Aliu Oluwafemi Royal is the chief executive officer of Myfarmbase Africa, a start-up using technology to boost farm productivity. In this interview with Michael Ani, he speaks about youth unemployment and how the government can make agriculture attractive to youths.
What gives you the utmost concern about Nigerian youth?
What bothers me the most about the Nigerian youth is that many of them are wasting away. They also do not have platforms to express their innate capability. One of the problems our young people still battle is unemployment or underemployment. In Nigeria alone, more than 30percent of the population is unemployed and this is one of the biggest concerns that give me sleepless nights and its one of the reasons I am working actively towards reducing unemployment in Nigeria.
How can youth unemployment be curbed in Nigeria?
First, I believe that Nigeria can cut down tremendously on youth unemployment by promoting youth engagement in agriculture. This is not just the responsibility of the government but the private sector and donor organisations that can also participate in advocacy, training, capacity building and matching youths with the myriad of opportunities in the sector.
This is what we are currently doing at MyFarmbase Africa, we leverage social entrepreneurship model to increase youth engagement in agriculture exposing them to the opportunities in agriculture. Also, we organise an AgriTech Lab Summit to let youths see how to use technology as a cheap model to engage in agriculture. We also went further by doing practical training on soilless farming for youths so they can start developing innovative agribusinesses and what we are currently doing is to provide mentorship for them on accessing funding, developing their businesses.
Our audacious goal is that in five years, we would have at least 500 innovative youth-led agribusinesses across Nigeria. We also want another 500 separate youths to take on new jobs locally and globally in the agri and agtech sectors. For instance, there are a lot of agric business companies looking out for agronomists and they find it difficult to get qualitative agronomists that have sufficient skills, knowledge and capacities to run medium and large-scale farms. If we are able to bridge this gap, it would be easy for us to multiply the talents in the system and these organisations would be able to get human resource that will fill those gaps. As an organisation, in the last two months, we have been actively sourcing talents for agricultural companies, especially with respects to handling their digital communications and content creation. If all the above efforts by MyFarmbase Africa can be scaled, more youths will be economically empowered and be able to create wealth for themselves.
How have your trainings and programmes been able to impact the Nigerian economy?
Specifically, I have sighted examples about companies reaching out to recruit talents that would help them drive their business processes. The good thing about this is that it reduces their operational cost of sourcing talents through paying a transaction fee that will use to push their applications out there, and then the evaluation process which is quite elongated. Businesses connect directly with us because we have a robust ecosystem of young people who are talented in the agric space. That way, we are contributing immensely to the company that is already boosting the GDP of the country.
Another way we contribute to the economy is by the multiple trainings that we do. We focus on practical trainings, like the one we had in Abeokuta recently where we trained 20 people. As I speak to you, about five of them are already working on setting up their own soilless farming enterprises and that essentially means that they will be creating jobs and will also be creating wealth for themselves.
Have you received any form of support?
Yes, we have received numerous supports. For instance when we did the training in Abeokuta, we received a mutual support from P.S Nutrac, co-founder, Samson Ogbole whose facilities we used to train our youths for free. We got full support for our agritech Summit from our partners including Sterling Bank, Animal Care, Ministry of Agric, Ope Farms, TechPoint, Binkabi – all the way from London and media Organisations. We have also received seed grants up to $1,000 from the pollination grants in the US and individuals have respectively supported us. We look forward to having more support from different organisations around the world who believe that youth unemployment is a major issue. We want to improve youth engagement in agriculture.
Why are you so passionate about agriculture?
A lot of people have asked me this question because of the way I have been vocal on my social media pages and other communication media. My passion for agriculture stemmed from an initial involvement in agriculture at a very tender age. I grew up in a very local community and a very poor family where we lack the basic resources, so we basically engaged in farming to feed ourselves. The way we practised agriculture at that time was all crude; it did not have any touch of modernity in it. So growing up, I started to read about agriculture and the way it was practised all around the world. I made a decision to do it differently from what we had while I was growing up; this gave me the courage to pursue agriculture at the Federal University of Agriculture in Abeokuta and upon leaving the university, I did not get what I wanted with respect to trying to build a modern kind of agriculture so I went about to learn from top individuals and organisations in the world. One of them is Binkabi where I learnt about the use of block chain technology in agriculture, and CropIT, where I am currently learning the use of software technology in agriculture.
What do you think is the future of agriculture in Nigeria?
I think the future of agriculture in Nigeria is one that will be hinged on technology and innovation, it’s not going to be business as usual, and definitely not the traditional hoe and cutlass crude farming that we currently operate. It’s going to be about how we can digitalise the entire agro business value chain, from farm to table, it will be about how we can provide financial inclusion services to farmers in a way that we do not have to deal in cash. They can use mobile money to engage with financial institutions. It’s going to be about how we can tokenise our physical commodities and trade them on a block chain-based exchange, how we can use sensor-based model to track and monitor activities on the farm. So basically, it will be about how we can use technology to digitalise the entire agribusiness landscape and that future is already here!