It’s not a man’s world, but its ours, women should stand up for their needs —Olamide Alabi, founder UMERA Farms
Olamide Alabi is the founder of UMERA Farms and the Chief Executive Officer of CEO WOMEN, a non-governmental organisation, that helps women to become entrepreneurs. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, she speaks about her foray into farming, how being daughter of former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala saved her from land grabbers, among other issues. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to go into farming despite having a Master’s degree in Human Resources?
I studied Sociology for my first degree and Human Resources for my Master’s degree. I just love being a business-woman, I love entrepreneurship. It gives me joy doing something on my own. I had the opportunity to work on my father’s farm for a while. While working on the farm, though it wasn’t something that I found delight in doing, when I got to the farm and I found out what it really entailed, the kind of value we were adding, I adjusted to it and I decided to start my own. I am into all sorts of farming now; poultry, cattle-rearing, fishery. Right now we just started a cashew plantation which is the biggest project we are working on right now. We are working on about two million square metres of land. Of course, we cannot do it alone; we are doing it with other people and that is why I think ambition is very key in farming today if people can join hands together and build something that is big and worthwhile.
What were the challenges you faced when you started?
I have been doing this since 2015. There are lots and lots of challenges in agriculture. I don’t think there is any business or venture that does not have its challenges. We had challenges but we are getting past them. For instance, I raised broilers for meat and we usually source for day old chicks from the hatchery. We used to get it at N120, N150 but all of a sudden, the price started skyrocketing. You can see that the economy isn’t really stable, it keeps going back and forth. Then, we started getting it at N250, N280, N300, we were still getting it at that amount but the price of chicken is not even going up. We are now getting it at N350 and so on and we are still selling chicken at the same price. So, for people like us who are medium scale business owners, when we have to get these chicks at 390, 400 you won’t believe that as of today it is N550. Tell me, if I buy a day-old chick today at N550 and I raise it with another N600 or N700 and I am expected to sell it at N1,000. Meanwhile the big sharks are selling it for N700, N800, N900, so you can see who we are competing against. I had this discussion with some of my friends who are poultry farmers and some of us are just scared to collect these birds because if we do, will the consumers want to buy them from us at this price? Then, we will be running at a loss. Let’s not even talk about the prices of feed, corn and others. So, these are some of the problems we face but because of the passion we have for farming and the value we want to continue adding, I don’t think we are going to lose interest. We just need to push through and make sure we get to where we are going.
Until recently, farming was an exclusive reserve of men, what is the experience like working in a perceived male-dominated field?
Some of my partners are women and we are three women doing this together and we have had too much fun. Before I decided to pick Ogbomoso in Oyo State as my location for farming, I went for a farm meeting in Epe, Lagos State, in 2016 and all of them were women. They usually have their meetings every week. Some planted cucumber, others pepper in their greenhouses. Nigerian women are really getting into farming and it is interesting.
What can government do to assist women in farming?
What they can do to assist us basically is to give us grants. However, grants are not as important as regulation. We need to regulate prices of agricultural produce in this country. For instance, I mentioned poultry earlier, if the price can be regulated, it will help small and middle scale farmers a lot. Government can meet with them and make sure that the prices of these things are regulated not just female farmers but farmers generally.
As a woman, how have you been able to combine farming with the home front?
I try as much as possible to create a balance. We must place priorities on the things that are important to us per time. My farm is in Ogbomosho, but I live in Ibadan. So, I leave very early in the morning, drop the children in school and I am off. I spend about four to five hours in the farm and then I am back again. I do this four or five times a week but I make sure that I create a balance between work and family.
We have a lot of graduates including those who studied Agriculture who are still roaming the streets looking for white collar jobs. What advice do you have for them?
Whenever I see youths roaming around the streets, I take out time to speak to them and let them know that their destiny is in their hands and in the hands of God, not in the hands of the government. You studied Agronomy or Agricultural Science and you are roaming around the streets; it does not make any sense. One of the problems of the youth is that some of them believe that everything rises and falls in the city, but it does not. If you could afford school fees; you can afford one acre of land and start from somewhere. I saw something on YouTube about a woman who owns one acre of land and cuts one part for poultry, one part for piggery and one part for banana plantation. She did it in a way that everything was so integrated, and it all relied on each other. If you really studied Agricultural Science, then what is the problem? Why can’t you just go into farming if you’ve not gotten a job? Asides from that, I think we are just teaching the students we are not preparing them for life. I am not living based on what I learnt from school, rather, it is from the self-development that I gathered for myself. Self-development is very important, you need to go out and motivate yourself, you need to inspire yourself, you need to read books, you need to get knowledge. Knowledge is what will help you to navigate through life.
What was your parents’ reaction when you told them you wanted to go into farming?
My father was so excited. He asked me if I was sure and I said yes. I was going to buy land and he said that he wanted to take me on a ride to a small town. He said that he had some acres of land there and he gave it to me. I could have bought the land because I was saving up to buy it and already had the money but he gave me the land. Anytime he comes to the farm, he is happy and delighted. My mother too has been supporting me with her prayers.
Apart from farming, what other things do you do?
Apart from farming, which is the core of what I do, we try as much as possible to give back to the society. I have a foundation called CEO Women, we help women to become entrepreneurs. We are working on a project right now and I don’t want to discuss the project but once the project is out I will.
How has been the daughter of a politician helped you in your career?
I don’t carry it on my forehead, so, apart from the fact that there is a striking resemblance between me and my dad, if you don’t know you don’t know because I always keep low profile. The cashew plantation that I am working on, when I got there, on the land we had issues with ‘omo onile.’ They wanted to fight me and do all sorts. We sat down to discuss and I asked them, ‘do you people know Alao-Akala? They said yes. I asked them if he was wicked to them and they said no and that he was the best they have had so far. I told them I am his daughter, and I would never do anything to wrong them. They said ‘ah aunty’ and looked at my face with shocking expressions and said ‘you really look like your dad. Whenever you want to start working on this land you can start.’ That was how we started working on the land. Also, the community had been disturbing us in that they don’t have water. They usually fetch water from the river and Fulani herdsmen usually disturb them during dry season. They had to struggle with cows to get water. We made a borehole for them and they were so excited, in fact, the whole village came out and they pounded yam, made vegetable and soup. I was so delighted as they could come to me and make their requests because they knew who my father was, and my company was also able to help them.
What is your view about feminism?
I don’t like to talk about that topic because I am not a feminist. I believe we are all human. I believe women should be respected and I believe men should be respected. I believe as a woman, if you want something, go and get it, I don’t believe in asking for permission. But if you have a husband at home, there is a way you can honour him and still get what you want. God has given us a special gift that when you want something we can get it without nagging, crying or making a demand for it. When a woman wants something, she should stand up and get it. I don’t believe it is a man’s world, I believe it is our world because God created man and woman.
What lessons has life taught you?
Let me go from the angle of being an entrepreneur. Start early. Do not doubt yourself. When you have problems, push through those problems and above all, believe in God, trust Him and He will show you the way. I have enjoyed life, I have lived life but when I tasted life with God, it was totally different because there is this peace that I experienced as a human being and I want to believe that the peace can only come from one source and that is God.
What advice do you have for our young people out there?
I will say that education is important. Get it, but at the same time you need to educate yourself on the streets. You need to get certification. When you know that there is a leadership or career conference make sure you attend. You will get more from those conferences than from the four walls of the university or the secondary school. I believe in self-development. If you develop yourself that will help you to succeed in life.
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