Why I left acting for farming – The Sun Nigeria

By Vivian Onyebukwa

Afoma Clara Adigwe is the Founder of the non-governmental organization (NGO), Uplifting Youths Through Agriculture (UYOTA). She strongly believes that motivating Nigerian women and youths to participate in modern farming will be a panacea to food insecurity and unemployment ravaging the nation. In this interview, she called on political aspirants to ensure that Nigerian youths are empowered through farming. She expressed dismay at the state of agriculture in the country and called on the leaders to take agricultural projects seriously. To this end, she talked about the upcoming agricultural investment tour in Thailand organized by her organization for the youth and royal fathers in the country.

What informed your decision to set up Uplifting Youths Through Agriculture (UYOTA)?

When I set up the body years ago, my mission was to empower women and the youth through agriculture. When you talk about women and youth, children are added as well. So, l embarked on awareness programs to encourage the groups to venture into modern agricultural practices.

Did you experience any challenges?

Yes, it was quite challenging convincing the youths to learn modern agriculture. The youths then were not interested in agriculture. They were nervous about going into practical aspects of farming. In 2015, I started thinking of how to bring them back to the ideals of the organization. That was when the thought of setting up Uplifting Youths Through Agriculture (UYOTA) came to my mind. In 2016, it became independent. I started wooing youths who left back to the newly established organization, UYOTA. I began to encourage them, telling them the need to go into practical aspects of agriculture. I motivated them to move in to other areas of agriculture such as the production of farm produce, preservation, packaging and marketing of products. Now a lot of them are into farming because most of those products when they buy from the middlemen, do not make much profit. So they decided to go into proper farming so as to preserve and package them themselves. Some are even thinking of going into exportation.

How has your organization contributed to solving food insecurity and the high rate of unemployment in the country?

We will be 22 years next month, in September. That tells you where we are coming from. I am from Delta State, and we have the oil. I studied abroad. Upon my return, I went into farming with my husband. That is to show you the passion I have for my country because I know that agriculture is the way out of hunger and unemployment.

Before then, what were you doing?

Before I went to study abroad, I was acting in dramas at the NTA, the Nigeria Television Authority. Many were surprised that he went into farming after studying abroad.

What are some of your achievements so far?

We have organized several workshops and training aimed at creating awareness on the need for women and youths to venture into farming. The organization has also partnered with other firms and institutions, local and international, to educate people on modern agriculture. We have also wooed some foreign investors, and exposed our members to best agricultural practices in order to make them gainfully employed, and in the process, increase yield in primary food production and achieve food security. I am glad because all my preaching is coming to reality. Many are now going into farming. In 2017, the organization, with support from royal fathers and government officials, embarked on an agricultural investment tour to Thailand and we are planning for the second trip to the same Thailand this month. We are inviting political aspirants and government officials to sponsor youths and royal fathers on this agricultural tour.

Why Thailand? And what was the outcome of the tour after five years?

Before the tour, I visited Thailand in 2008 for the first time because I saw that country as the food basket of the world. While l was there, on a Friday, l saw people, including government officials putting on yellow wear. When l asked the reason, l was told that the citizens were doing that to show respect to their late king, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej who uplifted Thailand through agricultural projects. According to them, he came up with an initiative that would enhance agricultural practices and partner with the government of the day in Thailand. Based on that, the thought of bringing some royal fathers in the country to see some of the projects the late king did in Thailand came to my mind. While there, l also discovered that there were some kinds of farm settlements in Thailand. In that settlement, if one wants to study agriculture for three or six months there is free accommodation and free training.

How did that rub off on our country?

Back here in Nigeria, in 2016, l was putting up a TV program, and l had the opportunity to meet Alhaji Muhammad Sodangi who is from Bida. He introduced me to Dr. Yahaya Abubarka, Etsu Nupe of Bida, Niger State who was also loved by his people in Bida, and has empowered a lot of his subjects through agriculture. So when l told him about the late king of Thailand’s projects, he then accepted to lead the first royal fathers’ agricultural investment tour in Thailand in 2017. It was an eye opener for the participants especially the royal fathers and government officials. When the royal fathers came back, they replicated some of the projects they saw there in their communities. The fact is that the visit enabled them to double their farming skills and offer employment to the youth.

What are you expecting from this year’s tour?

I expect that it will create a veritable platform to woo investors from Thailand to the participants’ states through the empowerment of youths in agriculture. This will include aquaculture, agro-allied and derivatives in that direction. It will improve technical and technological support to boost agricultural production. Also, the visit will empower and create jobs for youths in the smart agricultural business value chain. On the other hand, it will create an export agro-based production as a sustainable income generating point.

Tell us about your agricultural talk show on television

I have always had a passion for agriculture and I thank God that this is another ample opportunity to display my genuine passion for it. This agriculture talk show is an interactive television talk show series that is designed to enlighten the viewers and participants on the trendy system of operations in agriculture. We want to showcase the many opportunities and prospects in it. Agriculture has gone beyond cutlasses and hoes; we want to showcase to the world that it is the next gold mine in Nigeria.

How would you assess the government’s efforts in enhancing agricultural practices in the country?

Every government always comes up with agriculture on their agenda and they always want to improve more than the previous administration. I have been following the terrain from the administration of former President Obasanjo to the present administration. When APC emerged as the government of the day, I visited them and pointed out a few things.

Has this yielded any successful results?

Follow-up has been a major problem facing the government of this country. There was no follow-up on the issues I discussed with them. With my experience in mobilizing and empowering women and the youth through agriculture, I thought I would be able to add my own voice to the implementation of some of their agricultural programs. But they never got back to me. So that is the reason. This time, I am coming up with an initiative. I do not want to wait until the next government emerges. I want to start with the government of the day and any of the emerged winners will continue.

What is your aim or objective in instituting the initiative?

It is aimed at improving the agricultural sector in the country which will in turn tackle food insecurity and secure employment for the unemployed youth roaming the streets. We are a not-for-profit organization, and not in support of any political party. But our women and youths are in different parties. We want an improved agricultural program and that is the reason we are introducing the UYOTA Initiative Concept to all the aspirants so that they will adopt it. The country should not continue to pay lip service to agricultural projects. There is a need for them to adopt the concept so that the youths can vote for them because I had already advised my youths to vote for aspirants that will encourage youths’ participation in agriculture when they are voted into power. To me and my youths this time, ‘no UYOTA’, no vote.”

What are some of the factors affecting the growth of agriculture in Nigeria?

There are so many factors affecting agricultural improvement in the country. One of them is insecurity. This has prevented farmers from going to the farm. Also, the roads leading to farms are bad. The issue of packaging is another challenge. Our products are not well-packaged. All these challenges should be properly addressed.

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