At the beginning of every year, pastors across the country come up with a declaration statement for the new year: the year of divine favour; the year of manifold blessings; the year of unparalleled prosperity; and so on. While the tendency among some members of the congregation is to sit and expect a magical turn-around incommensurate with discipline and effort or any other human input, others realise that they will in many ways reap what they sow.
No one understands this better than those in the agricultural sector. Farmers understand that one does not simply show up on the day of the harvest expecting a bountiful harvest. They understand the importance of building a good foundation: surveying the soil; clearing the land; gathering resources for input such as seeds, fertilisers, and machinery; planting; watering; weeding, and so on. And so, on the day of the harvest, barring unforeseen circumstances, a dedicated farmer prepares himself/herself to reap the fruit of his/her labour of love.
This is not lost on other agricultural entrepreneurs who, in the face of fear and uncertainty, birth their business idea. They spend time exploring all the implications of this venture, gathering resources and devising strategies. They might spend weeks or months trying to build a formidable team, secure office space, and equip their office with the necessary infrastructure before they finally start up or launch their product in the market. In those arduous start-up months, a lot of effort is made to build the brand, keep the customer satisfied, and be firmly ensconced in the market. When things start falling into place, the entrepreneur enjoys the dividends of takeoff and prosperity.
As the new year gradually unfolds, stakeholders within the agricultural fold are prepared to usher in an era of full-scale transformation. When the president and the minister of agriculture unveiled the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) in 2012, the offerings – job creation for millions of Nigerians, value-addition and value-chain transformation in eight subsectors, technological support to millions of farmers – were enough to make many ecstatic. Others were disillusioned stating that Nigerians are tired of the government’s empty promises. And in a very strategic and symbolic move, the ministry designed a programme to reveal the real secret behind this transformation: we will all have to create it together.
To this end, the flagship workshop for the ATA brought over 100 people from all across the country – professors, farmers, processors, technology enthusiasts, researchers, and especially young passionate people from a range of fields – to Abuja to proffer ideas for a sector revamp. They were to bring their expertise to bear in such an important national project, working to create a roadmap, an action plan, and a strategy. Over the past couple of months, a team of people from within the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and different private-sector establishments have continued to work together to steer this plan in the right direction. And they have not failed to connect with the agricultural community, listen to each other, and share their comprehensive reports, the product of hours and weeks of knowledge aggregation.
Many are aware that the transformation will not come easy; rather, it will be the product of hard work, perseverance and dedication. They are aware that while speeches are made in the high places and articles are written in newspapers such as this one, the transformation is not something that will be thrust upon the country. Nor will the country surprisingly happen upon it one day. It is something that everyday Nigerians will create for themselves in their agricultural ventures and pursuits.
For farmers and other businessmen affected by the floods, the transformation will involve gathering the courage to start anew, combining lessons learned from their years of practice with resources acquired from their governments and networks, and labouring night and day to create a vibrant venture. For agricultural educational institutions, it will involve developing a more comprehensive curriculum for students, with an emphasis on innovation and knowledge acquisition, incorporating topics on entrepreneurship and management and leaving students with practicable and employable skills upon graduation.
For graduates who have roamed the streets of Nigeria’s major urban centres in search of jobs, especially in major oil companies, it will involve a leap of faith. This leap will be propelled by a refocus on the meaningful venture of agriculture, and challenge them to explore the world of entrepreneurship. It might lead them to start a poultry farm or a processing unit or an agri-telecommunications company and watch it grow knowing that they are creating wealth and jobs. For policymakers, it will mean a redoubling of policy planning and implementation efforts; making sure that agendas reflect the needs of all stakeholders; sharpening monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; and supervising the takeoff of the agricultural entrepreneurship programme that should be launched in the first quarter of 2013. For the private sector, especially big corporations and financial institutions, it will mean a sustained investment in – or support of – individuals, enterprises, value chains, and research projects.
In like manner, through this column and through the Harambe Farmland web platform, I will be following the transformation and playing my own part to create it. On this column, the first week of every month will be dedicated to showcasing the ways in which Nigerians across the country are creating change or taking very important first steps. It will be dedicated to models in the sector and indeed models for the entire country, especially the young entrepreneurs, and research and policy professionals. These Nigerians will embody the transformation spirit through certain values: honesty, vision, hard work, dedication, innovation and resourcefulness. Other weeks will be devoted to important policy agendas, citizen concerns, lessons from history and the Nagropreneur project. And for those who are looking to join the movement or improve their agri-practice, the information sharing that characterised this column in 2012 will continue with a number of How-To series.
So, dear Nigerians, join me and let us create this turnaround together. Happy Transformation Year!!