She is a trained accountant, but today, she is into aquaculture and rice farming. Mrs. Chinasa Asonye delved into agriculture about ten years ago after her husband told her to resign her appointment with a multinational company to take care of the home front. In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE at her fish farm located in Eriwe Fish Farm Settlement that operates under the Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR), Ijebu-Ode, Ogun state, she talks about her journey into agriculture ten years ago. She also talks about the role of women in agriculture and the fact that Nigeria can be self sufficient in food production if the farmers are empowered. Excerpts:On her interest in agriculture
Agriculture has always been a passion for me. It started when I had to stop working to take care of the family. I didn’t have anybody to put me through until I went to a friend’s farm where I saw her feeding fish, from there I developed more passion for it.
After putting me through, I started rearing my fish . My fish farm is about ten years now and my rice farm is about six years.
I started at the back of my house small by building about three ponds and stocked with about 2000 juvenile of fish . I started feeding them and after six months I sold and continued for almost two years before going into hatchery aspect which is growing of the fingerlings and the juveniles .
On growing fingerling and juveniles
In doing that, you need to spurn, inject, then do external cross breeding of the male and the female before you spread the eggs on top of the net, after 24 hours it hatches and the fries come out. It takes about eight months for it to get to juveniles.
The first 2 weeks are the fries, four to six weeks are the fingerlings , then six- eight weeks are the juveniles, eight –twelve weeks is the jumbo size. So it depends on the varieties you want to buy that you tend to grow.
On training for growing fingerling
There is training for this. While we started it was just I and my friend but later we met people of like minds when we registered with the Catfish Association.
At the association’s meetings we were able to determine the quality of the feeds we were using, the problems we were having in the farms and proffer solutions. The Cat Fish Association really helped me to grow.
Even USAID has helped us a lot in terms of training, it was on that platform I got the training for the hatchery.
On her movement to Eriwe fish farm
What happened was that there was a time USAID organized training for us in Ibadan where we met stakeholders from different states , so people came from Ijebu, Ogun State . Each state was to talk about their farmers and their outputs.
When the Ijebu people came, they were talking about what they make from their fish farms, they were talking about three kg of fish in six months, we were like how do they do it. That was in 2009 , so I started asking questions, wanting to know where these people make 3-4kg in six months, so I discussed with one of the farm managers and I visited the Eriwe fish farm in Ijebu Ode.
When I came I was surprised , there and then I said I will like to have a pond here. So, I went through the trainings and from there I was allocated to a cooperative where I was given a land and I started. I had to close up what I was doing in my house to start here. So, I do only hatchery in my house now.
I do my hatchery in my house, produce, sell to people , and stock my pond . That is how I have been operating as I now have 14 ponds here in Eriwe fish farm.
On how Eriwe fish farm operates
We operate on cooperative method , as a poverty reduction programme, the IDIPR train people, after training they group them into groups of ten and maximum of 20. They then ask them to hold at least six meetings after which they know those who are serious. After that they select those who are serious and give them land, a plot each.
They then dig and sink a borehole for fishing. We have extension services as well as been given loans which we get from state or federal government as well as individuals too.
After working on our ponds for at least two months, they asked if we need assistance, if anybody needs, they give loan which we don’t get in form of cash, but in terms of feed meal. They pay the money into the account of the feed mills where farmers go to collect feeds until they exhaust the money.
After that, if they see we are doing well and still need feeds we are asked to go back to collect. All the farmers’ sales go into one account of the cooperative from where we are paid after deducting whatever money the farmers collected from the cooperatives.
On what she makes from the fish ponds
What you get from each pond depends on what you stock and what you feed them with. You can stock 2000 and if you don’t feed them well or have good water management, you might end up not even getting what somebody who stocked 500 will get.
We look at the space, the water management and the feeding aspect. For example in a pond, I stocked about 2700 and after sorting and doing every other thing I wanted, I just left about 700 in the pond and to my surprise what I got there was about 2.2 tons from there compared to the other ponds.
I even found out that space helps in the growth of fish. Let me say from each pond when you stock , feed well and carry out good water management , you are supposed to get about 2.8 tones to three tons of fish from 2,500 fish stocked.
On getting good breeds
It is not just getting the fingerlings that matter, but the breeds. The breeds you are getting are they going to do well?. You might get bad breeds and end up not getting result. You will just be feeding the fish and they will not grow well. So , you have no choice than to sell off, because we have timing for our fish.
That is why we are saying whoever that is hatching should be truthful so that the buyers will survive.
On support from government
I have benefited from the Growth Empowerment Scheme , I have been given 500 juveniles and also five fish feeds from the federal government. Also in rice too, they have given me fertilizers and rice paddy to plants and some chemicals like touch down which I used in taking care of my soil.
On self sufficiency in rice
Nigeria can be self sufficient in rice production if farmers are well supported. I have my rice farm in Lagos state and we have been assisted with land, rice paddies that we planted, they even gave us herbicides and the only thing we provided is labour.
We have de-stoner, caterpillar and combined harvester as well as a mill for processing the rice, so they provided everything for us , so we only pay for labour.
If we have more land and irrigation facilities that will enable us cultivate rice all year round, then the road to self sufficiency in rice will soon be realizable in this country and will not need to bring in foreign rice.
On role of women in agriculture
Women have a lot to contribute to agriculture in this country, you know women put their all into whatever they want to do especially when they are empowered. The problem we are having now is empowerment.
What are the challenges female farmers faces in Nigeria
They are enormous. I have my farms in Ikorodu and Itoki all in Lagos State as well as Eriwe fish farm in Ogun state.
The Lagos State government has really helped farmers in the state. Challenges are not peculiar to female farmers; we all face the same challenges. We need soft loans to acquire equipment.
Boosting women agricultural productivity in Nigeria will require not only giving women access to land, but also more critically improved access to finance as well as valuable information. Despite clear challenges, Nigerian women are making progress in the agriculture sector; women produce 16 per cent less in value terms than men per hectare of cultivated land.
On what keeps her going
You keep growing and networking. It is something I have a passion for, as I am helping to feed the nation. Nothing gives me pleasure like that. With Lagos State government’s intervention, rice business has been beautiful. I started with manual farming in 2008 but I am now into mechanised farming. When I started, I was tilling the ground myself but with mechanised farming, I don’t need that anymore.