Wednesday, April 02, 2014

All about solutions...The Smallholder Foundation and Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

NI: We at the SmallHolders Foundation believe that education is critical – education is development for us. Education opens the mind and motivates the quest for results. We believe that an educated person will make a better choice, more than an uneducated person. In that case we looked at the whole chain and we saw that one of the things that kept farmers trapped in poverty was the inefficient agricultural extension services. Agricultural extension services should be a tool that organizations and government agencies can use to educate farmers about new techniques, new crop varieties, new livestock, how to control crop and livestock diseases. But this critical service does not exist anymore. 

So we decided that we have to establish a radio station. In 2007, we established a smallholder farmer’s rural radio. Today the radio station designs and broadcasts agriculture environment and market information to 250.000 small farmer listeners, in the local Ibo language, 10 hours a day. It teaches them how, when and where to cultivate and for whom there are cultivating; how to rear livestock properly and at the same time the market to sell livestock. For example, we taught them how to gather rainwater during the abundant rainy season to use for vegetable gardening in the dry season.

The radio station is also educating farmers how to open bank accounts, the need for accurate record keeping and how they can check their input and their output. I believe that by the time a farmer decides to cultivate maize, he should make a simple budget, Every morning the radio station gives farmers commodity prices from eighteen regional markets so they decide which market to go to.

I think we are better because so many of the organizations have not been able to attract knowledge from farmers themselves. Farmers have knowledge. Farmers know the environment more than those organizations. Farmers know where it hurts most, why there are not increasing their agricultural yield year after year. What farmer A is doing can also be applicable to farmer B, C and D. Several organizations design projects for farmers; they don’t allow farmers to design projects for themselves. For a very long time that has been the norm within the government and civil society sector in designing agricultural projects and I think that has to stop. I’m a farmer myself. I know how difficult it is to get an agricultural loan. Because so many loans out there, even the ones given by microcredit funds, are not designed for agriculture. Why? Because agriculture is high risk.  We can’t even control the weather. There could be flooding tomorrow; the whole harvest can be lost for the year. That is why no loan is specifically made for farmers.

Read the full BMW Foundation interview with Nnaemeka, founder and executive director of the Smallholder Foundation here.  In 2011, he was named Young Person of the Year at the Future Nigeria Awards. 

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