Chisom Mefor, a 400-level computer science student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, resides in Abuja with her family.
Ms Mefor, 22, has a passion for creative writing and technology but has extended it to agriculture. In this episode of our series, she tells PREMIUM TIMES how she is benefitting from the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff University Union that began in February 2022.
For her, farming is the best thing that has happened to her.
PT: Can you put us through your journey in agriculture?
Ms Mefor: I started in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. I stayed at home doing nothing, it was a waste of time, talent and energy. I decided to start a fish farm. I started with less than a hundred fingerlings but most of them died. It wasn’t a good experience. I wished I had bought a laptop with the money, but I don’t regret it. In December 2021, I attended a religious event where I met a man, a farmer and an exporter.
He also grows mushrooms in commercial quantities. He then introduced me to mushroom farming. I started reading up about them. Mushrooms have high nutritional value but a good number of Nigerians don’t eat them, including myself. It has high export value.
But I have a challenge, a guaranteed market because Nigerians may not patronise me. I’m at home because of the strike. If they call off the strike, how will I sustain it? That’s been my journey, I keep pushing despite the setbacks.
I also have 96 birds in the poultry farm and they are ready for sale, then I will restock to sell again. I have 56 stacks of mushrooms.
PT: Your business failed in 2020, how did you raise capital for this current business?
Ms Mefor: I didn’t need a huge capital to start the mushroom business, almost all the materials required are free. Like sawdust which is the main thing that you put in the substrate bags. You need the seedlings, then the bags. I buy the bags at N30.
You can conveniently start with N30,000. I spent N35,000 as capital and N50,000 for training. But I had to learn with my mum, we did one day on and another off because we thought of the best ways to manage limited resources. I was taking a course online to complement what we learn from the physical class.
PT: You mentioned buying them, where do you buy them?
Ms Mefor: I got them from the man who taught me mushroom farming, I bought them from him.
PT: After investment, how long does it take to grow the mushroom and how much do you sell?
Ms Mefor: I’m yet to harvest because I started during the ASUU strike. For the substrate bags to become completely white, this happens within a period of six weeks. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the growth. You have to keep mushrooms in a dark room for the substrate bags to ferment. We didn’t have enough space in the house so we used my brother’s room. The mushrooms sprout in between the bags after you hang them on a rope, they have to lap, cut open by the side. Then you water it.
PT: You combine it with your mum but you are the major partner here, why do you feel there will be some challenges taking care of them when you return to school?
Ms Mefor: My mum has a job that is demanding. But we are thinking of getting someone that we will train that will assist for sometime then later maybe combine in the production. This will even help increase our production capacity for exportation.
PT: You are interested in exporting the produce, how much do you know about the sector in Nigeria?
Ms Mefor: Well, I don’t know much, I rely on my mentor for advice and I read and I ask people questions especially people who are in that line of business. I’m trying to build my online presence because the world is now global. With a good online presence, it will be an advantage to have a market all over the world.
Exportation is huge, because it requires more capital so I’d prefer to sell to the local market first before thinking of export, that’s a long term plan.
PT: Tell us, you own other farms like the fish farm and poultry, so is your focus on mushrooms, considering the available market?
Ms Mefor: For the fish, it is not like the poultry where I have to work every time or the mushrooms that I water six times in a day. The fish is managed by someone we pay.
I wish people knew the health benefits of mushrooms and its value in the international market. I know there is money there. I hope to sustain myself from the profit I make. I’m learning how to eat it.
PT: Let’s talk about your fish, how did you raise the capital for it in 2020? What do you think led to the loss?
Ms Mefor: I raised capital through support from my parents and a little savings. Then I was a novice so I was super worried about them, I changed the water daily, I bring the fishes out and leave them then take time to refill. The stress was much on the animals. It was after the loss I realised all the mistakes I made.
I met another farmer who told me she rarely puts her hand or even changes the water. So the person who taught me about fish farming also experienced the loss but he reestablished himself and I keyed into it. So I pay N600,000 and get a return on investment of 30 per cent, that is N900,000 within a period of five to six months. The market is available. Your business is also insured. So we used the profit from the fishes to fund some parts of mushroom and poultry.
PT: Do you think you’d sustain your business in the future looking at the rising cost of production in the country?
Ms Mefor: It will not be easy at all. In 2020, a bag of chicken feed was N4,000 now it’s N8,000. I really hope the market becomes better considering the ASUU strike because I don’t know their plan. I plan to sustain the business for a long time. I think the government needs to step in to help small scale farmers like myself.
PT: Belonging to associations will help provide a market, do you have plans of joining a farmers’ cooperative?
Ms Mefor: I’ve googled about and I found nothing. I want to join them but I have an available market for poultry and fish.
PT: What plans do you have to marry technology and agriculture?
Ms Mefor: It’s very simple, digital marketing. Bringing local farmers and international farmers together through technology. Connecting them via platforms provides access to inputs through technology.
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