Rolex presents THE YOUNG LAUREATES: Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu (left) interviews a local.

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu’s fondest memories are of growing up on his father’s farm in Nigeria and learning the practices of sustainable agriculture. By the time Ikegwuonu had established his own farm—not to mention earning multiple degrees in development, history, and international studies—he was well aware of how few resources there were for local farmers to share information about agricultural techniques and environmental issues. To millions of Nigeria’s small farmers, many of whom live on less than $2 a day, this kind of information is vital to any hope of raising their standard of living. Ikegwuonu knew the challenges were not a matter of his peers’ willingness but of distance, inconsistent infrastructure, and little access to television and the Internet. In 2003 he launched The Smallholders Foundation, a venture to provide his community with essential information using the radio. Already broadcasting 10 hours a day to 250,000 farms, The Smallholders Foundation is in the midst of enormous growth. An interactive communications network allows farmers to receive important information—from farming techniques to HIV/AIDS awareness to opening and operating a bank account—and also permits them to contribute information of their own. Utilizing small, solar-powered radio devices know as AIRs, farmers in Ikegwuonu’s Imo state are able to send free voice messages to radio stations capable of disseminating them to the community. A planned expansion of this network will reach an estimated 3.5 million farmers in 5,000 villages in Imo State.

Nnaekmeka Ikegwuonu’s ambition is to expand the program across Nigeria, a country that is predominantly rural. The judges for the Rolex Young Laureates program—which funds the enterprises of visionary young men and woman whose projects take on the major issues of our time—noted Ikegwuonu’s passion and determination in their selecting him as a Laureate. In his words, what drives him are the stories from his peers of hugely increased yields and better lives.

Sundance Channel is proud to partner with Rolex Awards for Enterprise in their support of visionary young men and women tackling the world’s most pressing issues in five areas: science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment and cultural preservation. Stay tuned for the announcement of the next Awards for Enterprise winner soon.

See the rest of the Rolex Young Laureates here.