Mr. Onyeani Uka Nwosu is the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Abia State-based Green Town Farms, a farming business based on professional research. In this chat with Financial Vanguard, Nwosu says farmers can only break even when they mechanise the processes. He urges government at all levels to do more for the sector, noting that if only a small percentage of money spent on the oil and gas sector is spent in agriculture, Nigerian economy will burst. Excerpts:
After his first degree in Accounting and a Master’s in Business Administration in Banking and Finance, Mr. Onyeani Nwosu who is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (FCIB) worked in the banking sector for 30 years first in Union Bank, through Union Homes and then Intercontinental Bank Group and Intercontinental Homes where he rose to the position of Group Head, Banking and Mortgages. He took charge of the overall business development of the bank as a second in command, next to the managing director. He retired in February 2012.
Going into agriculture:
“Prior to leaving the bank, I considered areas that I would want to spend the rest of my time and agriculture was one of them. It used to be the number one until oil came and stole the show and it dropped to number nothing. Gradually, it has started coming up, kudos to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan with his agricultural transformation programmes being anchored by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Millennium Development Goals and the support of the Federal Ministry of Finance through the Bank of the North. So the sector has received a little boost but a lot still needs to be done to enable us tap the enormous resources in the sector.
“Agriculture means different things to different people. To the lay man, it is a means of livelihood; to the corporate farmer, it is a business. Agribusiness means a lot of things because the agricultural value chain is very long and can employ over 60 per cent of the Nigerian population if we really want to do justice to agriculture. People can key into crop production, animal husbandry; crop or animal processing. This will further enlarge the capacity in terms of employment and empowerment for the masses. For instance, if just a little percentage of funding given to oil and gas is given to agriculture, the economy will burst.
“Exploration, well development, etc., cost billions of dollars, so if only a small percentage of the money is spent in agriculture, you can imagine what the turn out will be. For instance, cassava can be used for biofuel, food and other industrial uses like starch required in the pharmaceutical, textile, bakery and paint industries. This will tell you what the average Nigerian will do if given the required support and that is why we are calling on the Federal Government to do more.”
Government should do more:
“In one of our farms, we called for quotes and we were given a bill of N15 million just to survey about 200 hectares of farmland. There are so many ways government can come in here: One, bring the cost for stamping and registration of agric land down to zero if possible; zero or basic cost for perfection of farming properties. They should have a pool of heavy duty machines for on-leasing to farmers at a subsidised rate to encourage mechanisation which will in turn force down the price of basic food items. It is evident that you cannot make it as a farmer if you don’t mass-produce, volume is it! And the only way to mass-produce is to mechanise your processes.
Government should stop making mockery of farmers. They will go on air and advertise that 100 metric tons of fertiliser have been made available to farmers. By the time you cascade it to the locals, you see a farmer getting two bags of fertiliser even though it is subsidized. How many plots of land will that cover? They should make this product available and affordable. Availability and affordability are very important as far as farm inputs are concerned, so we need a more proactive and more practical support from government at all levels.
“If we borrow from the banks to buy tractors, bulldozers and all that, then we will continue to pay debt until the next generation and it is not good enough so government should show interest in acquiring heavy duty equipment and all other farm implements and attachments. On our own, however, we have started buying tractors and soon, they will arrive. If we don’t mechanise, we won’t be able to break even.
“We have more than 15 culverts and bridges in our farm area to construct; assuming we spend N3 million on each of these, it will automatically affect the sums of money meant for the real thing which is farming. This is where government has to come in.”
Single digit interest rate:
“I am yet to see the single-digit credit facilities. In fact, not just single digit but lower single digit between 0 and 5 per cent. A lot of cheap funds are available in Nigeria. Take for instance the Pension Fund, whereas we are clamouring that part of it should go into mortgage development, some of it should go to agriculture. Put the money in infrastructure development and then recoup some of the money overtime. When these farms are doing well, they will pay corporate tax to government. Government should do something to ensure that investors in agri-business get their money back and by so doing, they will be encouraging others to join.
Recruiting young farmers: “We also realised that recruiting young people to work in farms located in rural areas is a problem and that is why we have started putting up farm houses for young graduates who may want to work and live in the farm. These are some of the strategies we have adopted to make sure that our farm comes to be what we want it to be, an integrated farming system where waste in one section of the farm would become raw material in another section.”
Investors should invest in farm devt:
“A lot of investors in oil and gas, manufacturing etc., can key into the agriculture value chain. I will not advise anyone to start rolling out agric-based factories now because the inputs are not available, so first and foremost, they should invest in farm development, then when the produce is enough to provide a certain level of capacity in terms of availability of farm inputs, then they can set up agro processing units. People should learn to embark on long-term development instead of wait and take. Most Nigerians are looking for what they can do to get their money fast. Agriculture is not such a place except if you go into annuals like vegetables but you can imagine how many acres of land you need to cultivate to produce truck-load of pepper even though they are fast.”
Visit to Israel, Songhai: “I went with a team of my staff for training in Songhai Farms and Israel. They are now practising what they learnt. We have invested so much in capacity-building. I slept in the farm for two weeks in Israel to understudy the Kibbutz farming system and I told myself that someday, people will come to my own farm and sleep. We were comfortable and we had fun. They were small houses but the facilities were of world class, what you see in three-star hotels.”
Corporate social responsibility (CSR):
“If we don’t make the locals living around the farms comfortable to an extent, they will turn to become a very big risk factor and that is why we are doing a lot on CSR in localities where our farms are. We gave them boreholes, talk them into going to school and promised them employment.
They provide labour for us because we are still doing manual but by the time we mechanize, they will be trained to align with the process. If you do not engage them, they will become restive, so agriculture is another way of curtailing youth restiveness and militancy.
Why Green Town?
“When we wanted to start farm business, we were looking at two things – nature and community. Green is synonymous with nature, it depicts power and life so we were looking at natural habitat for our kind of business. We considered all these and decided to call it Green Town in the sense that we have a community life in mind. We want to focus not just on our pocket but on the community. We are also looking at doing something that is integrative in nature, it is not all about plantain, or palm or cassava, we want to look at animal husbandry, processing etc. So we are looking at community life whereby man and nature will be in harmony.”