|A section of Oghenne’s poultry farm|
Despite the Federal Government’s increasing investment in agriculture, many young Nigerians are in pains tapping into the sector, CHARLES ABAH writes
William Shakespeare’s popular saying, “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face” captures the character of Mr. Olumide Adewusi. Nothing on Adewusi’s exterior persona betrays him as a farmer.
His outlook, philosophy of life and mannerism, at least, totally contrast with the portrait of a typical Nigerian farmer. He does not cut the image of wretchedness, misery and woes associated with the average rustic farmer, especially in villages in different parts of the country.
Even the way he speaks and carries himself does not give him away as a farmer. Clean-shaven and armed with a Sport Utility Vehicle, Adewusi, a 2005 Architecture graduate of the University of Lagos, is nothing nowadays but a farmer with a difference and finesse.
An encounter with him reveals this as much. He is not only passionate about and proud of the business, he is also not looking forward to abandoning his current catfish enterprise.
He says, “Nobody stampeded me into this business. I went into it on my own volition. I did not venture into farming for want of employment. I went into it to diversify my business scope.
“We are no longer in a world where one source of income is beneficial. The more sources of income one has, the better and merrier it is for one. So I am proud of what I am currently doing for a living.”
Like the managers of the Nigerian nation and those who frown on her monolithic economy – the country depends solely on oil – Adewusi does not want to stay one place and watch the big masquerader of life. This perhaps explains why he is, in the interim, keeping aside his building planning business and going into fish farming. According to him, he is in the industry to make a mark.
However, the story of another farmer, Mr. Victor Onuoha, slightly differs from that of Adeuwsi. Onuoha, who superintends over the Justmunachi Nigeria Limited, a small-scale agric enterprise, entered poultry business perhaps by accident. Before now, he had worked with the defunct Oceanic Bank Nigeria Limited. But due to the uncertainty in the banking industry, he left and ventured first into transportation business before finally settling for a calling in agriculture. Today, he is at Ogan, Ifo Local Government of Ogun State, tending to his chicks with great expectations and keenness. He has left the Lagos city life with all its “accompanying benefits” for a pastoral existence.
“I am not talking of farming from the hallowed chambers. I am in this rural community without good roads, electricity and other necessities of life to be involved in practical farming. No one is talking of any comfort zone for now, but that does not suggest that the government should fail in its responsibility of providing us the basics to enable us to contribute to bringing down the nation’s import bills,” Onuoha says as he busies himself in his new vocation.
According to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s food import bill has declined from N1.9tn in 2009 to N684bn as of December 2013.
But, despite the divergence in terms of what led Adewusi and Onuoha into agriculture, the duo alongside others in the business shares almost the same burden and challenges. Their hindrances, they say, border on lack of incentives, dearth of funds and lack of employable hands, infrastructure, and epidemic.
The industry, they add, faces the burden of fluctuation in weather, transportation, lack of storage facilities and bureaucracy.
For instance, while Onuoha stresses the need for better funding from the government and banks to grow his business, Adewusi thinks otherwise. According to him, the hurdles in obtaining loans and the officialdom in government transactions do not encourage one to seek such assistance.
Adewusi says, “I know of a friend who wants to get a loan from the bank but the financial institution’s high interest rate frustrated him. Ordinarily, such facility may look attractive and nice but, in reality, it is a different ballgame altogether. If one goes into it, one may end up liquidating oneself in order to pay the loan. This is not encouraging.
“I did not attempt to go for any bank loan and I will tell you why. Farming has to do with long-term strategic profit making. You cannot go into farming and expect an immediate reward. No form of agriculture allows for short-term profit making, unless you are involved in synthetic production. Of course, that kind of production and technology is not common here.”
Another school of life
For Mr. Damola Fashola, another budding farmer at Maja, Owode-Obafemi Local Government Area of Ogun State, the need to explore another school of life prompted him to go into livestock and crop growing. According to Fashola, who studied Chemical Engineering at the Lagos State University, Ojo, passion drove him into the business.
He notes, “I used to work in a construction firm but it got to a level that the job became boring and unchallenging. Again, getting good contracts became difficult. It was at that stage that I decided to opt out of core engineering work.
“I started with planting of cassava, corns and vegetables in 2013 but today I have added livestock to it. So far, I am not regretting taking the decision.”
The story of 30-year-old Evidence Oghenne presents another handle to the narrative. According to the Ordinary National Diploma holder from Delta State, the experience he obtained in his father’s poultry farm fired his interest in agriculture.
He says, “In my secondary school days, I worked in my father’s livestock farm and since then the interest in agriculture has refused to die. Having obtained my diploma, I told myself that I was not going to look for paid employment and I have no regret taking that decision. Agriculture is a big business that holds a lot of bright prospect except that it is challenging, especially with regard to getting funding and land.”
Long tales of frustration and despair
Even as Fashola, Adewusi, Oghenne and Onuoha show signs of a bright future, the industry has also witnessed casualties. According to Fashola, some of his friends have fallen by the way side because of the harsh business environment.
Indeed, a University of Lagos Surveying and Geo-Informatic Engineering graduate, Islamiat Yusuf, says she has witnessed not just hard times but also the rough edges of the business. According to the young female farmer, whose cassava farming enterprise has hit the rock, it is not a bed of roses.
How did she go into farming in the first place? Was it because of unemployment or the passion for agriculture? Why did her agric business crumble? Did she not take enough tutorials before embarking on the business? Responding, the 30-year-old points to a number of factors.
She explains, “First, the frequent calls for self-employment pushed me into farming. Two, I wanted to help to change the orientation of people that farming is a profession for the poor and the rural ones. However, when I started I realised that farming is capital intensive.
“Agreed, my father gave me land for the cultivation of cassava and other arable crops but that did not make much difference. In reality, the challenges in the business were multi-faceted. I abandoned farming because I realised that I was growing my crops below the cost price. Besides, my buyers too had their own issues. For instance, they were not forthcoming with regular payment. They would take your commodities with a promise to offset the bills as soon as possible, and many months later, you would not see them.
“I equally had problems with transportation and labour. For example, the presence of the Dangote Cement Company close to my Ibese farm was a big minus for me because virtually all the labourers preferred to work in the cement company. Only a few labourers identified with me and this affected my production. As a lady, I could not do all myself.”
Onuoha agrees with Yusuf. He declares, “Many middle men and suppliers to eatery shops come to my farm and collect chicks on credit only to disappear into thin air. Under this circumstance, how do you expect a thriving business from me or any other farmer?
“Also, the average Nigerian labourer wants quick and big money and once you are not coming with that, he abandons you. All the workers today in my poultry farm are Togolese. Local council officials are also constantly harassing transport operators to pay one levy or another. All of these affect our business.”
For Oghenne, accessing funds to grow his business is very tough.
“I registered with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and for some time I have not received any response. I have also gone to the Bank of Agriculture to seek loan and the structure I met is not encouraging.
“Imagine: The bank only agreed to give me N200, 000. What difference will this make in my business? How many chicks can this buy? With this sum, how many mature birds will it offer me? The kind of farm I have in mind is far beyond this. The N200, 000 cannot give me 150 mature birds and that is how I ended that transaction with the bank. I think I prefer my peace of mind to tying myself to the bank’s bureaucratic bottleneck,” he explains.
Even as many complain that they have yet to benefit from the President Goodluck Jonathan’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda, the government says it has in the last three years done a lot to accommodate the young ones, especially young graduates, into its many programmes and policies.
For instance, only last Tuesday, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development inaugurated the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme and the Fund for Agricultural Finance in Nigeria, with Jonathan boosting that the initiatives would greatly enable Nigerians to produce their own food, save scarce foreign exchange and reduce dependence on food imports.
The programmes, the President added, would revive rural areas and create wealth for farmers.
The N37bn YEAP, a component of the ATA, is to raise a new cadre of young farmers and agri-business leaders with the initial target of reaching out to 760,000 youths over five years.
With $100m capitalisation target, FAFIN, on the other hand, is to increase financing to Nigeria’s small and medium enterprises in agriculture.
Jonathan also spoke on the electronic wallet system, which allows the government to reach out to farmers with subsidised seeds and fertilisers via mobile phones, describing it as the backbone of modern agriculture.
According to him, over 14 million farmers have received their subsidised farm inputs through the e-wallet system. Under the initiative, farmers access inputs through an electronic distribution channel known as the e-wallet. One of the conditions of the scheme stipulates that a registered farmer will pay 50 per cent of the cost of farm inputs while the federal and state governments pay 25 per cent each on his behalf. Farmers register for the scheme by capturing their data into the ministry’s central data bank.
Hitherto, the Federal Government had inaugurated many private sector-driven but government-enabled initiatives. They include the Private Sector Driven Agricultural Mechanisation Programme, Staple Crops Processing Zones, One Stop Agro-Centre, Growth Enhancement Support Scheme, Nigeria Incentive Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, Commercial Agriculture Development Project, FADAMA III, National Programme for Food Security and the Private Sector Driven Commodity Marketing Corporation.
Doubts, controversies on the track
Many stakeholders seem to be unenthusiastic about these initiatives. In fact, they liken the government’s moves to the tales under the moon light. In practical terms, Fashola says the majority of the interested and genuine youths do not have access to these government initiatives.
The young farmer, who says he registered last year to obtain fertilisers and feeds via the electronic wallet system at a subsidised price of N5, 500, got a belated text message response from the authorities after waiting for months.
He adds, “Even at that, there is no difference between what the authorities are celebrating as subsidised price and what obtains in the open market. You will not believe it that what I waited for many months to buy at N5,500 is being sold at N6,000 in the market. So when I got a response from the authorities to come for the items, I did not bother to go. Of course, I could not have gone there because it did not make any economic sense.”
Again, in the thinking of Yusuf, only the few that are close to those in authorities are benefiting from the government initiatives.
“The authorities are using such platforms to settle their friends and associates while those of us who do not have political godfathers are left in the lurch,” she adds.
Lack of business plans
But a professor of Agriculture at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Akin Omotayo, who do not totally dismiss Yusuf’s allegation, says many young graduates going into farming do not have a good blueprint of what they want to achieve.
According to Omotayo, who is the Director, Institute of Food Security, Environmental Resources and Agricultural Research in the university, many young graduates are merely rushing into agriculture to stave off unemployment.
He adds, “Some of these young ones are only looking for a way out or a temporary relief. Many of them are just looking for where the government is distributing N50, 000, 100, 000 and the moment they collect the sum they will run away. Anyway, this is not empowerment. The kind of empowerment that they need is the type that will keep them in the farm. The empowerment they need is the type that will enable them to earn income like their counterparts in the banking, petroleum and the telecommunications sectors. In some cases, politicians put there their brothers and sisters who know next to nothing about farming. Politicians do this to stop them from coming to pester them.
“I tell you: With a good business plan, a young graduate that is into agriculture can get a loan facility of N2m from the Bank of Agriculture or any other commercial bank in the country. You cannot receive a favourable response from the banks when your business plan is not comprehensive enough.”
Hope in the horizon
Despite the reservations and myriad of challenges, stakeholders say no hope is lost for the sector. Omotayo, urging the young ones to continue to embrace agriculture, says it is a veritable tool of employment and independence.
He explains, “One thing that can help the young ones to control their destiny is farming. More so, now that government is focusing on it, creating opportunities for them and making credit facility available at very low rate of between eight and 10 per cent. In fact, some state governments try to empower youths by giving loans that are interest-free. The Millennium Farmers Project in Ekiti State is one of such examples. Agriculture is indeed one sector of the economy that cannot be saturated. There are those on the farms, packaging, processing and marketing, among many others.”
For Adewusi, the future is not just bright but also the prospects are huge. “Everybody must eat food whether the person is your friend or your enemy. That is the prospect. That is why any in any venture that allows you to provide for feeding, you cannot go wrong. It may not be elaborate at first but you cannot go wrong. People need to eat no matter what,” he says beaming with smile.
Source: PunchNg News