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‘How we produce 60,000 chickens without synthetic antibiotics, vaccines’

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Olunowo

Mr Olusola Olunowo is the Managing Director of Agropark Development Company Ltd, an agro-resort investment at Ajale, in Abeokuka North Local Government Area of Ogun State. He spoke with FEMI IBIROGBA on how the farm runs sustainably.

What is the idea of Agro-park?
The idea is basically about wealth creation using the natural resources that we have in the country. Statistically, Nigeria has over 36 million hectares of arable farmland, and we have over 180 million people. So, the combination of both figures is where Nigeria’s wealth is situated.

And that is what we are focusing on; that is, how people as can harness the farmland resources. We are looking at how we can pool resources from the people to cultivate the farmland and create wealth for the nation. That is what we have been doing. We found out that within the 180 million people, a lot of people have resources but they cannot go to agriculture. So, we bridge the gap. We look out for people with resources to buy into farm investment while we use the resources to create wealth for them.

Also, we look at the population and the food consumption patterns. Averagely, if each Nigerian consumes N500 worth of food daily, considering the wealthy and the poor, and if we multiply this by 180 million, that is about N90 billion in circulation daily. What we are looking at is tapping into this and create wealth for investors.

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About 60 percent of food we eat in Nigeria is imported. So, we key into the food production system, empower people and to create wealth for individuals and the nation.

Agropark appears to specialize in livestock production, herbs and spices. What influences this decision?
Our vision is to basically to provide healthier food for the country. When we were growing up, there were some spices and herbs that we grew up with, such as lemon grass, scent leaves and bitter leaves. But as time went by, the consumption of these herbs and spices waned. You now see a 30-year old person having a kidney problem or high blood pressure.

We now decide that we will cultivate these herbs and spices. In those days when you had bleeding nostrils, or a stomach upset, you fetched herbs and they would disappear.

In countries like India, Thailand and China, they cultivate spices and herbs in large quantity and they consume them massively. Herbs and spices are huge financial resources. Over $500 million is spent annually on importation of spices and herbs.
Nigeria has greater advantages than them. Our turmeric and lemon grasses are still the best in the world.

On the specialization of Agropark on livestock production?
We focus on producing livestock and poultry with herbs and spices. We do not use antibiotics, growth hormones, or synthetic vaccines. The synthetic vaccination that farmers use for broilers are actually meant to last for 18 weeks in their bodies before it fades away, but the chicken are processed in six to eight weeks. This means deposits of the vaccines are still in the chickens that people eat. So, we use herbs and spices for our broilers, which means as people eat them, they eat herbs and spices. We use the herbs and spices we cultivate on our farm.

How do you source funding of the farm, for you said earlier that you pool resources from people?
We run a crowdfunding system. We believe Nigerians should actually fund the food they eat. It is that Nigerians took active part in producing what they eat directly or indirectly.

So, our poultry system is open for investments. What we do here is that we run the agricultural system on behalf of the people. Everything here is held and managed in trust for investors. We are just managers. We run a system that gives investors their returns and capital timely.

Do you pay they returns monthly, quarterly or yearly?
Some are quarterly and others are yearly. For crops that are annual, the returns are paid annually, but the crops that are perennial, we pay quarterly. For poultry, we pay quarterly. For cash crops, you have to wait for a period of three years before you get returns.

What do you plant in the cash crop category?
We are planting cashew and oil palm trees. We are not doing cocoa because we have no processing equipment. And whatever we produce here, we process into finished products. We do not produce what we cannot process.

What is the rate of return on investments? Say, an investor puts in N1 million here, what is the return per annum?
It depends on some factors. We have varieties of cost and input costs and varieties of return on investments. What determines the rate of returns is the input cost. So, for us, some people invest on plots on land, some on acres or hectares of farmland. Some people invest on turmeric which takes a larger period of time. But the longer you can wait, the larger the return.

For the short-term returns, what is the return rate?
It varies. It, however ranges from 30 to 40 per cent. Every return rate is actually pre-determined in the contact. So, there is no conflict on that. We consider what the market price has been for a period of time and we project based of figures available. So, there is an agreed rate of return on investments which we have an obligation to meet up.

Have you been faithfully meeting up paying returns to investors?
For the past two years, there has not been any case of default in payment.

Are you still accommodating more investors or you have more than enough?
Just as I said, Nigeria has over 36 million hectares. Our target is to cultivate 10 per cent of it, which is 3.7 million hectares. Right now, we are still less than 1000 hectares. We are going global by April this year. We want to incorporate the people in the diaspora.

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Do you train youths here, for I can see a lot of them?
One of our objectives is to raise the human capital that the Nigerian agricultural sector will need. There is a huge gap between the academics and the practical farming. We take in graduate trainees. We have trained over 100, we have about 20 undergoing training now and about 6,000 who are on the waiting list. We train them for six months free of charge, and because they also constitute the labour force while undergoing training, we pay them a monthly allowance of N15,000 each.

It is part of our recruitment strategy that we select the best out of the trainees and retain them as staff. Over 60 percent of our workforce are retained from the internship system.

What is the staff strength of the farm now?
We have close to 250 staff on the farm and in the office.

So, agriculture is sustainable, are you saying?
It is not only sustainable, but we have not even explored anything in the abundance of resources that we have for agriculture.


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