Mrs. Odukoya Aduragbemi had to start a rice farming venture from scratch. Of course there has been challenges, but today, she could say she has made a fortune through rice farming with a special rice in ofada rice. In thi interview with The Nation, she spoke about how she started, the challenges and how she was able to pul through.
How did you become a rice farmer and rice consultant as the case may be?
I started in 2010. I was one of those trained by the Lagos State government under the leadership of the then Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola by Ministry of Agriculture under the ‘Rice for job’ programme.’ The training was a three years programme. Upon graduation, we were brought here to Igua in Yewa North community in Ogun State. The Lagos State government had acquired the land for the project. They were the ones who brought us here to do the practical of our training. However, after the project ended the new government did not renew the agreement. But I continued doing the rice planting personally for the past five years.
What was your experience like when you first arrived the community?
When we were being notified about this place, we thought it was a place with decent accommodation, like a goldmine with a modern touch and all. For us participants, our expectations were quite high. Although what we met on ground was unique but it was far below our expectations. But when we got here, we had what I would call our baptism of fire: the next morning when we were taken to the river, of course, this whole community is riverine. On getting to the river we saw what we didn’t think possible anywhere except in our imagination. We saw some people washing their clothes, some were having their bathe both male and female, and some were excreating there in the river, while some were fetching the water to take home for drinking in the same river at the same time! So it was really overwhelming for me.
On sighting these scenes, I said to myself that I was no longer coming here to do my farming because I thought I could not cope with this kind of situation. My colleague with whom I had the training, Bukky laughed out loud. But I said nothing is funny in this. I was very uncomfortable about the situation. After a week here we had terrible skin infections the one called ‘crawcraw’. It covered us from head to toe. People said it was due to change of environment. Back home, my children scared people away from me saying, ‘Don’t go near my mum so you won’t contact the infection.’ It took a while before it eventually got totally healed. I never believed I could get use to this place and I eventually adapted to this place.
How easy was it for you to get an honest worker in a place you just landed with no previous knowledge of the community?
Sincerely it is not easy to get honest and dedicated workers. But it depends on how you present your self and how you treat your workers determines how they dance to your tune. If you give them the impression that you have arrived and you came with bag of money they will work that way. But if you make them understand that you are all in the same shoe and that you are also feeling the crunch of the economy like them, they will be willing to help to even show you shortcuts and cooperate with you willingly. My current farm workers have been working with them for the past four years now.
Where do you think rice farming is heading in Nigeria?
There are other places like north and Ekiti State where massive rice production is being done so I will just say rice farming is gradually coming up as we now have more rice belts than before.
Can you educate us on the species available in Nigeria and which of them do you plant currently and what informed your choice?
Actually, we have Faro, it is the long rice we eat in our house every day, there are three species of Faros namely: Faro 44, Faro 49, Faro 52, Faro 58 and there is ofada rice. This year I planted Faro 44.
Can you tell us the difference?
Faro 44 is a short plant that doesn’t grow taller than knee length and it is a three-month plant. Its growth and plant date to harvest in three months while ofada rice grows from plant date to harverst date within four to five month and grows very taller than a human being. Currently, we are in bird scaring season.
What does bird scaring means?
It is the act of scaring bird away from the young rice plant. Normally rice seed grows first as a juicy substance. At maturity it dries up into the known rice seed, bird feeds on the juicy substance and if allowed the can finish a whole farm of rice, this necessitates scaring them away so as to protect the harvest. There are different methods people use. Some people use net, something like masquerade they build, a lot of people use different things, my people on the farm, for safty purpose use catapult. They are strategically located on the farm and I have nine of them at different locations on the farm right now which attack the birds.
How often are you present here since you mentioned you are based in Lagos?
Yes, I’m based in Lagos but I am here every week. I arrive on Monday and go back on Fridays.
So will you say it’s easy to set up an Agric startup?
Yes but it’s just that some people believe it’s stressful, they believe there is no much gain in it
Are you saying it is not stressful?
It is stressful now, especially rice farming.
Is there any particular difficulty you face as a lady farmer?
There are so many challenges I face but with the help of God, I have overcome thus far. Like I said, the people who have been working for me for close to four or five years now, they are still working for me because they are the one who people who have known fully well because of the rapport between us, is not like there are no other people.
Let’s look at the market. You said you previously plant ofada rice but have since diversified into other rice varieties such as the Faro 44. How do you go from here to the point where you cash out?
Ofada has lesser seeds on its plants while Faro has more seeds. Also Faro like I said earlier is what everybody is eating. So it’s a hot cake in the market and also cheaper. For instance, 50kg of Faro is being sold in the market for between 18,000 and 20,000 whereas a 50kg ofada rice goes within the range of 40,000 to 50,000, while its 5kg is sold for 5,000 or 4,000. However, the main reason I decided to plant Faro 44 this year is because of its cost-effectiveness in the sense that I don’t have to use insecticide, herbicide, and fertilizer or any chemical at all it grows naturally in as much as the ground has water.
You mentioned that Lagos State project ended about five years ago and you have been running the project through personal efforts. Has there been any form of support from anywhere and what has been the input of government to this project thus far?
There has been none from anywhere. No help has come from the state governments, federal government or even financial institutions as we speak. It’s all been independent efforts.
Did you apply for any?
Yes but you know how things work in this part of the world. They either think you are applying for applying sake except you have somebody there pushing things in your favour. Although there are smaller facilities here and there if I need a small thing but what I need is more than that.
Who owns the farmland you’re using now?
The land which we are using was given to us by the Lagos State government but today is under the Ogun State government control. So right now, I’m planting it for Ogun state, they are going to buy everything from us, they are going to be my off-taker. Before the Ogun State government gave us this land to use this year we entered an agreement where we agreed that they will be our off-takers, whereby they support us with some inputs, which at harverst when they off-take the harvest they will remove their money and give us our balance, that is what the Ogun State government did for us this year before we were able to use the land.
Which of the system will you say is more beneficial?
I still do processing now because half of this harverst goes to the Ogun state government through the offtaking procedure unlike before where I had to do it all on my own
What are the procedure you can take to achieve this?
Like I said, we require full support from the government , especially in the area of funding, as you can see now it is only 14 hectares I farmed this year.
Where do you see smallholder farming in the next five years from now?
Like I said with full government suport both financing the process and supplying equipment such as processing machine like tractors, harverster etc.
What is your advice for every woman out there that is seeking employment, with the agony of no job, no money, etc?
Like I said earlier on, I did this from scratch. There is nothing you cannot do, anyting you want to do, just start it and believe you can do it, have your goal set on it you will achieve it. I was not born into this. I took the training and retrained myself. Don’t look down on yourself that you cannot make it. Instead of complaining and gossiping just make yourself creative, be a solution-provider.
Currently, our foreign reserve is depleting rapidly how do you think agriculture can contribute to the build up our reserve?
Government should train more women and youth in agricultural ventures and empower them with the necesary implements and facilities. This our rice can be exported, if it is done, it will go far in contributing to the foreign reserve build up.
How do you think our locally cultivated rice is doing in competition against imported rice?
The government of Ogun State has made it available at the market cheaper than the imported rice to the end consumer. But for individually-funded ventures like mine, by the time it gets to the market, it will be at the same price with the foreign ones.