Chiamaka Ikechukwu, a beneficiary of the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) 2021 Farmers for the Future (F4F) grant meant to inspire the entrepreneurial interest of Nigerian youths in agriculture, belongs to a new generation of youths that are increasingly embracing agriculture and demonstrating the potential to unlock the wealth and prosperity deposited in it. The graduate of Microbiology, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, in this interview, lets media in on her palm kernel production business in Abia State.
Why agriculture and palm kernel instead of white-collar job? I got initiated into agriculture by my husband during our courtship. He made me understand that you can create wealth while feeding others. This ignited my passion for agriculture.
I chose palm kernel nut production because of the availability of raw materials within my business environment and regular power supply, which is a huge incentive to me. Again, it was not expensive to set up. I have the vision of expanding my capacity to accommodate palm kernel oil production and palm oil production. There is still a lot of untapped potential in the agriculture sector, despite the pressure on arable land by increasing urbanization and population growth. I believe that Nigeria and Africa as a whole can achieve food security if we work towards sustainability in agriculture.
Experience and impact of BATNF F4F grant competition: The programme was well organised, greatly articulated and transparent. Aside emerging as the grant winner, I gained knowledge that is more valuable than the N3 million prize money. The team of vastly experienced tutors whose teachings come from their wealth of experience in different spheres of life, was impactful. This experience has elevated my scope in agribusiness management.
My experience since NYSC in 2021: “I started farming in 2019. It was really not easy because I am a young woman living in a jet age. Agriculture requires a lot of courage, focus, determination and mentorship; knowing that what really matters is achieving the desired goal. Secondly, agricultural practice in Nigeria is still substandard and this affects the involvement of interested youths, and ultimately their productivity. However, you will find it interesting once you have the passion”.
Challenges confronting business financing: “I started with little savings to get raw materials while using the machine of other producers to process mine. With that, I discovered some things I needed to improve on to stay ahead of my competitors, one of which is to avoid the water separation technique that causes adulteration. With that idea, I enrolled into the entrepreneurship challenge organised by Connak Foundation where I won a grant of N1.5 million. This changed the face of my business for good”.
Coping with oil palm cultivation: “Our production currently is limited to palm kernel nut cracking and separation. We procure our raw materials from palm oil producers, so we don’t need palm plantation, for now. My factory is located in a palm plantation dense region, guaranteeing regular availability of raw material (palm kernel)”.
Weathering the storm of heightened insecurity in the country
Insecurity is a national issue that has affected virtually all businesses in Nigeria. In our case, we may not have had any insecurity issue probably because our factory location is near the markets, which is less than 30 kilometres away. We also avoid going for marketing activities when it is not safe to do so. We store our products when things get tense, as they are not perishable goods.
Expectation for the future: “I expect to achieve my vision where I will have the production of all palm products within my farm. The BATNF grant has already created a roadmap to achieving this dream. My concept of business has also changed after the training I received from the foundation”.
As an agripreneur, do you sometimes feel like fish out of water when you look at what your fellow youths are doing? I don’t. I know what I want and I am making remarkable progress, even to the admiration of most youths I know. It might not be easy but it’s my passion.
Final thoughts on youth engagement in agriculture: “It is essential that more youths are encouraged to engage in agriculture. The government and private sectors should do more in terms of providing training, mechanisation, grants or low-interest loans, and mentorship for the youth. Information should be made available and accessible to all. This will encourage youths to actively participate in agriculture”.