Mr. Justus Kachikwu, is the Chairman of Cassava Farmers Association, Delta State, and also an agro-allied businessman who said there are opportunities in the agro-allied industry which need more investment, while the government is to provide the enabling environment. He spoke with Grace Azubuike in this interview.
Why did you venture into agric business?
I was brought up as a farmer by my parents, which also contributed to my interest in agro-allied business. I started my agro-allied business in cassava processing and cultivation and it was fascinating and profitable to me.
Why did you prefer venturing into agric business instead of a paid employment as your counterparts from the university?
Before I ventured into agric business, I was a businessman. I saw it as a career that will help me in future, and also a lot of people are not into farming because of the perception and mind-set they have towards agriculture.
How did you start the agro-allied business in cassava processing?
It was the training I got in cassava processing from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Federal Ministry of Agriculture, including other agencies that know about industrial benefits of cassava processing. It also made me to understand the profitability of cassava cultivation, although it is capital intensive.
How do you carry out the processing of cassava as far as value adding is concerned?
Like I said, the IITA trained me in processing cassava flour, which I knew very well. I even got a contract with a flour mill in Sapele, Delta State to supply cassava flour. It requires some machines to carry out the packaging that is acceptable internationally, otherwise you cannot package it the way you want.
How many tons of cassava do you produce to meet your customers' demand?
Well, it depends on the demand placed by the customers. Another thing is that the annual hectares I cultivate are not regular; sometimes two or three hectares of farmland for cassava cultivation, because I am not into full scale mechanised farming. Presently, I hired about 300 hectares of farmland from various communities. My challenge is the capital to cultivate it.
How many workers did you employ in this farm?
Presently, I have three workers on the farm. I only placed them on contract because I do not want to place them on daily pay, and also I am not always available. That is what I've decided to do for now.
Do you think the agro-allied industry is capable of providing jobs for the teeming population of youths in Nigeria?
Yes. It is capable of providing massive jobs for our youths, if it is well handled by the public and private sectors. This issue of employment generation by the agro-allied sub-sector of the economy can go a long way in solving the problem of youth unemployment in the country.
Unfortunately, most of our youths do not have interest in the business of agriculture; rather they prefer to go for white-collar jobs. There are no enough entrepreneurs in the agro-allied industry, because most of the youths do not want to start from the scratch, but for employment generation, it can decongest the over bloated labour market.
Now that fertilizer distribution is taken from the middle-men, do you think the way the government is handling it is in order?
The way it's being handled by the government is in order, especially the Growth Enhancement Support (GES), although the commodity dealers are not properly carried along, because some of them are farmers who combine agro-allied business with it. They are supposed to come to the table with the government.
What I mean is people who are not farmers are grabbing what belongs to the real farmers. For instance, the GES beneficiaries are not the real farmers, and once they grab it, they sell it back to farmers. It would have been good if the real farmers come to table with the government to solve this problem, especially through the commodity associations that are being monitored by the government.
Do you think enough agro-allied products are getting to the rural farmers?
The issue is this, the average rural farmer does not believe in mechanised farming, because they do not use them. Another thing is that the rural farmers does not have the means of getting agro-allied products, and also they are not properly educated on agro-allied products.
The commodity association has a lot to do which is more than arranging for loans for their members; rather they are to always enlighten these farmers on anything that concerns agriculture; the chemical, technical and other aspects of agriculture.
Talking about agro-allied business in Nigeria, do you think it's growing and making impact in the economy?
Actually, it is making impact at the government level, but the poor farmer do not know anything about processing and the industrial nature of agriculture, because they do not believe in anything agro-allied, they only believe in garri and fufu processing. It is not the fault of the local farmer because he is not exposed to agro-allied product. Like me, I was exposed to the agro-allied business by the various trainings I received from the IITA before I knew the benefits of the agro-allied venture.
Is the government doing enough for agro-allied business to thrive in Nigeria?
Yes, of course. They are encouraging that, but the local farmer has not clearly understood what the agro-allied business is all about, because they believe in producing and selling it unprocessed in the market just to meet immediate needs. Also the local farmer does not produce in commercial quantity annually.
What you think the government should do to improve agro-allied business in Nigeria?
Government has already taken some steps by establishing the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), making sure that SMEs are funded, because it is the SMEs that go direct to the local farmers, whereby the output is increased by the local farmer. The government should ensure that there is direct contact with SMEs so that they can thrive in agro-allied business.
Do we have enough agro-allied companies in Nigeria?
Yes, there are many agro-allied companies in Nigeria, but again, the government tends to focus on the bigger ones, but there are others who are not really carried along. The situation with the small ones is pathetic in terms of output because some of their outputs are not up to one ton in a month.
Do you think the agro-allied industry can help government achieve the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA)?
Yes, because of their role in the value-chain, by helping the farmer to achieve higher input, and help the farmer to take their products to the market.
Is agro-allied business thriving well in Delta State?
Yes, the Delta government is doing its best in that direction, for instance it has established six cassava processing industries in the state.