Part 2: Farming lessons from Ms Olusola Sowemimo of Ope farms-(how to sell, how to get media attention)

MCN: What are the challenges with processing.

Mrs S: First, it is capital intensive. That is farming, you make the money and you put it in for yet another expansion or equipment. Example, to get NAFDAC approval for processing, we also need a 5 room space for processing unit for packaging/processing of poultry.

MCN: Have you considered Bank of Industry for loans for expansion?

Mrs S: Bank of Industry (BOI) doesn’t support building infrastructure. They finance only the equipment. However, I need to get the building before I get equipment.

MCN: Are you open to investors?

Mrs S: It depends. I am open to people of like minds- I cannot compromise on being organic or having the right quality and healthy produce. So the investors need to share passion for the vision too. I am putting together a business plan for this.

MCN: Yourself? Why not get a consultant?

Mrs S: We have a consultant who we work with.  My advice to new farmers, work with a consultant who has field experience , who care about how will you  will make profit and not just how he earns  his fees  Make sure that anything you  do, you  want to have 1st hand learning. There is no sense investing in something & you know nothing about it yourself.

MCN: You have mentioned the word organic a many  times. What does it really mean from a farming perspective?

Mrs S: There are four key principles of Organic Agriculture. A) Health ,  Healthy farm/animals and plants b) Ecology/ecosystem c) Fairness in all relationships, workers, crops and animals so for example, it is not fair as an organic farmer to use pi manure because of Muslim customers. d) Caring for animals and workers  so for example, we do not cage our poultry birds.

MCN: You mentioned the importance of relationships and network earlier. Can you shed a bit more on that?

Mrs S: Yes, I attend a many   conferences, fairs, exhibitions. Nigeria hosted the Africa Organic Conference in 2014 and it was there, I met a  many organic farmers who are today very  valuable  – to me, NOAN and other associations too.

MCN: So how many years of operations do you have in now?

Mrs S: I started in 2014 but the first 1 year was for fact finding, research, acquiring land and more. So I’ll say 2 years of full operations. We’ve tried different things too- beetroot, plantain, kale, white & red radish

MCN: It is one thing to plant, it is another thing to sell. How do you go about selling your produce?

Mrs S: Well, we sell to  every day people, bulk buyers, hotels, restaurants, social media  and some juice companies. The trick is to create awareness of an impending harvest about 2  weeks before harvest. Also, do due diligence on pricing because prices fluctuate depending on the season. Prices are higher in dry season because it takes a lot more effort and  to water the farm products versus availability of rain in rainy season.

MCN: What are the highlights of Ope Farm so far?

Mrs S: BBC was at Ope Farms last year June. They were intrigued by our organic farming story.  It was during the tomatoes scarcity/crisis last year and they came to see us harvest our cucumerina, an alternative to tomatoes.  Also, France24  visited  in July 2017

MCN: How do you get these top media outlets? How did you get their connections?

Mrs S: Me? I didn’t get their connection. It has all been by His Grace. My conclusion is that people will find you when you have something ‘find worthy’. That is the power of media/social media these days. I have an active Instagram page and the rest is history.

MCN; What are key challenges you face? Aside from financing?

Mrs S: Up until recently, pest management! Those pests! Pest management for any farmer is a hassle.. Pest management for an organic farmer is double hassle because we don’t use chemicals.  A University lecturer came up with 3 things that didn’t work for us. With  much innovation on our side, we created our own Neem Extract and some other products. Interestingly,, we overcame army worm this year with our own natural pesticides and because of our success, we now sell to others to prevent them from suffering like me a few years back.. We also have our own liquid fertilizer. It took me almost 4 years of research and trial to discover it. Another challenge is lack of infrastructure. The farm has power cables above it, but no electricity, so we spend on petrol which deducts from the bottom line.

MCN: Any last words for anyone interested in farming?

Mrs S:  Yes inded. Test the waters if this is something you really really want to do.  Do it! I went into it from passion. I love the health implication of  our produce, , no chemical residue.  I love to see a day where we all mostly do organic farming like Cuba.  For any start up, be sure to identify your market, awareness and processing opportunities. Get a mentor, it doesn’t mean you will not make mistakes, but they will be minimal.

Lastly, you don’t need to farm to be in agriculture. You can do media for agriculture, you can link farmers and buyers, extension services like farm management, export, pest management, processing, transport, logistics, business management, exhibitions , herbs & spices and more. So look broadly and I wish you success.

 

 

 

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