Thersa Odu, a retired civil servant, is the CEO of Odu Farms, located in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. Before she left the civil service, she was already nursing the idea to begin farming but was uncertain of what exactly to grow.
Currently, the widow and mother of five practices both crop farming and animal husbandry. She owns a vegetable farm where she cultivates spinach. She also owns a fish pond and poultry. In this episode of the series, Mrs Odu shares her experience in the sector.
PT: Your career history says you worked in the aviation sector; how then did you come about going into agriculture?
Ms Odu: I started working in the ministry, and I retired there. I worked there as a continental secretary. When I retired, I thought of the best business to venture into to keep me going with the children. Their father died when two of my children were undergraduates, and a few years later I retired.
Fortunately, when we were about to retire, there was a retirement training in Kaduna. After the training, my interest doubled. After retirement, I went into planting vegetables because we do it a lot in my place, I supply to stores. So from there, I entered poultry.
PT: Okay, so as you were retiring at the time and you had no other option than the farm, how were you able to raise capital?
Mrs Odu: Actually, the capital was a bit challenging because I didn’t have enough. Part of the funds came from my gratuity. I gradually started with vegetables, from vegetables to poultry, from which I started getting small amounts of money. Even up till now, I am still doing it small-scale. I don’t have sufficient capital to really put into the business so that you will see how the business will come up.
PT: You just mentioned not having sufficient capital for the farm. What is your labour force, and how do you manage salaries?
Mrs Odu: Presently, I have about five of them, and their salaries range between N30,000 and N60,000. I am not impressed by their work output, and I don’t know if it is the salary or maybe young people nowadays don’t want to work. People who are willing to work, for example, graduates, don’t expect to work on this type of farm that is poorly mechanised. I am only trying to set up a mechanised farm so that maybe graduates will want to work there. If I have sufficient capital to put in here, I will buy farm machines and even set up an irrigation system on my vegetable farm, but I’m not able to do this due to the capital challenge. In the dry season, we manually irrigate the farm using our hands.
PT: In poultry, what division are you into?
Mrs Odu: When you talk of poultry, I limited myself to broilers, and this is because of insufficient funds. Before you can venture into layers and other poultry divisions, there are things you will have to put in place, like cages in layers where you will house the birds once they start laying. I have sound knowledge on how to execute all these, but I lack sufficient capital to equip myself to fix up all these things and start them on a full scale.
PT: You earlier mentioned not being impressed by the workers, how does that affect the output?
Mrs Odu: Part of the problem I have is the staff. I told you they are not helping matters despite the efforts I put in. If I get a good staff like these graduates, they will require a very good working environment. You cannot tell a graduate to come, see my farmhouse; it is not conducive enough for serious work output. When the farm is set up in a very nice environment, graduates, especially those in the agricultural department, will come and practice. You will see they will be ready to work. Some days ago, in the nursery section of the farm where I put the spinach nursery, I needed to apply chemicals to the weed and I showed one of the workers what I wanted him to do and how to do it, but he went and did otherwise. This morning, I discovered that the chemical is affecting the spinach. If it was a learned person with agricultural experience that I gave that instruction on how to apply the chemical and also showed how to do so, maybe the outcome might have been different. I had wanted to use that sprayer to do some other areas, but he emptied the whole thing in the nursery, so now the nursery is not promising again. I have to go back to the farm, maybe tomorrow or next week, and set up another nursery in order to meet market demand.
PT: You have mentioned one of your key issues, which is the capital to run the farm. Let’s talk about dealing with the costs of feed for your animals. How are you able to manage the cost of feed for the animals and also buy fertilizer? These are really key issues when it comes to poultry and crop farming.
Mrs Odu: Presently, things are really expensive. Earlier, I could boast of stocking up 3000 birds, but now I cannot do it because during that time we were buying feed between N2,500 and N3,000. Sometimes, I go to offices that have a milling factory, as I was given the formula to mill the feed for the birds. Doing this too is very strenuous, so I just buy from shops around. But if I have money to equip myself, I can buy a trailer load of corn, and soy beans, all those things will boost your milling. Assuming I have money for the material, I can buy a small machine that is not too commercial in nature that I can use to produce the feed for my birds. Feeding the birds is a lot of money, so based on that, instead of stocking about 3,000, I will stock about 500 in order to meet up with their feed.
PT: Do you belong to any association, any farmers’ association?
Mrs Odu: Yeah, I belong to the Poultry Association of Nigeria, Abuja chapter.
PT: The government says one of the major targets is to improve food production. To achieve this, it announced various programmes, including loans. Have you benefited from the loan initiatives?
Mrs Odu: This loan thing—there was a time they said they were going to give loans. There was one meeting we went to, they invited the Bank of Industry or something like that. Their staff came, and we discussed it at length that day. The association was asking them to keep the interest rate at five per cent, I think. They went, and they now accept it at nine percent, so no farmer will want to go and farm, and with all the small profit you will make, you will be using it to pay the loan, so that one ended like that. There was another time when they asked us to open an account with a bank. The bank wanted to help us get loans. We all applied, and I don’t know whether they gave anybody anything. Even the account number didn’t get up until today. So that type of thing discourages many of us.
PT: You mentioned a land somewhere, what’s the size of the land?
Mrs Odu: I have two acres in two different locations. I have some challenges, they are very close, but the land has not been approved by the government, which is the FCDA. The government says it is community land, so I can’t get a Certificate of Ownership. The community chief issued a paper. But the indigenes have sold one of the lands to developers. I am yet to see a developer come to claim the land, but I know they have sold it.
PT: Are you leasing the land?
Mrs Odu: No, it was outright purchase, I bought it from indigenes, not FCDA. Then, when I went to show them (FCDA) that I bought this land from these people to regularise the land, they said it is community land; they have no business with it, but they are now selling it to developers, so if my own was involved, I don’t know how to go about it.
PT: Have you made an effort to contact somebody for assistance?
Mrs Odu: The person I know is retired, and I feel it is unfair to keep disturbing him for help.
PT: There is insecurity in Nigeria, you have a vegetable farm that cattle will always want to feed on; so how do you handle all these issues? Have you been attacked, or has your farm been attacked?
Mrs Odu: They come almost every day, but because the farm is in a residential area, it’s easier to manage. I bought and fixed barbed wire to protect the land. They will go and bring it down in order to penetrate and eat that vegetable, they enter it within one hour. If you raise an alarm, they may kill you. On Sundays, I have someone watching over the farm who can speak their language. I could remember one day I was very angry so I was shouting, they were shouting, so one of them threatened us and was rebuffed by another person. I now tell somebody who can speak that I don’t understand, that he should go and appeal to them that they should stop coming to eat my vegetables.
PT: Let’s talk about the market. What’s the market like? How do you meet up with the market? Are there times when you have issues?
Mrs Odu: I cannot satisfy my customers because I don’t have enough land to farm. There is no land to farm. My customers are almost everywhere in the federation because I supply to a shop, they will distribute it. By distributing it, you won’t know the supplier but it is me that supply it. They use their own brand name (and) they will send the nylon to package it. I will package it for them they will collect and distribute it all over the federation. If you get to Port Harcourt now you will see my vegetables there; you go to Kano, you go to Lagos, in fact virtually all the states get that product but you will not know it is from Odu Farms. I have a customer whose vegetable sells, but I don’t have enough land or capital to grow it.
PT: You think young people are not willing to work. What’s your advice to young people knowing that agriculture is just like the future because if you don’t cultivate you’ will not eat…?
Mrs Odu: I tell them that even if you don’t farm on a very large scale, you can do the one you will be eating and send it to market. If everybody can farm, Nigeria will not have a problem with food. But poor farming systems discourage young people. Take, for example, farmers in Europe. They encourage people; you will see somebody come out of the university if the environment is conducive. They do it with machines in developed countries.
PT: What’s the size of your poultry farm?
Mrs Odu: I have 1,700 birds.
PT: How much do you take to feed the birds, let’s say, in a month?
Mrs Odu: In a month, for example, if I stock like 1000 birds now, I’ll be budgeting like 170 or 175 bags of feed, and each bag is N11,200. It will take almost N2 million to feed the birds. The price fluctuates; they may say N500 now; next week they may sell N700; again, they may sell N900; it will come down to N300. It has no fixed price, but feeds do fluctuate too if there is no corn, there is no soy. Due to insecurity in Nigeria, many people don’t venture very far for farming again, so you will see that the price of corn, soya, and all those other commodities that are used to produce this feed will all go up. Then, presently, before one bag can go to the farm, you will be spending almost N12,000 on transportation, and the feeds will be like N12,000 per bag.
When your birds are like 1,000, they can eat eight bags a day or seven bags a day.
PT: For your vegetables, have you tried exporting?
Mrs Odu: To export, I have made arrangements, but I have not been able to successfully export any. It is difficult because the goods are perishable, and it takes a lot of time to move them out. I have missed several opportunities in Dubai to showcase my produce.
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