As the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is consolidating efforts to grow the sector through a green revolution strategy, this brief interview with a livestock farmer, Prince Onebunne Arinze, gives an insight into how animal farming can make the revolution a reality.
What type of agric venture are you into?
I am a livestock farmer. I rear grasscutters, snails, antelopes, poultry and fish farming. I have a farm called Jovana farms and I have a team that also provides consultancy services on how to rear all these animals. Grasscutter farming is gaining prominence recently so we are giving it optimum attention.
How do you intend to contribute to the green revolution in the sector though animal farming?
Animal farming, especially grasscutter farming is very easy to start. Many young unemployed Nigerians can free themselves from the shackles of poverty and hopelessness by going into this type of farming and this would bring about the needed revolution in the agricultural sector. As the CEO and Managing Consultant of Jovana farms, we are taking this message of hope to all the nooks and crannies of the country through a sensitization seminar that we have been organizing periodically.
I am a self-made man, who struggled his way out of poverty; I believe Nigerian youths can make the millions they yearn for through agriculture.
How long have you been managing Jovana farms?
I have been managing Jovana farms for over five years now. Just like many other investors in a new business, my first attempt at grasscutter farming was filled with challenges. I received a lot of advice from many people around me then, some encouraging; some discouraging me, saying livestock farming was full of risks.
Some advised me to go into importation business instead but I remained focused because I wanted to create a job for myself and for other people. Let me say this, if you want to succeed, go for a new business rather than travel the worn path of accepted success, explore uncharted courses.
A childhood experience fired the interest of grasscutter farming in me.
When we were growing up in the village, we used to go into the forest to set the bush on fire as a way of hunting for grasscutter. One day, after killing so many, we found a pregnant grasscutter who could not run and we took it home.
We did not tell our parents and decided to put it in the goats' pen. The next morning when we woke up, we found out that it had delivered about eight litters. We later lost the mother due to injuries it sustained during the bush fire but the litters were very smart, eating corn, cassava, vegetable and rice.
That was how I picked interest in grasscutter farming and I was about 14 years old then.
So, when I decided to go into the business, it was like confirming what was to be.
How did you get the breeding stock?
I started by getting my breeding stock from Gabon through a friend, who lives in that country. Initially, I was doing it as a hobby and before long, the whole place was filled with grasscutters.
We kept them in a wooden cage. That is why I tell people that you need very little capital to start the business. You can build a cage with about N7,000 and any roadside carpenter can do it. The breeding stock of one male and four females is sold for N45,000 even though you can get the local breed for N35,000. The cross-breed is N45,000 and the cost depends on the age, weight and species.
Can you give us more details on grasscutter farming?
The early days were quite challenging and interesting because what I am giving my grasscutter today is not what I gave them when I started 15 years ago.
I have done a lot of research and gained experience over the years. Then I was giving them only grass and their performance was not good enough. Later, I started adding supplements. Today, they are breeding very well.
In those early days, due to lack of knowledge, the animals were dying. For instance, we were going in the mornings to cut the grass for their feeding but we did not know that it was dangerous because some insects like caterpillar and moth that stick on the grass are harmful to the grasscutter.
If you go in the morning to cut grass for them, you may end up giving them poison and that was what we were doing and the animals were dying. We later found out that the best time to cut grass for them was from 2p.m. because by then, the sun would have driven the insects away.
What is your advice to those interested in the business?
I advice them to start it immediately because the business is not capital intensive, with as little as N52,000, one can conveniently start the business but let me warn here that you also need to go for training. It is very important. Because I had no prior knowledge of the business I was doing trial and error, which made me to do a lot of research so as to get it right.
Now, I know the nitty gritty of the business and every information that can guide a new comer is readily available. What I mean is that I know grasscutter farming inside-out now.
It is a profitable business as returns on investment is high. It is the only livestock farming where you won't need to spend much on feed.
If you are talking about pig farming, you must buy food for pigs, if it is fish, rabbit, poultry it is the same thing, but for grasscutter farming, if you are not lazy and proud, the only thing you need to do is to buy cutlass and rain boots and now look for the elephant grass to cut for them. Anywhere you go to get this, it is free.
Apart from grass, they also eat cassava and we know that cassava is the cheapest carbohydrate you can think of. There are supplements we give them too like Palm Kernel Cake (PKC), calcium from crushed animal bones.
Roasted soya beans mixed with cassava is a good source of protein. These supplements would give them rapid growth and help them to produce large number of litters.
Feeding them is not a problem because the animals are fed twice a day - morning and evening. That is why I tell people that grasscutter farming is interesting and convenient.
You can do it even while in full employment. It can be done on part-time basis even as you combine it with other businesses.
So, I am calling on civil servants and others to embrace this method of farming to boost their incomes.
What challenges do you face?
There are challenges especially in the area of reaching out to potential farmers in the villages, especially in the north. We organise seminars in major cities from time to time. Our message is for the poor, the unemployed, the widows, retirees and other Nigerians who want to boost their income and for others who want to start their own business and government should also support us.
I have a friend in Zambia, who is also doing this business and the government has already bought a 14 - seater brand new bus for him to assist him in taking the message to the people.
Something happened in Calabar, Cross River State recently when I had a seminar there. After the programme, the participants were so impressed and happy with my message that they gave me a gift. I was so touched, I wanted to cry. Since I started this nationwide seminar in major cities, that was the first time people openly showed appreciation to me because they felt I came to liberate them from the shackles of poverty, hopelessness and want.