The entrance of ‘big boy’ farmers has redefined the farming business, CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports
Not until recently when young and dynamic Nigerians delved massively into farming – pastoral and arable farmers were regarded as poor people who till the ground with cutlasses and hoes, and are only good for subsistence and medium scale farming.
The renewed interests of the educated class and vibrant young men in farms against the crazy clamour for white collar jobs came about with the government’s resolve to diversify its economic base. The recession in Nigeria which propped up the government interest to invest in the agricultural sector, gave rise to the development in the sector. This has seen a great number of Nigerians approaching banks to obtain loan running into millions of naira for farming venture which profit is long term.
This shift in paradigm, where young Nigerian male and female farmers come together in a conglomerate to establish solid agricultural business empires was prompted by the economic gains that farming practices present in the country today. The young now see farming as a goldmine, following booming farming practices in the country. While some younger farmers are into food crop production, others are into pastoral farming, which appears more rewarding because it yields profits quicker.
When this is compared to the former situation where Nigerian farmers merely engaged in subsistence farming to provide food for family, with very little made available for commercial activities, it tells a big story of the sudden turn around. These ‘big boy’ farmers, who are welldressed and are today well to do, have been able to debunk the traditional view that farmers are a bunch of worthless subsidy- junkies, hosing the land with herbicides and milking the system.
These modern day farmers, who boldly introduce themselves as farmers in high society events, are into meat production and rear poultry, diary and animals like cow, goat, sheep, cattle, pigs, horse and several others. For 34-year-old John Nebolisa, who owns a big farm at Iba Estate, Ojo, Lagos, farming is a big business that many Nigerians look down on due to the crude implements used by the subsistence farmers.
“Livestock farming is an important aspect of agriculture in Nigeria. The Nigerian community depends mostly on meat from cows and chicken. Meat is an important protein eaten in Nigeria. You will agree with me that Nigerians don’t cook food without meat or fish, especially the Yorubas,” he said. According to him, he has been into catfish and poultry farming in the past seven years.
This has fetched him more money, than the conventional business he engaged in before embracing farming. He disclosed that he sells fully matured catfish of various sizes to hotels and other hospitality homes. “I have my customers in Festac, Old Ojo Road and other parts of Lagos. I supply catfish to some open bars at Iba Housing Estate, likewise eggs from my poultry farm. I train my children with it and this is the only business I do.
I eat eggs and meat when I want and it does not affect my profit. That is one of the advantages of farming. It is almost the same with that of our forefathers but this time with a difference.” He added: “The major challenges we have now are the prices of poultry feeds and other components which boost business. The prices of feeds are going up astronomically, starting from grower to finisher. The cost of the feed we used to buy at N1, 800 has gone up.
This is the only problem we have now, as dealers in poultry feeds claim that the high rate of foreign exchange is adversely affecting our business. It’s weighs down our pockets as good products can only be achieved if well fed. “In Lagos today, everybody looks for where to eat cat fish pepper soup. The daily consumption is increasing. Our daily sales of cat fish have increased.
The number of fish farmers in Nigeria is fast growing, but the advantage we have is our network of customers who we supply. I have been doing this since I graduated some years ago. My father used to have a very big fish pound, so I inherited it from him and started my business at a larger scale.” A former minister, based Festac Town, but who does not want his name in print, told our reporter that he grew up farming in the village and this extended to his boarding school, but he initially snubbed farming when he gained admission into the university.
“But when I traveled abroad, I realised that the rich people in Europe and America are the mechanised farmers. “This changed my mentality and that was why when I returned to Nigeria, I bought a farm on acres of land and went into full-time farming. I have rest of mind when I plant crops and see them growing. I make money from the produce. I have a farm where I cultivate local (Ofada) rice in Ogun State.
“The advantage is that the Ofada rice because of its large composition of nutrients, sells higher than the American rice. I must confess; it’s almost twice the price of each measurements. At a time the small measurement of American long grain rice went for N300 per ‘Derica cup’, the same measurement of Ofada goes for N650.
The consumption of Ofada rice and sales are impressive. Everything is money in a modern farm. This is no longer farming with crude implements. You have to hire machines when you need to.” Another rice farmer in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, Mr. Joseph Mbamalu, 41, said he went into local rice farming when he relocated to Abakiliki and got uncultivated land which he exploited by cultivating rice on it.
He started by paying people to cultivate for him on subsistence note, but with the increasing demand for local rice, he went into full scale commercial rice farming. “Initially, I was a partial rice cultivator when I used to pay people to do the job for me, while I supervised them. I still paid a Farm manager. Currently, I have a minirice mill that bags my rice.
A bag of one bushel sells for N7, 000 while a bag of two bushel, sells for N14, 000. And two bushel is slightly bigger than normal 50kg bag of foreign rice. “I cultivate the rice, bag it and move it to Onitsha market for sale. I have customers who book for rice in large quantity during festive periods especially elderly people who do not want polished foreign rice which had been bagged for years.”
A graduate of Ebonyi State University, Ishieke, who studied Business Administration, told our reporter that, he is concentrating on rice production with the possibility of diversifying in the nearest future.
“Business has been good and I give thanks to God for giving me the wisdom to take to farming. I will advise other young Nigerian men to go into farming.” A 36-year old Nkpor-based Vincent Ezeme, in Anambra State said: “I started raising layers in my poultry farm because I like eggs and from there, I discovered I could make money from it.” Ezeme, a graduate of Accountancy noted that: “When I sold some crates of eggs to a friend, a baker, more people started patronising my farm.
I saw it as a venture I could make money from and I increased my stock. So, I had to increase my stock and by the time I knew what was happening, I had gone into serious poultry farming. “Today, I smile to the bank on a regular basis. For me, there is nothing like stress, though there was initially, but I have people who work for me full time. I now work as a procurement manager for workers in my poultry farm.
This is very lucrative. We sell chickens, eggs and even the droppings as manures for the farmers in crop production. “I have added snail farming to my poultry farm. Snails are generally expensive in the Nigerian market and it’s not a common choice in the Nigerian cuisine. We sell about four pieces of big snails for N3, 000, depending on the size. I tell you, there is no job better than farming. The method is simple, a snail naturally lay over a hundred eggs and when these are hatched, it means a great deal in terms of marketing.”
A Chartered Accountant, Mike Adetifa, 52, who grooms young people on snail farming, said there is money in snail farming yet the method is simple and easy. He advocates snail and grass cutter farming as a good alternative to job creation in order to alleviate poverty in Nigeria.
According to him, the procedure is simple and does not take extra income from interested people as one makes use of one’s waste as input to generate money. “What you need is the waste you throw away. The mango, paw-paw, and orange peels as well as other leaves or vegetative cover are the things you need to raise snails. That’s making money from waste unlike poultry farm where you have to pay for feeds and drugs,” said.
The Managing Director, Agrofood Enterprises, Yusuf Muhammad Isah, said lack of job pushed him into farming. I embraced farming since I graduated from the university when I realised that it wasn’t easy securing a government paid job and my uncle introduced me to farming. “I saw that he had food in his storeroom all through the year, while his friends who are richer than him complain bitterly of the cost of feeding their families. Farming is the best alternative to poverty. It is a solid back-up to better living.
Though I am currently farming on a small scale, I hope to expand when I have enough start-up capital. There is no job that can pay me what I make from farming today.”
A farmer, Hafuatu Abdullahi, said he went back to farming due to the high cost of living in the country. As the bread winner of the family with responsibilities, he sought for ways to provide for his family and remain self-reliant. He has a vegetable farm along LASU Road, which turns out vegetables round the year. “I do my farming both for subsistence and commercial purposes. I want to expand because farmers make plenty money farming in the dry season,” he said.
Mohammed Abubarka, who deals in poultry and fish feeds and drugs said: “To make a lot of profit in poultry farm business, you need to cut the cost of feeding the birds. Also, birds grown at high density requires nutritionally complete feed for growth and to maintain health.”
He added: “I’m also a local manufacturer and distributor of high quality poultry/catfish feed in Nigeria. I sell at an affordable rate of N2, 000 per 25kg bag, I have the various range of feeds: starters, growers, finishers and layer mash are available in large quantity. I distribute to all parts of the country to sub-distributors, wholesalers, retailers and end-users.” Prince Arinze Onebunne is the successful Managing Consultant and CEO of Jovana Farms, located in Mushin, Lagos. Onebunne specialises in grass cutters (greater cane rats), rabbits, quail, antelopes, guinea pigs and fish farming.
According to him, his high profile level of animal farming has taken him to over 30 states in Nigeria and other countries as a seminar facilitator, advocate, training personnel and empowerment speaker. He went into farming to provide services and make money. The founder of Jovana Farms is also at the vanguard of modern fish and livestock farming in Nigeria, which is considered a fast growing and lucrative subsector of the nation’s economy today.
“With my vast experience and engagement in training and mentoring prospective animal farmers, I earn millions of naira not only from sales of animal products, but from consultancy charges and feasibility researches I carry out. Site survey and farm construction projects, are also part of his professional services,” Onebunne said. Dr. Olatunde Agbato, a Veterinary Doctor, is the founder, president/CEO of Animal Care Services Konsult.
Agbato, a graduate of the University of Ibadan (UI), became a viable player in the agricultural sector with the establishment of the company known as Animal Care. The company has interests in commercial poultry production; commercial livestock feed milling, aquaculture, manufacturing, and procurement and distribution of animal health products. The company also undertakes provision of expert services for people with interest in animal farming, but who lack the know-how.
The company located in Sagamu and Ogere Remo, Ogun State concentrates majorly on poultry and veterinary services. It has a subsidiary called Funtuna Farms, which is a poultry farming operation unit which engage in mass production, distribution and sales of eggs.
Furthermore, it has a fish farm operation unit. Agbato has over the years distinguished himself as a veterinary doctor cum farmer. He is a fellow of the College of Veterinary Surgeons of Nigeria; fellow, Farm Management Association of Nigeria; member, International Egg Commission, and has received many awards of recognition. Agbato is, indeed, one of the farmers who have sown under the sun and can now reap their harvests.