Colleagues abused me when I said I wanted to become a farmer in future —Gafar
In this interview with OMOTOMIWA GAFAR, 37 year-old Had’j Olufemi Gafar, the Managing Director of Gafo Integrated Farms In Ogun State, speaks about his life as a farmer and a businessman.
How was growing up like for you?
I was abused physically, emotionally, verbally in my primary school because I made it clear to other pupils that I wanted to become a farmer when I grew up. All I can say now is that no child should have to endure what I went through, but I really believe that it made me stronger in a weird way. I was so broke growing up that all I ever wanted was to have what the other kids had.
My first venture into the family business was during my secondary school days, 1993 to be precise. I never received allowances as a kid, You worked for what you were paid, even on my father’s farm. I started as an attendant. At the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, I studied Agricultural Extension and Rural Development and also obtained a Post Graduate diploma from same field at the University of Ibadan.
What aspect of farming are you into?
What is integrated farming system?
It’s an innovation in farming that maximises production through optimal use of local resources. It is also a system that allows effective recycling of farm wastes for productive purposes; community-led local systems for water conservation; organic farming, and developing a judicious mix of income-generating activities such as dairy, poultry, fishery, goat-rearing and others.
How long have you been into the business?
Aside being born into the livestock business, I started as a poultry attendant in Gafo Integrated Farms in 1993.
How did you come about the business idea?
My upbringing prepared me to become an agriculture practitioner in numerous ways. The biggest advantage offered to me through my upbringing is that I know myself very well. I don’t fantasise about who I wish I could be apart from myself and I don’t pretend to be what I’m not.
As a kid, I learned that if you were better than others in some aspects, for example sports, they would admire you. But I was a sore loser and usually threw tantrums and also got into fights if I lost in competitions. Funny however that till this day, I’m bitter whenever I lose out on anything, but I channel my energy into constructive works, which has driven me to be a winner.
What has been your experience so far?
It has been great so far. I have been able to learn a lot from other farm executives to the middle management and down to the lowest tier. Agricultural industry, especially poultry in Nigeria, has its pros and cons.
Is there any profession you had passion for while growing up?
I don’t think so. During a long ASUU strike when I was in the university though, I enrolled as an apprentice at a mechanic workshop in Abeokuta, which is really helping me today. For me, livestock production is in the blood. I hardly have interest in any other thing whenever I’m tending to animals and I’ve not really thought about any other profession aside farming.
What are the challenges in terms of strength, weakness, opportunities and threat you have got in the farm?
Our strength as a commercial poultry farm and egg production company is the fact that we have healthy relationships with a lot of major stakeholders in the poultry sector; both the suppliers of feed raw materials and medications and also buyers of chickens and eggs within and outside of Nigeria. We have some of the latest commercial poultry farming equipment that will help us raise and produce eggs in commercial quantities. Aside from our relationship and equipment, we can confidently boast that we have some the most experienced hands in our payroll. But we are limited by capital due to gross domestic and global economic instability in livestock industry.
Also, there is limited public awareness for the quality and quantity of the products and customer relations and the unwillingness of agricultural insurance companies to take up livestock risks and services. We should also mention insufficient communication between farmers, associations and policy makers, amongst others. We are aware of these major problems and from our projection, we plan to overcome these weaknesses with time.
Some of the challenges that we are facing are the global economic downturn that can impact negatively on household spending; bad weather and natural disasters, unfavorable government policies and the arrival of competitors within same location. High risks of getting quality day old chicks, vaccines as well as other veterinary products for safe production and husbandry. There is high cost of husbandry gadgets, especially battery cages. The smell that leads to environmental pollution problems that arise when the area develops. There is hardly anything you can do as regards these challenges other than to be optimistic that things will continue to work for your good.
The opportunities that are available to us as a poultry farm cannot be quantified. We know that there are lots of households and businesses such as hotels and fast food restaurants that can’t do without daily supply of chicken and eggs. We are well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. Government is presently supporting agriculture with various financial incentives and infrastructures.
Can you share any experience you have had that can be a source of inspiration to young people?
Let’s be honest — losing and adversity can take its toll on even the most sanguine of people. Losing is not easy, but losing is absolutely part of life. We tend to learn and grow the most from some of our worst experiences and biggest losses. In May 2018, I lost a fully automated 25,000 laying birds capacity to a storm. It tore down over 7,000 block fence. It was devastating. I was confused. I ran from one government ministry to the other, from one agency to another, but none came to my aid. That made me remember my grandfather’s advice that whenever you fall, retrace your steps, summon courage and be focused. I did just that. I went back to the manual pens Thank God today we are fully back in business with the help of friends and family. So many stories on loss of over 120,000 birds because of bad hatcheries managements, some because of fake drugs others due to egg glut, expensive raw materials, non availability of feed materials
What are the business strategies you have used in terms of marketing and employment?
With the economic and market situation in Nigeria, its difficult to grow your business through marketing with a lone strategy. But here, we’ve used some of these strategies in past. We advise one to study the trends: You may think you’re missing an opportunity if you don’t jump right into some offers. However, one of the best things you can do to achieve the market you want is to slow down and spend considerable time behind the scenes before launching anything. You should also understand your customers and focus on one on one contacts with them. That means you should familiarise yourself with your customers. Also, take advantage of the digital media to advertise your products and enlarge your customer base. Attending agricultural shows and seminars also allows you to meet your customers
Since you started, has there been any revolution in the course of operation?
Maybe from manual to automatic and all of that. Poultry has been farmed for over 4,000 years. In that time, the methods and technology have constantly been developed to meet the demands of the market. While people around the world are bracing themselves for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it seems as if the poultry industry is still stuck in the 60s in terms of technological development. Even at that, the poultry industry in Nigeria is still struggling to meet up with the standard. We started with floor rearing in the 80s and have gradually moved to manure cage system. In the early 2000, we successfully crossed to fully automated poultry system.
Based on your experience, can you say this line of business is strictly for those with agricultural science degree?
Poultry farming is a social science. You apply what you see. Our fore fathers had been rearing local chickens before the introduction of exotic and commercial birds we have today. My dad, Alhaji Olugbenga Gafar, was a medical personnel before he ventured into the poultry business. He started it with passion.
Has there been any program or seminar that has been of help to you?
There are lots of program and seminar out there to help farmers in there line of business. Firstly as a poultry farmer or associate, you need to join Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN). PAN has local zones that hold meeting/seminar for farmers once in a month through-out the nation. Other programmes to attend includes Nigeria poultry show, VIV Asia, AGRAme UAE, Canton fair China, international poultry expo Atlanta GA in the US and few others.