‘Why I’m Passionate About Agripreneur with your first and second degrees in religion, what informed your motivated you to venture into agribusiness?
Well, I must note that the purpose of education is to equip you, challenge the status quo and not to get stuck with your field of study. Since I left university in 2010, I have never worked with my certificate neither have I done any job related to religion or philosophy. I have two great skills which I have been exploring from a younger age, I am a talented writer and cook, I love to write and I love to cook; so I started both as undergraduate, when I cook back then in school, my friends always come around to eat, I make all manner of special meals like “ekuru” (beans meal) e.t.c as a student, this was unusual of a male student. More also, growing up around age 12, I have spent holidays with a family member who manages a garri factory in Ogbomosho, so I worked with his children to peel cassava, sieve and do other processing duties as directed, all these experiences put together enhanced my skill and passion for agribusiness.
As a budding agripreneur, how did the journey begin?
I never saw myself taking up agriculture this fast because the journey started with advocacy for economic diversification, using the agrarian successes of 1970s as a model; when the crude oil prices started dwindling globally, Nigeria was hit badly, businesses started closing down, government couldn’t pay salaries, begging escalated, domestic theft increased and unemployment soared, the effect is still felt till date. There was no other way out for Nigeria than to diversify into viable sector like agriculture. So I went from one radio station to another, various TV platforms, conferences and social media advocating for massive diversification of the Nigerian economy into agriculture. I have read about the success of agriculture in Nigeria in the 1970s, so I am confident that it is a lucrative sector that can grow and sustain our economy. Soon, the advocacy graduated to meeting with key stakeholders in the private sector to start some agribusinesses. I attended meetings at African Development Bank and networked key partners; then I started a farmer’s cooperative in partnership with two others and the initiative was funded by persons in the private sector. We started with 93 local farmers giving them credit facilities to boost their production. Other important initiatives followed, to ensure I wasn’t just advocating for diversification verbally, I had to put in place some initiatives as examples and proofs. Total Trains 60 Youths In Agricultural Entrepreneurship
Can you tell us some of your projects and their impact on Nigerians?
Currently, I have major agribusiness projects that contribute largely to food security and provide employment for Nigerians. I am privileged to managing a cassava processing project where we employ at least 40 casual workers on daily basis, aside main staff. The cassava factory produces garri which is supplied to major food markets in Abuja, Lagos, and Kwara for now. More also, through the farmer’s cooperative which I co-founded, I am leading a partnership with Medium Security Prisons Kirikiri Lagos to train, empower and establish inmates who are interested in farming within the prison yard; the initiative is in line with the earning scheme of the Nigeria Prisons. We will kick off this initiative by first quarter of 2018, I have held meetings with the authority of the Medium Security Prisons Kirikiri including the head of agric department. In line with reformation aim of the prisons, with this project, inmates who are interested in farming will be trained, land will be allocated to them within the yard, seedlings will be provided to them, monitoring also and when we sell their produce, the profit is remitted to each of them. The project will only be focused on vegetable farming, from the farm the prisons can provide all the vegetable it needs in the kitchen, and also sell to surrounding markets in case of surplus. Among many others, I am extending an important partnership with cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast and rural farmers in Eastern Rwanda, these are some of the projects I am leading, a major farm city project is also coming in 2018, it will be the first of its kind in Africa. More of these projects can be seen on my website www.olawalerotimi.com
What challenges did you face and how did you surmount them?
Challenges are expected in every area of life, so it was something I anticipated. The challenges are numerous and daily but none was insurmountable. Among others, communicating with local farmers and labourers was a major challenge, almost all of them are uneducated, even though I speak and understand Yoruba, there are developments I find difficult to find the right expression in Yoruba, and the farmers do not understand English. More also, some of the locales resist new development in farming, they want to stick to what their forefathers handed over to them, so it takes a lot of time trying to persuade them, show them results from other places for them to accept your proposal. But generally, it has been fun and inspiring, I am particularly happy to be leading youth involvement in agriculture in Nigeria and Africa, I am more joyous to be part of the process that brings food to the market and to the table of various homes.
Do you have any message to young Nigerians to venture into agribusiness?
Like African Development Bank President, Adesina will say, “agriculture is cool” and yes it is. I just want to encourage young Nigerians who are interested in agribusiness to get involved. The demographics are clear, there are huge opportunities in the sector, Nigeria is over 180 million, by 2050 this population will double, this means we have more mouths to feed; over 20 billion dollars spent annually on importing food items that could have been produced in Nigeria, this figures are pointing to the direction of where future money lie, I am urging my fellow youth to seized the various opportunities provided by agriculture and not just to be criticise government. Let’s get involved, the best time is now.ship’