Wise Farming lessons from Ms Olusola Sowemimo of Ope farms
We recently met Mrs Sowemimo to learn the tricks of the trade from her. It was explosive. Enjoy the chat below.
Mrsceonaija (MCN): Thanks a lot for making out time to share your invaluable knowledge with our Mrsceonaija community. Let us start with the name! Why the name Ope Farms?
Mrs Sowemimo (Mrs S): Ope means gratitude in Yoruba language. I am also known as Sisimi because I have a blog named sisimiblog.com. Sisimi is the nickname from my husband. The blog is a lifestyle blog with a lot of focus on healthy living and traditional/herbal alternatives.
MCN: What inspired you?
Mrs S: My mum! My Mum! My mum! Can I say that 1000 times? Actually, both parents had deep knowledge about herbs but we lost my dad many years ago. I used to have ulcer but mum’s herbal prescription saved it. Even farming is inspired by her. Every home we lived in as children had pawpaw trees around it. Today, I use different parts of paw paw for many things for example the seeds as natural dewormer for our poultry birds on the farm. I had an industrious grandpa who owned a farm, we always had fresh food from the farm trips. We also had vegetables in our back garden at home-ewedu, soko, okro and so on. My passion for good health and living is inspired by my parents . My dad was one of those who inspired the late renowned herbal medicine practitioner, Mrs Kafaru.
MCN: Well, I must say your passion is contagious. Has it always been your business/job?
Mrs S: Oh, no. I started life as a lawyer. Infact, I am still a lawyer at Seyi Sowemimo& Co.. I also worked as HR practitioner in a company for 10 years but I gave myself 10 years in that last job. I didn’t want to turn 60 working for someone.
MCN: Wow! You look good m’aam for your age. But why will you choose to start agric which is stressful when you should be resting after a long career?
Mrs S: Thank you for the compliment. I have a few more years to reach 60. Rest is relative to me. Rest for me is not staying home doing nothing. Rest is a lovely short siesta, good book and classical music. I cannot be still. I have energy and I still need to create value and generate income. When I left paid employment, as a certified HR practitioner, certified Etiquette Coach and certified Public Speaker, my plan A was to practice . Unfortunately, they don’t keep me busy enough even though i enjoy practicing, farming became plan B. However, when I started, I realized I did not know any organic farmers.
MCN; So how did you get into farming? Literarily? Just woke up one day and started?
Mrs S; Oh NO! I am very much into researching before starting anything. I invest in myself. I took a trip to Songhai farms in Port Novo. Infact, if you ever need a vacation, no shopping, no mall! Just fresh food and rest, go there. I went in 2013, I met a delegation of farmers from the Nigerian government and a group of individual farmers too. I went there to understudy how they practice , sustainable agriculture. After the trip, I continued reading about Organic Agriculture . One day, I saw an article about a professor in Osun State. When I visited his farm, I was inspired. It was like a forest, with some trees as old as 100 years. His fishes were HUMONGOUS. All naturally fed. He even made their feed himself.
MCN: So research, research, research! That is spot on. So what next?
Mrs S: Well, it is farming so getting the land was next. I had to get land in compliance with the strict standards for organic farming. For example I ensured that I have 20 meters buffer zone round about the land. This is to ensure I don’t have chemicals /pesticides leech into our farm from neighbouring farms or companies.
MCN: You mention strict standards. Who certifies farms as compliant with the standards?
Mrs S: There is the Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Nigeria also called NOAN. They have visited my farm and certified it fit for organic farming. I will talk about some other associations later too. Back to the farm. We have a Snailery, an Apiary and a Hatchery. Everything we use for our vegetable farm is natural,for example, the manure from the poultry is used as fertilizer after curing, we do naturally raised poultry, fruits, snails, , plantain. We grow Lettuce, Pak Choy, Kale, Beetroot, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, dill, oregano, basil, turmeric, indigenous vegetables and more. We are also have part of outgrower schemes: which means we grow specifically for some companies. The farm is in Ogun State.
MCN: No way! How do you cope with going all the way to Ogun State and how often?
Mrs S: I go as often as I can . It is my job and I love it. I plan my schedules and beat traffic as much as I can.
MCN: Permit me to be stunned ma. Wow! Impressive. When there is passion, there is a way! Hardwork will truly never go out of fashion. I am inspired. So, do you engage the community in any way?
Mrs S: Yes indeed. I love to empower the indigenes of the community. Infact, their men harvest our cassava and their women peel, wash and grate. I just ensure we supervise closely to meet our standards. We allow our cassava to ferment 7 -10 days because we like it very ‘sour’. Then we take it to the factory to fry. It is more difficult to get the sourness in the dry season because fermentation is faster. However, in the rainy season, fermentation is slower and that is better for us. All the indigenes know our strict standards. Having worked in safety conscious companies in my career, I endeavour to bring best supervisory practices to the farm too. Oh, we plan to run an Organic farming training for the farmers in the communities around us early next year. The quantity of chemicals used by local farmers is worrisome. Unfortunately, the city dwellers think once their produce comes from the villages they are safe.
MCN: Ok. Let me task you a bit ma. Where do you see your business in 5 years? What is the vision?
Mrs S: To be a renowned organic Farming advocate and an exporter. We recently got our vegetable qualified by the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQs). In the whole country, there are less than 15 approved exporters of vegetables, we need more people to join in as they are not meeting demand.
MCN: That is so small. There is an opportunity there! What other spring boards have you had?
Mrs S: I believe spring boards as you call it, or opportunities don’t just walk in. You need to go after them. For me, I have met many opportunities in the course of investing in myself at trainings. I attended the Global GAP certification to get best practices and I met many people that have linked me with opportunities there.
MCN: All these trainings and investments cannot be cheap. Is farming profitable?
Mrs S: it is o… but only after a while, and after some upfront investment especially if you are into processing. In farming, you will get out of it, as much as you put into it.
MCN: Hmm. That sounds like a relationship. I mean ‘you will get out of it, what you put into it’. Ok maam. So what is the investment required?
Mrs S; Well, you need land. You don’t always have to buy, you can lease. You need to pay workers, equip yourself with trainings and small/big equipment if you are into processing.
MCN: So, what are the tricks to keep it afloat?
Mrs S: First is cash flow. Make sure you never run out of revenue stream. Try to have different crops being harvested at different periods. We are part of the out growers scheme for companies that need our produce as inputs.
Part 2/concluding story coming soon.