How I survived farming in several state….Nigerian farmer

Ivy Eheduru-Onyejekwe, the co-owner of Mozani farms, is into crops, livestock farming, and agribusiness across Nigeria. She owns Grandja Enterprise, an agribusiness that converts agricultural products for farmers.

She doubles as an accountant. In this 20th episode of our series, “Women in Agriculture” she shares her experience with PREMIUM TIMES.

PT: When you started, was there an understanding that you’ll do better in agribusiness than other subsectors in agriculture?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: It is not about a matter of doing better in any aspect, as we would do better in any of them, but about what works for you. It is not everyone that goes into livestock farming that would do well; so also agribusiness. It is basically just figuring out what works for you. Agribusiness is very large and comprises a lot of things in the supply chain. Either you are producing, supplying, retailing, converting, or doing something else. It is not everyone that will fit into every aspect of that supply chain. Although, I just fell into agriculture.

I read accounting but currently, my full-time business is agric. I tried one or two things in agriculture from 2011 till now. I kept trying and trying to get to where I am now today; large-scale commercial agriculture. It is a learning process actually as you will fail while trying to understand what works for you. I chose agric business, but there is a family farm that has about 400 pigs. I am currently setting up another farm in Oyo in which I am a stakeholder. It sizes between 300 to 400 acres of land cultivated as crop farming. Everyone thinks it is easier to do agribusiness because it is kind of direct as you really don’t need a farm. You just need to have an idea of business and what you can turn agricultural produce to enhance society. So I will advise that people should venture into agriculture as Nigeria’s population is increasing and a lot of people will be hungry very very soon. Considering the unrest in the North, I don’t think food will be coming out soon but if it does it will be expensive. So a lot of Southerners need to figure out how to grow their own food. We should try and get into agriculture because it should be a way of life. Agric is our culture rather than agriculture.

Eheduru-Onyejekwe, the co-owner of Mozani farms
Eheduru-Onyejekwe, the co-owner of Mozani farms

PT: Can you put us through your journey since you started in 2011?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: Like I earlier said, I fell into agriculture. When I newly entered the university, I went to a friend’s father’s farm in Benin and they produce oil. When we got there, right where I stood I noticed a lot of things that they could do better ranging from production to storage and supply. I was like what if I did it, there will be more palm. I went home and started from my house. I grew about two palm trees but it didn’t work out and kept trying, tried another 200 but didn’t work as it got consumed by either rabbits, rats, or something but I’m not sure what ate them but they got consumed.

Then I tried poultry with my mom. We bought 50 birds and she ended up giving me money for 10. I asked about the other 40 and she was like; “your father ate like 10, three died, Mama Ngozi did this one, we gave her one” and many other stories. In the long run, it showed me that there’s a problem in agriculture. I dabbled again into cucumbers, during the holidays and I planted about 500g of cucumbers. It did so well as I monitored and managed it myself. I was on the farm as early as 5 am, even when I didn’t need to be. I just wanted to see it grow. It happened like magic that in six weeks I was harvesting, unlike cassava or yam where you need to wait for about one year. I had about 21 overloaded 40kg bags after harvest which I took to the market myself. I didn’t allow anyone to join me in managing anything. I tried selling per bag but it didn’t work so I had to break it into retail sizes of N50, N100, and N200. Before noon, the market was gone and I sold everything. I tried again I continued increasing my capacity.

In 2017/2018 we started our farm and that was when I went for a six-month course (diploma) to really understand crops, pests, and diseases in animals. I reared by myself 10,000 birds and the pigs were about 21. I took care of them, brooded the birds, lost a lot because of the environment, water, and so on. I had a lot of problems. I then went for “SHELL-life-wire programs” where we got extra training and money to help work our businesses in 2018. So now we are setting up a farm of about 300 acres where we are planting groundnut, maize, tomatoes, pepper, and brown pepper. It is challenging but still, we are moving.

PT: Can you briefly explain what you mean by “in agric business, we exchange commodities”. Is it like exchanging fertilizer for maize or what?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: You can exchange certain things, here there are some suppliers (people that buy in bulk) you go to and tell them “give me seeds and at harvest time you come and buy from me at an agreed price and I don’t need to pay for the seeds because seeds are expensive. Some large farms need about 700kg, some need 7000kg and the price of 100kg is about N20,000. Now, how much will 7000kg look like to a farmer? So many people cannot afford or bear that at once so they collect the seeds and exchange them for harvest when it’s time. The thing is we can have a better barter system, if there’s a barter system set up where people meet and exchange and as a farmer, you’ll need that because not everything you’ll need money for, else it’ll be very expensive. Sometimes people exchange machine services for maybe feeds, seeds, or something else.

PT: Do you belong to any association?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: No

PT: How has the journey been for you as a woman farmer because here you’ve shared your story generally as a farmer but how has it been as a woman farmer?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: Agriculture in the world looks like a man’s thing, especially in commercials. I got married last year and people come to my husband for agric purposes and he’s like “I’m not the farmer, she is” and they’ll be like “are you sure?”. They go to him first thinking he’s the farmer but get redirected to me who is the farmer. Sometimes we hire workers, and when they have complaints they go to him and he’ll be like “why are you telling me? I’m not the farmer; she is”.

Also, while in the farm people outrightly disrespect you as a woman until they find out you’re the boss they are working for or the farmer they came to see. Sometimes, you need to work twice as hard to get what men don’t struggle to get. I’m not in an association because when I asked to join they were skeptical about it. They later asked me to join and I refused. When I asked to join you said you don’t want women wahala but now you want me to join because you know I have a big farm and know I have something I can bring to the table. So when I’m ready I will. More so, as a woman farmer, there has been no spare time to do all those women stuff, like doing hair, make-up, shopping, and the likes. You can’t spend the whole day under the sun and later come back to be doing those stuff when you’re exhausted.

PT: The government has been rolling out policies like the Anchor Vorrowers Programme, and others. Have you benefited from any and do you think that those policies have an impact on women’s growth in agriculture?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: I have not benefited from any policy because those policies work in theory, not in practice. People don’t like going through the stress and not getting something tangible back. They may even ask you to get your great grandfather’s birth certificate and how is that possible? But I hope for future’s sake, it works and benefits even the women farmers. Some private organisations are even reaching out to women farmers. I can say it for Union Bank, Access Bank, and social media groups like FIN that actually reach out to women in Agriculture.ADVERTISEMENT

PT: How many staff members do you have?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: I have about 17 staff members.

PT: Do you employ women?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: Presently I don’t have any woman on my farm not because I don’t want to, but they don’t even come up. Women don’t feel they could do it. They feel that after the men have gone to the farm and produced they’ll take it for sale in the market but really going into the business of it they don’t.

Most women farmers just do it for themselves or their families, but to be employed as a farmer, no. I dragged my husband into agriculture of which he knew nothing about. He is a construction engineer and when I told him about agriculture he felt it’s own shop to do buying and selling of farm produce but no way. I want to own acres and hectares of farmlands.

When I actually tell the agency that gives employees that I need a woman on my farm they’ll be like “oh for cooking or cleaning”? They don’t expect her on any managerial or administrative duty. They operate on the mentality that women are weaker vessels. But if that is the case, men are weaker vessels, they break down easily.

For some women they just farm for their own private use not really going into commercial farming, the city girl does not even want to be involved at all. I called my sister-in-law to come work on the farm but she said when we have an office or something in town she’ll work but on the farm, no. Now, all the stakeholders in Mozani farms are women. I dragged them all into it. They have the money and little experience and I have the experience. We came together and we are doing well.

PT: You got married in 2020, so did family life affect your farming?

Ms Eheduru- Onyejekwe: Well, I have a very wonderful spouse who’s 100 per cent supportive, more like a backbone and if he’s not here it would have been a very difficult process. When he gets a contract he goes and comes back when done but whenever he’s here he’s with me in the business.

PT: Your journey so far seems interesting. So where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: In the next five years, I see myself having a chain plan. A chain of production companies which I am seriously working towards. That’s why I said I really want to do agribusiness. I can produce tomatoes in large quantities, year-round, thanks to greenhouse technology. So I see myself converting the tomatoes to paste, pepper to paste, milk to cheese hereby being in competition with the likes of Dano, Peak, etc.

PT: Do you pay tax?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: Definitely, I do and it’s very expensive.

PT: You did say you cultivate crops too, so whose land do you use? Where are they located and what are their sizes?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: Some land are owned by us and some are not. They are leased out to us at some cost. Some land are located in Oyo State and some in Imo, Rivers and Nasarawa State. The land in Oyo State-owned by us is a total of about 500 acres and 200 acres in lease while in Imo State, we have about 400 acres and we have five plots in Nasarawa for storage. In Port Harcourt we have about 30 plots.

PT: How much do you pay for the land lease?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: The cheapest is in Oyo at about N60,000 per acre at an average for ownership. But in lease, it’ll go for N7,000 per acre yearly.

PT: Are they initiatives you are working on that you’d like to talk about? Something like youth empowerment?
Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: Actually, we are working on healthcare which in this area is kind of poor. My partners are health workers but not in the country. We are trying to bring modern health facilities into these villages where the setup of hospitals are really poor and administer first aid treatments and care and in severe situations, move them to a higher medical centre with vehicles that are provided within the health system other than putting them on bikes. More so, we noticed that some people in the area abuse a lot of drugs and we are working on sensitising them on drug abuse and other medical issues.

PT: Have you had any challenges on your farm from herdsmen?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: Yes I have. It is extremely difficult to fence or barricade your land once it is very big which makes it difficult to prevent them from invading your land. Once they have destroyed anything there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it considering the status of Nigeria. People are now taking the bull by the horn. You see people seizing cows and all that and then a fight breaks out. People get killed due to one issue or another involving herdsmen. But imagine I use 2 to 3 million to plant and then the cows come in and eat the crops which will cost about 1.4 million and there’s nothing I can do as the cows are not even my own or their own either. Last year I lost my cassava plantation to herders and they don’t just consume the leaves, they scrape the whole thing to the ground leaving nothing at all. I have to hire security and all that which is expensive, this is something I don’t need to do in a country that is working well. I didn’t count my employees to include the security which is about 15 people. You put them there and still they get in and destroy the farm, there is nothing you can do.

PT: When you started in 2011, how were you able to raise the capital to work?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: Shell helped us with some of their programmes like “SHELL life wire” and others. Also, from family, and other side investment from private firms.

PT: Some of the land are yours, how were you able to acquire and manage land issues as a woman?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: Normally, we go meet the Oba or Kabiyesi of the land because most land there is customary, they do not have documents to back them up. They are usually family or community land. The first land I acquired I made a mistake, I went through an agent who formulated and arranged the family by himself, setting up everything that it looks legit. We paid and signed documents and went ahead to do documentation and registration with the Ministry of Interior. We got to the land after paying about N10 million, we found out the land belongs to someone else. We took the issue to the Kabiyesi who told us our mistakes but we ended up paying twice to ensure all parties were settled. Sometimes, when we want to see the Kabiyesi, they tell us that the Kabiyesi doesn’t see women but that’s a lie.

PT: If you are in a position to advise the Nigerian government concerning agriculture, what would you say?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: I will tell the Nigerian government to take agriculture seriously. The truth is anything that comes from the ground be it land resources or underground is agriculture. They should encourage the youth to begin agriculture. The lands are there but people are discouraged. They should also bring in equipment that makes agriculture easier. They should bring that policy that makes commercial farming interesting and flexible with ease. They should also invest in agriculture. It is not a wasted investment. In the near future, food is going to be very expensive and scarce if the government does not take the positive required action.

PT: What is your harvest like?

Ms Eheduru-Onyejekwe: For maize, we harvested 69 tonnes and we sold a little below the market price. For last year’s cassava, we are yet to harvest. We are hoping to begin our greenhouse this year, before the next farming season

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