Okebalama in the field bagging and labeling soil for identification
Dr. Chinyere Blessing Okebalama was the only one of five children in her family to attain a university education. A lot was expected from her, more so by her father, the patriarch of the family, who wanted her to become a nurse. However, Dr. Okebalama had other plans, she wanted to study agriculture which was her passion.
Okebelama, who is now a lecturer at University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) in the department of Soil Science, confesses that agriculture specifically soil science, is a subject that fascinated her from an early age, especially since her family used to spend so much time at their village farm over the holidays. “Agriculture provides all of man’s basic needs, I think there is no life without agriculture!” she affirms.
Like a number of African countries, Nigeria faces serious challenges like hunger, undernutrition and poverty and is therefore actively engaging in research innovations that are targeted towards addressing these issues. Okebalama is not one to be left behind; her interest in innovative research has prompted her to undertake a study that looks into increasing maize yield to the smallholder farmers while using minimal fertilizer (fertilizer micro-dose technology). This technology aims to increase farmers’ yield, at the same time cutting the cost of fertilizer. “I intend to disseminate relevant soil fertility management techniques through on-farm demonstrations involving rural farmers. By adopting the technology, there will be increase in maize yield and production for smallholder farmers, which will increase their income and subsequently improve their livelihood”, says Okebalama.
Okebalama says the combined force of this technology and teaching her students about better farming techniques gives her great hopes for the future of the farmers in her country. She hopes that her students will turn into greater leaders who influence traditional farming methods and eventually increase performance of the agricultural sector.
She explains that Nigeria’s economic growth is on the rise; the economy is being pressured to sustain its people and agriculture will play a key role in this. “Agriculture is important because of its significant contribution to the economy and food security”, she says.
Okebalama observes that there has been a major shift in Nigeria and Africa at large over the past few years, both at national and grass root level. People and governments have had a change heart. “Funds have been allocated to agricultural sector, there are more grants for support of agricultural research and diverse technological advancements for small holder farmers”, she says. She adds that Nigeria has even seen the number of agricultural students grow and more land devoted to agricultural production.
“Winning the AWARD Fellowship has been a highlight of my career,” admits Okebalama. “I have acquired new science skills, increased my networks and increased the number of papers I have published. My achievements have made me an inspiration in my community, especially among the young girls; thanks to the role modelling events I have conducted.”
She feels motivated professionally and her social status has gone up a notch. “Nothing will give me fulfillment in life than being in a position to contribute to agricultural development in Sub-Saharan Africa”.
Download: Chinyere Okebalama, 2014 AWARD Fellow, Nigeria