By Chioma Obinna
For over a decade, Afoma Adigwe has been empowering women and youths on the use of modern Agricultural equipment as well as facilitating micro-credit facilities at the grassroots especially in the Niger-Delta areas. In this interview, she speaks about her passion for agriculture and other issues affecting the sector. Excerpt.
Considering your background in the acting and fashion sector, how have you brought your experience to bear in working with women and youths in the agricultural sector especially at the grassroots?
Well to be frank with you, it has not been easy. This is especially so because when you talk about agriculture, to a lot of people it is such a big task and a demanding one. As a result of that, it is difficult to convince people to join hands to what one is doing so that we can do more for the grassroots. Investing in agriculture is such that you have to preach to the bank, companies and individuals because it is a long time investment. So they shy away from it. What many people donâ€™t know is that when you know the various aspects of agriculture, it is the easiest and fastest way to get oneself employed and this makes you self-employed.
I am happy however that there is a lot of attention on this sector now than back then when I just started. These days people want to come into it may be because of the economic meltdown. I believe that if Nigerians can take seriously the agricultural sector the way we have heard then talking about it, we will not be too dependent on oil and gas that brought us to where we are today especially considering the crisis in the Niger-Delta. For me really it has not been easy moving from the glamorous world of fashion and television to agriculture but because it is my passion and something I have always craved for over the years, that has kept me going.
How would you rate governmentâ€™s effort so far on agriculture?
I am glad any time I turn on the television to see them talking about agriculture. This always makes me feel that it was a foresight for me to have ventured into it when I did. If they can continue like that and take positive step towards enhancing the sector with sincerity, we will go a long way. You know, if the agricultural sector is enhanced and developed, we will not have problem feeding our people. At least if food is not a problem, people will live long.
How far have you gone with the Rural Women Agricultural Exhibition (RUWA)?
Yes, the plan is still very much one. You know when you talk about agricultural exhibitions, it is difficult to get people involve. But we have been trying to work on a lot of ideas and I believe we are getting there. Hopefully by the end of this year something will happen. We are seeking to collaborate with like-minded local and international NGOs and we are also talking to Union and UBA banks. We believe there will be a positive result.
What challenges did you face in sourcing micro credits for these women, and have you been able to access loans set aside by the government for the agricultural sector?
Yes I have been working towards that. I just hope that it will not get to the point where the women will be asked to drop 10 per cent or one form of collateral or the other before then can access the loan. This was what happened when we wanted to get some loan from the Nigerian Agricultural Bank and as a result the women could not get the facility. I hope the conditions will not be that stiff because these women are mere peasant farmers and they cannot afford to pay deposits, put down collateral or other forms of securities. These things have to be put into considerations to accommodate the grassroots women when such facilities are being put in place.
Now, lets talk about the problem in the Niger-Delta.Â What do you think should be done to end the crises?
The problem is that there is a lot of poverty and impoverishment in the area. Having said that, I believe strongly that the easiest thing to do is to empower the women and the youths. When the women are empowered, they will not allow themselves to be attracted by the ill-gotten wealth of the militants. I keep saying that women are a major factor to the end of the crisis. The reason why I say this is that when the militants get the money they acquired through ransom after kidnapping people, the next thing they do is to go into hotels with their women just to enjoy themselves. So if the women are self-reliant, they will not bother about the money these people will give them.
That is why we have a new NGO that is specifically established take care of the youths and encourage them to embrace agriculture. The women and the youths are key to putting an end to the violence.