13th June 2021
  • 9:11 pm Through the Eyes of Ides Ofune – Women Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Motherhood and Higher Education
  • 12:31 pm PhD Researcher Oladapo Ajayi is improving the lives of underserved children through his NGO AfRII
  • 7:30 am The Rising Cost of Private Schools in Nigeria
  • 2:42 pm Meet Lawrence Okon Founder of Read Empire with the aim of alleviating poverty among young graduates
  • 4:58 pm Prevention is Better than Rehabilitation says 24 Year Old Adebimpe Adebara Founder of Piece of my Heart Foundation
  • 3:48 pm Read about how Pamela Stephen established Fortress Foundation to help teenagers overcome sexual abuse

Our Desert Bloomer of the week is Dr. Cornelius Adewale.

I met Dr. Adewale during the Ventures for Enterprise Management Programme (VIEMP) organised by Junior Achievement where his brilliance was unmistakable. As young graduates then, I knew he had so much to offer Nigeria. As predicted, he is doing great work for Agriculture in Nigeria. He is an Associate Research Fellow with Washington State University where he is using the knowledge gained from developed countries to have a positive impact on the African continent. I caught up with him recently to talk more about his achievements and his work in the agriculture sector in Nigeria. It was really eye opening, educative and insightful.

Enjoy!

Please tell us more about yourself

I studied Agricultural Economics at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. After graduating from the University, I started an organic vegetable farm. I ran the farm for about 3 years before going for my graduate degree at Washington State University (WSU). At WSU, I studied Soil Science for my MSc and Agricultural Environmental Sciences for my doctoral degree. I decided to pursue graduate degrees because of my desire to learn how to build models and practical tools that would foster adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. Over the last eight years, I have worked on research that compared soil testing techniques under organic farming systems, developed parameters for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission factors for organic farming inputs and practices, developed a farmer-friendly tool for estimation of nitrate leaching, carbon sequestration, and carbon footprint (CF), developed soil organic matter algorithm for different soil types, and mobile application that helped farmers combat prevalence of new pest infestation.

What projects have you participated in? 

My graduate education actively focused on how to translate research into tools that expedite and optimize management decisions for farmers. To guide behaviors that optimize yield, profitability, and long-term productivity farmers need access to research-based information, knowledge, tools, and resources that expedite and optimize on-farm decision making. My M.S. and doctoral dissertation work contributed to the development of farm carbon footprint tool OFoot (https://ofoot.wsu.edu), a publicly available user-friendly digital tool farmers now use to estimate nitrate leaching, carbon sequestration, and carbon footprint. I recently led a team to develop an interactive pest wizard (CornBot) that enables Nigerian farmers to identify, manage and control pests on their farms. The pest wizard was recently recognized by the USAID sponsored Fall Armyworm Tech prize with a Frontier Innovation Award.

I know you have received a number of awards and nominations, please tell us about them.

Over the years, I have received quite a number. Some of them are:

  • Bullitt Environmental Leadership Fellowship
  • Microsoft AI for Earth Grants (Microsoft Azure Compute Grant)
  • USAID Feed The Future Fall Armyworm Tech Prize
  • Agronomic Science Foundation Sustainable Research Fellowship
  • Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Graduate Fellowship
  • Alaska Airlines Research Travel Grant
  • Everett and Helen Kreizinger Scholarship for Agricultural Extension
  • Graduate Student Fellowship
  • G.A. Harris Fellowship, Decagon Devices (now Metergroup)
  • Roscoe and Frances Cox Scholarship
  • Future Leaders Award by the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development (AIARD).
  • Washington State University President’s Award for Leadership

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently developing farm management decision support tools that guide and incentivize integrated pest management, soil management, and adherence to good agricultural practices among small holder farmers in Nigeria. We are using human-centered design that enable interaction with farmers in their local languages. We recently completed the first of the three phases of the project. This first phase involved the development of pest wizard (CornBot), an audio-visual digital tool that enable African farmers to identify, detect, prevent, manage and control pests on their farms. The pest wizard does not only deliver contents that help farmers in Nigeria combat pest infestation, it also provides the metadata needed to generate pest heat map visualization which provides agricultural stakeholders with real-time data necessary for formulating evidence-based policies, intervention or support on incidence of pest in Africa.

To achieve our broad aims and ensure long term sustainability, we have kept diverse collaborative partnerships across agencies and institutions including governmental, donor, local, regional and international non-governmental organizations and universities with the private sector.  We collaborated actively with eHealth Africa for the development of CornBot. Aside eHealth, some of our collaborators on the projects are: Center for Dryland Agriculture (CDA), Bayero University, Kano; Kano Agricultural & Rural Development Authority (KNARDA); and National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services (NAERLS).

What motivated you into choosing agriculture?

In 2006, I took a leadership position that gave me the opportunity to travel from farm to farm in Nigeria listening to farmers’ experiences and yearnings. The platform presented me with a unique opportunity to be exposed to the enormous environmental and economic challenges farmers face in Nigeria, as well as the tremendous potential of engaging more people in Agriculture. I saw how farmers, all across the country, lacked access to information, tools and resources for sustainable farming. But I also saw the tremendous potential of agriculture and how it could empower millions of youths in Nigeria. However, many of the farmers I met did not understand the underlying causes of their predicament. Across the country, farmers lacked access to information, tools and resources for sustainable farming. It was at this moment that I made the decision to spend my life and career to help foster sustainable food production in Nigeria.

How can young people in Nigeria tap into the potentials of Agriculture?

The first thing is to change the mindset of young people about agriculture. We have an image problem when it comes to agriculture. Most people see agriculture as subsistence and not a business. As a result, young people find it difficult to see themselves becoming a highly successful person as a farmer or in agriculture. To tap into the potentials of Agriculture, we must begin to see agriculture as a serious business enterprise. Most government policies and media coverage contribute to this image problem. Our educational system is equally guilty of the same issue. Ask a regular ten year old in Nigeria what farmers do. You will only get a picture of a subsistence living from them. To get young people excited about agriculture, we need to fix the image problem.

Aside the image problem, we need to fix the educational problem too. We need practical training on why, what, and how of running an agricultural enterprise. Decision making at farm level is complicated. Aside decision making on basic management issues, farmers still have to grapple with factors such as weather that are out of their control. Yet, farmers are the least empowered group of people with information and resources needed to make good decision. We have created this image of “anybody can do farming”. As a result, we don’t have enough investment in education and training required for running farming as a business. For instance, most people undergo certain training to become a bricklayer or hair stylist. Yet, people dabble into farming without learning the intricacies involved to be a good farmer. This issue has created both wrong mindset and negative testimonials that deter more young people from going into agriculture. To get young people more interested in potentials of Agriculture, conscious effort and investment need to be made on practical education and trainings.

To unleash the potentials of Agriculture in Nigeria, we need more investment in infrastructure. This is probably the most important factor. Specifically, more investment in road and power is critical in getting more young people into agriculture. There are thousands of opportunities in many agricultural sub-sectors like storage, processing, transportation, labelling, insurance, marketing, inputs production, etc. Some of these are not yet globally competitive because of unreliable infrastructures like road and power.

What are the challenges you face when implementing projects in Nigeria?

Funding is a challenge. Finding partners that share our goals and interest is another major challenge we face in implementing our projects in Nigeria.

Funding has always played a big role for young people, how can they access it?

Well, here is my advice on that.

First, have a plan. Then, start small. Learn as much as possible before scaling up. It is easier to attract the kind of funding needed to run a profitable agricultural business if you focus first in gaining experience and learning rather focusing on the financial gains at onset. To gain leverage, you must first be investable. There are people with access to fund looking for where to invest their money. However, many startups and young people are not yet investable. To gain leverage as a young person, focus on making yourself and your business investable first.

What kind of support would you need from the government?

We need agricultural policies oriented towards seeing agriculture as an enterprise rather a social cause. Government need to invest more on infrastructural development that can foster agricultural development. This means government need to focus more on solving the problem of “ACCESS”. Instead of giving people fish, our policies should be teaching people how to fish. Here are some examples. Farmers need access to capital. Farmers need access of agricultural insurance. Farmers need access to market. Farmers need access to good storage facilities. Farmers need access to information and resources that foster sustainable agriculture.  Our current agricultural policies are not addressing many of these issues. At a personal level, we need more government support for our organic farming training program. We are appealing to State governments for support.

Does the private sector have a role to play?

I am currently collaborating with eHealth Africa on development of mobile application that can help farmers combat pests. This is an example of private sector participation. Yes, private sector have a huge role to play in agricultural development.

Any future projects in the pipeline?

Aside the development of the mobile applications mentioned above, we are currently developing a practical training program for young people interested in organic vegetable production. This training program will take the participants through the process running farming as a business. Part of it will be practical farming operations like soil preparation, planting, harvesting, e.t.c. Other aspects of the training will involve market development, farm business planning, and organic certification process. The first section of the training will commence later this year.

Thank you so much Dr Adewale. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours and we hope you continue to do great work for Nigeria and Africa! To collaborate with him, send us an email at info@desertbloomadvisory.com

Ides Ofune

Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at info@desertbloomadvisory.com

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