Aderonke Eko-Aderinoye, founder of Agrihub Nigeria, says farmers face more pressing issues.
Aderonke Eko-Aderinoye is the founder of Agrihub Nigeria. She is a trained agribusiness coach and cultivates orange-fleshed sweet potatoes but currently is into food processing. Ms Eko-Aderinoye owns her business in Ogun State. In this episode of our Women in Agriculture, she shares her experience.
PT: Help us understand your journey in agriculture.
Ms Eko: My journey into agriculture is a bit unusual especially for someone who was born and brought up in the heart of Lagos. I had my education from primary to university within Surulere and Yaba in Lagos, however, I would say my foray started in my teenage years, by a desire to see changes in the food systems. At that time which is over 20 years ago by the way I could see the problems we were facing in the agric sector. None of my classmates mentioned agriculture as a career prospect, even my agriculture teacher then didn’t see a career prospect in agriculture and advised I do something different in university. So the journey started then because I was not surrounded by anything relating directly to agriculture I was always inquisitive to know more and make enquiries about how things could be better.
During NYSC I had my first exposure to the rural life and the everyday realities of smallholder farmers, my first exposure to value chains in the rural north and affirming the many questions in my mind from my teenage years. So I actively became active in agriculture after my service year. I started off volunteering at a farm in Epe, I brought in so many ideas but insecurity issues and kidnappings were happening in the area then, the farm owner did not think it was safe for me to continue working on the farm especially as a female after an incident had happened nearby.
But my short stay volunteering there made me realise in harsh terms what was required to run a farm. I needed capital, I needed to get creative about funding, so I started making clothes to raise money, I got a large contract and the company was so gracious to pay a young novice like me upfront, I outsourced the contract and went about trying to figure out how to set up my farm. The person I outsourced to messed up the contract so I had to use the money for the “farm” to remedy the situation and even incurred more debt as to remedy a situation is always more expensive than doing it right from the beginning, so I was down to negative as I no longer had capital and was in debt.
I had to take up a job so that started my foray into banking, I worked in the banking sector for five years across various departments, I paid off the debt, started a farm and took a number of courses through the leave periods while I was there. I realised farming cannot be done successfully part time especially with the type of human resource we have in the sector, you were either full time or just invest your money somewhere else, so I left the bank in 2016 and started Keeko Food Hub first which was primarily to connect farmers with buyers and then Agrihub Nigeria which was focused of building farming clusters and facilitate collaborations across selected value chains and now manufacturing.
PT: Some significant government policies with regards to agricultural development narrows a specific pathway to support women like the Anchor Borrowers Programme, Agricultural Promotion Policy etc, and until recently the government rolled out inputs to farmers. Do you think the government has sufficient clarity about the role of women in agric development in the country?
Ms Eko: These programmes are not really gender-specific, they focused on the agriculture sector, we don’t really have gender-specific programmes in agriculture by the government. That said, there is also a misconception that agriculture is only about farmers in the farm, there is a wide array of activities across the value chain, and to a large extent, women in agriculture are excluded because they are in these other parts of the value chain, a lot of times also because women are not involved in the design and execution of programmes for women. In my experience engaging communities and small holder farmers, agents that go into fields to transfer knowledge are men, culturally women would not speak up in those types of meetings especially when it’s a gathering of a mix by women and men. I find when I call for women-only meetings and engage them without men present I get more information and feedback from them and they are more open to responding to my questions because I am female. Truth is access to development programmes are tough to both men and women in the field that genuinely need to access them, the real farmers that need intervention are not able to access it due to a combination of factors.
PT: How you will assess the often criticized Bank of Agriculture as a Nigerian farmer and as a woman farmer, considering the centrality of financing in the success of agric development, what will be your recommended model?
Ms Eko: Truth is when you look at the foundation policies and ideas that set up BOA, it was with good intent and a noble cause but the strength of a system, organisation or institution is only as good as the people within it or saddled with the responsibility of executing the tenets.
Unfortunately, the BOA has failed to meet up to expectations and times have changed, how financing in agriculture is done now has evolved, the types of funding required has also evolved so there is a need to be innovative about agriculture financing especially leveraging technology to reach the farmers at the grassroots, but the question now is do the “people” within the BOA have the capacity to come up with these innovative solutions and project into the future and figure out the financing needs of the agriculture sector in Nigeria over the next 20 years and come up with these required solutions that would stem food insecurity in the country? That is the real question that needs to be answered.
PT: Storage and preservation were thought to be important segments for the agric value chain. So beyond price stabilisation, is there other unseen value that our power storage culture is imposing on our market?
Ms Eko: The truth is there are so many technologies that don’t require power for storage and preservation however this rides on my response to the previous question: there are loads of technologies that can be deployed not necessarily using grid power, but do the farmers have access to this knowledge and technologies? Do they have access to the finances to procure these technologies?
Do the innovations in the research institutes reach the farmers? Are research institutes basing their research on the problems raised or experienced by farmers? are they able to access funding to do this? The truth is innovation and R&D can be expensive and take time, does the Nigerian system allow innovation to thrive?
For this question has research been carried out and data gathered to highlight the unseen value that our power storage culture is imposing on our market? This should not be a question answered with personal opinions but with data and facts, it in itself should be a research topic.
PT: Talking of priorities now, would you vote that we promote an export market or develop an internal value-addition industrial outfit?
Ms Eko: They are not mutually exclusive, industries are importing a lot of their raw materials because they cannot get quality in the right quantity consistently, the export market requires quality supplied consistently. So really at the end of the day if we produce high quality, in volumes for local industries consistently at a competitive price we would definitely be able to supply the export market. We don’t really have GAP/ food safety standards for agriculture in Nigeria that guides farmers and those in the downstream sector of the agriculture sector and that really is what is needed to drive production to meet the requirements for industry and the export market, as I said it’s not mutually exclusive.
PT: How can we break the logjam around fertilizer procurement and fair systems of distribution that rewards farmers, the market and the nation?
Ms Eko: The answer to this question is very similar to the BOA question, a system is only as good as the people within the system and to implement those systems and processes as well as those to enforce implementation and also on the capacity to develop innovative solutions that solve root causes and not symptoms.
Also, in this day and time fertiliser procurement is the least of the issues facing farmers now, this notion of supplying fertilisers to farmers solves the problem of farmers should be thrown out of the window as we have clearly seen that with all the fertilisers supplied to farmers the cost of food has consistently increased and productivity in terms of yield per sqm has not improved significantly. It is also not a one fertiliser fits all, crop production and the art of fertilising the soil is actually a science, NPK is not the solution for all crops and in all locations.
PT: Will you favour significant fiscal measures as a principle of promoting innovation? This is talking about tax. Will tax promote innovations?
Ms Eko: Truth is boiling down to my previous comments: taxation is only as effective as the accountability attached to it. So really the truth is taxation in isolation cannot promote innovation and i am not sure i have come across cases in which it does, but there are many creative ways to encourage innovation, where the environment is conducive and capacity is present, innovation will thrive, it’s difficult for a hungry person, scared about insecurity, and unsure how to pay the bills for the month because he has just lost his livelihood to be taxed or be encouraged to develop innovative solutions.
PT: The big elephant in the room is security these days and I don’t want to let you end this discussion until I ask you of the farmers/ herders crisis across the nation.
Ms Eko: I believe the security issue can be resolved by the security forces and various arms/levels of government if there is a genuine and collective sincerity in the desire to put an end to it, i am sure I am not in a position to proffer solutions to what clearly is no longer about competition for farmland or space for grazing.
PT: The question of land is increasingly becoming most problematic for agricultural development, how do you manage it?
Ms Eko: I am not sure what you mean by land becoming problematic for agricultural development, land is available, I don’t believe there is shortage of land for agriculture in Nigeria, nor do I believe there is really a problem of access to land. Maybe accessibility to land in terms of road network, perfecting land documentation, insecurity in certain locations and co may be the issues but I won’t say land in itself is a problem, land is available for lease in most places and if you have the funds available to buy.
PT: One last question, what does it mean for a woman to make a significant difference in agriculture?
Ms Eko: The point we are in Nigeria now, it’s how can anyone make a significant difference in agriculture. We need to begin to think long term, allow for indigenous innovation and research and capacity building, when I say capacity building it is not just training, webinars, and workshops it goes beyond that. It requires a lot of resilience, continuous learning and most importantly collaboration.
We should avoid the competition attitude and hinge on collaborating and build solutions that do not benefit only you as an individual or business but the collective. We can only rise by how we collectively are able to push the boundaries for growth and development.