From petty vegetable farming in Ikorodu, Nigerian scholar Adewale wins $100,000 agric grant in the US

Cornelius Adewale, a former vegetable farmer and current Ph.D. candidate at Washington State University, has won the Bullitt Foundation Environmental Prize for 2017 for his leadership role in developing an app and web tool that can measure a farm’s carbon footprint and help farmers reduce the impact of that footprint.

Before he left Nigeria six years ago, Adewale was just a vegetable farmer in Ikorodu, Lagos State.

He used the money he made from farming okra and other vegetables to apply for his Master’s degree in the university.

The Obafemi Awolowo University graduate was, at a time, President of the National Association of Agricultural Students.

According to Seattle Times, Adewale moved to Pullman with $6,000 in his pocket — money he’d earned from the vegetable harvest at his farm in southwest Nigeria. It was just enough to pay for the first semester of classes in organic agriculture at Washington State University (WSU).

Before his money ran out, he secured a research position at WSU to help fund his master’s degree and, later, his Ph.D.

On Monday, Adewale accepted the prize, usually awarded to graduate students pursuing leadership positions within the environmental field.

He plans to use the money to build a phone app that will help Nigerian farmers grow more crops, using fewer resources, with a lighter touch on the planet.

The app will be a portal to research and information about organic farming specific to Nigeria’s climate. And farmers will be able to measure the quantity of organic matter in their soil just by taking a picture of it, using their phones.

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Adewale, 34, is described as an enthusiastic talker whose ideas spill out in rapid succession.

“Cornelius just had a magnetism and energy and charm that made him irresistible,” Denis Hayes, President and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, said.

“He came with rave recommendations from his professors, who believe he can be a transformational force in agriculture.”

The Bullitt prize money comes with no strings attached.

“It is a gesture of faith that this is a guy who’s deeply committed to getting something done in the world,” Hayes said, “and we’re trying to give him a financial boost to help him do it.”

For the past two years, Adewale has been working with a team of students at WSU to create a web-based tool that helps Washington farmers measure their carbon footprint, and gives them ideas on how they can reduce that footprint by adjusting the way they farm.

“The thing that is really unique and wonderful about Cornelius is his humility — he really relates to everyone as individuals,” said Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, an Associate Professor at WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.

“He’s there to help, but in a way that’s about empowering the individuals, not telling people what to do … he truly is a natural leader.”

He will be returning home to Nigeria when he finishes his degree with the hope of using his app and web tool to improve organic farming in the country.

He thinks Nigerian farmers need more information about ways to use organic methods to build up their soil, making their farms more fertile and productive, without using chemicals.

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His innovation will offer framers less costly organic methods to build good soil and boosted their yields. This will be the alternative to using expensive chemical fertilizers and herbicides.

Adewale is inspired by his grandmother, Abigail Abike Aluko, who raised him at Ilesa in Osun State.

“Every time I make these crazy decisions, I hear my grandmother’s voice in my head,” Adewale said. “She said ‘Dare to make a difference.'”

 

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