D uring early 2017, IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) moved to Imo State to establish an incubation center where young people in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria can have the opportunity to be enlightened, trained, and equipped with agribusiness skills.
The decision, which was prompted by the state government’s call on the management of IITA to establish a model which can gainfully employ young people in the state in agriculture, served as an opportunity for IYA to extend its tentacles and fulfil its vision of ensuring that youths in all the geo-political zones in Nigeria tap into the benefits available in agriculture and enhance food production in the area.
To demonstrate its willingness to ensure that the state becomes a beneficiary of the IYA program, the state government through the Executive Governor, Rochas Okorocha released some abandoned facilities– fish ponds, poultry, and a greenhouse at the Imo State Polytechnic Umuagwo to IITA to be used by the youth for the incubation program.
To this effect, IITA deployed six experienced agripreneurs from Ibadan and Abuja to renovate and resuscitate the facilities and display the viability of the horticulture, fish, and poultry enterprises. Once the scope of operation was understood, 10 additional corp members who served in IITA with four locally recruited youth in the host community were dispatch to assist in conducting the pilot enterprises. Within 3 weeks of deployment, the agripreneurs restored five large poultry houses and 20 concrete fish ponds. A 5000m2 greenhouse that was abandoned at the Anambra-Imo River Basin Development Authority facility at Agbala was also renovated for the production of vegetables, tomatoes and cucumber.
Sharing the experience of their operation in Imo State, one of the agripreneurs, Dolapo Omokanjuola, who is into horticulture says she is proud to be a part of history in Imo State.
“I was trained using a 2000 m2 greenhouse in Ibadan and anytime I work in it, I feel happy. But when I got to Imo and I saw the 5000 m2 greenhouse, I was amazed and I started thinking of how to make good use of the skills acquired in Ibadan. Together with my team, we planted tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, and squash in the greenhouse. We have good yields of everything we planted. Our cucumber is what the mallams now prefer but the most exciting is the tomatoes. The people of Imo never believed tomatoes could grow in the State. At first they said we were bringing it from Kano. Some even said we were importing from South Africa and retailing it but I am always happy whenever we show them the pictures of our activity in the greenhouse and they are amazed. Some of them even visited us to see how we do it and they are always impressed that such could happen through young people like us,” she said.
To meet up with the market demand, the team erected another 1000sqm greenhouse to expand its production.
The Governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha, who also visited the incubation facilities and enterprises of the youth in 2017 said he was fascinated by the progress made by the young people.
“I congratulate these IITA young millionaires because their mindset has changed and that is what I want you to do to every youth in this state as well. With a changed mindset, a tricycle rider can become a wealthy farmer just like the IITA Youth Agripreneurs. If these young people groomed by IITA can do it, I see no reason why every other youth in the state cannot do the same,” he said.
The former Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industries at the African Development Bank, Dr Chiji Ojukwu, who also visited the youth during his backstopping mission to young agripreneurs in Nigeria, advised the youth to contribute in changing the narrative about the agricultural sector.
“Our hope is seeing individual Agripreneurs starting something with the resources to be provided for them. Institutions will give you money either as loan or grant to start or expand your businesses. Be steadfast and do valuable things with it. Be focus in this course that you have chosen and I can assure you that the sky is the starting point for you,” he said.
Currently, the youth sell over 720 crates of eggs per day. They have sold over 4 tons of fish and also ventured into catfish smoking. They also cultivated 37 hectares of land for cassava and 8 hectares for soybean.
As they brace up for the celebration of more years in agribusiness, it can be said that the activity of IYA in Imo is changing the perception of the youth of the host community about agriculture. They have been able to sensitize the farming population in the area on the need to encourage their youth to embrace agriculture as a business and not a way of life.