A 34- year – old Nigerian , Mr. Cornelius Adewale , who went to the United States with just enough money for a semester of classes in organic agriculture , has won the Bullitt Foundation Environmental Prize for his leadership role in developing an app and web tool that can measure a farm ’ s carbon footprint and help farmers reduce the impact of that footprint.
Adewale , who graduated from Obafemi Awolowo University , is now studying at the Washington State University , Pullman , where he is planning a phone app to help farmers grow more crops .
In 2011 , Adewale moved to Pullman with $ 6 , 000 in his pocket ― money he ’ d earned from the vegetable harvest at his farm in southwest Nigeria . It was just enough to pay for the first semester of classes in organic agriculture at WSU , according to The Seattle Times .
Six years later , Adewale is a PhD candidate at WSU and a member of the board of directors of Washington ’ s Tilth Alliance.
On Monday , he will accept the Seattle Bullitt Foundation ’ s annual environmental prize ― a $ 100 , 000 award for graduate students pursuing leadership positions within the environmental field .
Adewale plans to use the money to build a phone app that will help Nigerian farmers grow more crops, using fewer resources , with a lighter touch on the planet.
The app will be a portal to research and information about organic farming specific to Nigeria ’ s climate . And farmers will be able to measure the quantity of organic matter in their soil just by taking a picture of it , using their phones .
“ Cornelius just had a magnetism and energy and charm that made him irresistible , ” said Denis Hayes , president and Chief Executive Officer of the Bullitt Foundation . “ He came with rave recommendations from his professors, who believe he can be a transformational force in agriculture . ”
For the past two years, Adewale has been working with a team of students at WSU to create a web- based tool that helps Washington farmers measure their carbon footprint, and gives them ideas for how they can reduce that footprint by adjusting the way they farm .
“ The thing that is really unique and wonderful about Cornelius is his humility ― he really relates to everyone as individuals, ” said Lynne Carpenter- Boggs , an associate professor in WSU ’ s department of crop and soil sciences . “ He’ s there to help, but in a way that’ s about empowering the individuals, not telling people what to do … he truly is a natural leader. ”
Adewale found WSU ’ s organic agriculture major ― the first such major ever offered at a US university ― in an online search . He used the $ 6 , 000 from his harvest to launch his master ’ s degree.
When he got to Pullman and saw WSU ’ s organic farm , he burst out laughing . It was only 2 1 / 2 acres ― about half the size of his own farm in Nigeria . (WSU ’ s organic farm is now 30 acres. )
Still , he believed he ’ d come to the right place. Before his money ran out, he secured a research position at WSU to help fund his master ’ s degree and, later , his PhD .
In the US , big farms use science , technology and research to maximise yield , while employing less than two percent of the country’ s population. But large- scale farming is also responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gases , especially nitrous oxide, 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide , said Carpenter - Boggs , the WSU professor .
Adewale thinks Nigerian farmers need more information about ways to use organic methods to build up their soil, making their farms more fertile and productive , without using chemicals.
In Washington , part of his graduate studies included helping develop the free web tool called Ofoot that Adewale wants to use as the base for his mobile phone app in Nigeria .
In Africa , “ just about everybody has smartphones and small solar stations to recharge them ― it ’ s really an amazing degree of sophistication , ” said Hayes , of the Bullitt Foundation . Teaching farmers how to farm more efficiently could allow Nigeria to take a huge step forward in agricultural production without the need for expensive chemicals and herbicides , he said .
The Bullitt prize money comes with no strings attached .
“ It is a gesture of faith that this is a guy who ’ s deeply committed to getting something done in the world , ” Hayes said , “and we’ re trying to give him a financial boost to help him do it . ”
Adewale is eager to take on the challenge.
“ Every time I make these crazy decisions, I hear my grandmother ’ s voice in my head, ” Adewale said . “ She said , ‘ Dare to make a difference.'