Dear platform citizens, this article summarily captures my experiences as a YPARD delegate to the International Conference on Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services that took place Hilton Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya from 15-19 November, 2011. WHY TURNING IN THE STORY LATE? This is one of the lessons learned from the conference; “Never wait till you get home before you scribble your report because home has new challenges waiting for your solution on return” PREPARATIONS From L-R; Julius (Nigeria) Winnie (Uganda) & their friend, Gabriel, from Uganda discussing an interesting issue I began preparing for the conference two weeks before the time. A neighbor and student in the university where I teach came to my flat and saw me packing my bag and enquired why so early since I still have more than a week before departure. I pointed out that my village proverb says “A one-legged cricket begins digging its whole on the 7th month of the year”. This is unlike the cricket with complete legs that could begin making its whole on the eve of dry season (10th month) and still beat the dateline. This extra effort was necessary because no matter how perfect, preparations for anything usually encounter eventualities. I bought some Nigerian biscuits, powdered sachet milk and other basic things I may need for the one week trip. I had to do this because I do not know what food I may be offered there and whether my gut micro flora would accept the new nutrition. The worst thing is to fall ill in a foreign country, far away from your family. I also bought an extra battery for my camcorder and selected clothes I will put on. My clothing was deeply in favour of traditional dresses. We always like to show our identity; I mean Nigerians. When I logged on to the conference website, I found out that as a Nigerian, I needed a visa to enter Kenya. I wrote an enquiry to the Kenya High Commission in Abuja, but no reply came. Since I read in the conference website that I could still obtain one at the airport on arrival, I had to take the risk. Then I wrote to my employer one month to the day of departure. No reply came either. Since it was documented that I applied, I entertained no fears again. I thought by the time I came back, the approval would have been ready and approval given in retrospect at least for the file but as I am writing this report, no reply yet. Perhaps, it may come next month. Certainly it will. About three days to departure, I arranged for a taxi that will take me to the airport. Thank God for a kind neighbor who linked me to a taxi driver that lives a stone throw distance from my flat. THE JOURNEY Julius at the YPARD booth on the 1st day of the conference On the day of departure, I left the house at 5.30hrs for the airport. The flight to Abuja was scheduled for 8.30hrs. The idle time in between, you may gasp, is too much, but if you live a country like mine where things could go awry any moment, it is always better to start making your hole on the 7th month especially when it comes to aviation where planes arrive and depart on fixed times. You may leave the house an hour to the time and may be caught up in the snail speed traffic of Port Harcourt city. At the airport, about an hour to take-off, I approached the Arikair and checked in amidst the crowded counters. Port Harcourt is the third largest city in Nigeria after Lagos and Abuja. It is an oil city, always full of visitors, coming for oil related businesses and other things too. Take off to Abuja was on schedule and smooth and we made it there within an hour. At 13.30hrs, we boarded Ethiopian airlines for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. On the air I noticed darkness was approaching us faster, then, I realized that I was taught from Secondary School Geography lessons that Addis Ababa was two hours ahead of Abuja. My curiosity was settled. I really enjoyed variety of African music on offer onboard. The food was good but strange to me. I adore local diets and careful with exotic dishes. Perhaps it is because I am nutritionist. As we ate I thought, “How many amongst us in this plane deeply appreciate the long chain the food and drinks we gobble, took from the farm gate to the table before us.” It just looks so simple and ordinary. Is that not so? So are farm workers, farmers, youth in agriculture and agricultural policies treated; ordinary. At the Bole Airport, Addis Ababa, we waited for over two hours for the last leg of the journey to Nairobi. The Bole airport was very neat. The staffs were young, smart, and vigorous and up and doing compared to the ones back home that are sluggish and aged. We landed Nairobi at about 3.30hrs local time. At the immigration desk where we were directed, they asked for my Yellow Card. I was bemused. I thought I had prepared well for this journey but here I was, without my Yellow Card. I told them I forgot it at home in Nigeria and waited for the worst. The lady in charge looked at me sternly and warned me to always remember to carry it along on all my international journeys. I accepted with thanks like an errant schoolboy who was scolded for behaviour of omission. Straight ahead I shuffled to the passport cabin and completed the formalities. Presently, I remembered I needed to change some money into the local currency. This I did with ease and a receipt attached. Going to the hotel was not easy because it was too early in the morning. We had to wait for about an hour before I was able to join the vehicle taking the CTA/GFRAS delegates that arrived on the same plane with me to the hotel. They dropped me off at the 680 Hotel where I was to lodge. Immediately I checked in and went to sleep, hoping to wake up by 7.00 am because the opening ceremony was fixed for 8.00am. I needed to be there from the beginning. Incidentally, on enquiry when I woke up, I was told that Hilton Nairobi, where the conference was to hold was just a trek-able distance away. Within five minutes, I was there. Nairobi was certainly a nice place but the briskness of the people on the street was nothing compared to Abuja, Lagos or Port Harcourt back home. THE CONFERENCE Julius poses with a cross-section of other Nigerians The opening ceremony was tastefully packaged. There was a prayer, National anthem of Kenya, opening address and keynote address all in line with the theme of the meeting. What thrilled my emotions to the brim was an accapella rendition by an indigenous Kenya musical group. It set the stage for a lively conference. When I read through the programme for the five days, I knew I would be half-baked at the end of the conference if I did not attend all the thematic/plenary sessions. But I could not attend all because I would not be able to divide myself. Therefore, I looked through and marked all the papers I liked in the programme from the different themes and arranged my own timetable. This took me from one plenary to another depending on whether the paper was of interest. The second day was excursion to different farms and rural areas. I choose Thika a rural community where a local NGO managed by a Roman Catholic Church sister is hosted by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). I felt even more fulfilled going to Thika than other routes because I was later told by our tour guide that Thika was the birth place of the first President of Kenya. This man, Mzee HE Jomo Kenyetta must be well respected in Kenya. All the denominations of the Kenya Shilling, the official currency of the country, I noticed, carry his bust. I wondered whether they do not have any other president after Kenyatta left office. But they do. We visited many self-help groups. Some were into cultivation of crops and rearing of livestock, craft-making and food processing. The trip showed me the power of the NGOs in transforming local economies. The third and fourth days of plenary were almost the same. The only difference was that on the fourth day, it was more of summary of the conclusions reached by the different thematic groups. The conclusions would later form the raw material for the drafting of the communiqué of the conference. Topics ranged from ICT in extension to participatory approaches, government policies and pluralism in extension services. In one of the sessions, a keynote speaker who arrived late; a practicing farmer and farmer activist and an old man, came, took the microphone and radically disproved the conclusion that was almost reached. The almost arrived at conclusion was that government should totally hands-off the funding of extension services in sub-Saharan Africa. Then I thought to myself. Look at all the topics and conclusions reached. Though full of issues of critical importance to youths in ARD, which amongst them ever reached a conclusion with likely policy inclusion that took into consideration the aspirations, desires and peculiar challenges faced by youths in ARD. I learnt a lesson. If that old man from Burkina Faso was not there on time to disprove the conclusions that were almost reached on behalf of poor farmers, who then could have spoken for them? Is it academics, multinationals or international ARD organizations that could have done that? Of course they have their own problems and would certainly have concluded in favour of solutions to their own problems. As members of YPARD, we have to think out ideas, discuss issues, write position papers and articles, snap pictures, shoot films, talk to people and sometimes shout out our mind before we could be heard and considered in the scheme of things. Julius & a friend Marie from Gamb During the conference I tried visiting the YPARD booth and see what was going on. There I met and spoke with people, young and old who came around. From my discussion with people, I discovered that the fears that motivated and justified the incorporation of YPARD are real and have a global reach. Visitor after visitor especially from Africa, Latin America and Asia lament the disdain of the youth for a career in agriculture. I spoke to young men and women from Africa and their insights were refreshing. I made many friends. I exchanged many business cards with people from different continents and countries. I know these contacts would be useful in the nearest future, to further my career and the cause of YPARD. Now I count on friends from all continents of the world. The selection of delegates for the conference was very representative enough, I came to discover. I got to meet some authors of some books in the field of agriculture and development I had read and my exchange of insights with them was encouraging and motivating. I saw and bought good books. However, I was careful not to exceed my baggage quota from the airline with these books I even made new friend from other institutions in Nigeria. This people, though resident in Nigeria but we never knew each other. I was also introduced to some other networks and organizations that could be useful to me, my organization and friends down home. I was acculturated to other cultures where these new friends I made came from. That improved my diversity and tolerance threshold of other cultures and values. I equally explored and probed into the local politics of Kenya. You might be surprise at the lessons I learnt from my taxi driver about Kenya political dynamics and the perception of Nigeria and the Nigeria community in Kenya compared to other African nationals. It was a worthwhile exercise. I appreciate YPARD management for giving me the great opportunity. CLOSING The closing ceremony was also fantastic. It was full of indigenous dances and music from Kenya. I learnt some words in Swahili too-at least basic greeting terms. In the end we watched the journalists’ competition award ceremony. Most of the awardees were youths. That was great. The delegates were offered packs of Kenyan tea and about two yards of a traditional Kenya cloth. We were grateful as these souvenirs will help us remember Kenya for some time to come. Back to the airport I thought ‘what a wonderful country and conference’. As we took off from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, I made up mind to come back hereby, God willing, in the nearest future, perhaps to relax. Five hours later, I was in Lagos and then Port Harcourt. “It is good to be back home” I murmured to myself. LESSONS LEARNED My lessons may be useful to you. They may at least reinforce what you already know or disprove some. They are;
- Collaboration between many organizations; CTA, GFRAS, FARA, AFAAS, FAO, KENYA GOVT etc made it possible. We as individual members of YPARD and YPARD as an organization need to collaborate more.
- Kenya is home to many world organizations and NGOs. Government cannot do it all alone.
- Most of what you are thinking, others may be having similar thoughts. Test in the public and you would see your problem is a global one and the solution may only be that you belong to the right network, perhaps YPARD
- Youths are not taken into consideration in policy matters perhaps because we do not shout our position. If we do not say here we are, the world would not know that there we are. Let us put more effort in letting people know we are short-changed in the current scheme of things.
- Always prepare extra for exigencies.