Nike Tinubu, 59, is a cassava processor in Oyo State. She is the CEO of Egaleson Farm, and cultivates1800 hectares of land.
With 53 staff, 11-19 casual workers and seasonal workers, and farm machines, she produces between 20 and 38 tonnes of cassava per hectare. She was the pioneer president of Industrial Cassava Stakeholders Association of Nigeria. In this episode, Ms Tinubu shares her experience.
PT: Can you put us through your journey in agriculture?
Ms Tinubu: Yes, I started off as a cassava flour processor, a soft processing facility. Smallholder farmers around the facility were supplying the plant with raw materials but the supplies were not dependable, we were going through scarcity of cassava, which we still do now and when there is scarcity. Even though we assisted the farmers with inputs and technical support, they will still not supply, they will not prioritise us.
We were supposed to be their partners, so we decided to start cassava ourselves to be able to sustain the flow of raw materials, that is how my journey of production and processing started. In other words, I was forced to become a farmer to keep the processing facility alive.
I have stuck to that path from inception back in 2005, around 2013, I went to consult, build and manage a processing factory on a PPP (Public/Private Partnership) with Lagos State government. The project was called the Eko cassava factory.
The factory was owned by the state government even though my company managed it and it was on a youth empowerment scheme in Epe, so we had a holistic approach to the cassava value chain. When the project ended after the three-year period, I decided to focus as a private sector on not only just educating the state government youths which was also was gender balanced but also to encourage the young ones to stay in the rural areas, because we have a lot of youth moving from the rural areas to the urban centres.
If you have a lot of the processing facilities in the rural areas, then it is more enticing to meet the young ones there rather than coming to the city to look for white collar jobs. We now had two factories, there was one that only had primary processing (wet processing) then the second one was in Iseyin Town, that was secondary processing (dry processing), this converts it into cassava flour.
PT: You mentioned managing the cassava processing, at that time, how many youth did you train?
Ms Tinubu: The youths that were engaged in the training will be in excess of about 700, I can’t give an exact figure. This does not include the farmers because the factory was in Epe, but the farms were located far from Epe. The wet processing was still fine on the farm after the water had been exported from the cassava the cake was transported to the factory.
PT: Some significant policies the government have been rolled out in some years like APP and ABP. Recently, inputs were given to women farmers, do you think the government has enough clarity on women’s contributions to the growth of agriculture?
Ms Tinubu: I do not think the government is targeting women, I think the government is targeting agriculture, so they are nor prioritising or singling out women. The reason being that all the government policies will enterprise on agriculture development or policy but the interventions have not specifically targeted women. If they have policies targeting women, they have really not been implemented to have an impact or stand out.
PT: What would you say about the Bank of Agriculture, with regards to finance, as a Nigerian farmer considering the role of finance in agric development? What kind of model would you require for finance in agric?
Ms Tinubu: If I have to be brutally frank, I would say that I don’t think that the BOA still exists. Even when it did it was so archaic, so backward that its branches don’t really know anything about commercial agriculture. Maybe for the subsistence farmer that has one hectare or plot, the BOA might be able to attend to them but when you are talking about commercial agriculture, they had no clue. Now, I don’t know if they exist and if they do, I don’t know what they do.
Commercial banks now not only have agric desks, they seem to have staff who have agric knowledge and some of them make sure that their staff go out to the field to know the grassroot or interact with those who are working in the agric sector. The Bank of Industry is more active, they play the role of industry and of agriculture.
I would recommend that they are brought into the 21st century. We have to turn them into a new age bank, and the government needs to support them to make sure they currently get into agriculture, and will be able to sell the industry.
PT: Let’s talk about storage and preservation, they are thought to be important segments in the sector. Beyond price stabilisation, is there any significant impact power has made to the sector?
Ms Tinubu: I can only speak on the cassava value chain because that’s what I specialise in, one cannot store fresh cassava roots. As far as I know, the best way to store cassava is to extract moisture from it and dry it. Dry cassava such as starch and cassava flour are still raw materials to other companies. When you extract moisture from it to about 10 per cent, then you can store it for one year. But when you are talking about fresh cassava, I don’t think it is possible. Storage for cassava does not apply the same to other value chains.
PT: How would you possibly prioritise the export market and development of additional industrial outfits in the country?
Ms Tinubu: I would prioritise industrialisation, because when you eventually have the volume of the produce , then you can export, that will come naturally because you will have excess . It will create employment in the communities, it will not just be one value chain, there will be a ripple effect to other chains like transportation, storage facilities, seed breeders. You will get more from industrialization and that will include export.
PT: How can we break the logjam between fertilizer production and distribution that rewards farmers, the nation and everyone?
Ms Tinubu: I can speak for firm system distribution, because we have gone the extra mile to make cassava stem production part of the cassava value chain production, a profitable arm of the value chain. This has given the value chain a free planting material which we didn’t have before because of the state of the cassava on the ground and it grows. Now we are getting free planting materials, we are getting fresh materials that are replacing the old ones and we are also having Agriprenuer who are producing the seeds and the stems. We are doing well with that, also with other value chains, they also have the seed option. Fertilizer, I can’t answer much for it because I don’t use it for crops.
PT: Would you say having an accurate tax system will promote development or innovation in Nigeria?
Ms Tinubu. I think Agriculture should be subsidised the way it is, if tax is now mandatory for agric products, it will be deflating to the Agriprenuer and apart from having to pay for all sort, I think Agriculture should be targeted as especially those producing because when it adds value then it becomes financial buyable, when you are cultivating, you don’t really make much from your produce. So innovation yes, but that should also include incentives for the farmers. Innovation could also help to decrease multiple taxation especially in the agric sector.
PT: We have heard a lot of herders attacks across the country, can you share some of your experiences?
Ms Tinubu: Hmm, a good experience would be, we have workers who are not only intimidated by uncertainty and unrest of being attacked, there will be days when we will not get workers on the farm because there have been news of some attacks in nearby villages and because farming is time sensitive and weather conscious, if we miss a lot of planting days, which in turn affects the yield when we harvest. So for me it is a shortage of workers and retaining a few who are bold enough to continue working on the farm.
Another experience is the increased cost of security in the farm. We have to physically secure our farmland and when you have hundreds of hectares of land and you have to secure it, you can imagine the cost of that. Then you have to get armed securities at strategic points. The increased cost is phenomenal and it adds to the cost of what you will sell the products at the end of the day. If your selling price is too expensive then you will sell short, it just makes everything doubly expensive.
PT: The question of land is one significant problem farmers have, especially women in this part of the world. How do you acquire land for your farming activities?
Ms Tinubu: In my case, I am a landowner. I own 1800 hectares, this is as big as 1000 football pitches. I did have much headache because I as a woman, I think they tried to intimidate.
We have a lot of issues when women want their own lands, they are reminded they are home makers, they will be the ones dining the hard braking work on the farm. We need to put a stop to that and when we are doing that, we need to start educating our children.
PT: What does it mean for a woman to make a significant difference in Agriculture?
Ms Tinubu: ( Laughs) You have to be bloody stubborn, persistent and determined. You have to keep your eye on the mark, that way you will be unwavering.
PT: After the training, it will be assumed you have met a good number of young persons, how would you describe their attitude towards Agriculture?
Ms Tinubu: I think the young ones are absolutely hungry to go into Agriculture, I would encourage them to keep at it even when the going gets tough, they should not relent.
Regards to the government, they are trying really hard to create a platform, even from testimonies. However, they need to devise a way to implement their policies. Some of these policies are good but the implementation is not sustainable , that’s the flaw I have with the government.
Our young people have brilliant minds and we need to give them the chance.
PT: Are there times you have been discriminated against because you are a woman farmer amongst men?
Ms Tinubu: ( Laughs) Yes, all the time. One happened recently in a workshop with the government and there was going to be a brief and the governor will address us because of COVID the number of persons in a room is limited and I was one of the selected few, I was the only woman. Other women were government officials so they were later asked to leave. I was the only woman remaining, then the governor’s aide walked up to me and asked, “Who is your team lead”?
He asked me to leave but I declined his offer. The governor later singled me out during his speech. After the event , everyone wanted to be my friend because the governor singled me out twice. I get discriminated against because I am a woman and I also have a small stature.
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