One of the major highlights of 2019 for me was my selection as an IUPAC Next Generation champion.
Since then, I have been empowered with major elements (mentorship, networking, partnership and seed money) that are needed to make my dream of building an online platform for farmers in Nigeria a reality. Although I have been making plans and talking to stakeholders on the best way to go about the project, it finally became a reality when I got the first tranche of my seed money for start up.
In December, the Mobile Plant Clinic website was launched with a domain name www.thempcnetwork.com. The website was divided into several sections; there is a section for online customer chat where farmers can interface directly, send a mail or book an appointment with a specialist. There is also a section for ‘Opportunities’ where stakeholders can view relevant information and apply for grants, scholarships and conferences. Furthermore, the website has a blogpost where agriculture related news (especially those relating to new innovations), opinions and articles can be posted.
I sent the domain name to members of my network for comments, and the feedback I got was encouraging.
In other to create awareness about the website, I traveled to the Agricultural Development Program office in Ekiti state to discuss the importance of the program with the Agricultural officers. I also met with the Director of Extension Service who lauded the initiative and promise to support the program.
On January 10, our team organized a training program for farmers and intending farmers in Ekiti state. The aim of the program was to create awareness about the website among farmers and other stakeholders, tell them about new agricultural innovations, and also, to know specific challenges facing them on the field so that our specialists can know major areas of concern to the farmers. We ask for feedback at the end of the training and many of them identify pest management as one of their major challenges on the field.
With the network of friends I have built during the IUPAC conference and the doctoral summer school at Ghent University on “Plunge into your own Business Plan“, I was able to get partnership from FarmIT in Kenya and also from Tanzania (discussion is underway for partners from Ghana and Benin Republic). With this partnership, the services on our website and web applications will also be available for farmers in other African nations.
Of course, being an entrepreneur and making a start up take off is challenging. Most of the challenges I have faced to date has to do with how to properly combine my Ph.D. studies with the project, especially those times I have to travel. But I have been able to improve so much on that by planning myself ahead of time (although I still have to travel a lot). Initially, I also have the challenge of getting team members that are not committed to the project, in fact, in some instances I have to drop members whose commitment are questionable. However, presently, I now have a team with good and relevant background together with solid commitment to achieving the aims of the project (visit https://thempcnetwork.com/our-team/ to read more about team members).
In all, the project has been exciting as I have now moved from the realm of mere wishes to the point of having a tangible project to work on. A wish has been defined as a ‘goal with no energy behind it’, however, with the support from IUPAC Next Generation program, I now have a proper energy behind my goal.
Apalowo Oluropo Ayotunde – N-GAGE Champion