Nigerian farmers are disconnected from government policies – Asenuga
He is passionate about agriculture, which he sees as a way of life. He grew up to know his father as a successful farmer, after his graduation from the University of Benin with a degree in Engineering he decided to join his father’s farm after a spell in the oil and gas sector.
Today, Idowu Asenuga is the Managing Director of Eriku Farm, Ijebu Igbo, Ogun state and has interest in other agro allied companies.
In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE, he shares his views on the country’s agriculture as well as government’s intervention concluding that there is a disconnect between the policies of government and the farmers.
Here is an excerpt of the interview.
On how he came into agriculture
No, I did not study agriculture, it is more or less like a family thing. I grew up into agriculture basically, because Eriku is about 32 yrs and if you take that away from my age you will discover that I was only a kid when my father started the farming business.
So, I grew up seeing my father doing farming and with such a background when you mature, you are tempted to want to go into what your dad does.
Agriculture for me was sort of something laid down, more or less a succession thing. I grew up in it. It has always been interesting since I started in 1998 with my father.
Eriku was a much diversified company; we are into fishery, into crop production, piggery and poultry. At a time we went into snail, but when I came into the company, I tried to kind of streamline things.
I discovered that as at then we did not have the capacity to run a multi dimensional farm because of the resources at our disposal , so I tried to cut down the crop production, the piggery and fishery and focused on the egg and meat production , primarily because then I saw that for the banks to give you money they were interested in the cash flow and the only business in agriculture that will give you steady cash flow was egg production, because the birds will give you eggs every day.
So, there is money to take to bank every day, unlike the piggery where you need to wait for the pigs to mature before selling and the bulk money comes in. For the fishery you need to grow and mature for the bulk money to come in , but in egg production the money comes in everyday and it is easy for you to sit down and project and say this month if I produce 1000 crates and I sell at N500, I make half a million daily , so in a month my turn over will be N50m.
So, it is easy for you to project, but it is much more difficult to project how many pigs will be ready in three months , how many fish will be ready and all of that, those come with different variation that was why I felt personally egg production for me was more lucrative and want to stick to that.
Ever since then all my other involvement in agriculture has kind of tinted more towards egg production and poultry generally.
Rating the poultry sector performance
Looking back basically like some 30 years back, poultry business has seriously matured in Nigeria; the industry witnessed so much growth during the era of President Olusegun Obasanjo being a farmer himself. Prior to Obasanjo’s government in late 90s in Nigeria, the pouupledltry business was going down as most poultry businesses were folding up , basically because of importation.
Lots of poultry products were coming in through the boarders , the truth of the matter is the cost of production in Nigeria still remains very high and just like the way the telecom people were being protected when they started , so the same way Obasanjo brought that protection , because of production in countries outside Nigeria, especially country like Brazil is much more cheaper.
Brazil, if you check the map is just separated from Nigeria by the Atlantic Ocean and shipment from Brazil to Nigeria will take just eight days, so, the rate at which the products were infiltrating into Nigeria prior to his presidency in no small measure affected the poultry industry in Nigeria.
Then farmers could not sell at the right price coupled with the fact that there was growing cost of production and so people don’t have any choice than to fold up and the few ones that could cut corners and made savings were the people that actually survived.
But ever since that period the poultry industry has really grown tremendously. I can tell you about a company called Salmet they are into equipment manufacturing based in Germany , they are the best poultry cage manufacturer in the world, as we are talking now, Agric services is doing an installation for some of our clients .
Nigeria farmers are buying the best notch equipment in the world , there was an exhibition that took place in Atlanta this January which I attended , the level of participation of Nigeria farmers was very impressive and one of the clients I mentioned was the third in the world to buy the broiler cage from Salmet. With Such feat in poultry in Nigeria, I will easily say the industry has matured.
What I am saying here is that the sector has actually grown, in the world nobody can argue that, but then there remain a lot of challenges like every other sector in Nigeria and then for me the farmers themselves need to do the needful.
I don’t want to belong to the school of thought that wants to throw every problem at the door step of the government. Within the system there are enormous opportunities. Where ever there is a failure there is opportunity, so the poultry farmer, the way we do farming in Nigeria as far as I am concern is not the right approach.
If you want to do poultry, it is a value chain and all this value chains are inter connected, because one chain affects the other chain. Now if you want to do poultry, there is no way you can do it successfully without grains, because soya and maize in the feed composition is about 70-75%.
For me, that gives solution. If you know soya and maize is 70-75 % of your input, you will be crazy as investor not to look into the production of those two grains.
If you go abroad, you see a farmer with half a million chicken or one million chickens with five hectares of grain farm to guarantee the supply of input, but in Nigeria you will see a farmer with hundred, two hundred thousand birds without a farm. He is at the mercy of the grain producer and everybody is in the business to make money.
In that situation , you can plan because the price of maize varies monthly , so you are the mercy of that fluctuation and your profit is determined by the level of fluctuation in the grain market.
That is the area the poultry farmers need to look into and that is what we are preaching in agro supply to farmers and see how we can help them to leverage on their capacity to do the needful and the needful for me is having your farm and then investing in grain production.
You can have your poultry farm in Osun state and your grain farm in Kaduna, it is all about collaboration.
You see another thing that is missing in Nigeria which we intend to do is about the waste recycling in the poultry industry in Nigeria. Here 90% of the waste which is poultry manure goes un-utilized and this is a major input in crop production.
Nigeria is talking about fertilizer, government is importing fertilizers worth billions of naira annually, and for me those are the opportunity niche. The poultry industry should be producing 20% of the fertilizer requirement in Nigeria and if at all we need to import, the human waste is organic fertilizer too.
But there is nobody that is looking in that direction; these are the things we hope to do in agric supply as time goes on. We have brought in the first organic fertilizers processor to Nigeria for a client in Ota.
If you want to do agriculture, you have to it properly and to annex all the opportunities in the value chains, so you have to do it properly or you don’t do it. With the new poultry system, you can collect your waste. It is easy for you to collect your waste and when you collect, you take to the processor.
The processor works on it and you get your organic fertilizer which now becomes input in the crop sector. So when you look at the value chain waste from poultry is input in grain production. A major input for that matter, because with fertilizer, organic fertilizer, you are creating level of nitrogen fixing in the soil. The micro organism that needs to produce the right nutrients for the crops to grow they do better with organic fertilizer unlike the in organic fertilizers that we are using that bleaches the soil.
Farmers, unfortunately, don’t understand all this inter relationship and everybody is just in the business to make money and nobody is thinking about doing the real thing.
On mechanization in farming
In the area of mechanization in agriculture here in Nigeria, the only sector that is doing well is poultry, when you look at our dairy sector of the economy, the dairy is completely missing. Nobody is doing anything in dairy, you can’t get fresh milk in Nigeria and that for me is unacceptable.
We are consuming powered milk here, abroad it is not so, you get fresh milk which is more nutritional, but here since the dairy sector is comatose, you can’t get fresh milk.
When you look at the fishery sector, the sector also does not involve much mechanization, so it is very easy to catch up, but my problem is the mono concentration on a particular breed which is cat fish.
Nobody is looking at other species; nobody is even looking at prawn production. So that sector, though moving, is moving in mono direction.
Then, if you look at grain sector that has remained on the same spots over the years, you see governors bringing in tractors, but they are bringing low capacity tractors, they are not bringing in the heavy earth movers that can handle heavy serious fertilizers or herbicides deployment or the harvester.
The concept of a governor in a state is still slanted towards the traditional low power tractor that can do little or nothing.
If you go abroad, you will see tractors that are heavy tonnage that can move the earth and do a lot of work. Here we are still scratching the surface, because the question we should ask ourselves is what is the yield per hectare on a typical maize farm in Nigeria?
The yield per hectare is still wavering between 1.5- 3 average and that is waste. Abroad they are getting 10. In term mechanization, if you look at the entire farming sector, the level of mechanization has not been encouraging, but for me I still maintain that government will not give us the solution, the private has to set up their games and money has to be channelled from whatever source to boost the agricultural industry mechanization.
I will tell you something about agric supply, just like the normal farmer, I was frustrated running Eriku farms. I got my equipment from Salmet in 2006, wonderful equipment. You see the west dump equipment in Africa and they don’t see us as serious players, they are not serious about the African market, so when they sell equipment to you, there is no support.
Buying the best equipment in the world and nobody to give you support. I am visiting a client in Sagamu, they are the first set of people to go into mechanize farming, but their system has collapsed.
But instead of sitting down and complaining this is not there, why you don’t be part of the solution and stop complaining. That is why we are come up with this company to provide after sales services, unlike in the past where you buy from Europe and nobody to service them.
On what to do to feed the nation
Now there is a major disconnect between the government and the farmers and without us fixing that disconnect, Nigeria agriculture might not achieve much. If you check the development of most countries in the world. Those that are developed started with agriculture, because you first need to produce the raw materials then the processing industry will come up and then the service industry will follow.
Here in Nigeria we have left the agricultural sector and as a result there can’t be processing because you have to produce excess before you start processing and then the service sector.
Another disconnect is the knowledge centres which are the university, the research institute among others. There is a disconnect between research institutes
We have IITA in Ibadan, how many farmers know that IITA exist as well as Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research. [NIFOR] and FIRO but there is no connection. We have the universities of agriculture, there is no connection. A typical graduate of agriculture knows or nothing about what happen in the industry.
If you employ a vet doctor in your farm, you still have to start teaching him from the scratch, so there is a major disconnect. We need to upgrade and without going back to fix of these, you might still see yourself patching the problems. And that is what each government has been doing.
Obasanjo did a wonderful job during his tenure, but since he left I have not seen anything.
What about the present Agriculture Transformation Agenda
As for the new minister of agriculture, I respect him as a person, but then it is not about bringing in the best brain, it is about knowing what to do. What worked in America, England or Italy might not work here.
So, for me the minister for agriculture is still illusive, if at my level I don’t have any connection with the ministry, then what happens to the peasant farmers on the street. So, there is a disconnect, people sit down in Abuja in the comfort of their offices and write policies, without inputs from the stakeholders.
Has he ever had meetings with the Poultry Association to know what they have?
On the poultry Transformation Team
I am not aware of any such team, but if they exist they have not visited my farm and if there is any farm in Ogun state, I think Eriku is one of them. And if somebody sits in Abuja and constitutes a committee and they have deemed it fit to visit the farm of Eriku for me they have not started.
On farm registration by government
You see government comes with a lot of fallacies, propaganda and doctored figures. I don’t know how they came about the figure of the registered farmers in Nigeria. I know my farm was not registered and others I know.