Why did this Nigerian choose rural agriculture rather than a suit and tie in town?
Why did this Nigerian choose rural agriculture rather than a suit and tie in town? Laurent Afere is the founder of # Springboard an initiative which led him to be named to # Mandela # Washington # Fellow last year, where he visited the USA and spent a few weeks meeting President # Barack # Obama and a number of global business leaders. SpringBoard is an organization that combines organic farming with entrepreneurial training to create jobs and promote sustainable agriculture.
In 2007, when Laurent Alaba Afere graduated from college, he shocked his family when he said that he was not going to use his business management diploma to find a well-paying job in the big city. Instead, he wanted to continue social entrepreneurship in agriculture in his hometown Akure, a low-income community in southwestern Nigeria.
“It was a difficult decision because my parents and siblings are not happy that I am going home. They were waiting for me to get a job in the city and then be able to help them. ”
His family thought he should be bewitched. After all, who would have willingly chosen the hard work of farming over a high-wage job? “But I say to my parents,” Please dad, please mom, I have to do something different in my life. ”
And that’s exactly what he did. Today, he is the founder of Springboard, an organization that combines organic farming with entrepreneurial training to create jobs and promote sustainable agriculture. It offers young people courses in agriculture and business practical skills. Participants are also placed in small groups. After the harvest, each group receives 80% of the profit, the remaining 20% being reinvested in the sustainability of Springboard.
And Afere’s parents couldn’t be more proud. The organization has not only generated stable income for himself, but for many other young people in his community. His initiative also led him to be named Mandela Washington Fellow last year, where he spent a few weeks meeting with President Barack Obama and a number of global business leaders.
—————- He was inspired by the shocking statistics:
Social entrepreneurship was not in his original plan when he gained admission to business studies at the university. Like many in his class, he was excited about a job in the banking or oil and gas sector. “And I studied very hard so that I could come out with good results that could do me a good job. ”
But he never forgot the exact moment that it all changed for him. It was Friday, November 17, 2006. He was at the library, catching up on some news before hitting a book on a report actually published by the Minister of Education. He revealed some shocking statistics about unemployment, and how the majority of school leavers have been unable to find work. But the most shocking of all was the predicted effect it would have on the people.
“It is written in 2020, Nigeria – my dear country – will collect more than 20 million highly qualified criminals. Each year we raise more than a million skilled criminals … We don’t produce highly skilled professionals in medicine, law, professional skills, but we raise criminals.
“And so all my plans for life, everything has changed since that moment. I decided that rather than just getting a job, let me rather help young Nigerians get jobs – and in the process get something for me. ”
———— A net importer of food? It’s crazy!
Once Afere knew he wanted to be a social entrepreneur focused on training young people and creating jobs, the next step was to figure out where he could do better. Agriculture in Nigeria has caught his attention.
“Why have we imported so much food into the country where we have millions of hectares of land that we could use for our own livelihood? Why are we still insane – buying food from India, Thailand, all these Asian countries? Millions of hectares of land are lost every year, “he said.
“If you combine farming with young people, you can transform this country in less time than the rest. And that’s why I decided that I’m going to help them do this. ”
In 2008, he launched the Youth Agricultural Project which brought young people together in his community to cultivate land. The initiative started to grow and was renamed Springboard in 2012. It has trained over 500 young people since its inception. And the program is also scaled up so that it can train 100 people every six months.
“We currently have access to over 15 hectares of agricultural land, and the community is ready to give us more land if we have more young people to train. ”
Towards the end of last year, Afere also managed to raise enough capital to start construction of a processing and packaging chips factory. And last month, he started production of Springboard brand plantain crisps. They are already sold in three states in Nigeria, and Afere plans to distribute to other African countries in the future.
————————— Agriculture is a business
According to Afere, one of the objectives of this initiative is to change the perception of agriculture among young Nigerians. Many do not see it as an attractive career path.
»Especially young people in rural and semi-urban areas; they’ve seen their parents over the years that farmers are suffering… They’re so poor and middlemen make more money than they do. And if these young people are discouraged. This is one reason why they want to leave the rural areas and go to the cities in search of jobs. ”
To slow this trend Afere hopes to make “fashionable” farming among young people. “We help them see that there is a good market for the products, and that you can actually get rich with the culture of the land.” ”
The initiative also teaches business skills, such as how agri-entrepreneurs can perform in the market without using middlemen who cut profits.
“Agriculture must be a business. It should not be seen as something that only poor people do. You can build your farm and it can become a big business. So we teach farming as a business. And if you run your business well, it can help you earn a good income. Here’s what we help them see. They are a farmer and they are an entrepreneur ”
The program, he said, shows that good farmers and good entrepreneurs have a lot in common. For example, nurturing and developing cultures and societies will require a lot of work, teamwork, re-investment, time management, planning and patience.
“A farmer must be patient, allowing his crops to grow and mature before harvest. The same with entrepreneurs – they sacrifice instant gratification for long-term success, “he continued.
————— Big changes start small
According to Afere, there have been positive changes in the past two years as more young people begin to see the benefits of farming.
“I tell you, everyday on social media you see a lot of young people putting their photos on Facebook and telling their friends that they are farmers right now. So the young people realize in a way that Nigeria will develop by returning to our past love, which was agriculture. ”
He advises others who want to continue entrepreneurship be aware of the risks, and make sure they are driven by something more than a big paycheck.
“No matter how much you get paid, it doesn’t compare with the reward that comes when you follow the path of entrepreneurship, because entrepreneurs change the world. So ask yourself – do you want to transform this world?
“For me, I want to do one very important thing: I want to change this world. And I started doing it in my little community here in Nigeria. ”