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Convincing govt on agriculture, a slow and tedious process— Tola Sunmonu

By Kenneth Ehigiator/Moses Nosike
She is young, vibrant and wants to deploy energy towards helping Nigeria enthrone food security through diversification of the nation’s economy from oil into agriculture.

Tola: Nigeria, has not been able to exploit her potentials in agriculture to feed her people
Tola: Nigeria, has not been able to exploit her potentials in agriculture to feed her people

Tola Sunmonu, currently a student of Stanford University in the United States, is sad that her native country, Nigeria, has not been able to exploit her potentials in agriculture to feed her people and export to the rest of the world to earn foreign exchange and de-emphasise reliance on earnings from oil.

Because successive governments in the country have failed to exploit agriculture to drive Nigeria’s industrialisation, Sunmonu said she was currently using her NGO, Harambe Nigeria, to develop entrepreneural skills in agriculture in the nation’s youths, hoping that would help to revolutionise agricultural practice in Nigeria.  Excerpts:

May we know you?
My name is Tolu Sunmonu, I’m a student at Stanford University, U.S.A.  I did most of my secondary school in Europe and I went to America for my university education.

What exactly is your NGO involved in?
We are Harambe Nigeria, which comprises Nigerian students in America working with Nigerian students in Nigeria, seeking entrepreneural solutions to the problems that we see. That is the basic format, so when we came together, the two things that we all agreed on were the Nigerian economy is very under-diversified, revolving around oil, banking and that is a big shame for a country like Nigeria that has so much potentials and should be looking towards other sectors. And the second thing we agreed on is that the youths in Nigeria are very under-utilised.

They have a lot of potentials, the country has got a lot of people who graduate with university degrees and can’t find jobs, and most unemployed people in Nigeria are young people. So, looking at that, we try to see how we can change that and transform those problems simultaneously. What we have tried to do is look at the agriculture sector more closely because the thing with the sector is that it’s a platform not just for producing food, but also a business and as a business, agriculture can help to diversify the economy because it provides raw materials for other industries to develop, etc. And because Nigeria’s agricultural sector in particular is very under-developed, it’s a proper plaform for youths to go into and look for innovative means of  effecting changes.

Basically, what we are saying is that we need energy.   What we try and do is that we encourage youths to look at agriculture from a different lens so it’s about looking at it more as a business; it’s about looking at the entrepreneural aspect of it and the biggest misconception that people are likely to have and which we often say is that young people should just go to the farm and be farmers, but that is not it, that is almost too easy. What we need to look at is not the whole supply chain.

We have a programme that we run at Obafemi Awolowo University and it’s called Harambe Incubator for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development.  Basically, as students with agricultural entrepreneurs, they work with local farmers on how they can improve their yields, improve their supplies, improve their access to the market.

These are more holistic ways, so they are not becoming farmers, they are becoming business people that are helping the agricultural sector develop.  So, that is what we do.   We have annual conferences to reach a larger audience beyond  Ife to show young people around Nigeria that the agricultural sector has better potentials, not just about farming, it’s  about business, it’s about research, it’s about academia, it’s about policies, all the different skills, and those who lay about doing nothing can go into the sector and make something good for themselves and the country.

Talking about diversifying the economy, this you know cannot be possible without policy makers or govt creating the enabling environment for this to happen. Therefore, in what ways have you interfaced with govt to drive the diversification process?
Although we have support from govt agencies, our programme doesn’t work more with govt, it works more with the private sector. Our students in Ife, in particular ,are involved in lobbying as well.

But the thing is that the way the Nigerian government works, everything is too focussed on certain sectors, so convincing the government to change things to be more favourable to agriculture is a slow and tedious process and while it is necessary, I do believe that you can still work around those problems and you see a lot of agricultural companies doing that now. We can’t continue to wait for government to do these things for us; we might be waiting for ever.
Why the name Harambe when it is a Nigerian thing?

It’s Swahili and it means unity. Harambe Nigeria is part of a larger organisation called Harambe Endeavour and within Harambe Endeavour, there is Harambe Kenya, Ghana, etc.

So Harambe means unity.   What this means is unity among different African countries that are working together under Harambe. And for Nigeria, it means more the unity between ASEAN people and the Diaspora and as they call it, the Nigeria students in Nigeria and those in the Diaspora are working together. Basically, we all have different skills, we all have different comparative advantages.  It’s like pulling them together in a very interesting and dynamic relationship.

You are into an NGO that delves into agriculture matters. What is your suggestion to the Nigerian government with regards to guaranteeing food security in Nigeria?

Firstly, the government needs to start moving away from non-recoverable sources of energy, such as oil, not looking away and abandoning the oil sector, but something like expanding, since the oil sector is a very profitable business for government.

The thing that will keep food prices down will obviously be we are producing our own food. When we start importing food, prices will go up because the world market prices for food now are very high. So, if we decided to produce more of our own food, then we will have a situation where local producers are producing at low prices.

What government needs to start doing is look well beyond the present and looking into the future and see how policy being pursued now and policy pursued in the past affect our production capacity. For those in government, we need to get away from this every-man-for-himself mentality and try and to look for what is the good of the nation.


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