How govt can attract youths into agric sector – Oduataj Farms president
Taiwo Oduala is a Nigerian-born humanitarian philanthropist, farmer and film-maker, with 32 years of wealth of experience in farming/agriculture and the entertainment industries.
Oduala is also the President of Oduataj Farms, and Co-Founder of Oduataj Agricultural Foundation, an organisation known for advocating for farmers and promoting Agriculture in Nigeria as the ‘new oil.”
In this interview, he speaks on what his organisation is doing to support and empower African Farmers at home and abroad.
He also speaks on how government can harness the potential, and further grow the Nigerian agricultural sector.
Tell us more about the Oduataj Agricultural Foundation. What is it about, and how long has it been in operation?
Oduataj Agricultural Foundation is an organisation known for helping the poor, needy and vulnerable worldwide. It consists of a group of different professionals bound by a common interest “Agriculture”. One of our core competencies is our ability to support African Farmers at home and abroad, and our passion to empower them. Oduataj Agricultural Foundation has over 200 members spread over Africa, and we are still counting. At O.A. Foundation, one of our main goals is to encourage young Africans to embrace Agriculture and pursue the same as a lifetime career. The foundation has made positive impacts on the lives of many in Africa, Europe, the United Kingdom and America.
Can you highlight some of the achievements of the foundation so far?
Our Foundation has been able to support over 20 young graduates/college students in studying Agriculture as a profession, and over 2,000 youths and young adults have benefited from our various agricultural programs.
Can one become a member without having a farm?
No. To become a member of the Foundation, you must own a farm of your own and must have been in the agricultural sector for a minimum of 12 months. Another thing is that every intending member must have a referee who will sign them into membership.
Is there any financial commitment of fees one has to pay? How much?
The membership fee is N75,000 (seventy-five thousand naira) only and this is paid annually at the beginning of every year. I must say this amount is small compared to what they stand to benefit.
Let’s talk about the benefits of being a member
Members get free professional guide for their agricultural business; free mentorship and coaching services, financial advice and assistance for their business, an opportunity to meet other farmers locally and internationally and learn from them, and the opportunity to acquire more knowledge about agriculture both locally and internationally
Based on your knowledge as an international farmer, what would be your assessment of the agricultural sector in Nigeria?
The agricultural sector in Nigeria needs some level of education and support from government agencies, NGOs and individuals who are active or interested parties. The sector also needs improvement in the use of technological machinery and tools, awareness campaigns on current trends, improvements and innovations in the field. Statistics have shown that farmers who are encouraged to learn about the new technological advancements in the agricultural sector tend to do a lot more as compared to those who don’t.
Agriculture has gone past the usual hoe and cutlass method. It has diversified in many ways that tourists come to visit for the sole purpose of learning and observing. Hence, our local farmers are encouraged to harness these innovations in the sector.
The sector still has a long way to go such as the advancement in greenhouse and its improvements in the agricultural sector. A greenhouse is an enclosed structure or environment where crops are grown. A greenhouse protects crops from pests, diseases and adverse climatic conditions, Nigeria needs to incorporate this into her agricultural sector for remarkable improvements.
Another aspect where Nigeria needs improvement is the aspect of Agritourism.
This is a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or processing with tourism to attract visitors to a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business to entertain or educate the visitors while generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner. This advancement in agriculture will bring in tourists and generate income for our local farmers.
How else do you think the government harness the potential, and further grow the agricultural sector?
Farmers need a lot more funds to keep the process going. The government needs to provide interest-free or subsidised loans for these farmers especially because agriculture is a “new oil money” since the government can no longer fund the country’s needs by relying solely on petroleum produce. We have the land, good soil, good weather, the manpower. we have the requirements that could make agriculture favourable for us.
Also, young individuals need to be encouraged to be a part of the agricultural workforce and sector by the introduction of incentives, loans and grants for individuals in this field. These incentives would be a form of attraction for them to take up a career in agriculture. The government can also look into structures like giving a form of scholarships. It could be 100%, 50% etc., to individuals or a group of people who are taking up agriculture as a field of study. In this way, they’ll be encouraging them by cutting down the cost of education in these fields. They should encourage and bring back school clubs like the Young Farmers Club and so on which would educate the younger, letting people see the benefits and advantages of being a farmer.
When we talk about a farmer, the young Nigerian would imagine an old man with a cutlass and hole, going to the farm to plant or harvest some crops in the morning and wearing worn clothes but agriculture has gone past this. And so, the government needs to do is to create some level of awareness and incentives which would attract the young into agriculture.
The government can also give out lands on lease or a purchasing plan where people can come and farmers individuals or a group of farmers at a pocket-friendly rate. They could also practice cooperative farming, where a farm is run in cooperation with others in the purchasing and using of machinery, stock, etc, and in the marketing of produce through its institutions, this is a very convenient way for farmers to own their produce and make profits.
The commercial farming industry is generally capital-intensive where eight plots of land, at the very least, might be required. A lot of people cannot afford this so the government can come up with government-reserved farmer states and areas where farmers can farm for a length of time, maybe every year, planting and harvesting on the given plot[s].
These farmers need loans to keep the processes going and remain productive year in and year out. The government needs to come up with measures to curb incidents where non-farmers are masked as farmers for the sole purpose of getting loans and incentives that are meant strictly for those in the agricultural industry.
Are now advocating for the return of the Young Farmers Club in schools to encourage and get more youths interested?
Having to involve the youth in a business is the best way to ensure the success of that industry. A lot of youths are going now into entertainment, and a lot of youths are coming up with different comedy skits which they make some money from. They find that this comedy skit makes business profitable, and accessible. In other words, making the agricultural industry accessible, profitable and exciting could be a means to lure the youths into this industry just like we used to do at the young farmers’ club that used to be very active and interactive back in the day. Students used to come together to plant their seeds, nurse them to maturity and then harvest them. This used to be so much fun and so many pupils used to look forward to Friday club days
What are your plans for your members this 2024?
We have had a couple of meetings online. Our first physical meeting will be around the end of this first quarter. We plan to have several trainings this year. Some of our members would be going for agricultural exposes and exhibitions. Some of our members would be going to Austria and the United States of America for agricultural expos and exhibitions. This would educate and expose them to technological developments in these developed countries. Some of our members will be attending the International Expos in California and Nigeria. The plan is to gain education on the safe use of fertilizers, food packaging, food processing and many more as it pertains to large-scale farming and commercial farming. We also plan to be educated on how we can make use the AI in the agricultural sector and the beauty and innovations of agro-tourism.