Umar Aliyu Akwe-Doma is the chairman of Oriya Farms Limited (OFL), a privately-owned integrated agricultural commercial farm in Doma Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. He spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday on the challenges and benefits in the sector.
How did you come up with Oriya Farms Limited?
Oriya Farms Limited was incorporated in April 2008. We engage in the upstream segment of the agricultural value chain, with investments in plantation ownership and management, livestock farming and pasture management, wood products, vegetable farming and nursery development, as well as an initiative in organic farming, which is at its infancy.
Our model is focused on the production of selected agricultural produce of high quality for food and as raw material inclusion for agro-allied and manufacturing industries. These are guaranteed by a culture of best agricultural practices in line with global trends.
What is the size of the farm and what you produce?
The products on our 1,500 hectares of land located in Doma, Nasarawa State, are as follows: perennial tree crops, which include oil palm, citrus, mango, pineapple, coconut, ogbono – irvingia gabonis or African wild mango, and pawpaw. Leading arable crops grown include groundnuts, melon, soyabeans and sesame seed for vegetable oil seeds; cowpea, maize, sorghum and millet for cereals and leguminous grains.
Our horticulture department cultivates watermelon, chili pepper, okra, garden egg and leafy green throughout the year. Yam and cassava account for precuts from our investment in the root and tuber unit.
An ultra-modern fattening complex serves as the platform for our beef fattening scheme, where cattle, sheep and goats are managed and fattened, guaranteeing unparalleled value and quality. The pasture serves the need of grazing livestock being bred.
Our activities are environmentally friendly and sustainable as by-products of one activity serves as feeder or enhancer for the other. Encouraged by the Agricultural Transformation Action Plan (ATAP) of the Federal Government of Nigeria, OFL has made significant investment in studies geared towards the realisation of an integrated food processing industry to enhance value addition in the downstream segment of the agricultural value chain, with a vision to be the world’s leading integrated agricultural enterprise.
A farm like this cannot be managed without some challenges…
Lately, one of the major challenges in our area of operations has been security of lives and property. We have had to scale down on some of our operations to mitigate recurrent illegal incursion by rustlers and other criminal elements. Losses over time include, but are not limited to herds of cattle, solar panels, borehole pumping machines, harvested farm produce like melon, sesame, among others.
Similarly, due to government policy, the farm has a land measuring 1169.55 hectares, but it was forcibly acquired by the Nasarawa State Government for overriding public interest on May 22, 2013.
Having submitted our interests and claims in line with the notice of public acquisition within the stipulated period, and following assessment by the state government compensation committee, and owing to this acquisition, we are yet to be compensated. This has affected the goodwill and brand image of the company, besides the loss of business since the date of acquisition.
We have had to lay off about 60 permanent staff from our employment as a result of drop in scale of operations, owing to this acquisition. This is besides having to explore other avenues to settle facilities acquired from financial institutions. The impact of this acquisition to us has been enormous and has grossly affected the growth of the company, which was adjudged the best farm by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in 2008/2009.
Who was the beneficiary of the farmland acquired by the government?
The state took part of the farmland and donated it to the Nigerian Army and is presently located as the Forward Operations Base of the Army, along Doma-Lafia road.
What are the benefits of farming, especially as the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is encouraging people to go into agriculture?
Benefits of engaging in agricultural activities and agribusiness are enormous. Beside serving as a revenue earner, it provides employment for a large number of the populace who come from all walks of life. It also contributes, ultimately, to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country and is a training ground for farmers, artisans etc. It contributes by guaranteeing food security.
How are you coping with scarcity of implements?
Implements are not scarce, it is rather appropriate to say that they are expensive and beyond the reach of the average farmer. So, some are constrained to hire various farm machinery and implements at higher costs, compared to what it would have amounted to if they were owned. This affects the volume of cultivation and production ultimately.
How are you coping with the problem of adulterated pesticides and herbicides?
These are readily available in the market. What has been of concern is the level of adulteration by some companies of not only pesticides but herbicides and other agro-chemicals. Once the purity of these farm inputs is compromised, products of agricultural activity becomes polluted/unsafe for humans and animals.
Are government agricultural policies beneficial to farmers?
In Nasarawa State, so much is left to be desired. There has not been a defining agricultural agenda/policy when compared to the regime of Governor Abdullahi Adamu (1991-2007) and that of the late Aliyu Akwe-Doma (2007-2011). The benefits or gains associated with the award- winning Badakoshi Agricultural Programme have not been sustained. Government has not been supportive of small and mid-scale farmers. The policy of government is biased in favour of corporate farmers like Olam, and of recent, Dangote.
How are you coping with thieves?
We have had to invest much on security personnel to provide round-the-clock security.
What is the strength of your permanent staff?
We had to downsize from 107 to 30 personnel across various disciplines and cadres.
Is there availability of labourers, as most rural people of Nasarawa are farmers? How many do you hire at harvest time?
At the zenith of our operations, and prior to mechanisation, we hired up to 350 labourers on daily pay, mostly women. But this came down to 150, with investment in machineries. However, the number of labourers depends on the nature of operations and timing. The demand varies if it is a harvest operation for yam, melon, sesame or groundnut, for example.