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Scholars Speak

In his own words: Oluwaseun Ojo

2023 ISPP Scholar Oluwaseun Ojo at his desk at the Illinois Department of Ag

As an ISPP Scholar, Oluwaseun Ojo is appointed with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Division of Natural Resources. His work is significant in analyzing and identifying the range of barriers currently impacting the implementation of climate-smart agriculture in Illinois and working towards an Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. He is also working to support the first-ever climate conference in Illinois with a core-focus on climate-Smart Agriculture. Oluwaseun shared some thoughts with me about the ISPP program, and his work so far.

Why did you apply for the Illini Science Policy Program?

I applied for the Illini Science Policy Program because I was interested in policy work in the environment, energy and natural resources space. Given my legal training which largely involved interpreting laws, statute, rules and regulations, I was particularly keen on understanding the behind-the-scenes work (particularly the science and policy) which plays a critical role in the assessment and enactment of relevant laws and regulations. I therefore saw this program as an excellent opportunity for me to fully explore public policy analysis, research, writing and formulation.

Tell us a bit about what you hope to accomplish as a result of being a 2023 Scholar.

There is a recent traction and growing global attention on climate change and its potential adverse impacts on human life and livelihoods. Being a 2023 Scholar, I hope to be able to understand the intersection between climate change and the agricultural sector, particularly how agriculture contributes to climate change, the role it also plays in potentially mitigating its unfavorable impacts and how to propose creative solutions and put in place innovative initiatives to overcoming the barriers to adoption of climate-smart agriculture in Illinois.

Tell us a bit about what you are working on for your host agency

The scope of my engagement with the host agency is largely project-specific in nature. I am working on understanding the various stakeholders’ (including the farmers/producers, landowners, Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) staff and legislators) views regarding the wide variety of barriers currently limiting the implementation of climate-smart agriculture in Illinois. By way of background, climate-smart agriculture has been proposed as a viable means for the agricultural sector to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change whilst sustainably improving its productivity. During my engagement, I will engage with relevant stakeholders, through the administration of survey questionnaire, to obtain data and opinion reflective of the extant factors influencing the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices in Illinois. Upon conclusion of the data collection and analysis, I will be required to prepare academic resource and/or policy documents highlighting the outcome of the research and incorporating relevant policy recommendations for the attention of legislators and policymakers in Illinois.

Tell us a bit about what you are working with your Extension Mentor (or what you will be doing)?

The project with my Extension Mentor, Dr. Shibu Kar,  will be focused on hosting the pioneer climate-smart agricultural summit in Illinois in collaboration with and support of experienced personnel from the University of Illinois Extension. The rationale behind this was primarily because Illinois is one of the two member states of the United States Climate Alliance (USCA) yet to adopt a robust Natural and Working Lands Strategy. Accordingly, the aim of the summit is to generate and drive serious conversation in the agricultural community around the significant potential and immense benefits of climate-smart agriculture in Illinois and the need to adopt a specific climate-smart agricultural plan. Accordingly, we expect that the right people in the government quarters, particularly at the executive and legislative level, will get involved in this conversation and take concrete steps in enacting relevant orders, directives and policies around climate-smart agricultural plan in Illinois. 

What makes the work you are doing as an ISPP Scholar meaningful to you? 

The project(s) I am doing with my host agency and extension mentor are very meaningful to me in a couple of ways. First, getting involved in projects related to this global yet localized theme -climate change – is indeed a big honor for me. I have, in times past, also read, studied, and wrote about it but actually working on real projects around the theme with potential impact on the stakeholders in the foremost industry within Illinois (that is, the agricultural sector) is really defining for me. Second, I also consider it a rare and great privilege to be part of the team/committee who will organize the pioneer climate-smart agricultural summit, potentially develop a climate-smart agricultural plan and draft Natural and Working Lands Strategy in Illinois.

What is one thing that you have learned since becoming an ISPP Scholar that has made an impression on your transition from graduate student to career individual?

The one thing I have learned is that my graduate program indeed prepared me for this work. Matter-of-factly, my reading, research ability, writing skills, patience and perseverance learned during my graduate studies have really come handy in this engagement.  I have also learned that I have a lot to offer, should always appreciate my worth and I should not be afraid to express my ideas and opinions - which will ultimately be useful in the long run.

Why is/are the issue(s) important to the communities with which you are working?

The issues I am working are very important to the agricultural community given the critical impact climate change is having on the industry. It is thus critical to integrate the climate-smart agricultural practices into the industry’s production activities in order to build the sector’s resiliency and adaption to climate change. Accordingly, understanding and devising creative means of overcoming the current challenges is undoubtedly crucial in building the sector’s climate mitigation and adaptation plans.

Who is impacted by the issue(s) you are working on?

The persons most impacted by these issues are the key stakeholders in the agricultural and conservation community, particularly farmers/producers, landowners, conservationists, and the environmentalists.

What is the most unexpected thing about this program so far?

The most unexpected thing about the program so far is that I get to develop and deploy new skills on the job which I was not previously acquainted with. Although it is most unexpected, I also believe that this has been extremely rewarding and useful to my professional development.

If you could do one thing through this program and think “Wow, I did that,” what would you like it to be?

I want to be able to inspire people, especially those with a legal background, to see themselves beyond what is being taught in classroom only and see that they can learn totally new skills, adapt to and thrive in a completely new, perhaps unfamiliar terrain(s).

Anything else you’d like to share?

I want to say that the idea behind the program is indeed laudable for graduate students. It easily makes the transition from academic world to industry, whether in the private or public sector, easier. The program provides a great platform to acquire and hone critical work, interpersonal and leadership skills in that you can take the lead on these projects. In addition, I will also say that the program provides an excellent opportunity to meet and interact with other scholars from a different field and, more importantly, meet and develop professional relationships with key resource persons – relationships, I believe, will be professionally beneficial in the future.

More information about the Illini Science Policy Program is available on our website.Keep reading to learn more about Oluwaseun's colleagues in the of 2023 ISPP Scholar Class.