As a farmer, which crops are you dealing with?
I am into cocoa farming, oil palm and cassava. I’m also planning to go into rice production, unlike cocoa, which you know is mainly an export product. We don’t consume it here. But rice is a staple food product that we are trying to look into and cassava. And you know, the Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association (FACAN), is an association that is set to take care of everybody along the value chain. Everybody in production, in marketing, in processing, in trading and all that, that is what we are here for.
What exactly is FACAN targeting?
What we are looking forward to is to encourage the youth to embrace farming as a business and profession because if we don’t do that, in the next 25 years, you won’t even have farmers any more. The average age of the farmer generally today is tending towards 50. If we don’t encourage our youths to take to farming as a profession and business now, then we have failed.
Your association is into export but Nigeria is always importing food items, why?
It is true that we keep importing food, but with the land we have for agricultural development, Nigeria should be feeding the whole of Africa today. I, along with some of my council members have gone round the nooks and crannies of this country, and we know that our youths are not too lazy; they’re ready to work, but will they work with nothing? It is true that it is difficult for the youths to go and settle in the rural areas; that we have seen in a few places we have gone to. When I mentioned places, not developed countries, we’ve gone to places like Brazil and Ecuador, like Indonesia. These are third world countries like us. You will see a rural area, you will see good infrastructure. You will see that in rural areas you have fairly good roads, you have internet facilities, fairly good hospitals.
I can tell you the youth, even graduates will not come to the cities if they teach them how to do farming. In a year, they will be able to make N1.5 million or N2 million. So what will they come to the cities to do? We have told them these things but they seem not to understand it yet. The future of the country in farming lies with the youth. Why are they all running away? They are running away because of these little comforts of life which they are missing in the villages.
What is the solution now?
I keep saying that certain funds should be dedicated to growing the agricultural sector. If it is rice, we have so many rice belts; acquire the lands and share the rice belts to youths there and put a processing plant near them. In five years, we will not only be feeding the whole of West Africa, but we will be exporting rice.
Farmers say the problem is not Nigeria’s ability to export but lack of stable market, processing and storage facilities. What is your association doing on this?
Yes, the processing plant for tomatoes is highly necessary. The reason being that tomato is one of the products that is highly consumed in Nigeria and that is needed oversees. What is happening here, it is not that there is lack of market as such, what we lack; apart from the processing thing is storage facility. Tomato is a fast perishable product. We have told them before, there is this thing called ‘Gama irrigation project.’ There is one after Gwagwalada on the way to Abaji side; we have told them to put many things like that in some agrarian societies because if you have that; if you harvest your tomatoes, you can quickly take it to that place. If you take it to that place, that tomatoes can be preserved for about nine months so that even when there is no tomatoes, instead of it getting spoilt, you will bring it out for sale. Are we doing that? We are not! There are things to do to preserved agricultural commodities. So, because of that, if you grow so much tomato and the farmers cannot sell, it will get rotten. That is why we said each state should invest in such storage and preservation facilities to help the farmers. We cannot do it on our own, but of course we are talking to people, even oversees. We have partners who are ready to do it with us, and we will do it. Wastages and things like that, is just too much in this country. Even if you go to some of these producing areas you will see somebody producing tomatoes and almost throwing half of it away. It is because of no preservation facilities, which we have been saying as far as we are concerned in FACAN. That is one way to go, because crops like that are part of the crops that the youths can easily embrace because of their short gestation period.
Youths are not interested in planting cash crops because of their long gestation period. What can be done on that?
Yes, many of them are running away from cash crops because of the long gestation periods. But again, we have started educating them; you don’t even have to run away from crops like cocoa. Now researchers have come up with new improved varieties that are two-and-half to three years. Even three years, most youths don’t have that patience, but we are teaching them to know that, within those three years you can plant it with things like plantain; at least plantain will be giving you income before you start harvesting your cocoa. Or even cashew or oil palm. So, for us the problem is not only that of production, and there are also new varieties that are being developed in tomato. The variety that is much needed oversees. So anybody who wants to go into tomato production or farming and your market is export, you must make sure you get that variety. If not, you won’t get your market over there. But of course, any day there is market for tomato in Nigeria as long as we can invest a little more in the preservative machines to do things.
Apart from cocoa, which other crops is your association dealing on?
We are dealing on cassava, groundnut, beans, potatoes, oil palm, coffee, sesame seed, ginger, Shea nut, kola nut, even plantain and other agricultural commodities. But what we want is, may be if government, like I said, though they are trying, should concentrate on the youths under the supervision of FACAN. Let them throw that challenge to us and see. There will be so much gain because apart from providing food for the country, they will be taking the youths off the streets as they provide them gainful employment and everybody will be happy.