Special Farming Business Interview with Raymond Isiadinso, ASAN President and FIPAN National President
FAD: What do you think are the greatest problems of farmers?
RAY OBIAJULU: The greatest problem of farmers in Nigeria is the government. Government policies on farming are not encouraging. Farmers themselves are also their own problems. There is also the problem of inputs. You need to have a very big heart to make it in farming in Nigeria. If you are a farmer and you intend to go into 10000 pullet or broiler productions, you need to have money that will take care of 20000 pullets or broilers from the onset. Government still handles the issue of farming as if they are handling mineral resources like petroleum.
There are no marketing boards. The government should be able to buy massively in years of great harvest so as to help the farmers. Take the case of a broiler farmer who produced a high volume of broilers in the face of porous borders that allows smuggling of foreign broilers. How can he survive? In most of the countries I have visited abroad, government usually assists farmers in terms of credit facilities and cushioning of the shocks of adverse productions. With these kinds of supports, farmers can settle down and bring out their best. But in Nigeria, farmers are running up and down with little or no facilitation.
FAD: How do you think farmers can help themselves?
RAY OBIAJULU: The farmers can easily help themselves. In Israel, what the farmers did is to form themselves into recognized and powerful pressure and political groups called Cooperative Societies. They determined what they buy, what they produce and the final price of whatever they produce. What this translates into is that Nigeria farmers can come together and form a very strong pressure group that can even fire or retain somebody in the government. The Israeli model can really help the farmers in Nigeria if they can adopt it. Poultry farmers in Israel do not experience glut. You cannot over produce for any reason. They produce and give to the government which in turn will distribute. The farmers don’t have any contact with the end users but with the government. It is only in Nigeria that you have someone having 1 million birds, producing about 40,000 crates of eggs and pushing it into the market thereby crashing the price of eggs or creating excessive supply of eggs when the market is not buoyant to absolve it.
FAD: How do you think the government can help farmers?
RAY OBIAJULU: The government can help farmers by introducing soft loans that will easily be accessible and not with a lot of bottlenecks. It may even be single digit loans. It is practical. Currently the government policy on commercial agriculture is based on single digit which is 8% but the problem is that accessing it is very difficult. They have placed a high requirement on it that the real farmers cannot get the loans. It is only the industrial farmer that get it. The industrial farmers are the ones who set up farms as a shadow of other big businesses. They may have oil wells but they will set up big farms. You will see people coming to those farms wearing ties and living big. They just use those farms to attract government assistance because they can access the loans. They are basically camouflage and on and off farmers.
Soft loans can help input providers which in turn will help the farmers who buy inputs and the chain continues. Look at the fish industry. By now fish should be getting to the end users at the rate of 250 naira or less but that is not the case now. Most people can’t afford to buy fish at 500 naira. Millions of Nigerians are still eating without fish or meat or egg. This is terrible. We are expectantly looking forward to when farmers in Nigeria will as a result of government support be able to produce cheaply and sell cheap to the consumers of farm products.
FAD: What would be YOUR BEST ADVICE for the farmers to make a success of farming, drawing from your positive experiences?
RAY OBIAJULU: My best advice to farmers is that they should plan very well. In planning you can be able to forecast what at worst a year would be. In planning, you can be able to fashion out how to shortchange the negative experiences of the previous years. If you wait until you get to the river before you cross it, it will be very difficult. In farming you must forecast before you can succeed. Forecast from your stand point what at worse a year will be. A poultry farmer should know that when there is a delayed rainfall and early cessation of rainfall there will be heat stress. Planning, planning and planning is the key to success in farming. Plan your farming production process from A to Z.
FAD: Tell us about your company and how you are in your own way helping the farmers to succeed in the business of farming.
RAY OBIAJULU: MID CENTURY is a multi faceted agro – allied company. We specialized in special nutritional products and a little health products. We are virtually in every part of agriculture. We have the knowledge and the competence to handle any aspect of agriculture that anyone may challenge us with. We have special interest in animal agriculture. We also have some crop agriculture products. This is in line with our promotion of what is called integration. We try to train farmers about integration as it is done in Asia and Europe. Integration is the future place of farming in Nigeria. That is, integrating so many farming operations but doing it correctly – not just clustering. Integrating correctly is different from clustering which is called jack of all trades, master of none.
We help farmers in growing their investment. We try to plough back our experience into the industry. Our products are the best in the market at good prices. Nobody can contest our quality in the market. In MID CENTURY, we are consistent with product quality. If 50% is the proper requirement, we do not sell ranges of say 50%, 40% or 30%. We have products that work synergistically. There are products that have 2 or 3 active ingredients combined for maximum efficiency. I have up to date connection with my international partners and I know current practices that can benefit farmers.
As a culture, we don’t hold on to outdated practices and products. We do away with them as soon as they become irrelevant even though some companies still worship those things in Nigeria. At MID CENTURY, we help farmers by keeping them in tune with the newest world wide technology. We have supplements, additives, organic acids, toxin binders and enzymes. During the Avian Flu, we took the statistics of all our customers and we discovered that most of them connected to us had no major challenges. We attribute all these to the act of God and His inspired diligence and hard work in us.
FAD: To you, what are the top 3 secrets of Business Success?
RAY OBIAJULU: You have to determine from the onset what you want to do. Don’t be a rolling stone that gathers no moss. An unsteady mind does not get anywhere in life. If you are in broiler production and you see someone doing well in cockerel and layer production and you go and copy that person, you may fail. You also have to work hard. Anything you call business and you invest your resources and time in it demands that you handle it strictly not as a past time. Don’t call any business no matter the volume a past time or part time. I feel so bad when I hear some farmers or friends saying,” Oh I am just doing part time farming. I have just 300 birds.” If I do the calculations on 300 birds, you will discover that you can make a good living out of it.
Farmers must be deeply committed to the cause of farming. When I graduated from the university, I looked around. The challenges were so high and opportunities were so minimal with poor salaries. I asked myself, Is this what I will be earning to feed my family? But I remained committed and within me I was resolute that I will work hard to turn things around for myself. I looked at the options available to me. If I decide to end up as a lecturer, the peak will only be as a professor. But I can still be a professor while practicing. I told myself I want to be an experienced field researcher and not a streamlined professor.
FAD: Tell us a particular trying period in your business experience and how you were able to overcome it and bounce back.
RAY OBIAJULU: Business has always been trying. The experience that will never leave my memory was the period I had challenge with the Avian Flu. My deep concern was with the industry which was not well organized in Nigeria. I saw how farms were being closed down abroad and insurance companies paying off farmers and they were responding and it was working and they recovered. But Nigeria is not organized. I was worried that the end has come for the industry in Nigeria. Patronage went down. Utilization of inputs went down. It was very challenging. Farms were destroyed by the Avian Flu. That was the greatest challenge I have ever faced.
I am very strong in prayers. When the Kaduna outbreak came, I tried to see whether there was any connection with us through our customers up there. When this was not the case, I thanked God. I then went all out to look for the control. Even though Nigeria was big, but I saw Nigeria as being very small. Eventually my company became the foremost company that played active role in controlling Avian Flu. We eventually brought in a product – an aerial disinfectant based on organic acid formulation.
FAD: How do you think we can effectively combat or prevent egg glut in Nigeria?
RAY OBIAJULU: If we can do what the Israeli farmers did, we will overcome the problem. Let the egg producers association in Nigeria come together in strong terms and tell themselves the truth. They should form a very strong association. If they don’t mind, I can be their national president and help turn things around. I have studied how it worked in Israel and Europe. Look, if you are not a registered member of the egg producers association, you can’t sell your eggs. What you produce, you eat it and if we get you, we lock you up.
Mr Raymond Obiajulu Isinadinso is the current National President of Animal Science Association of Nigeria (ASAN) and Feed Industry Practitioners Association of Nigeria FIPAN)
Editor’s note: This interview was done a couple of years back but interestingly, it is still as fresh as ever!
Watch out for more interviews from this dynamic industry leader