Don’t be surprised when next you visit Lagos, Abuja or any other part of my country Nigeria, if our airports and road paths are filled with cassava and maize plantations. Our oil boom to doom story is sending us back to the farm.
Sadly, we are not prepared for this, the recent global drop in oil prices has caused a glitch in our economy and we are diversifying from oil to other sectors, with agriculture as the main focus. We have all been asked to go back to the farm in order to save our economy to farm our way back to prosperity. The only solution to this challenge is the need for innovation to be actively involved across the agricultural value chain if the present efforts will not at the end be a pipe dream.
30 years ago, I was born into a smallholder farming family, raising livestock, catfish and farming crops. As a young boy, farming was a drudgery venture and I was chastised severally while trying to avoid the herculean task that comes with raising livestock and weeding the ridges. I lived the first 2 decades of my life as the first son of smallholder farmers with my other 4 siblings.
My parent’s involvement in agriculture encouraged me to study Animal Health and Production Technology and later Agricultural Extension and Management. I also took classes in Graphics design and Website development. This formed the foundation of my passion, looking for ways to transform agriculture and transform the lives of smallholder farmers using Information and Communications Technology. I have been involved in other ventures to raise a meal ticket to fuel my passion; in 2012, I founded AgroInfoTech Africa to pursue my passion of redefining agriculture in Africa using new technologies.
Over the years, working with smallholder farmers, agricultural research scientists and agricultural businesses using ICT, every challenge I encountered gives birth to new solutions that needs a platform to grow out as a startup venture. From providing access to market for farmers, technology transfer, information dissemination for quality extension service delivery, there were so many problems that needed urgent attention and I continually see the need to transform agriculture and redefine it as a business creating innovations powered by ICT.
Recently, the President of the African Development Bank and also the immediate past Minister for Agriculture in Nigeria, Dr Akinwumi Adesina recently wrote “Agriculture is not a way of life. It is not a social sector or a development activity, despite what people may claim. Agriculture is a business. And the more we treat it as a business, as a way to create wealth, the more it will promote development and improve people’s lives……. One way to treat agriculture like a business is to get the private sector more involved in it.”
So, I was looking for how to bring everyone on board, from private sector players to research institutes, to redefine how we practice agriculture as a business which will need incubation, acceleration and innovation. In my pursuit to achieve this I started looking for ways to acquire the needed structure to promote my solutions in agribusiness. I searched and couldn’t find any. I contacted some business hubs in Lagos, but they are majorly concerned about the replication of Silicon Valley innovations on the African continent and what they are looking for are software developers with western related solutions and not a “tech farmer” like me.
I believe incubation and acceleration centers should be industry-focused. I realized that agricultural incubation and acceleration is different, especially in Africa and I was out to look for a center that understands agricultural innovation, but I was disappointed.
I further researched and I discovered a project under The Forum Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) Universities, Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (UniBRAIN) supporting incubators in Africa located in countries like Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Uganda, and Zambia. UniBRAIN pioneers a new approach to promoting agricultural innovation and improving tertiary agribusiness education in Africa. They also promote innovation by improving the flow of technology and knowledge by removing barriers between actors in the value chains.
“Eureka!” (I have found it).
This is what I have been looking for but sadly, none of these centers is ICT based and none is available in my country Nigeria. I decided to brave up and take the lead and pioneer Nigeria’s first Agribusiness Innovation Centre after brainstorming with friends, mentors, clients and agricultural research scientists.
I proposed the idea to an agricultural research institute in my community, it was approved and we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with The Institute of Agricultural Research & Training, IAR&T, Obafemi Awolowo University, Moor Plantation Ibadan, Oyo State and AGRO INNOVATION HUB (AgroHUB) was birthed!
A spacious facility has been given to us within the institute where the hub is been established and we are presently putting the structures in place. I contacted UNIBRAIN’s facility coordinator and I was impressed with the willingness to support the new center and i was also invited to join the African Agribusiness Incubator Network, AAIN.
The center is presently developing in-house solutions and we are working on some innovations in agriculture that will transform farming in Africa, with focus on Research, Technology and Entrepreneurship. The center will be driven on public-private partnerships, working with other relevant stakeholders to build our solutions, and create innovative ventures across the value chain. We will work with educational institutions in agriculture and raise graduates that are passionate about ICT for Agricultural development as interns who will become entrepreneurs and further champion different innovative solutions from the center. We aim to further collaborate with those who can help us achieve our goals and fulfill our objectives, and successfully run a model that can be further replicated across Africa.
Setting up the center has been fully funded from personal savings and with the support of friends and family. The $5000 grant will go a long way to assist our present status. We will use :
$1000 to register our center with the African Agribusiness Incubator Network,
$1200 to purchase laptops, a digital camera, basic office equipment and stationeries. We intend to use
$1200 to finish some of our pending software solutions,
$600 to install an inverter as a backup for electricity supply to the center, and
$1000 as working capital to manage day to day activities of the center.
I will be pleased to take your questions and suggestions in the comments section below.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Oluwajoba Ayo’ Okediji (Nigeria) – okedijiayo[at]gmail.com
Illustration courtesy: AgroInfoTech Africa
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
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