It was few days to Christmas, and as usual, prices of food items had gone up. Many times, people would prefer to shop for groceries weeks before Christmas because of the anticipated increase in prices, while those who could not, ended up paying double for most food items. Luckily for my family, we didn’t have to shop early or pay double; virtually everything we ate was grown on our little farm in our backyard. We grew a variety of vegetables such as Amaranthus, okra, tomatoes, fluted pumpkin, scotch bonnet pepper, Malabar spinach, jute mallow, bitter leaves and scent leaves. We also grew papaya, pineapple, orange, banana, plantain, sugarcane, yam, maize and cassava. Our sugarcane never stopped growing, they were also my favorite. There was never a time we had to apply fertilizers, yet, our crops grew so well. On weekends, we were always excited to visit the farm to clear the weeds and do some pruning where necessary. We also practiced fish farming and animal husbandry, and my favorite days were the days we grilled chicken. When we had visitors, we did not have to spend extra money on groceries, we always had food to entertain them. Aside from cost savings, we also ate healthy, and most importantly, knew the source of a large percentage of what we consumed.
As I grew older, my love for agriculture blossomed, and I decided to pursue it as a career. My decision was criticized by many, but my father told me if I wanted to solve problems, I should consider Agricultural Economics, and I’m glad I did. I developed a passion for agriculture, and my experience during third year as an undergraduate student added icing on the cake. I carried out a farm survey which gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with farmers. I saw that farming was not just an occupation it was a way of life. Their farms reminded me of our little farm, but bigger of course. Many of the farmers did not use fertilizers, yet their crops grew so well because they had naturally fertile lands. They practiced crop rotation and those who needed to enhance their soil used animal droppings.
I learned that the farmers were mostly subsistence farmers, not necessarily because they didn’t have the desire to expand, but because most of their farmlands were fragmented or lost to industrialization, and they lacked access to government subsidies. I quickly realized they also had challenges such as lack of storage facilities. During harvest periods they could only sell some of their farm produce, and because they were mostly perishable goods, they were sold at low prices to increase demand. Other challenges I observed were related to pest control, access to funds, and distribution.
Later on, I made the decision to learn more and experience what agriculture is outside my home country, Nigeria, so, I enrolled in a master’s program in Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Guelph. Over time I have come to realize that the site-specific challenges local farmers encounter may vary in different countries, but a major observable similarity is that farmlands are lost to threats such as urban development and industrialization, where ever you are.
My experience has shown me why my father suggested Agricultural Economics as a choice of study. With this knowledge, I will not only be solving problems, but I will also be helping communities to be food secure. I now understand the need for my field, the need to continually learn to make agriculture better, the need to provide solutions with and for farmers, and the need to protect those farmlands that feed us all.
I couldn’t be happier when I was given the opportunity to volunteer with the Ontario Farmland Trust, because a common goal which we share is the protection of farmlands; this in particular connects me to my roots.