In a 5-day agribusiness seminar, organised by TELL and ACME consulting, in conjunction with Songhai Centre in the Republic of Benin, participants are exposed to the yet un-harnessed treasures of integrated farming.
For well over five years, Joy Dilkon, 36, with her legislator-husband and partner grappled with problems of raising the fortunes of their farm in Plateau State to another financial level. Dilkon said she brooded long and hard, but there was no headway. But all of that changed the moment she set eyes on TELL advert that slated an agribusiness seminar for April 27 – May 2, at the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo, Republic of Benin. ‘The advert said something about integrated farming and turning waste to wealth. I’ve heard about the Songhai Centre and I came to learn’, she said. With support from her husband, and exuding the temerity of a bee in search of flowers to pollinate, Dilkon travelled to Porto Novo to find out how to rev the machinery of her somewhat dormant farm.
But Dilkon was not the only one that saw that advert and embarked on a journey to learn how to transform agric waste to liquid cash. Oluwole Ademolaju, Oloye of Oye Kingdom, first class chief from Ekiti State, together with top business executives, permanent secretaries, United Nations Children’s Education Fund, UNICEF consultants in charge of 21 states in the federation, lecturers, research fellows, a husband and wife team were among the 21 participants who took advantage of the TELL/Songhai Centre initiative for a variety of reasons. While some said that they were sent by their organisations to understudy Songhai, ‘to observe the application of practical farming theories and concepts’, the Oloye of Oye said that he was intent to promote the waste to wealth plan for his people in Ekiti State.
But no matter what differences of interest were expressed by the participants at the opening ceremony, on April 28, they were harmonized by Geoffrey Nzamujo, Songhai Centre director. In a welcome lecture, Nzamujo told the participants that any country that was unable to take care of the food needs of her people would eventually run into‘logic of poverty’. To break that cycle through innovative farming techniques, Nzamujo urged participants to ‘consider human, environmental, technical, social and credit indexes of human development’. Nzamujo said that since the world no longer relied on natural resources but on a knowledge-based economy agriculture should no longer be in the hands of mediocre but with ‘ entrepreneurs who have reasonable understanding of how to procure any set of goods, and services corresponding to the needs of a social group’.
Apparently to demonstrate what he had said, Nzamujo took the participants on a guided tour of the 40-hectare facility. While there, they saw and participated in the processing of cassava, soy, and palm nut, and other fruit juice processing units in the facility. Also as part of the tour, the project director conducted them around the grass cutter, snail, mushroom and aquaculture farms where they were given lectures on integrated farming by the experts on ground. What turned out to be one of the star attractions for the participants was the zero emission research initiative, NERI, and the production of biogas from a mishmash of poultry, pig and grass cutter droppings mixed with water hyacinth that gave off a variety of gases, the chief being methane. If the participants were bowled over with the NERI initiative, most of them were aglow with excitement with the ‘Sheraton’, a maggot breeding suit where dropping from poultry and piggery, together with the innards from animals, and whatever waste on the premises, were left to decay and fed to the fish in the various ponds that dotted the Songhai Centre.
But that was not all to the 13th Module of the Songhai Seminar. During an interactive session with Nzamujo, tagged ‘the Ultimate Enterpreneur’, he said that the participants’ eventual foray in integrated agricultural endeavour for economic gain must be sustained by an ‘ability to anticipate changes in the demand and supply equilibrium, improve on distribution, and be able to introduce innovative technology, and use social capital in human resource management’, to improve their chances of ‘turning waste to wealth’.
Ediga Etowo, director in the permanent secretary’s office in the Ministry of Youth Development said that the Songhai seminar was an experience of a lifetime. Others like Daniel Ofuka of the Rivers State University of Technology, Obubra Campus, Cross River State said he was overwhelmed by the ‘practicality of the simple technology’, while the Oloye of Oye, Ekiti, said that attending the Songhai seminar was the ‘happiest moment of my life’. Perhaps still in an exuberant mood at the gains of the Songhai experience, some of the participants vowed to either bring their governors and politicians to the centre to see things for their selves. Ademola Oyinlola, TELL executive editor who was present at the opening ceremony said that there was nothing wrong in getting politicians and their agencies involved, ‘but their involvement should be minimal’, he said. According to Oyinlola, the kind of integrated agricultural practices that participants were exposed to at the Songhai Centre were best handled by entrepreneurs. ‘From the first to the 13th module of the TELL/Songhai collaboration, we have brought in over 500 hundred participants who built on what they learnt here and translated all of it to profitable agro-businesses’, he said. Against the clamour by participants that Songhai centres be established in Nigeria, Oyinlola advised Nzamujo not to take the request any seriously because centres established in several parts of Nigeria based on the same format and principles of the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo died unnaturally because of the philandering attitude of the politicians. ‘At a time of food crises around the world today, the challenge to produce food for the teeming population of Nigerians can best be handled by Nigerians who have the same entrepreneurial spirit of the founder of the Songhai Centre’, Oyinlola said.