26 June 2012

Nigeria: Meet Nigeria's Premier Farmer in Ghana

Accra — In Ghana, a nation where the image of the country is not so flattering, a young Nigerian is distinguishing himself as an enterprising farmer.

It is rather paradoxical that a youth will find fulfilment in working with tractors and motor weeds than the traditional white collar job in a foreign land.

Another interesting fact is that the young man was once domiciled in Holland, where he worked for an advertising company for four years. From his modest savings during his sojourn overseas, rather than engage in dealing in merchandise he opted for farming.

Osita Esezobor hails from Edo State of Nigeria. He relocated to Ghana in 2002 after his return from Holland. Initially farming was not his obsession. He went into estate business, building and selling houses.

However, the adventure did not go well. He recounted that he constructed two buildings at Pokuase, but getting to dispose the property became a challenge. It took him about nine months to sell one of them.

The experience marked a turning point in his life. He remembered his first love, went for it and embraced it. That was about three years ago. Since then he had never looked back.

He is unarguably the most visible Nigerian farmer in Ghana. He is engaged in mechanized farming. He owns large farms in Pokuase and Akuse. He is engaged in the cultivation of cassava, maize and pineapple.

On his farm at Akuse (Central region), he has over 130 acres of land planted with maize and another 40 acres covered with pineapple.

Esezobor took this reporter round his farm for hours and it was a very fascinating experience. Throughout the tour he exuded deep passion for farming. It was palpable that he derived immense satisfaction from his occupation.

"When I was growing up, I had a paternal uncle. He did something like this on a very large scale. And I so much loved it then when we travelled to his place for holidays in Warri, Nigeria. So that was when I developed interest in farming," he enthused.

As we went through a portion of the cassava farm, an excited Esezobor shared his experience with our reporter on his odyssey into farming.

"Let's start from cassava I so much like it, because one can do a lot of things from it," he exclaimed.

He has cultivated about 40 acres of cassava in Pokuase. The shrubs are nine months old and will be harvested in three months. "We should have started harvesting at nine months but I decided to shelve it," he explained.

He plans expanding the plantation to a 100 acre as soon as he was through with harvesting and was able to raise more funds for the project.

He affirmed that the cultivation of cassava was financially rewarding. Aside from being a staple food in West Africa, other secondary products that were potential high foreign currency earners could be derived from it. For instance, he cited ethanol, starch, stationeries, and pharmaceuticals as some products that cassava could be used for processing.

Esezobor is contented with processing the cassava in his mill to meet local supply and large consignments for contractors. His ambition is to establish a starch processing mill to meet export demand from some foreign partners.

"I am using it for garri, but I have plans for using it for ethanol and starch because I had a contact sometime from China and they needed a ship load of starch. So you know that is where I am going by God's special grace," he explained.

He considers the cultivation of cassava as less demanding compared to other crops like maize and vegetables, which require mechanical manure and fertilizers. He said it was only in rare circumstances, when the land was acutely deficient in nutrients that fertilizers will be applied. He added that you only have to weed twice throughout the cropping season.

The case is quite different for maize and vegetables where manure has to be added as a matter of necessity in order to get maximum yield. The decision to or not to apply fertilizer depends on the agronomist, who tests the land and determine its suitability for the crop.

Esezobor acknowledged that maize produces faster than cassava, a famer can plant and harvest thrice in a year; whereas in the case of cassava you harvest just once every year.

Already, he has a large market for the crop maize being one of the staple foods in Ghana. For instance he revealed that he has been contracted by the government of Ghana to supply secondary schools maize under the School Feeding scheme for schools.

The large population of Nigerians who reside in Ghana still enjoy their delicacies. Particularly 'edinkaiko' soup, before now, they received their pumpkin or 'ugwu' leaves weekly from Nigeria. Now he supplies them regularly.

Esezobor is one courageous Nigerian living in Ghana, who is determined to succeed despite the daunting challenges associated with living in a foreign land. For him the journey has been difficult especially at the beginning, when he was hamstrung by funds.

He said: "I remember going to two banks at the beginning. I do not want to mention names. I even went with my building document, I had satisfied every requirement. So when they inquired what I needed the money for I told them farming. They do not give loans for farming because of the risks involved.

"I quite understood, but all the same. I had all my documents. What I was requesting for was not up to half the value of what my buildings were worth. After every effort I put in to secure the loan I was turned down. I was even asked to open accounts and deposit money with them," he lamented.

In order to revive interest in farming, he canvassed for more support from government. He maintained that government should subsidize fertilizers and chemicals supply to farmers.

He expressed optimism that food production could be scaled up with government's support to farmers.

"When young people like me can be assured of seeds and some other things that we need to cultivate our crops, we'll be encouraged to do more," he said.

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