Amaka Chukwudum:My happiest moment is when I’m on the farm
Amaka Chukwudum is the Founder of agricultural outfit, Amicable Mondiale Farms, with specialty in growing food, food processing, providing management and advisory services to investors in the agricultural industry locally and internationally. Amaka, who is also known as “Amicable de unrepentant farmer,” is a graduate of English (Education) from Abia State University with Masters from the Netherlands. She has been a farmer since childhood. Born to parents who are farmers, Amaka went fully into farming in 2012 after working in the banking sector for a couple of years. Since then, organic farming and exports have been the way for her. Today, the dedicated farmer runs her agricultural outfit which is bringing a new face to the sector. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion and commitment to organic farming in Nigeria.
What is the concept behind Amicable Mondiale farms?
We grow crops and animals; help farmers set up their farms. We also process mostly agricultural produce from other farmers, like we have our black soap, body butter which is made up of over 16 herbs and five natural butters for treatment of different skin challenges, we process our honey, we have palm oil production, we have our rice and lines of essential oils, as well as packaged local spices. But, most importantly, we do training for farmers, exposing them to organic farming.
We realised that many farms are closing up especially livestock farms because of capital, many people will keep telling you agriculture is capital intensive, but we are of the opinion that farming can be run on 20 percent less than the perceived capital involved in conventional standard. This is possible through organic farming because you recycle waste; the chicken waste can actually be recycled into feed and that would reduce the cost of your production. So, the major thing we do is training farmers on organic farming and growing food the organic way.
How did you develop passion for farming?
My parents were my first training guards in farming. I fell in love with farming from my parent’s farm. Farming vegetables with my mum as a young child was fun. We had so many snails in the farm and being that my family was not eating them, we packed and gave them out, till I discovered they were actually export commodity. I made my first dollar from snail export.
How has the journey been so far?
It has not been funny or easy. At a time, I lost everything. I lost all my 12000 fishes. I lost everything I had. The people I gave money to drill borehole defrauded me but I said I was not quitting. People advised and even offered me white-collar jobs, but my passion for agriculture could not be quenched, that was what earned me the name “unrepentant farmer.” Today, I am happy I didn’t give up.
Why is it important to practice organic farming?
Organic farming helps in the recycling of the ecosystem. It balances the ecosystem. We have seen that the weather is too hot because most of us do not balance the ecosystem, and organic food, too, is healthier than any synthetic food, than any chemical food you could buy in the market. Most of the inorganic fertilisers used by farmers is only killing the soil and killing human beings, too, instead of saving. So organic food is the way to go- it is cheaper, healthier, balances the ecosystem and it is better in many ways. If you eat organic foods, hardly will you fall sick, so our job is to educate farmers; we go across the states to train. We also engage in a project that exposes children to agriculture early in life and make them see the beauty of agriculture and appreciate it as an occupation.
You can still be classy and sexy as a farmer. You can look good and still be a farmer. To Nigerian youths, I advise, you don’t need to be carrying files and going about under the sun. Meet me in the bush and let us decode the formula for your green gold
Did the fact that your parents were farmers influence you to becoming a farmer?
My father was taken away by a known illness that affects men, I was hurt and I began to do research to finding out the cause. Apart from him exposing me to agriculture early in life, I felt nature has provided us with the needed roots to take care of our health. That took me into research and that was how I got to know other things that could help our body build immunity against diseases, and I ventured into food processing. Instead of waiting for bad diseases to get a hold of you and you start spending a fortune on treatments, build yourself against them. I began to grow nature’s immune boosters. My parents were animal farmers, but I went into crops and I can categorically tell you it has been an interesting journey. My happiest moment is when I am in the farm. No matter how sad I am, as I enter the farm, my mood changes.
What are the greatest challenges facing farmers in Nigeria?
The greatest challenge is there is no place to train farmers freely. Many people dabble into farming. I am one person that believes money is not the basis for every business. The first thing you need in every business is knowledge. If you don’t have the knowledge, even if you invested millions of naira, it will go down and so every farmer needs to be trained first. I have written letters to government to allow me train these people, but then I need to be equipped. There is no platform and if you don’t have the connection, you don’t get it. Many people have invested and lost. This year alone, I have had more than 30 people who came to my office seeking for guidance to go into agriculture, having suffered losses. So, if the government can set up institutions, at least in every local government, get a professional that is also knowledgeable, someone that knows their onions to train them, they can organise training for young and start-up farmers. Let the government take care of the payment and I bet you, Nigeria will be better from it.
What more can Amicable Mondiale offer to the society if given the enabling environment?
Amicable Mondiale sells all kind of seedlings. We grow it and we set up farms for people. Call us anywhere you are, tell us the size of the farm you have, we will come, check your land, test the soil and we will know what your soil can grow; any plant can grow in the any part of the country.
Are there women farmers in the same category like you?
I have colleagues who are women. We actually have a cooperative presently where we are growing about 17, 000 birds. We have them at Ibadan, but we need money in all these groups. If only we can put all hands on deck, by this time next year, the cost of food in the market should go down. But if people are closing up farming because of lack of funds then if we are not careful, we shall have food scarcity. People need to be trained on how to curb the cost and produce more. We have also approached state governments, written letters to state governments to permit us to train the youths. Nigerian youths are very sharp. I have been to Germany, Holland and France, in all of them, Nigerian youths stand out. Even with the everyday challenges and odds against them, they are quick to learn. They capture things so fast and they are creative. If only they can be exposed to this, they will go farther than I have gone.
What does a day in the life of a farmer look like?
As a farmer, I wake up early enough, talk to the Owner of life, drive out to farm, cut some grasses for the animals and hold a board- meeting with my animals, cut vegetables to supply to eateries and supermarkets as well as other retailers. I also supervise some other farms I consult for and head home. Some days, I have to go for processing of farm products, so we focus on that for the day. Some days I travel to the North to supervise farms or train other farmers in other regions and states.
How can the nation feed itself through the kind of farming that you do?
I call farming the Green Gold. Nigeria is blessed with gold in the bush but we match on it as we carry our files, moving about daily in search of white-collar jobs. Every Nigerian can make money from farming, even as a tenant. There are different types of farming depending on the space available to you. You can make money from Sac Farming; I grew my first mushroom from my wardrobe. I also teach what we call flying farm from recycling materials. And if one has a land, you can invest in perennial crops, vegetable farming or livestock farming. All these are real cheques we need to sign and cash out.
How are you helping other women to embrace farming?
Part of what we do is to train women especially women in rural areas. We train them in vegetable farming and food processing. We go around states, training youths and women especially in organic farming. Teaching them how to recycle waste from their homes and turn them to food.
How tedious is it to be a farmer as many young people avoid it?
Farming in itself is not an easy task I must say, but the introduction of ICT makes things much easier for us. For example, we have simple machines that drill holes for our planting; we have the ones that weed the farm for us, we are hoping for capital to bring in mini-cultivator for making our vegetable beds. We have machines for extraction of our essential oil, making our yam flour, plantain flour, tiger-nut flour and cocoyam flour. But the thing is that if you really have passion for agriculture, you enjoy every bit of the journey including the tough ones (laughs).
How profitable and rewarding is it too?
Farming is very rewarding. Looking at new life being groomed and multiplied by you is fun both in animals and crops. But I must warn that without practical training, it will be a wasted investment to put in any money. Today many people read about Return On Investment (ROI) marketed by sugar-coated tongues of Internet farmers and they jump at it, at the end they keep shouting they were deceived. Farming actually pays those who understand its rudiments and follow the right path. Invest in practical training first before you invest in any land.
Tell us a bit about family life, do you have siblings who embrace farming?
My late father (Ambassador Emmanuel Chukwudum Ikeaka) was a pig farmer and my mother, a retired teacher, has been and is still a poultry/crop farmer since my childhood days. I am the only one in the family doing practical farming at the moment but my siblings are joining already. My brother is in the value chain of coconuts. My siblings have been a solid backing behind my success. When I lost it all, was duped and heavily indebted at the beginning of my farming career, they were there for me both physically and psychologically, I can say I have the best family on earth.
What is your advice to young people especially women who are considering farming?
My advice to every Nigerian youth is that today, certificate does not pay, “sabificate” pays. What makes me who I am today is not my certificate; I travelled abroad to study, but it was actually on scholarship but still what I studied there is not what is feeding me. I fed my brain skills and it fed my pocket with change and brought fame to me. Get into that bush behind your house, that is your own national cake. If you can use that small space, you grow your vegetable behind your house, you can be selling from your house and you will feed your family. As a mother, whether you are a widow or a single mum, or a young girl waiting for a job, you can make some fortune from the bush. And I tell you, you can still be classy and sexy as a farmer. You can look good and still be a farmer. To Nigerian youths, I advise, you don’t need to be carrying files and going about under the sun, meet me in the bush and let us decode the formular for your green gold..
When you are not in the farm, what is Amaka doing?
Amaka is a curious person naturally. I travel far and wide just on research. When I am not farming, I am studying. I pay for courses online and physically outside Nigeria. Amicable Mondiale is also licensed to export agro products. So, we go to locations that grow our export commodities and train them on organic farming. We create, process and package new organic products which we sell locally and export too. So, when Amaka is not in the farm, she is in front of her laptop or in her processing factory.