Lawrence is a pioneer in bringing organic products into the mainstream consciousness of Nigerian society, and in promoting the demand of healthier foods to ensure the preservation of his country’s ecosystems. In doing so, he creates prospects for professional and economic development in organic farming, and reverses the rural to urban drift.
The New Idea
Lawrence Afere has created a sustainable method to feed Nigeria’s increasing population with farm crops that do not rely on toxic chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, or practices that degrade soil, water, or other natural resources. He has developed an integrated model of environmental sustainability, healthy living and economic development.
He is reversing the trend of indiscriminate use of chemicals to grow food crops for human consumption by demonstrating alternative and healthier ways of growing a variety of plants and sustaining the biodiversity which will foster the development and maintenance of healthy ecosystems.
His system is unique in its intention to be inclusive and address all social and economic strata, both to the poorest of the poor, as well as to the wealthier farmers.
Lawrence started a movement of young people, positioning them to revolutionize the agricultural sector while giving them the relevant tools which will enable them add value to organic crops and in the process create economic value for themselves. Through this medium, Lawrence is reversing the rural-urban drift, forming village enterprises and bringing economic development to rural areas.
He has tackled the demand and supply sides by creating a weekly market specifically for organic products in collaboration with higher institutions, which complement campaigns addressed to the broader public. In doing this, Lawrence is promoting wellness and wholeness, conserving the climate and at the same time and preserving the ecosystem.
Nigeria is predominantly an agricultural society, as approximately 70 percent of the population engages in agricultural production at a subsistence level. Agricultural enterprises are generally small and sparsely located. 41 percent of Nigeria's total gross domestic product (GDP) in 1999 was provided by agriculture.
The pressure of an ever increasing Nigerian population has naturally resulted in increasing food demands. People living in abject poverty as well as people without sufficient food form a large percentage of the population. Interestingly, there has been no record or decline in crop yields, instead evidence suggests there has been a sustained effort to increase the production of food in an attempt to keep up with the increasing need. Due in part to the above state of affairs farmers have resorted to the indiscriminate use of chemicals to produce food for human consumption in order to meet the demands of the population.
Farmers pour tons of fertilizers on their cropping lands every year, but because fertilizers are soluble, it either washes off the soil surface into waterways or drains through the soil profile beyond the reach of plants and finds its way less directly into the water table. One of the biggest issues facing the use of chemical fertilizers is groundwater contamination because it is water-soluble and can remain in groundwater for decades, the addition of more fertilizers over the years has a cumulative effect and so as expected of populations fed on chemically grown foods, there has been a profound upward trend in the incidence of diseases associated with exposure to toxic chemicals in Nigeria recently.
In 2006, while in his final year in the University, Lawrence realized that young people were graduating from the Universities without hope of employment. He decided not only to reverse this trend but also to put a stop to the rural-urban drift.
He started the Young Farmers Association in 2008 with 14 young people who would gather at a farm, plant seeds and work on the farmland. During harvest time, these young people would harvest together and sell the farm produce as a group. This kept the young people employed in the rural area, and as a result they did not want to move to the urban areas. Seeing that this was beneficial, they started to invite their friends to join them and discovered the benefit of becoming farmers.
2010 marked the outbreak of diseases and ailments in and around the communities where Lawrence worked. The disease outbreak was directly linked to the consumption of vegetables from farms where there was heavy usage of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Lawrence and his family also took ill after consuming vegetables grown in the farm and this prompted him to conduct some research on the cause of the outbreak and find ways to solve the problem. He conducted several interviews with medical practitioners and found that many farmers used heavy chemicals when planting crops. At the same time, many farms were located along the river bank which supplies the community water. He soon discovered that there was a strong link between the practice of inorganic farming and the ailments that people were experiencing. From there, Lawrence started to research ways that he could help the situation. At this juncture, he decided that the best way to solve this problem was to gain knowledge on effective organic farming and then help Nigerians adopt this new method. He therefore applied to an institute in India and went there to study organic farming.
Having studied the rudiments of organic farming, Lawrence got 7 plots of land from farmers that they were not making use of; he gathered 55 young people and started trainings on organic farming in Ondo State. Taking these young people through a six months training program and grouping them in teams of five, he guides them through lessons once each week in his entrepreneurship training centre and then allows them spend three days in the farm getting a hands-on learning experience on organic farming. He developed a curriculum with several modules providing necessary information and activities that engage young people in healthy farm practices and teaches them ways to handle issues related to organic farming and entrepreneurship. He organises a weekly market to sell the organic products with about 100 people patronising the market regularly. Lawrence also has a radio talk show through which he creates awareness about organic farming and also trying to pique the interest of other farmers to take up organic farming practices. Lawrence engages three secondary schools in his community and is encouraging them to adopt a culture of organic vegetable gardening in their schools whereby students will be engaged in growing their own vegetables. Through this, Lawrence has begun the process of reversing the rural-urban drift of young people by giving them organic agriculture as a tool to change their mind-sets and launch them into agricultural business ventures. His initial team of 55 has grown to over 500 trained young people as Lawrence partners with several youth serving organizations who connect him with young people all over the country.
Realizing that acquiring farmlands is a big barrier for farmers, Lawrence partnered with several communities in Akure, Ondo State in Nigeria and gets them to participate in his activities. So far, in five communities he has secured 30 hectares of farmland. The farmland belongs to the young people for a period of ten years. 80% of the proceeds from the farms belong to the young people, while 20% goes to Springboard (his organisation) for sustainability of the program.
He formally registered Springboard in 2013 as a hybrid. The Springboard Harvest Ventures is the for-profit aspect of the organization in charge of production and sales, while the Springboard Entrepreneurship Development Initiative is the non-profit aspect, which is charged with the training and education of the young people. The profit making aspect financially supports the non-profit, in addition to the 20% that the young people give back to the organization.
Lawrence partners with the local government in his state, getting them to sponsor young people in their communities to acquire trainings on adding value to organic products. After training, these young people come back to develop their communities with the newly-acquired experience. He is bringing back farms to secondary schools, getting the students and school teachers to learn organic farming, teaching them how to grow organic vegetable gardens in the schools and live healthy lives. He has also positioned students from the Kwara State University to replicate the idea. The students to take part in Lawrence’s trainings and then use the experience to cultivate the organic farm run by the school.
Lawrence is using his platform to start a movement that will push for the government to reduce importation of chemical fertilizers. He plans to pass a bill through the national assembly that will prompt the government to source and subsidize input for organic farmers in Nigeria. By 2020, Lawrence plans to have 1500 members in his network of organic farmers.
Lawrence was born into a low income family in Akure. His parents were farmers. While growing up he always accompanied his parents to the farm and this brought him and his siblings together. While in University, Lawrence realised that there was a challenge: transport to and from his University for him and many other students from his state was very difficult. Lawrence figured out a way to solve this problem and make money in the process. He organised his colleagues in the school and got them to arrange transport from nearby towns where transportation was readily available. The profits realized from the transportation business were channelled into providing essentials for underserved children in his community.
While undertaking the transportation business, he realized that the juvenile children in his state had no access to school, hence to raise money to be able to solve that problem he teamed up with some school mates and wrote a book titled “Wisdom Keys for Youth.” They organised a book launch and were able to raise enough money to start a school program for the inmates of a juvenile facility in his state. Lawrence and his friends volunteered as teachers in the school for the juvenile inmates.
In 2006, all Lawrence wanted as a student was to come up with good grades, graduate and then look for a good job, but he stumbled upon a newspaper article which exposed the level of unemployment in Nigeria. The article explained that in the year 2020 Nigeria would have raised highly skilled criminals because these students will be educated but be without jobs. This was eye opening for Lawrence: realizing that when he would graduate, he would not get a good job as expected. This drove him to read books on entrepreneurship, and also to an entrepreneurship school in the United States of America. After graduation, he decided to solve the rural to urban exodus in Nigeria by facilitating both the demand and supply side of organic farming. He received one acre of land from his father, gathered unemployed young people around him, and began training them in farming. He complemented this educational work with larger systems change to facilitate a cultural shift in Nigerian society.