Young businesswoman champions small-scale farmers and youth
By Femare Okemena
Sharon Idahosa is the total package, a young, beautiful, intelligent, and proactive businesswoman. In her own words, the ingenious Edo-state-born entrepreneur is feeding “the neglected child,” which is agriculture. Her entrepreneurial journey began when she sought ways to help combat starvation issues in Nigeria during the COVID-19 pandemic. Major stakeholders rejected her.
Determination spurred her to keep developing herself before growing her business. It can be challenging for a young woman to make her mark in agriculture, a traditionally male-dominated sector of society. Still, Idahosa is a successful, visionary leader who educates, trains and empowers small-scale farmers and youth in Nigeria.
Idahosa, 27, has a Bachelor of Science in agriculture and extension education services. She wanted to become an industrial chemist and never planned to study agriculture, but life had a different plan for her. Today, she heads Let’s Talk Agriculture, a public relations firm, and is involved with two other agriculture-related firms.
Agricultural exports provided much of Nigeria’s trade in the 1950s and the 1960s. But the agriculture sector was neglected after the country’s oil boom. Nigerian governments, at both the federal and state levels, have often allocated less than five percent of their budget to agriculture. In fact, a January Nigerian news report indicated that for 2023, only 1.11 percent of the total national budget was allocated to agriculture.
This runs contrary to the 2003 Maputo Declaration by African heads of state. They agreed that 10 percent of budget spending should be allocated to agriculture and rural development policy implementation in their respective countries within five years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Idahosa was disturbed that many people could not afford three meals a day. To address this problem, she founded the non-profit LIFEX Agricultural Initiative in 2020. LIFEX’s goal is to support women and youth in agriculture. It provides women and youth with business training and workshops on micro-credit projects. “Supporting smallholder farmers has been an amazing journey,” she said.
In February, Idahosa spoke at the Global Council for the Promotion of International Trade EU’s sustainable business summit. Her talk focused on how to drive a global food system transformation. She believes we should understand the food system to know its importance. “We all play a major role in the food system. When we are talking about the food system, it involves the production, processing, and distribution of food, with the sole aim of reducing hunger and malnutrition.”
She said the pillars of a food system are access, availability, utilization, and stabilization. But numerous challenges confront small-scale farmers, she said. These include the lack of infrastructure, poor roads, transportation, how to manage food storage, food loss, and waste. Small-scale farmers are major contributors to the agriculture sector but need to earn a decent living from their toil. Idahosa believes that the standard of living of these farmers should be a priority, as they produce food for the nation. “They are the backbone. Once we do this, [support them] it becomes easy to build our food system,” she says.
In Idahosa’s February 4th blog post, Five Reasons Youths are not Attracted to the Agricultural Sector, she mentions that youth are not interested in studying agriculture. They see it as a poor man’s occupation. Youth aspire to take up careers in medicine, accounting, engineering, and law. She decided to enlighten the youth about prospects in the agricultural sector. “There is a stereotype that agriculture is for the poor. Farmers are not poor,” she says.
She encourages youth to be part of a value chain. A youth could go to a poultry farm, pick up the feathers from the birds that would otherwise be discarded, and have the feathers processed and made into throw pillows. Another possibility would be to buy eggs from a poultry farm and re-sell them, which requires less capital than starting a farm. A youth could decide to use eggshells to make ceramics or convert the eggshells to garden fertilizer for sale. Others might decide to sell fish, she said.
Idahosa dreams of establishing an e-learning academy. It would offer courses that would empower small-scale farmers, and Nigerian youths to be self-employed. She believes in creating career opportunities in the agricultural sector rather than waiting on the government to allocate a percentage of the budget. In her own words, “The youth can always pave their way for a great future without dependence on funds from anywhere,” she says.
At the same time, she thinks the government should create an enabling environment for small-scale farmers and youth to thrive. She said that government policies need to be revisited to ensure that farmers or youth who want to set up a business are not held back. The lack of infrastructure is another issue that needs to be addressed. Idahosa believes the government has the capacity to give agriculture a greater priority. Idahosa recalls visiting a major stakeholder in the agricultural sector with her business plan in order to partner with them. She was told they only work with large organizations, not small businesses. This sort of experience is enough to discourage an enthusiastic youth or small-scale farmer. She encourages farmers and youth to invest in themselves by accessing free resources, programs, and mentoring. She used this approach to thrive in the industry.
Idahosa runs her business with a team of five. She also partners with several other organizations. Agro Market Square is a business-to-business platform that connects small-scale farmers to industrial buyers. SkillEd is an e-learning firm that facilitates collaboration between organizations. AgriCode Expo engages youth in climate-smart agriculture and empowers women to access technology to advance their agricultural productivity. “Youth are setting up agri- cultural technology to help support small-scale farmers,” she said. “Despite the challenges of corruption, lack of machinery, funding, and infrastructure, farmers and the youth still need support so they can advance,” she said.
“We cannot wait for the government to solve all the problems, which could take a while,” she says. In her mind, education and community effort will produce faster results and progress. Idahosa hosts the Let’s Talk Agriculture podcast. It covers subjects such as food and nutrition, post-harvest loss, climate change, and technology. The podcast can be heard on various platforms.
Femare Okemena is an Edmonton-based freelance writer.