Being a woman does not limit you in anyway- Ifeyinwa Jacintha, farmer & agricultural advocate

Ifeyinwa Jacinta Eze, founded The Green Generation Initiative in 2011 with a seed funding from ExxonMobil.

The Agricultural Advocate, Educator, Scientist, and a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum holds a Bachelors degree in Soil Science and Land resource management from the Obafemi Awolowo University and a postgraduate student on food security at the Business School Netherlands.

While setting up “The Green Generation Initiative” she worked  as Supply Chain at AACE foods between 2013-2015, facilitating at least 1,500 farmers to supply indigenous spices and grains to the processing factory as well as access to storage and finance.

Ifeyinwa Jacinta Eze’ work has made significant contributions to improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers in Nigeria. With over 8 years of experience in agriculture, business and management, her unparalleled success as an educationist propelled the organization in training teachers and students in practical vegetable production skills.

Today through Funding under the MicroVeg project from Global Affairs Canada, over 120 schools on climate-smart agricultural practices have set up gardens in two geo-political zones of the country.

Jacinta is the co-author of the book “School Vegetable Garden Manual for Secondary schools”, a practical and inspiring book for the younger to love agriculture that is funded by the MicroVeg Project.

On pro bono basis, she advocates for the inclusion of children, women and youth in agriculture, Jacinta has also been a guest speaker in many agricultural workshops and conferences both locally and internationally. She shares her inspiring story in this interview.

Childhood Influence
My childhood was full of flowers and vegetable gardening. At home, my dad grew all kinds of vegetables and flowers. He also always had a small poultry he kept all the time, rotating different kinds of birds.

Even when we moved houses, he took his farm with him. The only thing that changed was that we started from scratch to build a new garden. It wasn’t funny when I was a kid because these activities always stole into my playing time, and Daddy would never allow me join my friends until I was done with my lot. And then high school time, I had this fantastic agric teacher (Mr Muhammed at FGGC, Oyo) that used scientific names of crops to make jest in class. He would say things like: “Look at your head like Carica Papaya.” This means “look at your head like Paw-paw.

His style of teaching was so humorous that it captured my attention to knowing most of the plant names by heart, and then practical agriculture on the field in school became my best time as it just felt like home, before I knew it, growing plants became a lifestyle. Little did I know that I was being prepared for the future, that i would grow up to become an advocate for quality agricultural education, production and sustainability

Meet Jacintha
Am popularly called “Bose Elefo” by rural vegetable farmers as vegetables is my key expertise and that’s what I talk about everywhere I go. I am a social entrepreneur, a trainer, educator and promoter of sustainable vegetable production, marketing and consumption. I am a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum (WEF)-Lagos Hub, a fellow of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). I am an advocate for quality agricultural education and a strong believer that this will bring a transformational change for the next generation of agricultural experts and enthusiasts. I have 8 years experience in farmers engagement, rural development and youth empowerment.

Everyday, what keeps me going is more engagement with women and youth for agricultural development.  I hold an MBA in food security from the Business School, Netherlands and a Bachelors degree in Soil science and Land resources management from the prestigious “Great Ife”

Inspiration behind The Green Generation Initiative
While I was an undergraduate at Great Ife, I noticed a trend among my colleagues, medical and biological science students were regarded as the professional students with bright minds. Every session, I watched most of my colleagues struggle to change their courses “trying to cross from agric to health or biological sciences” departments until they got tired.

So I started a personal research into finding out factors responsible and among all of them, what stood out was poor foundational skills.

Many undergraduates had little or no direct encounter with agriculture before Uni, they saw no future with their studies and couldn’t wait to just graduate and do something else with their lives. I could say categorically that at least 50% of my colleagues in my set (B.Agric) are into other careers today.

So when these findings became crystal clear to me, I sought ways to bring a solution to this. And when I got an opportunity to present my ideas (a platform that will boost young people engagement with agriculture from early education years to increase their interests, help them appreciate agriculture and prepare them for the challenges ahead), I did and in 2009, I won the firstprize on the Womenterprise Awards funded ExxonMobil Nigeria through Ideabuilders Initiative.

The seed funding that came with the Award helped me establish school gardens in 6 chosen schools in Lagos and since then its been growing. Now through the work, we have trained as at today, teachers and students on practical agriculture skills in 123 schools in 2 geo-political zones in the country.

 
Challenges
A lot of times I receive unexpected looks and judgement. Many people hardly believe I can hold a hoe talk more of talk about agriculture because of my looks, light skinned and fragile looking. It’s only after several encounters that they believe I know what I am doing or talking about. It’s not been an easy time over the years, I must say. I have worked myself to the bone proving myself.

Poor Motivated teachers: Some teachers have low motivation to drive practical agriculture, they feel like its an extra burden. Its hard to sustain gardens in such environments when the leader isn’t passionate about it. So what happens is that after we have handed over the project to the school, they do not take care of the garden, and it usually ends there after we handover school projects to school

Co-authoring the book “School Vegetable Garden Manual for Secondary schools
The manual is a must-read for every school. It holds practical step –by-step guide for growing green leafy vegetables from planning for the garden up to harvesting the produce of 3 kinds of vegetables.

The techniques also show environmentally smart techniques for production like the use and application rates for biologically derived insecticides to reduce/prevent insects invasion. It was fully sponsored under the Global Affairs project: MicroVeg so it’s not for sale.

Other project and activities
Our scope covers sustainable development through intensive collaboration with young people interested in agriculture, support and train smallholder farmers in climate smart technologies, land resource management, biodiversity conservation, agricultural entrepreneurship and nutritional education.

We are working with a Global Affairs Canada sponsored project to disseminate technologies to 21,000 farmers on Vegetable production technologies and innovations. This is in partnership with Osun state University and other partners like the University of Manitoba, Canada and University of Saskatchewan, Canada, Obafemi Awolowo University and University Of Parakou, Benin republic

We have also had successes in training rural women on integrating fresh vegetables into confectioneries. We linked over 200 farmers in Ogun and Ekiti state to receive over 30 million naira which they fully repaid back and this is bridging the gap between finance institutions and farmers
To increase youth engagement and empowerment, we launched “Grooming Leaders For Agriculture” also called GLA in 2017 creating a platform for young people interested in agriculture to sharpen their skills, develop their career path and grow.

We match young people with mentors (professionals) sharing similar careers and also give hands-on training on vegetable production and agribusiness skills. We are using this to help fast-track their careers, expose them to opportunities and help them become better positioned. We now have 35 young people in the program. Read more..www.glainitiative.org

Greatest reward you have ever gotten for what you do?
My greatest reward isn’t in awards or funding. It has been in building people. The day I started receiving reports that our GLA volunteers had started adopting schools. I felt the best feeling in the world. Do you know what it means to see yourself replicated in others. You know if I were to die today, am certain that the dream will not die.

The vision of reaching the younger generation and preparing them for the future is rolling and will reach every corner of Nigeria and this has been my greatest reward. 

Where do you see your brand in the next five years?
A hub for professionals working together and shaping agribusiness that is moving forward the agenda of food security and wellness for all in Africa

Was there ever a time you feel like giving up?
No. Thankfully I haven’t.

Who and what inspire you to be better?
I have quite a number of people who stand out in inspiring me in my journey. They constantly keep at it and ever encourage me to keep being better: Prof Clement Adebooye, Lucy Kanu, Ndidi Nwuneli

Being a Woman of Rubies
I am a woman of rubies because I am living my life for the sake of the next generation. I am playing my part in contributing to the next generational leaders in food security, we cannot afford to make the mistakes our father made and have the same challenges we are facing today.

Final word for young women all over the world?
Do not just live your life waking up in the morning, cleaning, cooking, serving or watching TV. Live a purpose-filled life, a life that leaves a positive legacy in your family and community.

Your being a woman does not limit you in any way, if you cannot find energy within you to pursue this, find the right support group that works on this and collaborate with them to create that impact that’s needed. We need all women working together to make our world better. All women have this ability, lets use it wisely.

In this article:
Ifeyinwa Jacintha
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