth of these families. Lawal Haruna, Chairman of the new Kilishi Union at Malumfashi recalls: ‘Many of our children who were into the butchering business abandoned it and migrated to the west and Abuja because there were no proper jobs.’ Change, however, was on the way.
NEWMAP worked with the Katsina State Ministry of Environment who agreed to provide the land, which was ceremonially handed over by the Governor of Katsina State, His Excellency, Governor Bello Aminu Masari (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Project site handing over by His Excellency Bello Aminu Masari, Governor of Katsina state
Subsequently, in the 6 months from June to November 2020, NEWMAP spent around 65 million Naira (~USD 157,000) to build a new factory with solar-powered meat drier domes, fuel-efficient kilns, heat extractors, security lights, borehole; and office (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: The new solar-powered kilishi factory, showing the two dryer domes, office, and borehole tower
Every local butcher and kilishi producer was invited to join the newly registered Kilishi Makers Cooperative Society and contribute a minimum of 2000 Naira (USD 5) towards running costs. Thirty-six butchers were trained to run the facilities in the first round, and all 90 members of the Cooperative have benefited – in just six months.
• Short-term employment: During the 2 and a half months of construction, 16 youths earned 1,000 Naira (USD 2.5) each and bricklayers earned 2, 500 Naira (USD 6) each, per day.
• Less time and drudgery: Where it used to take 3 – 4 days on average to process fresh meat into finished kilishi, it now takes only 3 hours (at peak sunshine)
• More kilishi production: Up to 20 persons can dry 800 fresh meat and process their kilishi simultaneously in each of the two parabolic solar domes (Figure 4). The combined processing capacity of 1,600 kg per day is equivalent to drying the meat of 8 cows on average per day – which would have taken 20 kilishi makers 2 weeks to do with outdoor sun drying.
Figure 4: Interior view of a solar dryer dome with meat dryer beds
• More hygienic production: Processing and drying kilishi in solar drying domes eliminates the drudgery of doing so in the open air with constant monitoring to prevent rain, whirlwinds, flies, and birds from contaminating the meat. The improved hygiene and taste of the solar-powered kilishi have also increased its market value.
Figure 4: Final processing of solar-dried beef on fuel-efficient kilns
• Reduced migration: Ibrahim Bature speaks for many when he says: ‘We have returned home because of the presence of the factory. I am earning over one hundred and fifty thousand Naira (USD 367) per month and helping others and our parents to pay school fees of our younger ones which they could not in the past – leading to a lot of problems including sending them out of school.’ Alh. Nasiru Hamza, the Yaba Village Chairman, echoes this thought: ‘Some youth left the community and moved to Abuja and other cities in search of menial jobs, but the moment this factory began operation they returned home and joined in this business through registration. They are always thankful. You can see, jobs have been created for the youth and stopped rural-urban migration. This is not a less achievement. Everyone has a means of livelihood.’
• Visitors and orders: The kilishi factory receives many visitors from different cities and even other states in Nigeria. While production was barely sufficient for domestic consumption earlier, the Cooperative now exports kilishi to customers in the three states of Kano, Abuja and Lagos, and other states like Kaduna, Zamfara and Adamawa have expressed interest in placing orders, Aisha Isa Malumfashi, who employs 8 girls notes the surge in demand: ‘We used to make 30 kg of mixed chilly and groundnut cake powder a day before the start of the factory, but now we make up to 60 kg per day.’
• Secondary beneficiaries: Apart from the members of the Cooperative, who are the primary beneficiaries, several other people have benefited: security guards, cleaners, and office support staff have found employment at the new factory; the women who supply the chilly, and groundnut cake powder (from home), suppliers of packaging material, cattle sellers. oil sellers, animal skin buyers, and the kilishi retailers who sell it to customers – and those who come to fetch water from the new solar-powered borehole drilled on site.
• Empowering women: While butchers are men and primary beneficiaries, women have also seen significant benefits as suppliers. Chairman Nasiru Hamza explains: ‘The value of Kweli Kwili (groundnut snack), groundnut oil, yaji (spice) and others, which are produced by women has risen. Women at home got a source of income by producing and supplying it to the factory. The butchers buy these items from the women and pay them. Virtually, women own the whole investment. Some kilishi makers also mobilised their capital from their wives.’
While NEWMAP and the State Ministry of Environment hope that this innovative method of reducing deforestation spreads to other areas in the state, the success is encouraging more members of the Mararrabar Kantara community to explore kilishi production, migrants to return home, and the kilishi makers of Katsina determined to hand over a productive kilishi Cooperative to their children one day. This determination is evident in the words of Lawal Haruna, the Chairman of Kilishi Union, Malumfashi: ‘We have never experienced any problem that is beyond our strength to handle. If we encounter any problem in the equipment beyond us, we will report to our village head, then to the local government council and then to the state government.’
With such an attitude, the Mararrabar Kantara community will find ways to make the sunshine even on rainy days.
• NEWMAP Project website: www.newmap.gov.ng
• Alh. Nasiru Hamza, Yaba Village Chairman, interview, https://youtu.be/yZK5BoeDSGo
• Ibrahim Bature, returned economic migrant, interview, https://youtu.be/Y_4Vz_vDHGs
• Lawal Haruna, Chairman Kilishi Union, Malumfashi, interview https://youtu.be/D_Mut36dGlM
• Ai’sha Isa Malumfashi, interview, https://youtu.be/gYfBIfk6FsA