A 200-level student of the Department of Marine Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Lagos, Miss Oludamilola Sansadeen recently returned from a 2-month internship at Kansas State University, United States of America, where she spent the summer learning more about Permaculture and Sustainable Food Systems.
This was under the 2023 U.S. Consulate Public Diplomacy Grant targeted at training Nigerians on Permaculture and Sustainable Food Systems.
In this interview, Miss Sansadeen shares her experience during the internship and what this means for University of Lagos, and Nigeria by extension.
- Can you tell us about the process of winning the grant and what it meant to you?
Technically, I would say I wasn’t the one who won the grant, although I am the project coordinator. I work with a non-profit organization called “Protect Ozone’’ where we train children, youths, young farmers on sustainable agriculture practices. So, I would say that Protect Ozone, actually applied for the grant and yes, we got it.
- So how did you go about the process?
Well, this is not the first time Protect Ozone applied for the grant. Last year, we also applied and we clinched it and trained people on vegetable production and permaculture. Majorly, the training was done across four different states here in Nigeria – Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Lagos States, Ikorodu to be precise.
So, we usually apply almost every year. We applied again this year and we got it.
- What aspect of agriculture did you focus on during your internship?
I focused on sustainable food production – Greenhouse, Vegetables, different crops. Most especially, crops used in the United States that are not found locally here in Nigeria.
- How did the mentorship contribute to your personal & academic growth?
I learnt a lot of things. In Nigeria, I was only restricted to my local crops here that I learnt, like the ‘’Ëwedu”, the local vegetables that we know. But, getting there, I saw a wide range of different crops, and took note of some other crops which can actually grow here in Nigeria. Upon my return, I got to know and meet someone here in Nigeria who plants Basil. Basil is not a common plant in Nigeria and we planted a lot of Basil while I was there in the US. We planted Okra also and different variety of plants. I learnt to plant and what works best for each crop. Initially, I didn’t know that you can plant certain kinds of flowers close to a plant and it would chase away pests and diseases. In the United States, I learnt quite a number of them.
- What challenges did you face while there and how did you overcome them?
Hmmm, challenges… The major challenge I faced for me personally was movement. In Manhattan, public transport is rarely available and I cannot drive. Thus, it was really difficult for me to move around. I had to depend on people to take me to wherever I wanted to go to. Even though there was a farm truck provided for me, I couldn’t use it. Another challenge for me was the sun; it was getting a bit hot before I left. When I got there it was cold a bit, around May, but later running into the summer it became very hot and it was really challenging for me, but I overcame it by changing my routine. I used to make an early start on the farm. As soon as we get there by 8:00a.m., I get down to work till about 12:00noon/1:00p.m., and then I run away from the sun. So basically, I do the main job before 12:00 noon, and the rest after 12:00p.m
- What is something you hold dear to your heart that happened during your stay at Kansas?
Generally, I’ll say I was treated very nicely. Manhattan is a city majorly filled with international students. As at the time, I went on the internship, students were on break. As a result, the school was almost empty. Nevertheless, I was treated nicely and most people welcomed me with open arms. I’m not sure I had any kind of mistreatment. Everybody was nice to me.
Another thing I remember was an incident that happened at the Department of Plant Science, ‘’Crompton” in Kansas State University. I mistakenly pulled a fire alarm and then the whole building was in chaos. Everyone rushed out of the building and I panicked. I wasn’t reprimanded, rather I was made calm and I was reassured that people make the mistake of pulling the fire alarm mistakenly sometimes, even though some people do pull it intentionally.
- What is that one interesting thing you learnt during your stay?
One thing I learnt is “Always ask questions”. Americans are very inquisitive. I learnt a lot from Professor Cowan and his children, while I stayed with them. His children are very inquisitive and I figure, I should begin asking a lot of questions as well. A whole world of knowledge was opened to me during my stay in the US and it made me want to know more.
As regards agriculture, one major thing I learnt in Permaculture was that the more diverse the crops you plant on your farm or your property, the less problems you have with pests and diseases. Permaculture is a system or way of mimicking nature, that is, the natural eco system. It involves studying the eco-system and going with the flow.
- What skills did you gain that you believe will be valuable for your future endeavours?
One skill I gained is learning how to use tractors. I cannot drive a car or ride a bicycle, but I was able to drive certain farm tractors within two weeks of my getting there. I feel like where the world is going right now, even though there is manpower; there is also the need to know how to use tools. Mechanized farming is the way to go and learning how to use a tractor was just excellent. I also gained leadership skills. At some point, we had activities we had to carry out during my permaculture training. So we were given some activities, I believe being a leader, taking responsibility and not passing it to others to do makes one a leader.
- Did your experience there align with your expectations?
Ohh, far beyond my expectations. I didn’t expect that I’ll be on a tractor, they believed in me and encouraged me. Initially, I went without an expectation for myself, I just went with an open mind of going to the US to learn everything new.
- How do you plan to contribute to UNILAG and Nigeria with what you have learnt?
Presently, I have established a communication between the CEO of the Protect Ozone, Mr. Sipasi Olalekan Ayodele and my Head of Department. We are looking at partnering with the Department of Marine Sciences by selecting and training participants from the department on permaculture and sustainable agriculture with what I have learnt in the US. This contribution to UNILAG is by extension, Nigeria.
- How has the mentorship experience influenced your career and academic aspirations?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after graduation; I was concerned and had no idea this was going to happen this year. It started in February and when I got the opportunity I was incredibly happy, even though Permaculture is not totally related to Fisheries. But when I started the course, I realized that Fisheries is in permaculture. I can actually incorporate Fisheries into my aquaponics system in Fisheries.
- Why Marine Sciences?
When I finished secondary school, to be honest I didn’t think about agriculture, talk more of Marine Science or Fisheries. That is why I mentioned that I never saw any opportunity in it. After starting my programme at Protect Ozone, I realized I enjoy working with plants, working on the field and poultry, and since I didn’t get admission to study Pharmacy, and Medicine, I went for Marine Sciences (Fisheries).
The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Folasade Ogunsola, OON, FAS, on behalf of Management, Senate, staff and students, heartily congratulates and welcomes Miss Oludamilola Sansadeen back to the University, and wishes her greater success in her endeavours.