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July 20, 2024

‘Agriculture Not Merely a Sector of Food Production But Backbone of Our Economy, Existence’-  Food Technology First-Class Graduate

Olayinka Sulaimon Sumonu, a first-class graduate of the Department of Food Technology at the University of Ibadan for the 2021/2022 academic session, shares insights into his academic journey, dreams for the future, and perspectives on the agricultural sector in an exclusive interview with AgroNigeria. Clarion Olusegun reports;

Kindly tell us about yourself

My name is Sulaimon Olayinka Sumonu. I am the fifth among eight children, yet I proudly stand as the first graduate in our family. I graduated from the Department of Food Technology, Faculty of Technology, University of Ibadan, completing my studies in 2023.

Why did you choose food technology as a course?

Initially, I wasn’t familiar with food technology as a course when registering for JAMB. I asked the operator to select pharmacy for the university and any science-related course for polytechnic since I lacked interest in attending polytechnic. To my surprise, he enrolled me in Food Science and Technology for polytechnic. Despite not securing admission for pharmacy after the university’s post UTME, I planned to retake JAMB, but my dad opposed it. I accepted polytechnic, embraced polytechnic life with a firm resolve to excel, and learned that achieving distinction or upper credit was the only path to progressing to the university through Direct Entry. I committed myself wholeheartedly to my polytechnic studies and later chose my course in the university myself.

What is your perception of agriculture generally?

Agriculture, in my perception, is not merely a sector of food production but the backbone of our existence. Beyond being a source of sustenance, it forms the bedrock of economies, ecosystems, and cultural practices. It addresses not only our basic needs but also influences environmental and socio-economic development.

What were the key factors that contributed to your academic success and earning a first-class degree in Food Technology?

I was determined to break the cycle of limited formal education in my family. What is worth doing is worth doing well. I believe from my background; the only way I can be recognized is by coming out with flying colors, or else it will still not change anything. My academic success can be attributed to diligence, effective time management, passion for the course of study, and support from mentors and role models.

How were you able to juggle academics and personal engagements (kindly list those engagements or extracurricular activities)?

It wasn’t easy at all, but there is a Yoruba adage that says, and I quote, “Ikoko ti o ba ma jata idi ré a gbona.” So most of the skills I engaged myself in were to support my academic pursuit in achieving my set goals. I managed to pursue various skills.

After secondary school, I worked for a few months before I enrolled in Desktop publishing at K & T Cyberworld, where I was trained on MS Office Tools and internet applications. Then I proceeded to learn Art, SE Designs, and Printing. I noticed that my boss is good at what he does but could not use any design tools on his own, so most of the artworks were outsourced to graphic designers. So anytime he sends me there, I always look at the graphic designer and how she used Corel draw to design. I learned a few things from her and then went further to learn more about Corel draw for design and printing in my leisure time.

I also attended training on graphic designs, learned data analysis using Excel and SPSS, and am now learning PowerBI and SQL. I also attended training on time management and leadership skills, even read some books by John Maxwell, attended an employability incubator where different soft skills were taught, which helped me ensure success in both personal and academic engagements.

So with these aforementioned skills, I was able to generate stipends to sustain myself while in school, though it was challenging because sometimes I had to work till daybreak to cover up.

Can you share a particularly challenging or rewarding moment from your academic journey at the University of Ibadan that shaped your perspective on food technology?

One particular challenging moment in my academic journey was when I undertook an internship in a local food processing facility. This experience exposed me to the practical aspects of applying theoretical knowledge to real-world situations.

The challenges were multifaceted, from optimizing production processes to ensuring food safety standards. However, overcoming these hurdles provided a sense of accomplishment. Witnessing the tangible impact of efficient food processing on both quality and quantity reinforced the significance of technology in revolutionizing the food industry.

This experience not only shaped my understanding of the complexities within Food Technology but also fueled my determination to contribute meaningfully to improving food production systems.

Can you discuss any research project or dissertation you undertook that you found particularly interesting or challenging?

My final year project delved into the innovative realm of converting used vegetable oil into a sustainable, eco-friendly, and safer lubricant for food machinery. This research work proved the demand for addressing a specific issue within the food value chain. The challenge lay in the degradation of vegetable oil after multiple fryings, rendering it unsuitable for consumption and causing adverse effects on the sensory properties of the end product. The project involved collecting this used oil, subjecting it to various chemical modifications, comparing its performance with petroleum-based and non-edible oil lubricants. It was a rewarding exploration that aimed to provide a solution to a critical problem in the food industry.

Are there specific industries or sectors within the broader field of food technology where you see significant potential for positive change or improvement?

Post-harvest losses, inadequate storage facilities, food insecurity, and safety are major challenges in Nigeria. My goal is to work closely with local farmers and industry stakeholders to implement efficient post-harvest management practices, enhance storage facilities, develop novel food products from underutilized agricultural produce, and introduce innovative food processing techniques to contribute to food security and safety in Nigeria and globally.

How do you plan to apply the knowledge and skills you’ve gained during your studies to make an impact in the field of food technology, Nigeria, and the global agriculture and economy?

Get ready for some cool changes. Integrating technology into the food value chain for sustainability, more plant-based options, eco-friendly and sustainable packaging solutions, product development from underutilized agricultural products, a strong emphasis on food safety and security for public health, and the opportunity to export well-produced and packaged local food products. Graduates, these are the game-changers shaping the future of food technology. Focus on them!

How do you see your role as a first-class graduate contributing to the advancement of food technology, especially within the Nigerian context?

As a first-class graduate, my commitment lies in advancing food technology through active involvement in research, collaboration with industry experts, and advocating for sustainable practices. I aspire to connect academic knowledge with real-world industry solutions to drive meaningful progress. I plan to work with stakeholders in the food industry, including farmers, food processors, and policymakers, to implement sustainable practices, advocate for policy changes, and contribute to projects that directly address these issues, thereby making a meaningful impact on food security and safety in Nigeria.

What would be your advice to an aspiring student on food technology and agriculture as a course to study in a higher institution?

Achieving excellence in the field of food technology, particularly at the University of Ibadan, demands a blend of determination, sacrifice, dedication, passion, prayer, diligence, smartness, and critical thinking. Given the expansive and multifaceted nature of the course, taking courses from different departments, my advice is to wholeheartedly embrace your passion for the course.

Begin actively pursuing your goals right from the onset of the program, remain resilient in the pursuit of your dreams, consistently practice, and extend your knowledge to the point where you can effectively teach and inspire others. Additionally, foster a collaborative mindset, seek mentorship, and stay abreast of industry developments to stay ahead in this dynamic field.

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