Updated: Nov 15, 2019
The journey to greatness starts with self belief and excellence in the pursuit of one's passion. This was reflected in our conversation with Miss Lilian Umeakunne, a young farmer and advocate for food security and women involvement in agriculture.
She took us through her journey and proffered solutions to some of Nigeria's agricultural challenges. We had an interesting time and are sure you will too.
Agricmania: What inspired your passion for agriculture?
Miss Lilian: My story is my source of inspiration every day. I was raised by a single mother whose fate in her marriage was decided the moment she had a baby girl as her first child. She had to leave and raise me by herself. Fortunately, agriculture saved us. She was hardworking and resourceful.
She taught me how to grow vegetables the moment I could walk, together we grew crops all season round. During the dry season, we moved closer to the river to plant vegetables for easy irrigation. I developed a deep connection and understanding for crop production watching and planting with her. With agriculture, she raised me, and gave me the best education.
I strongly believe that agriculture can save so many people, especially the girl child.
Agricmania: Can you share some insights into your career as an agricultural development practitioner? (the highs & lows)
Miss Lilian: After my graduation from the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where I studied Agricultural Extension I decided to intern in major Agriculture based organizations. I sought to understand the work they do, their progress towards grassroots agricultural development, and the effectiveness of the various existing Federal Government interventions in agriculture. The strategies to achieve the SDGs 1 (No Poverty) and 2 (Zero Hunger) and challenges limiting our goal of achieving food self-sustainability.
This opportunity was one of the best times of my life, being a part of creating a solution to problems facing agriculture.
A few years later I decided to get actively involved in food production, to deploy my knowledge, skills and creativity into crop production. I had a lease on a hectare of land for 5 years where I started planting vegetables (Watermelons, Peppers, Tomatoes) on a rotational basis. I germinated the seedlings in my house, raised them in the nursery before transplanting to the field. I was making enough profit as a start-up, putting healthy food out there and progressing while doing what I love most.
There are downsides to this, the expensive agro-inputs, labour, irrigation problems and unpredictable weather conditions. After the first few months, I was learning, unlearning and keeping my records to ensure I was making progress. Today, I have added a new staple crop and a vegetable, (Maize and Okro), and as I gain more space I will keep expanding and adding more crops.
The benefits of being an agroprenuer outweighs the disadvantages because agriculture is risk-filled and while some of these risks are beyond our control, we can avert most of them with adequate planning.
Agricmania: From your experience, what’s Nigeria’s greatest threat to Food security, and how can we overcome it?
Miss Lilian: Post-harvest loss is Nigeria’s major threat to achieving food security. More than 70% of Nigerians are farmers, yet hunger persists, and prices of foodstuffs go up as soon as there is a seasonal change. During the on-season of certain crops, the quantity disposed of in marketplaces and farms are so much that we are left with nothing in the coming months.
Value addition to our agricultural produce will ensure food is available all year round.
According to World Bank Group Agriculture, women farmers could raise 150million people out of hunger and malnutrition if equipped with as much knowledge, information and capital as men. Women involvement in Nigeria’s agricultural sector is still very little because most of them do not have access to arable land, capital and training on new farming knowledge. These are factors needs to be addressed to secure Nigeria’s food future.
Agricmania: There has been a noticeable change in climate in Nigeria in recent years. How can farmers prepare for it better?
Miss Lilian: Climate change is turning the lives of farmer’s upside-down and is fundamentally changing the way agriculture is practised. Different weather patterns, short growing seasons, extreme weather, and many other changes pose daunting problems for smallholding farmers around the world—including Nigeria.
Less use of chemical herbicides, more tree planting action, extensive soil care and water conservation are ways farmers can adapt to climate change hence, practising climate-smart agriculture.
Agricmania: What's your goal moving forward?
Miss Lilian: I have never been more optimistic about the future, recently I was awarded by the Institute of International Education (IIE), New York through the Indigenous Bio-cultural Exchange Fund a grant of $5,000 due to impact from the work I do in food production in my local community. I was also selected for a prestigious scholarship this June to pursue an M.Sc in Food Security in the UK. My goal is to understand how other countries achieved food security and understand the global drivers of food insecurity and policies that could yield huge benefits for the sector.
Agricmania: Last words for young individuals seeking a career in agriculture?
Miss Lilian: Dear young people ensure you get adequate training before you start your agribusiness. This gives you an opportunity to ask relevant questions, add to your pool of experience and look at the benefits cash wise and how much input you need.
Social media is for information sharing but not enough for you to invest all your savings in an agricultural enterprise by what you read on social media. This can lead to loss of investments and loss of interest in agriculture.
The business climate in Nigeria is not very favourable for start-ups, especially in agriculture but we all can make things work for us. Everyone’s problem for not starting already is capital, we must not launch our ideas on a large scale, we can start small with little savings and grow from there.
Miss Lilian Umeakunne has over 4 years of experience in the field of Agriculture and food security. Currently, Lilian advocates for the “Grow4Peace Initiative” where she focuses on capacity building for women in agriculture and agribusiness while encouraging urban dwellers to keep vegetable gardens. She is the founder of Radiant Initiative for Africa, a platform that engages young people as think tanks to provide sustainable agricultural solutions to challenges facing food production. Lilian holds a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Extension from the University of Nigeria Nsukka. Lilian is a farmer, driven by her passion to help Nigeria achieve her goal of food self-sustainability because of her personal story rooted in agriculture, and a desire to find a lasting solution to challenges of poor agricultural data, post-harvest losses and access to credible inputs and market for Nigerian farmers especially women farmers all of which combine to reduce agricultural productivity in Nigeria. She can be reached on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/umeakunne, twitter & Instagram: @Lily_umeh