LAGOS – There is no doubt that the Graduate Agripreneurs Project initiated by the British-American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) to drive youth engagement in agriculture, make agribusiness attractive and also reduce employment, has come to stay.
The programme had its first set of beneficiaries, both graduates of the University of Ibadan (UI), share their success stories to encourage and drive more youths to the Graduate Agripreneurs Project.
The beneficiaries, who shared their various experiences with Daily Independent, testified that the programme has been a game-changer for them, assisting them in putting into practice what they were taught in school, as well as in realising their dreams.
Sunday Adekpe, a 36-year-old father of one, who had his first and second degrees from the University of Ibadan, stated that the project has been a very good avenue for him to practice what he learnt and put food on his table.
He explained that under the project, he was given 10 hectares of land to cultivate and that he just finished his second cycle of maize.
According to Adekpe, the first cycle, which was done last year, was very challenging due to COVID-19 pandemic and the climatic condition, which was not favourable to farming.
“Last year was a very challenging one to us; we experienced drought and practically lost everything we did. We did not give up; this year has been a better one.
“I did maize and cassava and it failed last year, but this year, I have done maize. We just harvested and we are planting cassava. I did maize and cassava on this project. Aside from this, I do other things like pepper, vegetables, tomatoes, cucumber and the likes.
Speaking on his profit for this cycle, Adekpe said he made about N1.2 million.
“I planted in May and harvested earlier in August. Within these few months, I made about N1.2 million. I spent about N719, 000 on ploughing, planting materials, seed, fertilizer and labour. I sold the maize for about N1.9 million.”
On his cassava production, Adekpe said he is just planting and that he has found a processing factory, which will buy his cassava roots and stem.
“Cato Foods, a processing company, has approached me to buy my cassava roots and stem. It assisted me with input and has also assured me that I will get a tractor from it to use anytime I need it.
Adekpe added that the processing factory is requesting that if he can do 20 hectares of cassava, Cato Foods is ready to buy all.
“Cato Foods is requesting that I should increase my production to 20 hectares and that it is ready to buy everything. But the ploughable land I have here is not up to that. I was assured that if I can secure more land, the firm will assist me to open the virgin land,” he said.
He added that he is seeking an extension from the university to allow him to stay on the land for more time, stating that his two-year contract will lapse this year.
Olubunmi Agbato, owner of B-Spice, who started her fish farming and processing on a small-scale in Ibadan, is another beneficiary of the project.
Agbato said that she started the business in 2017 and that when the Foundation granted her N1 million, she was able to expand her business and also create employment.
“The grant has helped us to increase production and our profit. It has also helped in the area of employment generation. Before BANTF came into the picture, I was working with just two people and they were not even permanent staff. We are now seven and everybody is on the payroll,” she said.
While sharing her experience at the Ile-Ogbo Farm Station, she stated that she constructed two standard ponds, which were stocked and she was able to do three cycles to smoking size there.
Agbato also noted that with the intervention of the Foundation, she has started her National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) registration and the number will be ready in a few weeks’ time.
“Our profit has increased by 30 percent. Before we were making about N100,000 but now, we are getting like N400,000 after a production cycle and we do like three cycles in a year. If in just two years we increased by 40 percent, I believe that in five years, we will increase by 70 percent if not more.
“What the Foundation has done for me is amazing. It has been a game-changer and it made me level up and has brought my dreams to reality.”
Dare Odusanya, Project Manager, British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF), while speaking with Daily Independent during the tour, said the Graduate Agripreneur Project is targeted at supporting young graduates, as well as undergraduates.
“In supporting graduates, we are able to provide seed funds for them to start their business in a location that has been pre-identified by the institution and we on an annual basis support the crop and the aquaculture graduates.
He stated that the project also via its implementation, the foundation is able to support undergraduates.
“For those in their practical year, the 400 Level agriculture students have the opportunity to liaise and engage these agripreneurs working on the farm to learn the business side of agriculture aside from the theory they learnt in school.
“The idea behind this is to see that young people can gain interest on, and to an extent, are empowered to practise agriculture. We want them to see the wealth in agriculture and we are playing our quota by providing a seed fund for them to do that.”
Speaking further, he said that the Foundation started with N2.5 million and it has been raised to N3 million, which is N1.5million for each agriprenuer.
“We have recorded some success; we believe that we might be able to diversify into other value chains to support more people going forward. At the moment, we are very excited with what we are seeing. We see the interest and the zeal with which these young people are developing their businesses,” he said.
On the choice of the University of Ibadan, Odusanya stated that the project ideally plans to reach out to almost all the tertiary institutions, adding that UI was the first to oblige to the foundation to create some support.
“What we are currently running with UI is the pilot project and once we are able to successfully present evidential data for the four agriprenuers, it is something we would be able to replicate across board.
“We have had conversations with other universities and we are very optimistic that the success of this will translate into those universities going forward.”
Professor Emmanuel Ajani, former Dean, Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources, University of Ibadan, in a chat with our correspondent during a visit to the institution, stated that the whole concept is about youth empowerment; engaging youths, attracting them into agricultural operations, bringing them back into agricultural activities and also using it to train those the university level on the beauty of going into agricultural ventures.
“Many people believe that agriculture is a poverty-based enterprise. But bringing commerce and money out of it actually led to the idea of bringing the entrepreneurship content into agriculture.
“We have land at Ile-Ogbo, which the community gave us. We felt we could make good use of the land rather than just leaving it there idle. At 400 level, our students are usually involved in practical aspects. When these people are demonstrating this activity on the Ile-Ogbo Farm Station, these students will also be learning, so it is a multiple benefit.
He added that the selection process was competitive, that experts in the fields were involved in the selection process and interviews were conducted before the beneficiaries were selected.
He confirmed that beneficiaries were chosen for maize and aquaculture, stressing that despite the problems, which occurred last year, the beneficiaries really put in their best to ensure that their businesses succeeded.
Ajani noted further that the students who were supposed to go this year were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and insecurity in the country.
“The Foundation has initiated the second arm of the project; we have also conducted interviews through the same process and we have selected two other people that are coming on board. They are able to release the funding.”
He commended the Foundation for the gesture, stressing that it will have a lot of impact on the nation, which will be felt across the country.
“I implore our funding partners to do more and expand their coverage areas. We have written a proposal that they should increase the number of the students and also increase the funds. Initially, they were giving us N2.5 million but now, they have increased it to N3 million.
“This is really turning the lives of our youths around; we are going to achieve a lot if it can continue and be expanded. It will have a positive impact,” he added.
Source: Daily Independent