The Obama Foundation Leaders Africa programme seeks to build a growing network of innovative and ethical changemakers who will drive positive change in their communities, the continent and the world. And one of the leaders selected is Ify Umunna, co-CEO of Nourishing Africa.
Nourishing Africa’s mission is “to drive the profitable and sustainable growth of the African agriculture and food landscapes by attracting, empowering, equipping, connecting and celebrating over 1 million dynamic and innovative young African agri-food entrepreneurs”.
FoodForAfrika.com interviewed Ummaco on her recent selection as a leader through the Obama Foundation Leaders Africa initiative.
Congratulations Ify! What does your selection for the Obama Foundation Leaders Africa programme mean for you personally?
Thank you, I’m very excited to start the programme in January – meeting and engaging other young leaders across Africa and learning from their experiences and knowledge, while sharing what I have learned so far. For me, this is an opportunity to network and learn from a range of different people across various sectors that I may not have come across through my work and personal life. It is an extremely humbling experience that I cannot wait to embark on.
Of course, your selection is also a win for agriculture in Africa.
Yes, I truly believe so. Often times you do not hear about those inside the sector on such a global stage, so its exciting to see this. While I am by no means the first, I hope that this opens countless doors for others in the sector and further puts African agriculture on the global map.
The average African farm is said to only perform at about 40% of its potential. What can be done to help the continent’s young farmers unlock the untapped agriculture potential?
I think it starts with educating people, particularly young people, about the current agricultural revolution and not just discussing the potential on the sector. As you know, when I discuss agriculture, I do not automatically go to ‘farming/farmers’ because this is the general, and at times only, perception that those who don’t know about agriculture are familiar with.
I think it’s important to inform young people who are not looking to do what their forefathers did and want to be progressive and innovative, that there is space within the sector to do so. Within the entire value chain there is room for technology and innovation, research and big data, marketing and advertising, logistics … the list is endless.
For us within the agri space, we have to expose and highlight the various areas of agriculture and food, showcasing aspects that would be exciting to millennials and Gen-Zs. That is the first step in engaging the brightest talent the continent has to offer and truly realising our potential.
Growing up in Nigeria, could you ever imagine that one day you’d be working in this vibrant sector?
I actually grew up South Africa – my family moved from Lagos to Johannesburg when I was four years old and I spent 20 years in SA before venturing to other countries in Africa and abroad for further studies and work. Had you told me that I would be in the sector 10 years ago, I would have been confused; the idea had never crossed my mind. I don’t even think I ever paid attention to any agriculture related topics or subject options throughout my academic career.
It was an internship at Sahel Consulting, a management consultancy firm that focuses on agriculture and food, that opened my eyes to the various opportunities within the sector. Had it not been for that internship – that was meant to be three months but ended up being nine months because I kept extending it and finally had to leave to start my Masters – I would not be in this exciting sector today.
This is why I am passionate about showcasing the exciting areas of agriculture beyond farming in the traditional way for young people to actually consider it as a viable career path the same way they do the finance, tech, or oil and gas industries
If you could trade your current job for a life of farming, what would you farm with and why?
Interesting question! I’m not sure that I would trade my current job for a life of farming, I think I’m naturally too restless and impatient to do so (laughs) and I love what I am doing. But if I did, it would have to be a hydroponic farm where I would produce tomatoes. I think it’s safe to say I am obsessed with tomatoes in all forms – stewed, pureed, grilled – on pizza, burgers, traditional foods, the list is endless. Definitely a tomato farm – that would bring me joy.