Youths can fill gap in agriculture sector — Barr Nnaemego

Barrister Nkeiru Stella Nnaemego is the CEO/Founder, Fresh and Young Brains Development Initiative, an NGO that promotes children and youth development in Africa. In this chat with ENE OSANG, she maintained that Nigerian youths can bridge the gap existing in the agriculture sector.

What is your organisation about?

It is an organisation I founded in 2008 to empower children and young people in areas that affect them, especially in the area of climate change and environmental sustainability, peace building, agriculture and livelihood.

Our main focus is environment, climate and agriculture related issues because we discovered the gap that exists in those areas. We formed the Youth Farming (Yfarm) project in April 2014 to promote and establish at least 10,000 youth-led farms across Africa by 2020.

Within the project we have been able to host the first African Youths Agric Festival here in Nigeria, where we drew young people and relevant stakeholders to showcase their products during the market place exhibition. We also had the ‘open mic’ to discover and promote new talents in agriculture, as well as the stakeholders’ platform.

Within the project apart from the festival, we have the mobile application, which we are still working on; its aim is to get youths interested in agriculture and for those already interested in agriculture especially farming to know what it takes going into farming.

At the moment we have over 1500 youths on our directory. Sometime, last year, we were approached by the African Union (AU) commission to nominate young women to go for the first African training on leadership and agribusiness, our organisation was selected and we had 20 women that represented Nigeria and today some already have their own agri-entreprises while some are yet to start.

Was farming part of your dream?

I was brought up in a farming environment but while growing up I didn’t quite like it but having my siblings involved in agriculture I got to like it.

Certain things can happen to you that will make you have a rethink about so many things about your life. As a child, I dreamt of being a reverend sister, a nun. But I like children a lot and if I become a nun I won’t be able to have my own children and that was the major reason I told myself that, the best thing to do is to work in line with what the convent stands for, which is charity, giving back and that is why my role model is mother Theresa.

Do you have regrets not being a nun?
No, I don’t have any regrets but sometimes I ask God whether I made the right decision because we started running this organisation since 2009 till date and am not on any salary and like I said earlier everyone here is a volunteer.
A lot of organisations, sorry to say so, are actually not being run to promote charity, they are just there for business. You see them not doing anything but they are making all the money. Whenever my team members complain. I tell them to remember the vision of the organisation.

What informed your choice of agriculture?
I am a lawyer by profession but like I earlier said, I have a background in agriculture. Initially I didn’t have interest in anything agriculture but my parents used to take us to the farm in the harvest season. You know the excitement you feel when you harvest what you plant, so that spurred me into it.
Along the line, with my legal profession and masters in Social Development, I started focusing more energy on growing economy and sustainable development but after sometime, 2013 precisely, I had a rethink and discovered that there is this gap that exist in agriculture.
If you read the Bible or Quran the first sector that was created by God is agriculture; If God wants to bless his people it is through agriculture, just like if he wants to punish his people.
In Nigeria, we have this very large expanse of land, yet we keep complaining of unemployment but agriculture is something I feel can take young people off the streets and out of poverty.

How can somebody with no background agriculture excel in agri-business?
There are very large agriculture value change that one can think of, for instance, a social media expert can begin to twit about agriculture and make livelihood from there; a marketer can reach out to farms, and agro-allied companies and begin to market their products and many others.
Before, our parents thought us that agriculture is for the poor and illiterate but I think it is beyond that; it is a business, a career that young people need to explore because there is a whole lot of potential in it.

What has the Yfarm project achieved so far?
I think getting young graduates together to work and not necessarily asking for money and buying into my vision. The Yfarm project is still new and not even up to a year old and am happy that apart from the 20 women that were trained in Kenya, most of them have started working and there are others who are now interested in agriculture unlike before, and a lot of people have benefitted directly or indirectly.
We discovered that in Nigeria you don’t set targets because we don’t have measurable indicators to really track what you are doing, so we decided that from inception 2014-2020, we will reach out to at least 10,000 youth led-agric farms and agro-businesses across Africa. That means every year we should at least reach out to 2000.

Does the government support Yfarm?
They were at the launch of Yfarm project on April 2nd last year and they were with us technically during the festival. During the YEEP launch we were told that we would be ploughed into the agro-prenuer programme and the YEEP, which is a positive sign that government is ready to work with us.
I would say government has been supportive because it was through government we were able to meet with the National Agriculture Foundation of Nigeria, but we want more from them.

Can you be called a farmer?
Yes and I feel excited about that, under the Yfarm we have what we call ‘myfarmmyswag’ campaign, where we tell people how proud we are doing what we are doing.
I remember posting a picture I took in the farm on facebook and somebody said you are looking too neat to be a farmer and I asked myself if somebody must look dirty to be a farmer? That is the past. I am proud to be a farmer.

How do you fund the organisation?
The AU Chairperson, Dr. Lamini Zuma, has a project to help female headed and youth headed organisations across Africa and I am happy that we are among the seven organisations in Africa that are benefitting from the pilot project of which for Nigeria is the Yfarm. The sum of $100,000 has been given to Yfarm, it’s been approved and we are just waiting for it to be disbursed for us to get it. We want to invest in the Yfarm incubation centre which will be like a one-stop-centre for youths in agriculture and within it we will have the office, training centre, and integrated farm.

What challenges do you face?
We face a lot of challenges, there was a time we received threats that we are doing other people’s work because of the nature of the organisation.
Secondly, we face financial challenges for instance, during the festival many organisations were interested and wanted to be part of it but when it was time to put money on the table, excuses came up. At the end of the day, over 90 per cent of the funding for the festival came from my pocket and that is same problem an average young person in Nigeria faces.
You would have a laudable idea, people will love it but are not readily supported financially. Some would say they want to watch and see what you can do on your own before they can invest.
Some others even come and say they want to buy your project but you can’t just buy my project because I have a reason for setting it up.

Do you still practice law?
I am being led to go back into legal practice, it’s something I have been running away from, though I do a bit of soliciting but now I have been mandated to go back into litigation, which is something that as an undergraduate I was very good at.
But, I was warned that if I continued the way I was going, I was going to end up dead earlier than I should because I am more interested in the criminal and human rights part of it.
Again, as an individual when people come to me with their problems we end up being friends and that is what I don’t like about litigation especially with criminal cases but now I have to go back to court but when exactly I don’t know.

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