Mrs Bola Adeyemo is a retired bank manager who is now into agriculture – Vitamin A cassava cultivation and processing into various products in Eruwa area of Oyo State – creating jobs for tens of people and empowering hundreds of women in agribusinesses. She sheds more light on financing challenges in agribusiness, her business and projects in this interview with
FEMI IBIROGBA. Excerpts:
As a banker turned agribusiness woman, what actually motivated you to start an agribusiness?
My agribusiness started through the urge to help other people and also to do business. Agribusiness is a business that grows everyday and that is one of my main interests. Looking at the rural community, the need is enormous. I’ve been able to set up a microfinance scheme for them, give them money to plough the land twice, to weed and they are expected to pay after the harvest.
Where is your farm?
I have my farm in my husband’s village in Eruwa axis. I went there because agribusiness is a business you must do on a dependable farmland so that when your farm is fully grown, someone would not come and displace you. That is why I have decided to farm there.
You are involved in vitamin A cassava stems dissemination. How effective are your distribution and farmers’ response to vitamin A cassava cultivation?
I think I will let you know why and how I got into vitamin A cassava itself. Back then, whenever I branched at the village to say hello to the children and women, I observed that at least twice in a week, I would pick a baby to the hospital, always falling sick, but after enquiry from the doctor after I had paid, the doctor made me realise that what they were eating was not good enough; that was what was aggravating infections. One of those days I was just reading a newspaper in my office in Ibadan and I heard that there would be a syndicate meeting that was held somewhere about a product coming out, vitamin A cassava. I picked the newspaper and phoned the reporter to know where he got the information and he told me the meeting was at IITA. So I came to IITA when I started my farming project to have a little bit of information on the cassava. On enquiry, I was told that it was true but when it was time for farm trial, I would be got on board. That was how I came on board; because of my passion for the nutrition of the rural community. As I’m talking to you, to the glory of God, I’ve reached close to 10,000 farming households in terms of giving then planting packs, training and awareness.
What effect has vitamin A cassava had on the health of those children?
Seriously, it has affected them positively, but I cannot say this is the figure. However, each time I produce vitamin A cassava garri, it is always sold, and the families that I used to give for free are always asking for more. Another way I know it has affected the rural community is that the number of women that have started producing chin-chin and other products from cassava (vitamin A) flour is on the increase and I have discovered that even stark illiterate farmers came to me and said, “we all eat the garri and fufu, but we also need vitamin A cassava flour based chin-chin to chew while working on the farm.”
How can women be empowered to be more productive in agriculture?
Empowerment of women needs good leadership and my heart yearns that more educated women should come into agriculture to provide leadership for these rural women. I’ve been able to identify their problems. By the time they want to prepare the land, most of the time they cannot hold N4,000 to rent a tractor because, as they try to gather the money, the household needs something. They cannot close their eyes to the needs of the family. So far, in my own little effort, I’ve been able to assist a few of them to have money to prepare and maintain the land and pay back after the harvest.
Apart from your microfinance project, in what other ways are you helping the women?
I’m assisting them in developing their business from their agribusiness life. Many of them have started producing chin-chin from Vitamin A cassava flour. I’ve started re-organising their processing environment so that they can add good value to their products and have more money. They are now adding value to their raw products.
What can the government do to assist these farmers apart from individual interventions?
The government needs to be sincere and provide them infrastructure like processing centres. We need water. I’m going to carry placards and letters to the local government to please make a borehole that is close to the processing centre, because if they don’t have water, trekking to fetch water to wash the tuber is really difficult.
Oyo State AFAN recently claimed that they had four tractors for 1.8 million farmers. Is this business when we talk about agriculture?
That is not a business if we look at the ratio. I want to find out if they were the last set of tractors bought. You will still need to find out from them how often do they break down? What I’m saying is that even the tractors do not work well. In my farm, I have one tractor and it is still not enough for me to manage my personal farm, compared with millions of farmers. And that is not the only problem. After renting the tractor and harvesting the product, the road is bad. I have some youths and take 10 of them to farm everyday, but I observe that if I’m not there, they do not have the zeal to work because there is no motivation.
What do you think is the solution to lack of interest in agriculture by youths?
Increasing funding to agriculture will go a long way. This will imply more tractors and other farm inputs are made available. A big cassava processor in Nigeria said farmers could never get loan facilities from banks. He got N8 million loan because they knew he is in processing and he has other means to pay the money. They are not giving him the money to plant cassava.
So, this is one of the problems. I once approached a commercial bank and the manager told me that I should not waste my time, that the fund released to the bank by the Central Bank of Nigeria had been given to a particular farmer that was into full agriculture and production, but they knew he had other means to pay the money. [SOURCE: TRIBUNE]