The abandonment of agriculture and overdependence on oil wealth, no doubt, is a key factor in the economic problems plaguing the Nigerian nation today. This has led to external food dependence, that is, virtual reliance on imported food. While many think there is no way out, Chinedu Ogah, director of Chiboy Integrated Farms, Abakaliki, thinks differently. In this interview with Okey EGBOLUCHE in Abakaliki, the enterprising young farmer speaks about his venture into farming, the progress so far made, the way forward for agriculture in Nigeria, among other issues.
Why did you go into farming?
I was born in an agrarian area, Item Nwagu in Ikwo LGA of Ebonyi State, a place established by the World Bank in 1979. There, we have over 4,300 hectares of swampy land for rice cultivation. So, considering my background, I found it necessary for young men like us to engage in agriculture because it is the only venture we have and can never fail in it. It is one venture that when you put your money, you rarely have a loss. This motivated me to go into farming.
What is the vision behind Chiboy Farms?
We are looking at catering for the food production needs of our people and creating jobs for young people. We want to make the youths see a future in agriculture. We are into various forms of agriculture – rice farms, poultry farming, fishery, snailery, grass cutter production, agriculture management, etc. We also produce organic fertilizer from the poultry and fishery which we recycle. We make sure that people develop their skills on those areas. There is no one who acquires these skills that would ever go hungry. They can at least on their own put food on their table. We want to make sure we meet the food security needs of this nation. At Chiboy Integrated Farms, any youth that is willing to gain the required skills in agriculture, we train them free. We have trained a lot of young people including undergraduates from the Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike and other institutions. People often say there is so much hunger in the land. I do not believe so. The problem we have in this land is laziness. People do not want to make use of their initiatives. We are urging the Federal Government to be more sincere in their efforts in agriculture. We often hear of billions of naira being pumped into agriculture, but Nigerians do not see the results because of poor implementation. We are urging the Federal Government to create a department to supervise agriculture. They can take a cue from Ebonyi State where the state government is engaging the youths in agricultural entrepreneurship, where many youths are trained to specialize in different areas of agriculture and then given grants, and they are doing well because of proper supervision. We are not supposed to be importing rice from other countries; rather, we should be exporting rice. Our agricultural potentials should be properly harnessed. Irrigation should be put in place. All the three tiers of government should be involved. We should not depend on the oil sector alone. And in Ebonyi State, let the co-ordinators of each of the development centres be able to train one person in agriculture.
Do you think Nigerian farmers are doing enough?
Individuals are trying, but the banks are not giving access loans to the farmers. We see publications about farmers that receive loans, but who are they? Let the banks come and prove at least one person that they have given loan for agricultural purposes. We have tried as much as we can to make sure we receive loan but no way. Whatever we do is by our personal effort. So the Federal Government should have an implementation committee and supervision committee made up of people of repute to enable farmers receive the necessary financial facilities. Let us harness agronomy, aquaculture, etc. We need to do a lot in this country and we can move forward if we are determined and focused. I assure you, I am not boasting, we can give food to Ebonyi State in general if there is proper financing from FG. We can create jobs for youths and ensure each state can establish a department where people would go and acquire skills and go ahead and set up their own farms under supervision. We need to go back to vocational education. Nigerians believe so much in theory and that is why we are failing. Look at China’s economy which encourages vocational trainings, it is booming. Malaysia came to Nigeria some years back to pick palm seedlings; now we are importing from them. Let us go back to our roots. Let us go back to what our forefathers used to do and engage in it, it would help our economy to boom.
What challenges have you been facing in your farms operations?
Initially, we had problems with water supply but we have been able to solve that problem. We dug up water some kilometres away from the farm and connected it to the farm. Thank God that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration has ensured that electricity is more stable now. The day-old chicks need electricity to keep them warm, although we use manual means in some occasions; the same thing applies to our feed production where we need electricity. This makes the prices of products higher because we use diesel to power our machines at our feed mills. We pray PHCN would improve in their electric power generation.
What about market for the products?
We are doing well. We even have international market for our products. We export cassava products from Calabar port to the United Kingdom and other countries. People around this area are consuming the fish. The restaurants and relaxation centres in Abakaliki come to buy fish and grass-cutters from us. When the First Lady of Nigeria and wives of governors from various states visited Ebonyi State, they booked for grass-cutters, which we packaged and sent to them. Grass-cutter meat does not contain cholesterol. Research has shown that its consumption reduces the risk of hypertension. We pride in its production because it is a healthy meat. For the poultry, this is the time we get a lot of orders because of Christmas. The one we had before, Mr Biggs paid upfront for 2 years. The market is there. We just need to expand.
Not too long ago, the Ebonyi State government sponsored some young farmers to acquire requisite skills in agriculture from Songhai Farms, Porto Novo, Benin Republic and empowered them with loans to start off their farms. What do you think about this initiative?
It is a welcome development. It has helped in reducing crime in Ebonyi State to zero because most of these youths are now focused and engaged. Gov. Elechi has done so much in training most of them. I could take you around most of their farms and you would see the progress they are making. We are supervising them so it is giving a very good name to the state government. And most of them are now employers of labour. Some of them employ up to 5, 10 or 15 people in their farms and this has helped in reducing crime. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. There is no crime and kidnapping in Ebonyi State because we are focused in agriculture.
You are dynamic and focused in your agricultural venture and you are so energetic, what is the secret behind it and how can we learn from that?
I am not a shy person. I do what has to be done. I can go to my farm and pack the chickens’ droppings because it gives me joy. I am very comfortable in the work I do and that is what gives me joy. I manage myself and that is what keeps me energetic. From year to year I do not fall sick. I thank God for that. I always work according to the clock, no time is a waste. I make out time for everything I do.
Is Chiboy into other businesses besides agriculture?
Yes, we are business people, we are into automobiles, we have electromotive and mechanical sections and we handle other technical aspects of automobiles. We are dealers in Toyota and other cars. We are also into financing and exportation of agricultural products. Chiboy Foundation is involved in charity. We give succour to the helpless and help in restoring the dignity of man. We rehabilitate ex-convicts. We also have guidance and counselling section to lead young people in their careers. I was called to be commissioner but I don’t want it. I want a place where I can make sure we turn this country around and that is what I urge young people to look at.
Any advice for intending young farmers?
We are urging more youths to go into farming. It is not all about coming out with degrees and waiting for appointments. I studied medicine up to 5th year, then I left the programme and studied microbiology. I have masters in epidemiology, HND in Public Administration and OND in Practical Agriculture. I do all that so that I could be perfect in what I do. Many youths just brandish certificates and cannot defend it when given jobs to do. Our youths should shun laziness and learn to be good at what they do. Many people are waiting for appointment, but appointment is not the way. Bring the unemployed who keep waiting for white collar jobs to me let me teach them how to make money. Honestly, Nigeria is a big country. It is only River Jordan that supplies water to the whole of Israel, how much more Nigeria with 36 states and Abuja where all the land are fertile? We don’t have natural disasters like earthquake, yet things are not right. Let us put our heads together, make hay while the sun shines and call a spade a spade.