Ebimoboere Eniyekpemi, 28, is a farmer in Delta State. A graduate of Plant Science and Biotechnology, she is the CEO of Afritropic Farming and Agro Services Ltd (AFAS).
In this 18th episode of our series, Ms Eniyekpemi shares her experience with PREMIUM TIMES.
PT: Your company name says you offer agro services; this means it is more than farming. So what are the services?
Ms Eniyekpemi: I own a company. It’s not just farming, but farming and agricultural services. I have two farms in Delta State and the agricultural services we render is hybrid vegetable seed which we import as we have been certified as a seed company by the National Seed Council.
We sell farm equipment, mechanised farming and machines and offer training to persons who have interest in agriculture.
Currently, I have a direct workforce of 42 persons and 113 indirect staff. The company’s name is Afritropic Farming and Agro Services Ltd (AFAS), farming is an aspect of what we do.
PT: How long have you been doing this?
MS Eniyekpemi: I started agriculture in 2014 in my state.
PT: Are you married?
Ms Eniyekpemi: No, I am not.
PT: What inspired you to go into agriculture?
Ms Eniyekpemi: I saw a need. While I was in school during my IT days, I discovered that all these plants like cucumbers, tomatoes and all of that were not that popular and people felt that people in the Niger Delta region can’t do the production as it has to come from the North before we can feed on tomatoes and onions.
I saw the need and you need a very short time to grow these vegetables. Like cucumbers take 37 to 45 days from planting to harvesting and this is a short period of time for these things to get ready and why are people going through hell to get produce? So that’s where it all started. There’s a need and we need to meet up that need.
One is to make the produce available and two to make the seeds also available. If the seeds cannot fit in then it cannot work. The benefit is the seed because when you get the seed that can stand pathogenic and environmental conditions then you’re good to go. Pathogenic in the sense of resistance to disease and environmental condition in the sense of raining and dry season that this variety can fit it.
PT: How has the journey been so far for you?
Ms Eniyekpemi: The journey has been great and awesome as we are learning everyday and there are challenges but when one has passion for what he is doing, you just like you don’t face the challenges. And I always feel if you don’t come out of this challenge you can’t be called a successful farmer.
PT: Let us look at specific challenges that are affecting the agric sector. That can be land, fertilizer and all that. So how do you deal with issues of land and fertilizers?
Ms Eniyekpemi: Due to how the economy is going, a lot of things even if the farmer has the money to buy it, he will not be able to have access to it. For me if I am speaking as a mechanised farmer, I can’t compare myself to other local farmers as I am a commercial farmer.
So, what the other local farmers are facing I may not be facing it but I work with other local farmers and I know what they face and that’s why we are trying to close that gap to make these things available for them. But in the Niger-Delta region, what I look at as the major challenge farmers are facing is availability of a clear and open land.
The forest is there in the region, getting equipment to clear down this forest and getting it available for local farmers is an issue. If the government is going into land clearing and making it available like a clustered farm for people to use, that works. If not, it’s a major challenge.
Secondly, irrigation. Like I said, I speak for myself. I can say I am safe on that. But for the local farmers they face that a lot. Where my new farm is, we spent N800,000 to N900,000 to drill a borehole, it’s not every local farmer that can afford this and farming is not supposed to be a seasonal thing as the request for food is not seasonal.
So seasonal farming is also a problem. If we grow this time and we don’t have the storage capacity till we need growing time make it also a problem. Therefore, irrigation facilities should be made available for farmers to be able to grow all-year round and at the same time storage facilities also. These are major problems.
When it comes to vegetable farming as I major in vegetables, one major challenge is storage as they are perishable goods and I don’t know if the government has started looking into that but cold storage systems for these vegetables. Crops will lose their taste and quality when the right temperature is not given to them after harvest. For example, sweetcorn. It will drastically lose its taste as long as it is not given the right storage. When a crop is harvested it starts using its energy to survive as its time starts ticking. If it’s not stored in a place where it uses less energy to survive, it’ll wither very fast thereby causing post harvest loss. These therefore need cold storage for vegetables and silos for dry grains like maize, etc. This can sustain our food system.
I’m currently working with the Delta State government on a project called Accelerated Agricultural Farm Development Scheme where youth can be trained, greenhouse can be provided. Programmes like this should be given to the technical people in the field that would be able to run the project.
PT: How long is the programme going to last?
MS Eniyekpemi: It has not started but will kick start soon. It is going to run for five years.
PT: What are the sizes of your farms in Delta State?
Ms Eniyekpemi: One is 50 hectares and the other is 60 hectares. I bought the 60 hectares while the 50 hectares is a land leases from the state government. That’s a good side of the Delta State government on making land available to farmers.
PT: Let us briefly look at the international environment. How can farmers like you compete globally with other farmers across the globe?
Ms Eniyekpemi: In 2019, I was selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do a training in Michigan State University in America. We as directors and farm owners discussed amongst ourselves. The facilities and equipment available to farmers there are so flexible that you get to discover that in the U.S. what I am doing here over there I’ve not yet started. I operate all the farm equipment I have but those farm equipment are not made available to local farmers.
Here, farmers go through a lot to get one equipment but there you’ll see equipment costing over N20 million on credit facility to farmers and generations to come will keep using these facilities. We need flexible credit facilities made available if not we can’t compete with farming globally. We don’t need credit facilities where someone will come and give you N20 million but a situation where the equipment of N20 million is made available to farmers for hire.
PT: Has there been any gender constraints while in agriculture?
Ms Eniyekpemi: Not at all.
PT: Are there any initiatives or preparing projects you’re running that you’ll like to talk about?
Ms Eniyekpemi: We are about launching a foundation called Agric-Eco Resource Foundation which is focused on telling Niger Delta to farm their resources and not get in others to come in and farm the resources out. What really brought this is the resources I saw in the Niger-Delta Region are ecological resources. People don’t really know what we have around us and how useful they are. So we have to let people know what we have. We don’t need to look somewhere else and we don’t need people to come and farm it and go.
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We have our own resources. We have different species of fish that can be used to make fish filets but we import fish filets. There is no company in Nigeria producing fish filet. We import all the fish filets but we have to export them. We are focusing on the resources we have in the Niger-Delta Region as we have to farm them. We have fish ponds on the farm where we get fishes from the mangrove then put them there. They grow and I’ve already tried to process the filet and it came out so nice. So, my project personally is to involve the youths and women in the region to see what I’m seeing and let’s farm our resources.
PT: For these period of years, you’ve been farming, what are your challenges and what major lessons would you want to share with people?
Ms Eniyekpemi: Challenges like the human resources, the personnel you use to work I learnt a lot from that as it’s not easy when you have people working under you at the age of your father. My general farm manager is from Zimbabwe at 53 years. You have to set a structure and be bold enough to sit on this structure and be able to manage humans. People will come and go and you don’t have to be tied down to them as people come and go.
My advice is that when you have personnel that’s really good, don’t play with the person. Build an asset out of the person. Invest in the person. If you notice someone is not working well and it pulls you down, drop the person and move on. Employ smart people to tell you what to do, not you telling them what to do.
Another is security issues. My farm needs security of which I once hired the Nigerian Police Force then later dropped them due to their conditions. It is not every farmer that can afford this security making it a major challenge but first if possible, fence your farm round and have electricity. Logistics (Road) is also a challenge. Imagine a farmer harvesting five bags of cucumbers and putting it in a small pick-up to the market to supply. On the way going, the number of police roadblock that stopped him on his way to the market he has to settle.
As he gets to market all those boys in the market will collect and then at the day’s end what is the farmer left with? If a farmer has to pay tax or something, let there be an office where he can do that on a monthly basis instead of harassing them on the road. I need a truck to move my produce to parts of the country and as long as the truck is branded, people will keep calling me that they stop me here o; they hold me here o, no free movement. I had an incident during the lockdown with my truck filled with about 100 bags of cucumbers going to Bayelsa. It was held for violating the lockdown. There was no movement except for food items. Before I could speak to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) on the phone, they impounded the truck and put the driver in their cell.
He was left with just a boxer and the lady with him was also put in the cell. I had to call the governor’s office and that’s when I got my people out. In summary farmers, don’t give up; keep pushing.
PT: You mentioned using machines on your farm, what kind of equipment do you use?
Ms Eniyekpemi: The major farm equipment is the tractor and this tractor is going to carry many other types of equipment like rice drill for planting rice, corn planter, vegetable transplanter, a bedder for making bed, a ridger for making ridges, etc.
PT: How were you able to purchase all these equipment?
Ms Eniyekpemi: Most times, we have equipment we get from completed projects while some are through auctions of old equipment. We get to render services like hire tractors and equipment to other farmers, training and contracts too. We also import seeds which are certified.
We have breeders across Asia and import from them. We test these seeds on our farms to know the condition and also the National Seed Council will also do their own test too before they can approve it.We use funds from the agro business like the training contracts that I did to buy machines.
PT: Apart from importing seeds what else do you import?
Ms Eniyekpemi: We import farm implements and also irrigation kits. Sometime ago I was with my sister in Thailand and she saw factories manufacturing irrigation kits and she said “What is my country doing”? We look forward to the government and individuals producing or owning factories like this. We can do this, we can make it happen. The manufacturers of GeePee tanks have about 16 subsidiaries, this is an Indian company. They are also going into farming. Why can’t individuals instead of taking their money abroad, invest it into things like these. Nigerians buy a lot especially outside the country and this is because we can’t see what we want in Nigeria.
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