Onibokun Olusaanu, 30, is a double-honour degree holder and farmer. In this interview, she speaks on her inspiration as a farmer.
At what point did you develop an interest in farming?
It was long ago, because we used to have a garden in our house where we planted things like vegetables. Mostly it was always from the pepper water we throw out from the kitchen; things just took root and started growing. Two years ago, a friend relocated to Oyo State mainly to start a vegetable farm, planting cucumber. I always followed him to the farm and asked questions about everything till I also found out that I could start my own on a small scale. I started with plantain on an acre.
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Did you receive criticism from your family or people for choosing farming after attaining two degrees?
Sure; I was criticised by friends and family because they were always like, “There’s no money in farming, you are wasting your time, you have two degrees, what are you doing in Oyo, when are you getting out of this town? You have two degrees, people are looking for your kind of profession so why are you staying in Oyo?” and all that. I just used to look back at the kind of hope and plans I have; I just didn’t listen to them.
How much capital did you start with?
I started with about N100,000, excluding the land, because I already had land. I got the plantain suckers, cleared the land, got people to dig planting holes for me, got manure and the likes. Though after some months of planting, all the over 400 suckers I planted were stolen. I didn’t know how, I just found out that very day. I was called and told by the people who worked on my friend’s farm that someone had stolen my suckers. When I got there, there was nothing. I was really sad because I was already expecting that year. It was really unfortunate for me to get there to find nothing on the land.
Being female, what major setbacks did you encounter starting out farming?
Some or most of the farming activities require physical input, and many times I would need to get male hands to help me with some activities like clearing of the land, spraying and all that. So, that’s the main setback I encountered, apart from the issue with the theft.
Do you currently have workers, how many are they?
I have someone that helps and sometimes I get people from the nearby village to help me with other things I need to do.
Have you experienced any other losses?
I have experience. After the plantain suckers’ theft, I did not want to leave the land just bare like that so I planted maize. I found that we were able to make only two bags, and each of the bags was N6,000. I really spent way more than that on the cultivation and I was really not happy because I was expecting that even if I wasn’t going to make much profit at least I should break even. But getting to the market I was really very disappointed, and I was later told that some monkeys had been coming to the farm to eat the corn. So I was handed N12,000 for the two bags of maize. It wasn’t even anything because I had to pay for transportation to take the maize to the market. So, after paying like N4,000, I had just a small change left with me and I just decided, like, let me just enter the market and spend this small change to buy some things for myself. It was a loss. But I was happy because I still had some things I would harvest after that.
So, I planted groundnut around that time and I was happy because my groundnut did well and I made money. I decided I was not going to do maize again.
How did you feel during those moments?
I wasn’t very happy because I felt like I would never plant plantain again and I was very sad but I felt better when I saw the groundnut doing well and I made profit three times what I spent on cultivating it. The groundnut encouraged me. So, I just made up my mind that moving forward I won’t do maize again. I would stick to groundnut.
Have there been periods you felt like giving up?
Yes, after the plantain was stolen, I said I wasn’t going to grow anything again. But my friend insisted and encouraged me, suggesting we could plant and put security men in place so we won’t have stories of people coming to steal. He was the one who encouraged me to get the suckers again and plant. I have already planted and they’ve already germinated. They are doing very well now.
What goals would you love to achieve in your business in the next 10 years?
I would like to expand to about 10 acres, I would like to have more plantain and probably start planting vegetables. I think planting vegetables can be very stressful because I have seen how it’s done on my friend’s farm, but I hope in 10 years’ time I would have been fully established in vegetable farming or so, and have more plantain and other cash crops. And also, in 10 years’ time, because of the market issues and all that, I would love to have developed a plan to sell my goods or create a market for or look for more reliable markets.
What message do you have for young Africans and entrepreneurs?
My advice to young Africans and entrepreneurs is that we should start small. During that period, you will learn a lot of things. It will be like your growing period. It is better you start on half an acre than delving into what you don’t know – that’s like diving into the sea.
Start small, then you gradually start growing, start developing, start expanding. For example, I started with just planting plantain and making supplies, because I believed it was not stressful, but after that time, I have planted other things like maize, groundnut, cabbage and sweetcorn, and I am planting pepper for the first time. I have gone through some training, read books and all that to develop my skills and everything. So, I believe in starting small, by then you would have learnt about the risks and everything. Like I have heard some people that would say they want to just start 10 acres, 30 acres of this, you just don’t know. There are a lot of things I learnt on the job, many insects, fungi that affect each crop. So, I believe in starting small, you can start developing yourself while expanding
What is one thing you would love to change to make Nigeria better?
If the government can subsidise some of the things we use, a lot of which are really expensive: fungicides, pesticides, even seeds. Seeds are really very expensive. If the government can help in subsidising some of the things farmers use, it will really help, even farm machinery. You buy a lot of things at very ridiculous prices. If one can get all these things at cheaper rates, it will go a long way to help make farming easy.