I am passionate about eradicating poverty -Chief Temitope Ajayi, Coordinator, Nigerian American Agricultural Empowerment Programme (NAAEP)
As a single mother, Ms. Temitope Ajayi is concerned about the legacies parents leave behind especially when it comes to alleviating poverty. With the establishment of Nigerian American Agricultural Empowerment Programme (NAAEP), she is totally committed to eradicating poverty and empowering rural farmers.
Ms. Ajayi is a business consultant and an accountant by profession, and was actively involved in Government and several community affairs in Nigeria. In a chat with Daily Sun, the founder and President of Nigerian Community of Friends (NCF) is not daunted by the challenges facing NAAEP. Excerpts:
What are your reasons for setting up Nigerian American Agricultural Empowerment Programme (NAAEP)?
We need to know that government can't eradicate poverty alone in Nigeria, they need help from individuals.
All the privileged individuals should help in the empowerment of the less-privileged so as to maintain food security and eradicate poverty. Many American investors want to come to Africa especially Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Benin republic etc. and I have to help establish NAAEP so that we can create jobs and increase food security in Nigeria. Our weather is very conducive here since we do not suffer natural disasters like the Americans, Europeans and Asians.
I set up NAAEP to help farmers, especially women and young adults who wish to make a living. NAAEP is here to give back to the society. I am a business woman and NAAEP is not an NGO, it is a business venture. Since agriculture is the only key to poverty eradication, the source of primary education, brings returns that will help improve health care, then it has to be taken seriously. NAAEP is a mutual fund where people are empowered and they enjoy their investment. Every individual contributes one percent equity contribution in NAAEP and reap their benefits in due time.
The farmers come together, farm and share the profit from the sales in 20% ratio. NAAEP doesn't need their money, but their technical manpower. We now have NAAEP farm settlement at Igbonla-Ijih Road, Abapawa, Epe. We have harvested some of the crops such as cassava and yams. One thing about this farm settlement is that it will be different from any we have seen before. It will be mechanised and computerised farming at its best, while the farm will be GPRS enabled and it will be accessed by anybody all over the world.
How would you describe your progress so far?
It has been great. I was invited by the South-South governors last year for a summit on MDGs and I went there with three mayors and six agriculturists from six states in the US to discuss on how to eradicate poverty with agriculture. Otunba Ayo Oduntan is the chairman of NAAEP and he was the one who led the team as the chairman. Two years ago, the Mayor of Iowa, Dr. James Havens, gave me the key to the city of Iowa. This included a Proclamation affirming that every 16th of July will be celebrated as 'Nigerian Friendship Day.' Since Iowa happens to be the bread basket of America, these farmers came here to do business in the agricultural sector and to improve our economy while helping themselves at the same time. The team also included the representative of Arkansas World Trade Center. Arkansas is the number five rice-growing state in the whole world. We also have some farmers from Huston and Virginia. They were here to assist in developing our agriculture sector and to eradicate of poverty in Nigeria.
How would you access the impact of the visit of the farmers and the Mayor to Nigeria?
The team, when we went to Epe, told me that it will take three months to clear the land. They (members of the team) said they were ready to bring their equipment and start. They wanted to use our land to plant crops and export them to America, but it occurred to me to empower Nigerians rather than allow them use Nigerians. We are working together in NAAEP and that is how we started. Lisabi Mills is partnering with us. NAAEP is owned by the people and not by any individual.
Are you getting any support from government?
Delay is not denial. If I sit down everyday crying that I need support from my government, I won't get started. I hope to with my work in NAAEP attract government support. Now, I am supported by the Almighty God and very passionate Nigerians who have been blessed.
How did you get the land in the first place?
I bought it with the one percent equity contribution from members of NAAEP and my own contribution as well. It is a collective land, 1500 plots is a lot for one person to acquire alone. If I have money again, I will purchase more to empower people the more.
What would you say about food insecurity in Nigeria and what is the way out?
When it comes to food security in Nigeria, the government can't do it alone. They need support from passionate individuals who are richly blessed to assist in maintaining food security. Agriculture is an investment, as modern technology has made it easier for farmers. If Nigerians will embrace farming, we will not suffer hunger anymore. I am just a woman who knows nothing about agriculture but has seen an opportunity to better the lives of Nigerians through agriculture. It is a wake up call for everyone. If it were not God, I would have quit a long time.
What role should government play in making sure that food insecurity can be a thing of the past come 2015?
The role of government should be funding. They should give funds to the right people. We need basic infrastructures and development of rural areas. The roads to the farms should be tarred to make movement easier for the farmers and their produce. Water and electricity should be made available. There should be assesible roads and farmers should be given loans to buy vehicles to transport their crops to the market. Farmers are frustrated and are engaged in small scale farming but NAAEP is engaged in commercial farming. There should be agricultural funds set aside by government with interest given to the farmers so as to encourage them.
What are your challenges?
There are challenges no doubt but as a hardworking woman, I see it as a step forward. I don't expect much from people because it is God who helps. I will overcome all the challenges of funding, lack of awareness on the part of Nigerians concerning agriculture as well as the facilities to make life easier for the farmers in NAAEP. I am appealing to the government to assist us in NAAEP so that we can assist young Nigerians. You can't farm without being present there all the time. You have to feed your chickens and fishes, your farmers have to be well taken care of and they have to reap the rewards of their labour.
Why are you called Mama Diaspora?
I was the former President of ANAC (All Nigerian American Congress), now, I am the President emeritus. Someone gave me that nickname and I love it because being a mother is a huge responsibility. A mother would not go to sleep until her children go to bed. A mother works so hard in making sure her children make it in life.
The name Mama Diaspora means a lot to me. Our children don't have an identity because they can speak every foreign language where they are brought up and yet they can't speak their indigenous Languages. In the true sense of it, they are Nigerians and someone has to be passionate about giving them back their identity as well as the strength to excel in a foreign land. As Mama Diaspora, I will live and die for young adults. I am encouraging those in Diaspora to come back home, not as politicians, but as individuals who would complement government efforts towards nation building. In our little way, let's make an impact in our nation and help achieve the Millennium development goals so that we can end poverty by 2015. I want to be remembered as a woman that is very passionate about the eradication of poverty and maintaining food security. As an American citizen, I wish Nigeria is like America in everything.
What gives you the strength to move on?
It is because I am a woman and a mother. I also have passion to eradicate poverty and have the will to pursue it till the end. A lot of mothers are bitter in Nigeria because they work so hard to see their children through the University and when they graduate, there are no jobs and we still support them. I am leaving a legacy behind for the young generation when it comes to alleviating poverty.
Can you give us a peep into your background?
I am from Lagos State and a woman who God is using to put smiles on the face of farmers. My great grand father led the Kiriji and I believe that is where I got my tenacity and will power from. I am engaged in agricultural revolution in Nigeria. People always think a man should do what I am doing but I am proud as a woman that I am pioneering agricultural change. I am mother of wonderful children, but I am a single parent.
How many awards have you won so far in your service to humanity?
They are numerous.The US President's Volunteer award, was awarded to me for my passionate and volunteering selfless services role to the African's in the United State of America. As the President of NCF, I got A Woman of Distinction award from The Foreign Investment Network with Global Trusted Alliances LLC USA for my role in Promoting and Encouraging Foreign Investments in Nigeria in support for economic growth in the country, at the International Business Women Conference. I also received a Certificate of Special US congressional Recognition for challenging CNN documentary on How To Rob A Bank.
How are you coping with single parenthood?
I have been a single parent for over twenty years now. It is challenging but it is not peculiar to me alone, it is a challenge for womanhood. No matter the situation we find ourselves as women, we should be positive. I encourage women to be married but if it doesn't happen that way, you won't kill yourself. I just forgot about the pleasures of life and stayed focused on my children. I am appealing to every woman married or unmarried that the number one priority they have is their children. Our children can be anything they wish to be if we stay focused and monitor their education. Women should lead by example in our homes and present them to the society as better citizens. Most of our leaders went through the process and challenges every child goes through while growing but they have remained focused to reach the top.