Belinda Faniyi is the Ogun State Coordinator of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). In this interview with OYENIRAN APATA, she explains how she turned a three and half hectares of land at the Sagamu Orientation camp to a farmland and skills acquisition ground. Excerpts:
You assumed office in Ogun State in March 2019 as the Coordinator, how did you tame the wild bush at the Sagamu orientation camp?
On my first visit to the orientation camp, I saw the arable expanse of land measuring about three and a half hectares habited by dangerous animals.
Later, I discovered the land had overtime been abandoned, allowed to lie fallow and filled with dangerous reptiles of different sizes. It struck me that the virgin land, as it were, could also be detrimental to the camp as corps members could take refuge in the bush and perpetrate some unwholesome activities that are not allowed in the camp because of its closeness to the mammy market.
Then, I began to imagine that the virgin land could be turned into something productive and meaningful for corps members, especially in the area of Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Development Programme.
This was what informed my clearing the bush with bulldozers and caterpillars to enable us to put it to good use specifically for farming purposes.
To begin, from zero kobo we were able to clear the bush and fenced it off from the mammy market and thereafter we started with the planting of cassava.
It became a routine for corps members, after daily morning devotion, they are signed platoon and platoons for farming activities.
We reminded them of the popular Yoruba song about the need to farm for sustainable food production alongside quality education.
The song was meant to ginger the corps members to go into farming.
Initially, we started with the planting of cassava and thereafter we succeeded in the construction of five concrete fish ponds.
I am happy to say that the cassava yielded well and we also got markets for the cassava. The buyers are even encouraging us to do more of the species from the farmland because it was good. We sold out all for the season and planted more beyond what we achieved in the beginning.
What was the outcome of the five concrete fish ponds and did it produce desired results?
For the fish ponds, as we speak, we have 3000 fingerlings donated by the president of Catfish Association of Nigeria during his visit to the camp.
He was impressed with our farming activities and that spurred him to donate towards the project that had continued to blossom.
I want to say that before his kind gesture, I bought fingerlings to kick start the farm.
This is because with the skills acquisition and entrepreneurship development programme we also have some of our corps members that have keyed into the fish farming aspect of the SAED programme.
The farm had served as the training ground for corps members with interest in fishery, farming, poultry and others.
We have also started snailery. This was because we found that a good species of snail abound in the forest within the cleared land and we quickly took advantage of its availability to commence snail farming and training as well. We picked them up and pronto we started the snailery.
Besides cassava and snailery, what other crops did you plant on the farmland?
We have also planted pepper and we have been selling to local ofada rice sellers.
Besides, we also planted Telfairia occidentalis called pumpkin or Ugwu leaves consumed by corps members during the camping period. They were planted by corps members as part of the Community Development Service.
We have also planted more than 200 plantain trees. We are expecting that when the plantain is ripe enough some will be cooked in the camp and the rest sold.
Besides, we also planted ocimum gratissimum called scent leaf or Efinrin by the Yorubas. You must note that the scent leaf is in high demand.
In the area of harvesting, we have an area for the preservation of the scent leaf to attain a level of dryness for it to be sold to interested organisations.
The dried leaves are sold to people that used it for spice and drug making.
The cassava yielded well, we sold all and ploughed the proceeds back into the farmland to expand production.
What categories of experts are involved in the training of corps members apart from the SEAD officers?
We engage our partners as experts in the training and encouragement of corps members in farming and related activities.
We brought in experts in fish farming and corps members are trained. We bought driers for fish preservation.
The corps members take lessons in the processes of drying, preservation and packaging of farm yields for the market.
What did you observe as an impediment to corps members’ interest in farming?
The main challenge observed with the corps members is that some of them that are committed and developed interest in farming are sceptical about the market. They are not sure of how the market will absorb the farm yields. They ask; where is the market, who do we sell to without suffering enormous wastage?
What I did, apart from the various training in fishery and farm production, was to invite the past and first female President of the Fisheries Society of Nigeria, Miss Foluke Areola.
Besides, she is also of the African Women Fish Processors and Traders Network (AWFISHNET) Nigeria Chapter to the camp. Through her, she introduced us to the fish market where buyers of fish trade. Miss Areola also facilitated our meeting with the President, Catfish Association of Nigeria in the person of Mr Musa Sunday Onoja, who incidentally was an ex-corps member that served in Ogun State.
He was impressed with our farm activities. Some of the catfish in our ponds are big and above one kilo. He bought the smaller fishes and also introduced us further to the buyers’ market.
He took the corps members through fish sorting, weighing, and the various associations’ contacts and donated a scale to encourage us.
It may interest you note that we have already established a market for our cassava through Areola. We are happy with the market.
I make bold to say if given adequate assistance and encouragement, corps members and youths across the country will be fully engaged in farming rather than complaints about joblessness.
In what areas can the government support the young Nigerians to go into farming?
The government should assist youths that are interested in farming in clearing the bush.
This is because clearing is expensive and they lacked the fund to clear land for farming.
The government can hire tractors and bulldozers to do the initial clearing and make the land good for farming, provide seedlings and other needs.
What about start-up capital?
This is the usual question on the lips of corps members. During orientation the CBN, Bank of Industry, Unity Bank and other stakeholders encourage corps members to write a proposal for assistance for start-ups. Some complained the processes of assessing the loan were cumbersome.