SPECIAL INTERVIEW WITH AN INNOVATIVE FARMER
FAD: Tell us briefly about yourself
Bamidele Mathew Shafa: I am Major General Bamidele Mathew Shafa. I am from Imeko in Ogun State. My parents, who are late now, of blessed memory are from Imeko. My Father was a soldier. During the civil war, he was commissioned. He died in 1979 after a brief illness. So we were left with my mother who took care of us. By 1984, I went to the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA), to join my father’s profession. If my father were to be alive, probably I might not have gone to the Nigerian Defense Academy. He would prefer me to do other things. Though he wouldn’t have violently resist me from going to join the army but he would prefer me to go for other professions. They had it very tough because of the civil war experience and he wouldn’t want his child to go and face those kind of things. But things have changed in these modern times.
I had my secondary school Education in Comprehensive High School, Ayetoro between 1977 to 1982. I had some brief work experience in one or two places. In the course of that, before I went to the Nigerian Defense Academy, I worked with the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture. I was employed as the assistant superintendent and was posted to Ikorodu division. That was where I was working before I went to NDA.
When I was growing up as a boy, I stayed with my uncle in year one in secondary school. My uncle is an Educationist but he is a farmer. Any land that is idle my uncle plants on it. Everything that we eat in the house except rice is a produce from the farm. Every Saturday we go to the farm either in Ayetoro or in Imeko. I will see us plant something and by the time we will go back in two or three weeks’ time, the thing is grown. The environment is clean, everyone is working with their hoe. He was also into small poultry. Every morning before you go to school, you go and feed the birds and pick the eggs.
In my school then, Comprehensive High school Aiyetoro, Agriculture was compulsory for Form one and two. Every student has his own farm portion which must be visited at least once in a day.
It was there that I picked interest in farming. And as I was advancing in my career, I know that one day by God’s grace I am going to retire. What is it that I can retire to, that I like to do? What is it that I can retire to, that is not the profession that I have been doing for 37years, I realized that it is farming. In all the places that I have served, I am always looking for land for farming. In all these places too, I realized that I don’t usually stay long for me to be able to put a permanent thing on ground before I am transferred to another place.
When I came back from a War Course in US, I decided to relocate my family to Ibadan because I was entering into a strategic phase of my career and after that, I should be retiring. Where do I want to retire to? I am also one person that believes that when you have served the government, you should go back to your locality. So I decided to come to Ibadan as it is closer to my home town. I relocated my family to Ibadan July 2011. Immediately I settled my family, the next thing I was looking for was land where I can start putting structures on ground in preparation for my retirement.
The Army Council has approved my retirement which takes effect from January 1st 2022. I give God the glory that my vision, God is helping me to realize it.
FAD: You already told me what lead you to farming. In your experience now, how has it been?
Bamidele Mathew Shafa: I used to tell people that I have one hobby and that hobby is to face challenges. I don’t believe that there is a hurdle hat cannot be crossed by a man. If you cannot cross it, you can maneuver it. It has not been easy but I thank God where He has helped me thus far.
When I acquired this land in 2015 January, we started by bringing few animals here, we dug two fish pond at the stream end. Then before the year runs out, we built two pens. Today we have four production pens, one brooding pen and all of them are fully operational to the glory of God.
It has not been easy. I must tell you, it is capital intensive. I spent the whole of my fortune. At a time I was asking myself, am I being sensible. Am I doing the right thing because I was not getting anything but I was putting in more money? Any money that comes into my hand that time, once I settle my children school fee and my family, the rest is coming to the farm. If any amount of money comes into my hand, it is sure that 60% to 70% is coming to the farm. So I now asked myself, am I wise? But thank God I am seeing the money. Nonetheless, it has been very challenging. I have had different types of staffs here. I have had good ones, I have had the bad ones. But all of them have done their best because if they had not done their best, we will not be having what we have on ground today.
One way or the other everybody has contributed their own quota. It is from the hard lessons that I have learnt that brought me to know you. Now that I am fully around, I am on the farm almost every day. When I come, I go round all the sections and I am briefed on what is going on, then give instructions on what more needs to be done.
FAD: If you want to advice someone who wants to do something like this, what will be your advice?
Bamidele Mathew Shafa: I will tell the person to start progressively. I will tell the person to start small. Do not despise your small humble beginning.
The God Almighty who created the whole world could have created everything at a time with one word of His mouth but he decided to take it one thing at a time. That is God Almighty, then who am I, a mortal being that want to do everything at a time.
All my friends who are my colleagues, when they follow me to the farm, they exclaim that “what you have here is big oo” but I used to tell them I started small. And I always take them to where I started small explaining to them that what you see here is a journey of five years and we are still progressing.
FAD: What is your driving force for what you are doing?
Bamidele Mathew Shafa: The first driving force is, I must have something to retire to and it must be something that I have passion for. Another thing is that, I cannot serve for 37 years and rise to the rank of Major General and I retire and I don’t have what to do. It will be a disservice to myself and my family.
My wife and my children are happy every day when I tell them I am going to the farm. My wife is happy when I bring her here. She manages the deport in town where we sell our eggs. It has become more of a family business. My children come here often. My first son, each time he comes back from school, he will ask me daddy am I going to work on the farm? I will say no I want you to read for your exam. When you are done, you can join me on the farm.
FAD: What do you think Government can do to encourage farmers?
Bamidele Mathew Shafa: Government need to subsidize farming. There must be grants or loan at very affordable interest rate. And I also believe farming should be a sole responsibility of state government. The federal government can have a very robust policy to create a very good enabling environment for the state government to work on.
State governments should take the census of all the farms in all the geographical areas under them and assess them to identify the challenges being faced and what needs do each of the farmer has. Then cluster them and see how they can support and have a monitoring mechanism to see that whatever government is putting in is been put to the right use. For instance, I have this farm and we use feed of maybe about six hundred bags per day.
The government can say, Dele-Shafa Farm we subsidized you with two hundred bags of feed per week. But they will monitor how I am using it, what am I making out of it. Let’s say we subsidized you with two hundred bags per week for one year, the government will expect you at a particular time to pay a certain amount, whether in terms of money or farm produce to a central collection area. I think if government can do that, it will encourage farmers.
I must tell you feed is very expensive. We bought maize two three weeks ago at 158,000 per ton, as at this morning, I am being told it is 220,000 per ton. And the man told me the prices changes every day. And once it goes up it doesn’t come down.
FAD: Tell us briefly about the farm.
Bamidele Mathew Shafa: The name of the farm is Dele Shafa Farm. It is an integrated farm largely into poultry, piggery, ruminants, that is goat, cow and sheep, and fish farming. We are projecting by God’s grace to go into rabbit farming and snailry as time goes on. Before the end of first quarter in 2022 we should start the rabbit farm.
FAD: What do you think farmers should be doing to get the best out of this business?
Bamidele Mathew Shafa: I think the first thing we should do as farmers is to come together. When we come together, we form a cooperative, we will be talking from a position of strength, one voice. And we can advise the government. When we come together too, we can pull resources together. Like ten or five farmers can put money together to buy as much maize they can afford together and store. That will help in some good ways.
FAD: Lastly, what has life taught you?
Bamidele Mathew Shafa: What life has taught me is that, do not lean on your own understanding, commit your ways to God and He will direct your path. You must also be truthful to yourself. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to deceive himself. Once you put your hope and trust in God and you are truthful to yourself there will be a great hope no matter what.
Another thing I have also learnt in life is that, help people as much as you can. If somebody has not picked me up, I will not be where I am today.