Africa AfricaAsia  AGRICTECH Report

Education and a skill building in youth is key to any developing nation’s progress- Hemant Nitturkar (IITA)

Hemant Nitturkar .Project Director at Building an Economically Sustainable, Integrated Cassava Seed System in Nigeria (BASICS)

Hemant Nitturkar is an entrepreneur, a business mentor and a tri-sector professional with multi-domain, multi country work experience. Over the past 2 ½ decades, he has worked in agriculture, IT and financial services sectors and in the government, private sector and civil society organisations.

He is a two-time recipient of the Governor’s Gold Medals from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad for his academic achievement in BSc (Agriculture) and MSc (Genetics and Plant Breeding).

He holds a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance from Securities Institute of Australia. He strongly feels the world community has a window of maximum 15 years to create an ecosystem that can provide meaningful economic opportunities for the teeming youth; else we face a demographic catastrophe instead of enjoying a demographic dividend.  Hence, he is a strong proponent of the UN SDGs.

Hemant Nitturkar IITA

His personal life mission is to create positive impact in the lives of at least one million families unknown to him.

He is currently the Project Director for a CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) project called Building an Economically Sustainable, Integrated Cassava Seed System in Nigeria (BASICS) based in International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a CGIAR Organisation, based in Ibadan, Nigeria. The project has interventions that contribute towards SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 17.

In an exclusive interview with Adewale Adenrele  (African Development Magazine) .  Hemant Nitturkar opens up about his projects and passion on youth development, Agric-economy, finances and his travel and work experience.

Your profile and educational background is interesting and captivating, why do you value education?

When one is not born with a golden spoon, the only way to get ahead in life is through knowledge and skills. Be it India, where I come from, or Nigeria, we do not have social security system like in some European countries. Only people with good education and competence can hope to have a good life. My parents taught me early in life to enhance my competence, not my desires.

I stood first at my University while completing my bachelors and masters and received Gold Medals from my State Governor. This opened up opportunities for me and coming from a small village in India, I was able to travel and work in over 25 countries, and I wish to share my learnings with the next generation.

You have worked in various oragnisation as a professional; can you share with us your experience in Nigeria?

I have been working at IITA for over two years now. When I shifted from Mali, I saw Nigeria as a bustling and vibrant economy. The country is blessed with fantastic natural resources, very entrepreneurial and friendly people. I see a huge opportunity for the young nation to embrace a startup culture, that is has enthused the youth in India.

Agripreneurship is the need of the hour. IITA is working in space through its Business Incubation Platform. In the project that I manage, BASICS – Building an economically sustainable, integrated seed system for cassava in Nigeria – among other things, we have developed a network of over 150 Village Seed Entrepreneurs, who are trained to multiply improved varieties and sell certified seeds to the farmers in the nearby location.

In Nigeria, Agricultural is branch of the economy in Nigeria, providing employment for about 30%, what aspect do you think can increase youth employment?

$35 billion food import bill per annum is not a good situation for a populace to be in. This has to change. Self-sufficiency in food allows a nation to think about other needs of the population, while dependency on others for basic food needs, puts a nation at other’s mercy. Being a young nation, Nigeria needs to create economic opportunities for large number of youth. There is no magic wand.

In cassava alone, due to low productivity, Nigeria is losing almost one trillion Naira every year. If improved seeds of high yielding varieties developed by IITA and NRCRI, made available through an entrepreneurial seed system are adopted by farmers and improved agronomic practices and better weed management practices applied, we can bridge this yield gap. Add to this, value adding will mean enormous financial opportunities for youth and saving of precious foreign exchange for the nation.

The federal government of Nigeria has advised youth to engage in Agric-business / farming, what has been the contribution of IITA to this development?

IITA Business Incubation Platform, ENABLE Youth project and many such initiatives are helping youth to stand on own feet. BASICS project is training young farmers to develop their own seed business and this is another opportunity for youth. There are opportunities across the value chain in advisory services, value addition business, mechanization equipment hire services and so on.

What are your perspectives on how India and Nigeria can benefit from each other in seed sector and broader agriculture for development sector through innovation and entrepreneurship?

Both Nigeria and India have similar natural resources and population dynamics. Similar problems and similar opportunities. The current government in India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is very keen to collaborate.

There are great mutual opportunities. Indian seed industry has flourished due to a policy change that said, “labelling is mandatory, certification is optional”. This increased the number of seed companies from under 100 to over 2500 in the last two decades. Indian agricultural innovation focuses on afford ability and hence is more useful to Nigeria.

What are the importance of certified seed in improving the farmer productivity and income?

Good start is half work done. By not using improved seeds, farmers and the nation is losing out due to lost productivity. In cassava alone, 46 improved varieties were released by IITA and NRCRI. But, its adoption is poor due to lack of a sustainable seed system. BASICS project is trying to change that. Same can be said in many other crops. Improved seeds will bring benefits to farmers, intermediate processors and end consumers, ultimately benefiting the whole nation.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship for inclusive developments: what are the possibilities for India-Nigeria collaboration?

I recently addressed an India-Nigeria agriculture collaboration summit organized by Indian High Commission where Chambers of Commerce from India and Nigeria came together to establish a portal to facilitate collaboration. This is the way to go. This needs to be made known to more entrepreneurs on both sides to take benefit of.

As social entrepreneur with professional skills, tell us about the social enterprise you founded and how impactful is it to Indians and Nigerians?

I believe education and a skill building in youth is key to any developing nation’s progress. Towards this, along with my wife, I have established www.gyantree.in a social enterprise to develop the youth. We also had established a company to promote entrepreneurship through mentorship and help with raising early stage venture capital.

We both are panel mentors on Tony Elumelu Foundation to support entrepreneurship and we teach the Agribusiness MBA students at University of Ibadan.

What advice and assistance would you give to other social entrepreneurs who are interested to learn from you?

Until the age of 40, don’t fear. After 40, don’t regret. I would advise them to enhance their competence and health, not their desires; Look at good TED Talks; read Rich Dad, Poor Dad book by Robert Kiyosaki; have good mentors and to take action.

As a project director of Building an Economically Sustainable Integrated Seed System for Cassava (BASICS), what has been the challenge in educating and orientating the farmers across Nigeria?

Due to various experiences of the past, I feel, the farmers have lost hope for high income from agriculture and they continue to see agriculture as sustenance activity. They should see this as a micro-business and should have an urgency to increase productivity. Financial literacy needs to be increased so the farmers know how much profit did they make from their farm each year. This way, they can see what they can do to improve it. Youth should not run away from agriculture.

Team work on Integration of weed management in cassava farming systems was accepted by local farmers, do you have the support of federal government on this course?

We work closely with NASC and NRCRI and FMARD. We need to take the benefits to large number of farmers, not just the ones who get exposed to these improved technologies due to our projects. Communication and media like Africa Dev Magazines have an important role to play, and I am glad you are playing that role. More grease to your elbow.

Your mission is to create positive impact in the lives of at least one million families unknown to you, how were you able to accomplish this and on what basis?

By definition, I want them to be unknown to me, so I do not grow horns on my head. It also means, I do not need accurate way to measure it. But, I keep a guesstimate. For example, I was the first person to set up an out grower scheme to produce French beans for the largest food processing company called Frigoken Ltd in Kenya.

It was found that our intervention had increased the net savings of the micro farmers many folds. When I left Frigoken, we had 7000 farmers under the scheme. I see on their website that now over 60,000 farmers. That means, at 5 members per family, this is already 300,000 people.

Along with my wife, we have trained over 3000 school teachers to improve their ability to teach English and other subjects to students in low cost schools. It was very impactful intervention.

Thousands of students benefited from this across India. We also helped over 300 social entrepreneurs and each venture impacted many hundreds of people each. It snowballs and that is what we intend to see. This is why I was recognized in USA as an “Unreasonable Fellow” in 2011.

Thank you for sharing with us .

You are welcome, hope to see you again .