Olamide Alabi-Jacobs is the Chief Executive Officer of UMèRA, an agriculture company that focuses on different aspects such as crop cultivation and animal production, among others. In this interview with FEMI IBIROGBA, she speaks about the challenges facing the sector and how the government can strengthen the value-chain.
People are shying away from agriculture, but from the fashion business, you seem to be shifting focus to agriculture. Why?
I have always been in agriculture. I guess the city life and all the glamour is why most people don’t know that aspect of my life and I have dedicated more time to it. My father owns a poultry farm and cashew plantation, which I had to work on. At first, it wasn’t really an enthusiastic idea, but when I started working on it, I enjoyed it. I would travel at least twice a week to visit the farm. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to start mine. Sometimes, we love things that we least expect. It is best not to frown at opportunities because we never know what we would love.
Meanwhile, I am into animal production: broilers for meat, and they are raised organically. We also raise layers for egg production, cattle, and fishery.
We just started working on phase one of the cashew plantations that will be sitting on 20 million square meters of land.
What major agricultural challenges have you identified and how best to solve them?
There are areas of agriculture that need scaling up so we don’t need to import some agricultural produce. Recently, there was a corn crisis in Nigeria and it really affected poultry farmers negatively. The government also banned the importation of corn during the crisis and later gave permission to a few companies to import. This inconsistency in policy goes a long way in damaging businesses.
Corn has no alternative when it comes to some aspects of animal husbandry and even if we have an extra 1,000,000 acres of land, it won’t be enough. This is why aggregation is the gateway to progress in agriculture.
Are you satisfied with the way Nigeria is practising agriculture compared to other countries in Africa and others?
I think we are getting better daily. We lost focus on agriculture in the past but I will say that I am impressed by the developments I see in the agricultural sector. At UMèRA, we have not launched the nutty Park Cashew Plantation, but we have over 100 investors. This simply means people are interested in agriculture. I believe agriculture is a single aspect of life that we cannot do without. What value is in money if you cannot find food to buy?
People are still not tapping into the opportunities in agriculture. How do we change their orientation?
It is only people who live in cities that probably think that way. A lot of young people definitely farm. The problem is a lot of young people would not want to give up city life for life on the farm. I think the orientation is already changing gradually, because of social media. Young people are getting more interested, especially through aggregate agriculture. Just last week, I trained young people on opportunities in agriculture.
How would you describe the efforts of the government to make youths participate in agriculture?
According to the President of the African Development Bank, Africa is still importing $34 billion worth of foods yearly and this must be minimized. So, I applaud the government for banning some food items. This has given rise to rice farmers, poultry farmers and hopefully it will give rise to corn farmers too.
Do you think there should be incentives for students who study agriculture or agriculture-related courses?
I think giving scholarships would help.
Some stakeholders are investing in farm estates. Do you think this is the right step to ensure food production and security?
Yes, it helps to scale up food production that makes economic sense and not just the regular subsistence farming.
Are you in any form of partnership with the government?
No; not at the moment. I am open to it though. At the moment, I have other partners with whom I work with.