Seyi Olowu is the founder of FUTURESAVERS INITIAIVE, a non-governmental organisation that has a bias for the environment. Olowu, an Indian trained computer scientist is now a farmer and environmental activist who champions the cause of climate change with action. He is passionate about the environment and wishes everyone takes time to learn about the dangers involved when the environment is desecrated. In this interview, Olowu shares his experience on environmental activism, agriculture and what the world stands to gain when the environment is protected. According to him, tree planting is a way to preserve human and animal lives through which some animal species can be protected from extension. DAYO EMMANUEL here reports. Excerpts:
You have been so involved in environmental activism across the country with your organisation. Do you have a discipline in environmental studies?
Not exactly, I have no background in environmental studies at all. My first love goes for law. I studied law at the University of Ado Ekiti known as UNAD then. I studied law there for three years before I left to study Computer Application/Computer Science in India. I also did a certification course in Ireland. I did a lot of researches in agriculture and I did some courses in London Business School too. I also did some studies in Spain where I took some studies in business. I ventured into agriculture by doing researches, meeting different people. I can say I have no background in anything environmental while in school. It came as a concern and I went online, I found out I am not alone. I have likeminded people who are environmental conscious then I started reading about climate change. The game changer was when I read about a young girl who changed the story. A 16 year old girl with autism actually was the one who changed the whole thing for me. I told myself I need to change my reactions to actions. Now I have 16-18 hours daily devoted to activism and environmental issues. She has millions of followers now. I found out I can’t just sit down ruminating about the problems, I should change my reactions to actions to solve problems. Then I started reading and researching. That was how I know the little I have been talking about.
What else do you do to fund the project?
I am primarily a farmer. I am into animal husbandry as well. I have farms in Ondo State where I grow plantain, corn and yam. I rear pigs for sale and I am into agric value chain. I buy and supply palm kernel to those who do palm kernel oil. I sell to companies that make the product.
You are into agriculture in an area Fulani herdsmen are said have been clashing with farmers. Have you had any encounter with them in recent time?
I had experience with Fulani herdsmen few months back when then they came to my farm to eat my corn. I didn’t know how to confront them because people fear them a lot. It was painful because of my toil in the sun and rain. Then someone would lead is animals into the farm to graze. I then went to report. I know a military person he went with me to where the Fulanis live. Fortunately their boss in their first camp we visited knew the military man with me, they took us to another camp, they respected the military man. They too have their vigilante. They have strong ties with the military too because they sell cows to them. Then right in front of me they were making calls and discover those who grazed on my farm, they have allocated areas to different herdsmen group. It was when they called them they discovered the people they allocated that area to and they vowed with Allah never to come to that area again. Sincerely they have never been to that area again. They have geographical territories, they come to your farm and they graze there. I didn’t plant cassava but some other farmers planted. They don’t just eat the leaves, they uproot the cassava for their cows. In the night they go to the places palm wine tappers have their palm wine, they would drink everything and get drunk. They would even come to you when they want to smoke, they would take light from you to smoke their things. They won’t even feel as if they are doing anything strange. They believe people are scared of them so they do whatever and people would run.
Piggery is often said to be very lucrative. What is your experience?
Piggery is lucrative but you need about three years before you can say it is lucrative. You can be tempted to run away if you don’t have enough fund. I was almost frustrated when I started. I started with one female. I didn’t have enough money to buy two. The guy who sold to me helped to cross it. I was feeding the animal for four months nothing happened. Of course I learnt so much before going into it, I started with four pens even as I had only one pig. The seller helped to cross it the second time and may be through transportation it lost the pregnancy. I had to sell it to buy two; a male and female, small ones.
Can you also share the experience you have gathered running your NGO?
FUTURESAVERS INITIAIVE is an NGO that is specialised in climate change and environmental issues. It started recently and we are focusing on acting on environmental issues. We have members in 12 states where we are fully aware of environmental problems and effects on health. We basically act with less talk. We started in April but we launched our first program on 5th June which was the World Environment Day. We are not making our operations cumbersome. We found out that everyone is involved in environment issues. The same oxygen in Lagos is oxygen in Kano or Abuja and elsewhere. So we felt everyone willing should be a part. As at August, we have over 300 members on Facebook and we are growing. A lot of them are very active. We have projects and we see members mobilising people in their various cities for the environment.
Do you really think environmental issues are concerns and challenges in Nigeria?
It is a big challenge. People are ignorant about climate change and until you start seeing the problem that is when you are prompted to look for solution. We are aware of what happened in Mozambique where a lot of people were affected by the cyclone and the flood. That was when why people started knowing about the danger. Nigeria has been so lucky about the environmental issues. We should prevent some things before they happen. Nigerians mostly still don’t know about the environment as they ought to know. We need to make them know.
What are the projects?
The organisaiton is distinct. We are not an NGO that comes online to rant; we are into actions. We are distinct and one of our slogans is acting on climate now. We have lined down a few projects, the first one is the ‘Green Strike Project’ where we ask people to save the climate, then we have ‘I Stand With Climate’. People would say they are busy with work or school, but if the earth is on fire how do you go to work? We ask people to act as if their homes are on fire. It is a sensitisation project. Then we have ‘Teens and the Climate’ these are not copied programs, they are unique where we teach school children about the danger of plastic pollution, the danger of indiscriminate refuse disposal. We are focusing on the future generation. Then we have ‘A Tree A Week’ project. It is where all members of the organisation would plant one tree a week and in eight weeks, an individual would have planted eight trees.
How do you get seedlings?
The plan is to partner with organisations, institutes that deal in tree plantings. We have plans to meet environmentalists and we have plans to meet Ministries of Environments in states. We have met two states now where we have members. We can supply our members, it’s a matter of liaising with the members. They would be the people to pick up and distribute.
Where would they be planting?
We plan to start with the places we know. First, we would start in front of our homes. Then in the premises of organisations that subscribe to it. We are going to be teaching people the efficacy of planting trees, marketing the need to them and they would see reasons they should give us spaces in their premises to plant trees. That is how we intend to plant trees.
Have you looked into the species of trees good enough to check climate change?
We tend to diversify, fruits trees and species of wind breakers. One of the benefits of trees is that they break the wind, traps carbon dioxide, serve as shades, release oxygen and the fruit trees provide fruits and shade too. We enjoyed mango trees as children. We don’t want to make planting trees so boring, we want people to find it difficult to cut down trees. We intend to educate people on their usefulness as listed above.
In the hinterland have you considered some animal species that will also benefit from these trees?
Yes when we talk of climate change we are thinking about biodiversity we are not thinking about humans alone, we are thinking of animals too there are so many birds that have been displaces when we cut trees, when we plant trees there are some trees that birds would live in them in their holes, there are species of birds that favour calabash trees, more than other threes.
When we talk about climate change and environmental issues, we are not only talking in respect of the effect of actions and inaction will have on humans, we are talking about the bio diversity effect, the animals that craw and the ones that fly and plants as well. Some birds have gone on extinction, by research we found that some animals favour living on some kind of trees. When those trees are no more they tend to move further and may extinct later if they are not supported. Yet their presence in the ecosystem is a plus to the environment. Let me give you an example, a bird like the vulture is seen as evil bird, but this not true. Vultures are cleaners, they help to stop infections and activities of bacteria. When there is carcass they make sure it is consumed whereby helping to eradicate such dirt that would breed bacterial. So when we plant trees, we are helping those animals like bats, there are birds that help to pollinate. Planting trees help to attract those birds and insects that help to pollinate and it helps the ecosystem. For instance some trees have gone on extinction. Examples abound. The calabash tree for instance is not common again. I don’t know how many children that have seen the tree before. Yet this tree is a natural habitat for some particular birds and insects. So planting those trees is a plus to humans and animals because they attract those animals and help them to survive, since that is the primary tree that support their existence. That is the connection.