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Image credit: Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu: Farming by radio

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu: Farming by radio

Combining two passions

Image above: Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu addressing farming community

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu tells Leading Change how combining his passions for radio and agriculture – while working closely with rural communities – have helped him achieve international acclaim.

Fresh out of college in 2003, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu decided to combine his passion for agriculture and his dream of being a radio broadcaster. He did this by establishing Smallholders Foundation  a non-profit organisation that promotes sustainable agricultural practice and development to rural small farmers, through educational radio programmes and on-field practical demonstrations.

“I was 21 years old when I started and I was doing this without putting much effort into it.”

In 2007, four years after establishing Smallholders Foundation, Nnaemeka got a $25,000 grant from UNESCO to establish a community radio station as a demonstration centre. That led to the establishment of the Smallholders Farmers Radio, a community radio station in Ohaji Emagba, an oil-rich local government area in Imo state, Nigeria.

The right language

The Smallholders Farmers Radio broadcasts ten hours agricultural education programme in Igbo, (an indigenous language), reaching about 250,000 listeners every day. It also puts its programmes on other public and private radio stations in South East Nigeria.

“There are other commercial radio stations covering the area, but ours speak the language of the people and this helps us to gain a lot of interest,” he says.

Nnaemeka goes around different rural communities interviewing farmers while identifying challenges and opportunities for sustainable agricultural practices.

He also uses radio drama to provide farmers in remote communities with information on modern farming techniques, climate risk management, environmental conservation and sustainable agricultural skills.

The radio programmes discuss topics such as health, crop cultivation, livestock rearing, soil management, farm safety, environmental management and market accessibility.

There are also questions and answer segments that allow farmers to ask questions and share experiences that will help them improve their crop outputs and income.

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu speaking on his work at Smallholders Foundation and Coldhubs. Photo Credit: SDG Solutions summit

Nnaemeka talking about his work. Photo credit: SDG Solutions summit


The Smallholders Foundation has designed development radio programmes for major international development agencies including the World Bank, United Nations, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the French government.

Recently, the organisation was commissioned by the Canadian High Commission to do a radio show on climate change adaptation for smallholder women farmers.  Nnaemeka has also been invited by the EU to support the building of six community radio stations in the Niger-Delta of Nigeria for peace building.

Nnaemeka says the Smallholders Foundation has been able to galvanise these supports through referrals and active participation in the communities it works.

“Basically the work speaks for itself. Also because companies and agencies dealing in agriculture and rural development work as a network. A good name within the network gets passed to another person and that has helped us to get more support for our projects.

“Besides, we customarily provide an opportunity for our sponsors to work with us during the duration of a project so that they can learn what rural development is all about and in the process, increase their own learning.”

Apart from this, Nnaemeka says his success as a social entrepreneur has come from spending time with farmers and listening to his audience.

Farmer sorting vegetables at coldhubs. Photo Credit: Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

Farmer sorting vegetables at Coldhubs. Photo credit: Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

“My experience has taught me everything has to do with observation and listening to people, especially going out there to really sit down with people and spending time with them. Many development projects have failed because rural dwellers don’t see ownership.”


Speaking to farmers has proved invaluable and listening to their problems has led to new innovation. 

Three years ago, the Smallholders Foundation established Coldhubs – a for-profit social enterprise that provides farmers with a solar-powered walk-in cold storage to keep their perishable produce. This costs farmers N100 (10 cents) per day.

Coldhubs was developed through research carried out by the Smallholders Foundation based on the experience of the huge post-harvest loss farmers incur on perishable produce.

Finding balance

A typical day starts at 5.00 in the morning for Nnaemeka and ends at 6.00 at night. In the evening, he takes time to catch-up with family and friends.

“I try to find a balance between work and play,” says Nnaemeka. ”When I work, I work very hard but when it is time to have fun, I have so much fun. I have never had a vacation in my whole life but when I travel for international conference and gatherings, I use that time to also chill out.”

With more than 25 international awards to his credit, Nnaemeka sits on the board of many organisations such as Einstein Rising USA. He is also a member of several international organisations including Chatham House and the Society for Conservation Biology, among others. He credits the success achieved so far to being focused, determined and hardworking.

“Yes, there are distractions and challenges but when you are focused, they become normal. If you don’t have these distractions and challenges, you should check whether you are doing what you actually set out to do,” he says.

“Focus against all distraction, be determined to achieve what you are focused on and work hard to make sure intended results are achieved. When this is done, people will celebrate with you on that achievement.”

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu speaks about the Smallholders Foundation

"My experience has taught me everything has to do with observation and listening to people, especially going out there to really sit down with people and spending time with them. Many development projects have failed because rural dwellers don’t see ownership."

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu