This month’s Young Agropreneur (YAP) is Agbonlahor Marymartha. Her compaling story is quite inspiring. One that portrays hard work, consistency and a never give-up spirit. She share with the Agropreneur Naija! team her story
I am Agbonlahor, Ehizogie Marymartha, an indigene of Edo State, Nigeria. I had an early exposure to agricultural activities, crop and livestock production from my parents who were farmers and teachers, my dad being an Agricultural science teacher for over 28 years. I graduated from the Bachelor of Agriculture program of the University of Ilorin in 2010 with First Class Honors and the best graduating student in the Faculty, as well as the best and only First Class graduating student in the Department of Animal Production. I had my NYSC primary assignment at the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta now Federal University of Agriculture from 2010-2011. I received commendation from the Acting Registrar at the time for commitment and hard work. I proceeded with the Masters in Animal Production program (2011-2013) at the University of Ilorin after my NYSC, and graduated with Distinction, the only one from my Department for that session. I am passionate about agriculture both in academic research and as a business. My first experience as an entrepreneur in agriculture was in 2008, during the Farm practical training year, we were involved in the production of maize, cowpea, vegetables and cassava. I recorded the highest outputs from my plots and made good sales from them. I went into broiler production during my M.Sc to generate income to support my program. And then also I started as a consultant, first among my colleagues but my services were pro bono. I was passionate about helping youths make a start in agribusiness. I was often called upon by many to assist and advice in their production activities. My interest in agriculture also drives my research focus. I worked with farmers and senior colleagues in the industry to ensure that the research I did both during my Undergraduate and M.Sc were relevant and applicable to solving the current challenges poultry farmers were experiencing. I tested different feed enzymes for improving the nutritive value of high fibre but readily available feedstuffs to reduce cost of production as well as reduce nutrient excretion and environmental pollution from poultry waste (undergraduate project) and to help farmers manage an odor free environment through the use of nanotechnology (M.Sc research). Currently I work with Starwumi Intl., and GABINTECH to install the nano-engineered device for livestock farms across Nigeria. I am glad to say that we have helped keep many poultry and piggery farmers in business in their neighborhood; as many were either at the brink of closing down or relocating to villages-which subsequently become towns; because of complaints from their neighbors. I also consult and troubleshoot for poultry farms. I also work with youth development agencies and NGOs.
MY EXPERIENCE AS AN AGRICULTURIST
My journey as an agriculturist has been very fulfilling and though challenging, the opportunities that lie at the end of every challenge has kept me going. Despite the glaring fact that every human is dependent on the growth of agriculture, it is saddening that very little appreciation is offered to the profession, industry or students of agriculture. While at school, it was not unusual to find my peers in other fields of study advise that I make a change of course or go for a 2nd degree in another field on completion of my First. This is the disposition of most youths and even parents, and it does not bode well if food sustenance is to be attained. However, for the agriculturists in ‘embryo’ who understand the opportunity they have and what pivot role they have been given to play in feeding the nation, they do all it takes to learn, apply, consult with like minds towards fulfilling the mission for which they have been called. I find my greatest moments to be those times I’m working in a field of maize, cassava or cowpea; or receiving dayold chicks and acclimatizing them to their new dwelling, feeding the birds, collecting eggs, vaccinating them, or getting worried when there is a drop in their production, bringing them back to normal health, or making supply of feed ingredients from remote villages, working with farmers in the feedmill; the list is endless; and my best moments come when it’s time to ‘harvest’ the fruits of these long hours.
IS AGRICULTURE VIABLE?
Yes it is. The opportunities in agriculture are boundless. I can say categorically that it is a sure way to wealth and sustained livelihood. It requires dedication as do everything worth doing and can give a 100% return if well managed (a broiler production outfit can give this and even more). The market for all forms of agricultural activity is limitless and yet to be met. As a matter of fact, the demands are increasing with the increasing population and meeting it has not been easy for farmers most of whom in Nigeria; are small-medium scale farmers. The challenge of coping with the changing climate has adversely affected production activities; however, with integrated efforts of government, the industry, research institutions and the international community, there is hope of improving agricultural production processes to both reduce the sector’s contribution to environmental pollution as well as cope with the effects of global warming.
CHANGING THE MINDSET OF YOUTHS TOWARDS AGRICULTURE IN NIGERIA
Agriculture holds the key to providing more jobs for the teeming graduates and youths generally. But while it is still seen as the business of the rural dwellers, the
To encourage youth involvement in agriculture, an entrepreneurial mindset is important. A good point to start will be students of agriculture in tertiary institutions. Student’s cooperative farming as well as intensive farm practical business training should be encouraged. It will give them better footing to take off individual enterprises in agriculture on completion of their course by being both a source of start-up capital and experience. The orientation of students seeking admission to university should not be to agriculture as a last resort; but career guidance and counseling inn secondary schools should be treated with more priority to guide secondary/high school students on their strengths. I am a case study. I didn’t have to spend much time studying for my exams in agriculture and economics in secondary school. I was very at home with these subjects. Having attended a public school fought with incessant strikes, I was mostly studying independently by taking notes from my colleagues in private schools and I had help from my dad who was also a teacher in a private school. But I wanted to study Medicine in the University as there was so much hype and prestige with the profession. But when I couldn’t gain admission for medicine I had to choose between General agriculture and Agricultural Engineering. Thank God I didn’t get the Medicine admission I sought!!!
Also farming should be treated like every other serious business, because it is indeed a serious one! Youths should be exposed early in the university to the business side of agriculture, from writing a business plan, to accessing loans, managing the business, product marketing, accessing inputs etc.
Innovation should be encouraged in our research institutions and universities. Research or students’ projects should be tailored towards solving challenges of the industry and feasible. Universities should encourage partnership between agro-allied industry and the departments under agriculture to create the link and career direction for the students.
Think-tank groups should be formed among students in the departments of agriculture to proffer novel solutions and test their ideas, share information, and encourage networking with professionals locally and internationally.
Students’ agricultural cooperative societies should be formed to encourage entrepreneurship in agriculture.
These will ultimately have a multiplied effect on the development of agriculture, and reduce unemployment.
Youths should be enlightened to use social media to improve the awareness on agricultural news, opportunities, and in marketing their products.
On the part of government, programs like Youwin, should be developed but this time tailored towards agricultural enterprises, making access to land for agricultural activities less bureaucratic and more accessible.
THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE IN NIGERIA
It is very bright, more youths are catching in on the goldmine it is. And with more commitment from government in agriculture, Nigeria has the potential to return to its glory of having agriculture making up its major GDP and better quality of life for Nigerians.
MY PRESENT ENDEAVORS, CHALLENGES AND ASSISTANCE NEEDS
Currently, I work to help create environment friendly farms in communities, using nano-technology, and reducing emissions from livestock waste. I also consult for poultry farms in setting up as well as trouble shoot for existing farms to improve production. I engage in broiler production and my ultimate goal is to set up an integrated farm (an agricultural village); that will both provide food as well as serve as a training centre for youths and women of any level of education to gain knowledge and experience in running a farming business. Presently, I’m working on increasing my poultry production to include laying birds and snail production. This would depend on how soon I get access to more funds (loans, grants) to achieve this, and that has been the major challenge; as with any business, operating on a small scale incurs a higher cost/unit product than when operating on a larger scale.
You can contact Agbonlahor, Ehizogie Marymartha for issues related to you poultry production and setup on email@example.com.