The chairman of Ilaji Farms in Akanran, Ona-Ara Local Government Area of Oyo State, Engr. Dotun Sanusi, in this interview with SAHEED SALAWU, speaks on the fortune of agriculture in Nigeria and other related issues.
You are an engineer by training but you have become a stakeholder in agriculture given the substantial investment you have made in the sector, what is the attraction?
I am investing in agriculture due to the passion I have for it. The passion was borne out of the culture of our fathers and the agricultural practices that we were taught in school. What makes investment in agriculture imperative now is the dwindling price of the crude oil in recent times. And having been in the oil and gas sectors for some time, I am convinced that there is no better time for diversification than now.
Aside from this, in the course of my travels to other parts of the world, I discovered that my foreign partners, especially the Chinese, who are also into oil and gas, were into agricultural practices. Each of them was proud to showcase their farm to visitors. So, agricultural investment is about interest, not necessarily about the amount of money you have in your bank accounts. For instance, we started our farms with a few hectares of land but today, by God’s grace, we have over 100 hectares. We started with the planting of vegetables. Later, we got into livestock, particularly poultry farming, which we are presently into. Over 50 people are working and living in the farm. What gladdens my heart is that the farm has made some of those who used to depend on me for money independent through getting buyers for our eggs. And they do not only make money for themselves but they also make money for the farm.
You just painted a picture of a farm settlement, an initiative of the then Western Region government. Would you advocate something like that as a way of solving the problem of unemployment in the country?
That is the point I have been trying to make. At this juncture, I commend the governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, for making this kind of initiative thrive and for encouraging potential foreign and local investors. I remember that about three years ago, he had a fruitful discussion with some of us, potential investors, as regards the economic development of the state and finding solution to youth unemployment. Not long ago, we needed some personnel at the farm and we posted vacancies on a board. More than 2,000 graduates applied, among whom were Master’s degree holders.
Your farm is said to be bidding to increase the number of its birds from 75,000 to 500,000 with the help of your Chinese associates. How is this working out?
Our intention is to transfer Chinese technology and expertise to Ilaji Farms such that we will be able to use waste generated by the birds for electricity generation, which we will be using to power the farm and the entire Akanran community.
How feasible is this project?
It is very much feasible. I have seen it done in China. We want to increase our birds to 500,000 in order to generate waste enough for use in the making of fertiliser. Some of the waste will be used in the production of biogas. Only the technology – caging and packaging systems – is imported; the birds and manpower are sourced locally, here in Oyo State. I have visited some farms in China and no waste is disposed; everything is being used to generate fertiliser and biogas. That is exactly what we want to do at Ilaji Farms. It may be capital intensive initially but in the long run, it pays. It gulps a huge amount of money to get rid of the waste we presently generate at the farm. A lot of money also goes into buying diesel to power the farm.
No visionary leader will ever toy with agriculture, because it is the lifeblood of any society. Oil will dry up one day but agriculture will never cease to be. A perfect example is the United Arab Emirates. They used the money they generated from Abu Dhabi – an oil-producing emirate – to develop other emirates, especially Dubai. The government made Dubai very attractive, having discovered that it is the centre of the globe. Today, Dubai is the most visited place after New York [in the United States of America]. Millions of dollars is being generated through tourism and interestingly, Abu Dhabi, which used to be a money-spinning city, is not as rich as Dubai due to the fall in crude oil prices.
Having experienced both the oil and gas and agricultural sectors, the latter being the direction in which the Federal Government is now moving, do you think the government is going about its agricultural drive the right way?
It is not about policy, it is about attitude. There is the need for attitudinal change. We need to believe that we want to make this country great again. We had no reason to abandon agriculture in the first instance, because God has given us the land, a fertile one for that matter. If you fly over this country, you will find that virtually everywhere is covered with green vegetation. It rains sufficiently unlike Dubai where it only rains once in a while. If all of us believe this, then you don’t need to have a farm as big as Ilaji Farms before you can go into agriculture. We can start in a very small way. I grew up watching my mother rear chickens and goats. Then in my secondary school days, each student was apportioned a farm to cultivate and we were happy when we saw our crops growing.
Are you advocating a national orientation?
Exactly, that is what we need to do. Our fathers who were into cocoa farming back in the days did not have the technology we have now yet they had farms and some of them were prosperous. Let everyone go into agriculture first and in the process the government can come in.
It is left for all of us, especially family heads, to fashion ways to pay our bills. And the ready way out God has given to us in agriculture – growing crops and rearing animals, birds, or fish commercially. We should be realistic, how do we expect a government that is battling crises at every front to be able to concentrate on the general economic wellbeing of the people?
But isn’t taking care of the people what the government is meant for?
If it is meant for that, then let us have attitudinal change. We need to work for Nigeria to survive – not that when some are moving it forward, some will be dragging it backwards. It is only in Nigeria you find the citizens sabotaging the government’s efforts just to prove a point.
What areas do you think the government of Oyo State should focus on aside from the ones you have highlighted?
The present governor has tried a lot in terms of making the state thrive economically. I have found out that each local government in the state has a bulldozer, tractors and a borehole drilling machine. With these equipment, the administrators do not have any excuse for not making their councils economically viable. They should be able to go into farming by looking at the needs of their communities. The government needs to mandate them to put these machines to maximum use and then bring something to the centre. It is important to state here that every province in China must produce something not only for itself but also for the centre. Before you become a mayor in China, you must have been able to record significant achievements at the provincial level. At Ilaji Farms, we spend between N8 million and N10 million monthly to buy corns to feed our birds. Imagine our host local government, Ona-Ara, going into maize plantation, they will definitely be our suppliers, which means they will be making these millions from us every month. Besides, what about the employments such a farming exercise will generate? It means that the local government does not need to wait for government allocation before they can carry out their various functions and yet they will be able to generate income for the state and federal governments.
Where do you like to see Ilaji Farms in the next 10 years?
Ilaji Farms, in the next years, by God’s grace, should be an international competitor. From our blueprints, in that period, we want to have over 100,000 people that will be working and living in the farm.
In fact, we should be able to achieve this in just four years, because presently, we have over 50 people working and living in the farm and by the time we achieve the 500,000 birds, we will have something closer to that figure. We are building a games village in the farm and very soon we shall be having communication gadgets in the farm whereby our workers will be able to know what goes on in any part of the globe. By the time we finish this, it is going to be a mini city.
How do you unwind?
I try to relax anytime I go out of the country. I use that time to meditate and see how I can bring my country in tandem with the foreign country I am visiting.
What is your advice for graduates who are grappling with unavailability of jobs in the country?
They need to have a strong determination and prevent the employment situation in the country from letting their talents go to waste. The company that I am running today, I started it from scratch. In a nutshell, I charge our youths to see opportunities in any situation rather than challenges.
Quote: It is left for all of us, especially family heads, to fashion ways to pay our bills. And the ready way out God has given to us in agriculture – growing crops and rearing animals, birds, or fish commercially.
Source: Nigerian Tribune