As Nigeria considers diversifying her economy from oil and gas, it has become obvious that agriculture must be given priority once again. In this interview with DAYO EMMANUEL, a young farmer, trainer and final year student of the Federal University of Agriculture (FUNAB) Abeokuta, Ogun State, Grace Alabi advises Nigerian farmers to shun old ways of practicing agriculture. Alabi, founder of Krystal Greens, an agricultural training outfit also explains why the youths must embrace agriculture and position for great opportunities in the near future. Excerpts:
You seem to be so passionate about agriculture, how did you get this passion?
I remember as young girl I had so many things I wanted to become in future like being a doctor. This was more pronounced because my paternal grandmother was a nurse and I used to read her nursing books and I knew well how to administer First Aid. I wanted to be a great writer. I used to read a lot and then started writing, I still do. I wanted to be a fashion designer. I sketch so well then I did a little experiment on gardening wherein I planted and nurtured beans and maize till I harvested two stands but I didn’t take it to heart.
As time passed by I was not so sure of what I wanted to do, but when I was to write my GCE, my mum sat me down to talk about choosing career in life, talked about choosing the will of God in one’s career, I then got to see I didn’t want to go on with Medicine any longer. My major reason was having to study long and the sight of blood, and I got to start asking what else could I do asides Medicine, so she said why not try Agriculture and made me see so many reasons why to pick it. Then I asked a friend of hers who is in the education sector on branches of agriculture I could venture into. So when I was registering for JAMB I filled in Agricultural Economics and Farm Management but then had to change school from University of Ilorin to the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) because I didn’t reach the cut off mark for that course in my A’ levels. So I had to apply for a change of course before post UTME. I miraculously gained admission (this would be a story for another day).
You eventually developed interest after your admission?
In school was where I developed passion for agriculture, I was given another course – Plant Breeding and Seed Technology instead of AEFM Agricultural Economics and Farm Management. In 200 level during one of our classes on Pineapple under Horticulture, I just had the thought of growing Watermelons and Cucumbers, but I didn’t do much about it, then in 300 level I spoke about my interest with a close friend with whom we started a processing of getting a portion of land with our school to bring the interest to reality, just two of us then we involved 3 other friends, someone got a form for us to get the portion of land from school, but in the end we couldn’t continue because we didn’t even have enough money to clear the land to start with (this was where Krystal Greens got her name), before then the idea of seminar in school came about, my parents most especially my mum helped to get people who would speak during the program but on that very day due to my inactions and lack of preparation everything flopped.
But I had all of these at heart. My mum and another friend of mine Aminat Amadeen kept imploring me to start something. My passion was then further heightened when in my 400 level we were exposed to rural life and practiced out agriculture, from preparing a vegetable bed, to planting and nurturing, how to manage a poultry, piggery, rabbitry amongst many other Agricultural operations and from then on till now, it had all been planning and brainstorming on how to birth Kyrstal Greens and expand.
You’ve been running some seminars online, how is it imparting your participants? Can you give a brief overview of the courses?
Yes sir I have, it is imparting my participants by enlightening, motivating them to various lucrative agribusinesses and how to expand the agricultural sector.
The program being a two weeks training, we have successfully completed the first week which entailed Castor, Rice, Rabbit, Marketing and Value Addition to Agricultural produce.
Castor: Ricinus communis, is a green plant that produces little hard seeds belonging to the Euphorbiaceae family. Castor is a prominent commodity and a major commercial crop in the world, definitely also in our country. Its seeds are used in various sectors ranging from pharmaceutical industries, plastic and rubber, cosmetics and fragrances, etc
Amongst the varieties we have, we plant Brazilian white and GCH 07 in Nigeria because of demands and productivity.
Rice: Oryza sativa, is the second prominent cereal after maize in the world. It has come to be a staple food for we Nigerians. It takes 5-6 months to reach maturity.
Rabbit Farming: Oryctolagus cuniculus, we have over 100 breeds of rabbits, and they can be bred for several reasons such as meat, for their fur, their urine and droppings and also for pets. They are very prolific animals and they multiply rapidly hence very good for business and their meat is highly recommended medically over red meat because it contains less calories, almost cholesterol free making it health friendly.
Marketing and Value Addition: Marketing is the series of activities involved in getting the farm produce from the point of harvest to the table of the final consumers.
Production without marketing is a wasted effort because it’s compulsory on you to market your produce after harvest
Value addition is a conscious effort to make a product appealing or acceptable to the sense organ. The process of Value addition is called *branding*
And we have many other courses yet untouched: Diversifying Nigeria’s Economy via Agriculture, Bee Breeding and Honey production, Digital Agricultural Extension via agriblogging, A brief introduction to Pangasius Common Carp (a new fish farming)
Nigeria produces hundreds of Agric graduates annually, but we are not yet food sufficient in food crops, cash crops and even animal production. What do you observe is wrong?
I can say this is because of lack of passion and purpose.
Many agricultural graduates when they were undergraduates just wanted to finish school because they felt they were tired, some picked up a new line of interest leaving out the reason why they were in that school studying that course.
Many were given another course instead of the one they picked while registering in turn downing their passion and sidetracking them to other things.
There are many people who were not even Agricultural graduates but my word! When you see the things they do, and how they have developed great passion for agriculture and the advancement to which they have achieved, you would be so surprised. For example, my mentor in the person of Mr. Abraham Adeoye, studied Computer Engineering Technology in LACOSTECH now Lagos Poly.
His passion for agriculture started when he had an holiday job at a farm called Mitchell Farms in those days at Ifako and Iju Agege Lagos, where he worked at their poultry farm as an attendant when he was preparing for his WAEC In the 80s and that followed him through his Poly years and since then till date. So indeed it lies in passion and purpose and we can say motivation.
Before Nigeria discovered oil in commercial quantity, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy, now as oil price is going down globally, the country is finding her way back to the first love-agriculture. Can you advise on the best way to recover the economy with agriculture?
Agriculture in the 21st century has evolved from the crude way of doing agriculture. So Nigeria as a whole must look away from the old way of doing agriculture if she really wants to recover her economy.
The slogan coined from our President’s recent speech “Grow what you eat, and eat what you grow” must not just be taken as the government’s responsibility alone, but we as individuals should take it on as a responsibility.
Introduction of the practical aspects of Agriculture should be introduced in Primary schools, because these little children are very receptive in practical things, and love to carry them out. I know of a family friend whose children practiced out fish rearing and being encouraged by their parents had it grown to the level of feeding the family and those around. So tell me if every family across the nation can imbibe this, we grow our food and the surplus can then be exported. So Food then would be cheap.
In our little way (subsistence farming) should be greatly encouraged, while large scale Farming (mechanical agriculture) should face exportation of foods we produce here.
Enlightenment of youths to the call of agriculture, empowering them would go a long way too(access to lands, capital, seeds, technologies)