Yinka Adesola is a large-scale vegetable farmer in Oyo State and CEO of farm villa. On her 20 hectare of land (the size of 24 football pitches), she cultivates on 12 hectares annually, one hectare per month. She produces eight to 10 varieties of crops (sweet corn, pepper, cucumber, egg plants, amongst others). She has also been active in agribusiness and animal production for seven years. In this interview, she shares her interesting experience.
Women in Nigeria have serious challenges to own or even lease lands, how were you able to get yours?
I have 20 hectares and cultivate one hectare, I know you’ll be expecting me to cultivate about 10 hectares at least from my 20 hectares. Yes, I have 20 hectares of land but I use only one hectare monthly. I do one hectare this month and next month I switch to another hectare. I farm every month and I do all year round farming. In the long run, I cultivate 12 hectares yearly. We do integrated farming which is organic farming, crop rotation and others. We use the waste generated from the animals in the production of crops. The size of my land doesn’t really matter here; what matters is the size of the output generated from the land. When other farmers use one hectare to cultivate 5000 plants, we cultivate 26,000 plants on that same size of land.
That’s why it’s integrated farming and we have more yield than what other farmers are getting on the same size of land. On this same land, we train farm managers and farm owners. People come and train for a period of three months so as to understand the farming business. In Nigeria, people cultivate and don’t make as much as they should on their land but here we cultivate and make what some other farmers will make on five to 10 hectare.
How do you deal with the issues of fertilizer and seeds?
On my farm, we use strictly organic fertilisers, we don’t do synthetic NPK fertilizers. We get the cattle and other animal waste then process it to fertilizers and use on our farm. For seeds, we buy from the vendors and sometimes we extract from the harvested crops when we have a specific crop with a very good yield and continue using for a very long time which will reduce the cost of production.
You have quite a big farm here, how many people do you employ?
Yes, we have staff and we have people who live on the farm of about five of them (foreigners); we have casual workers who come and go and we also have trainees as well of which we have a hostel for them so they are with us full time on the farm.
You mentioned trainees who assist you on the farms, what criteria do you have before accepting them, do they write an exam or something?
They apply and we take them in. They pay us and stay with us about three months then thereafter if any is seeking a farm manager job, we help them secure one.
Generally, can you put us through your journey in agriculture
When I wanted to start, there’s this belief that “agriculture is the next oil” and whatever you can plant you’ll make yield from it, so I ventured into it, no knowledge, no certificate whatsoever. I had small money, I said let me invest it in agriculture. I started with cassava and when it was time to sell I had a very huge loss. I wasn’t depressed so I switched to maize and still had a very huge loss. I was concerned that I kept making losses and then I came across a farming journal where I read about a farmer, his wife and his two workers who were working on one hectare of land and were making $100,000 yearly. I sat down, got their books, watched their videos and analysed what they are doing and then I started organising my farm and changing things and processes to suit my purpose, that’s how I started making better results.
Can you tell us your experience as a woman as people believe agriculture is a man’s thing?
In my experience, I got to realise that people charge me more than what the male farmers are charged. For example, if a male is charged N5,000, I might be charged N10,000. Why? because they know I cannot do it by yourself as I might not be strong enough to do it. And sometimes, most of the workers on the farm are male and they have this mindset that they have females as wives so they tend to want to misbehave if they are not convenient with your terms. Again, I think since there are women in agriculture, they should be given considerations on somethings. They should be encouraged and given assistance like giving them access to loans and other benefits. Like during our training, we can have just four females in about 80 to 100 participants. So it’s not encouraging for women except for those who already have the passion for agriculture.
You offer training services to people, how often does it hold and what age categories dominate the groups?
We train a minimum of 50 people yearly. Sometimes we get to about 100. We take in trainees every two months so they can learn from each other within the training process. The training fee covers both their training and accommodation but the participants feed themselves. They can choose to cook ( kitchens have been provided) or buy food. Among these people, the dominant ones are the older ones who want to own their own farms. The younger ones see farming as hard work but that’s not true. We started in May 2015 making it 6 years by May this year.
You sound so passionate about the training, what prompted you to start training people?
I have experienced bad farming due to lack of knowledge, and I don’t want people to have to undergo that same fate. So, this motivated me to start training people. I charge N100,000 but save them millions and billions in the process. They come to the farm, I share my experience with them and they learn from it and also understand the farming process. Some go back and improve on what they learnt and actually end up doing far more better than expected thereby not needing to undergo any loss like I did and make millions from the start.
Before starting integrated farming, was there any advice you got from anyone?
There was none, and I wish there’s actually a place where one can go and get trained and learn as you operate. What most people have is projected farming training where you go, get trained on how it is supposed to be when you start which is completely different from what you actually get when you’ve started. Your projected yield is 50,000 then when you’ve planted and harvested you’re getting 20,000 in return which way below half the projection is.
Aside from human labour, do you use machines on your land?
No we don’t use machines, because they’ll kill the earthworms and microorganisms in the ground that help in farming. What we use is hand pushed equipment.
There’s been different stories about insecurity in which people share sad stories, can you tell us your own experience?
Ms Adesola: Insecurity is a very big challenge for every farmer. I write everyday that something should be done about it. There are herdsmen, they bring their cattle to your farm irrespective of who you are and when you challenge them there can be trouble, serious one. People try to fence their farms but how many do you want to fence? Imagine me fencing 12 hectares. We go to farms everyday scared as we don’t know what would happen, if we are coming back as we left, we don’t know the challenge we would meet. And in this state, we have the highest number of cattle and herders within the south-west. You see them coming with cutlass and other weapons.
Aside from the herders challenge, are there other challenges you’ve faced or are currently facing?
Another challenge we have is getting the machinery to suit our farming as we don’t use heavy duty machines like tractors. We also battle with weed on the farm and it’s raining now but there is an alternative to that which is called plastic munch. We put that on the soil which will suppress the weed while the plant grows but it’s expensive. We all need funds; not dash but loans at a reasonable interest rate and convenient payback plan.
You’ve trained for six years now, how can you categorise the people you’ve trained in groups like men, women, young, old, etc?
We have different categories of people we train. We have the young graduates who when trained decide to get employed as farm managers, we get the farms to manage. We also have people who own lands and want to venture into farming but know nothing about it so they come and get trained. We also have old people who get trained to go and establish themselves and they are the most dedicated because they know that they want to invest their money into farming. We have people that are sent by their farm owners who will come and learn they go and manage those farms. In six years I should have trained between 300 to 400 people, I’ve acquired farm manager jobs for over 100 people.
With your experience, young people are really not interested in agriculture. So do you think that with this kind of attitude that Nigeria will grow in agriculture in the near future as the older generation is slowly passing and newer ones are coming with less interest in agriculture?
No at all. Nigeria can’t grow with this kind of attitude. There’s little food scarcity and there’ll be a time when you’ll have the money but you’ll not get the food to buy because there will be serious scarcity of food as people in their middle age are not ready to go into farming. Farming is not an easy job frankly speaking. For example as I don’t use machines on my farm, when it comes to weeding on the farm it is done manually. But if there’s a way to do it using machines that won’t have an adverse effect on the farm then farming will be sweet. The book I read where they make N100,000 yearly, they use machines that make them yield that much and they have access to loans which makes farming easy and encouraging but with these manure processes makes it furuci for people to want to venture into agriculture.
The government has been rolling out policies like the Anchor borrowers Programme where inputs and loans are given to farmers. Have you benefited from any government policy?
Using the Anchor borrowers Programme as example, in the North, they go to the farms and meet the farmers but here in the South-west nobody has come to us to do anything. If we are to go to them we have to travel a very long distance. More so, the Bank of Agriculture where we should have access to loans and grants still make it difficult to access all these. I’ll have to travel for about 3 to 4 hours to get to the bank and it’s not like I’ll get what I came for in one day.
Transportation of agricultural produce from the farm to the market is a factor considered tasking, can you briefly explain to us how you get logistics for your goods?
There are available vehicles that help transport the goods to Lagos, this week I transported sweet corn and maize to Mile 12, Lagos. I have a partner in Lagos that distributes to customers. Our major market is Lagos, we come to Lagos one or twice in a week
On your one hectare of land, what is the harvest for your crops?
With our system, one hectare gives us 200 beds, 10 of the beds, we have 80 beds of cucumber, out of the 20 beds, from 10 beds we harvested 24 bags (50kg) of cucumber. On that hectare, I have 20 varieties of crops. The harvest is bountiful. Every month, I cultivate 20 beds of these varieties.
Associations or groups assist farmers to get certain benefits either from the government or otherwise, are you part of any such farmers group?
No, I don’t. I tried to join a farmer association here in Oyo State but I discovered the members had a lot of selfish interest, so I just left.
Do you have plans of growing your farm into a bigger one in the coming years.
If I have the resources, because weeding is a major challenge for my staff and I, if I can buy machines that will assist in weeding then I can expand, you cannot just plant without taking proper care of the crops. My expansion will be getting storage facilities for these crops, there are times we may have to store them in a cool place but because we don’t have access to proper facilities, we may lose them. I once had the materials to construct a storage but no one to couple them. There are times I need to hurry the driver to carry the goods out so they don’t stay to long.
Do you have family members who work and support you in the farm?
Financially, yes, but to work in the farm, no. In the early stages of starting they gave me money then that helped in pushing me forward regardless of losses I incurred.
When you started in the first year, how much did you gather both the ones borrowed and source from other means?
When I started I had a cooperative goal so I did let’s farm cassava following what bloggers posted on their blogs saying if you farm one hectare you’ll make 30 tonnes and you’ll sell one tonne at N18,000 and other similar stories. I called people together to contribute money, that after a year I’ll give them 100 percent returns of which they did to a tune of two million and then I couldn’t meet up due to the losses incurred then I started running around to pay up those I owed. Since we didn’t have the knowledge, I did it for some years before I had to rethink. In the Nigeria of today, thousands of people don’t know how to farm and are farming wrongly.
Have you been able to settle your debt?
I’ve not been able to settle all but I’m doing it gradually. When I make money, I can’t use it all to pay my debt because if I do, not all debt will be paid and I will not be able to continue production. If I don’t produce I can’t pay them what I owe them. Presently, I have one person who threatened to sue me if I don’t pay up but I asked that if I pay him full now I will definitely stop production and then will not be able to pay the rest of the people.