How a Woman Grows Vegetables using Climate Smart Methods (A Good Read)
Amaka Chukwudum-Daniels is the CEO of Amiable Mondiale Farms located in Ogun State. She uses climate solution methods to grow her farm produce. She practices integrated farming, meaning she grows both plants and animals.
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels holds a degree in English Education from Abia State University and other certificates from Netherlands Business School and University of Edinburgh. She is currently taking courses with Dutch government on food security.
In this episode Ms Chukwudum-Daniels shares her experience.
PT: Can you put us through your journey in agriculture?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: My parents were farmers, my father was a farmer and also a cement dealer while my mum is into poultry, vegetable farming and also a teacher. I was born into farming and the passion was breathed into me from childhood. After school, I got a job in the bank and worked in the bank for six years but you can’t run away from passion. I was just not comfortable.
When I left the bank, I decided to use my certificate to work. I got a job at a school and worked as a school teacher but I just knew teaching wasn’t for me. I got a scholarship to travel for masters in Holland. When I came back, I registered my company and told myself it is better to wear the clothes that fit me. So, I went into the bush and I have no regrets.
PT: Since you have a passion for agriculture, why didn’t you study it as a course in your first degree?
Ms Chukwudum- Daniels: That is the reason I am in agriculture. When we were growing up, farmers were seen as people who were hungry. I never believed one could become wealthy or make a living out of agriculture. In fact, when we went to my mother’s farm, we used to pack snails because the soil there is the type that snails love.
So, we used to pack different types of snails and share them with the neighbours because we don’t eat snails in our house, it is a taboo. When I got to Holland, I saw snails as wealth. They were even doing vertical farming with snails and when asked for the price, I calculated in my brain how much I had thrown away.
I had to go do some courses on snail farming where I learnt how to start. I started breeding snails. I did a lot of snail farming, set up so that people thought I was only going to do snail farming but my passion is to achieve food security, getting food to be easily affordable and accessible to people. That was actually my mission.
So that’s how I got into agriculture. I knew that agriculture is the only job in this country that doesn’t require too much work to do and make a living out of. I told myself I must find a path in this venture so I can lead others through.
Now women walk into our office and when I look at what they have available to them, like the capital at hand, I can tell them what they can achieve with it through agriculture. We are able to carve a life out for many women and young people through agriculture.
PT: Raising capital for businesses could be tough, how did you raise capital?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: Sincerely, it was tough. As a graduate, I started from nothing, I had nothing except a few savings and some little things my family could raise which was almost nothing. It couldn’t even buy land. I had to come towards the North where I could get cheaper land as at then. I got land on lease to do rice. I was farming at Kogi, at a time, I farmed in Niger state before I started at Kebbi where I was doing rice production. I came back with so much knowledge of what I learnt abroad.
I decided to help some farmers when I got to North with how to increase yield in their farm with an agreement of sharing some profit that comes from the yield. They weren’t paying me cash but with 50% of the extra yield they got from my tips. I sold these products from which I was able to get my own land and start.
PT: Aside from rice, what other crops do you grow? How do you grow these products?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: We have integrated farms in Ogun State. That’s where we do livestock and vegetables. We do rabbit, chicken, goats, ram, snails, and so on. The integrated farm we have is a touch of almost everything except snakes.
We are currently sourcing funds to get more machines because the machines we have at the moment are for low capability and these women we are training are producing right now and are looking for markets. They are in the villages, so we obtain from them, process and then sell. We created that marketing platform for them so that they don’t just grow and get discouraged if there is no market.
Most people invite us to their states, we go over to train the women but after training then what’s next? Because it is not enough to train them but we are able to show them the way, the value chain of their products.
We also encourage them to bring their products to our centre in Ogun State to mill like those that do Soya beans. You either sell to a feed mill or you produce soya milk flour that you sell. Those that are into groundnuts, you either sell or you sell groundnut paste. We are looking for more money to get machines into the center where the real value chain is.
PT: The U.S. mission celebrated you alongside others on social media, did you benefit from the United States project?
Ms Chuwudum-Daniels: They trained us but no funds. I don’t need any more training right now. What I need now is money. I need support to help these people that I am grooming because they are my vision. By the time I see these women established, if we have enough women growing tomatoes in a state, there is nowhere you’d see three tomatoes for N1000. It is only expensive because it is scarce and many people are not growing it and because of the issue of cows, we are training women to grow this food in their backyards, no more going into the bush where cows will eat the plants.
We have vertical wall planting where you can plant your vegetables. Basically, anywhere that has light. In the abroad, they are paying for most of the things that can be seen by the road side here in Nigeria, like lettuce. They even pay for artificial light to grow their plants and we have sunlight here. That’s why you’d see a lot of foreigners in Nigeria, doing their farming freely.
PT: Tell us about land procurement in your journey, what challenges did you face as a woman? What is your experience with herders because it is nearly inevitable? What solutions do you suggest?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: Purchasing the land was not difficult, But I work with a team, I have some men that I recruited into teams that help to show face as the men when it has to do with the man things but when it comes to the brainwork, they still come back to me. I am the engine of the company but I have representatives.
The problem was that after planting, cows would go in and eat up everything. Like in 2017, our 60 acres of rice farm was devastated by cows. I posted it on social media and nobody did anything. I copied the president and the vice president and got no response.
I lost everything, even with the loan I borrowed from people to do the planting. I am still repaying the debts till today. Getting land is not the problem but managing the land and that’s what prompted us to create our management services.
Those challenges I had in 2012-2022, over ten years is what I am trying to help people avoid. To save them from experiencing what I passed through. Like when I see a land that would be prone to attacks and would tell them don’t waste your investment here because there is no protection over it.
There are solutions abroad where they grow the grass for them which is even healthier for the cows and safer for the children that are passing on the road where their lives are at risk. It beats my imagination because in a developed nation like Nigeria, you still see cows on the road and in people’s farms. I don’t get it.
PT: You think Nigeria is developed?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: Nigeria is developed. Are you aware that Nigeria has the most expensive gadgets that even U.S. and other developed countries are not buying? Our brains are what needs to be developed. The brain is not developed. I said something in my interview with CGTN, I said the real farm is the brain.
When people say there is no employment, I laugh because what I see on the street are unemployed minds. If you get your mind employed, you can make your way in Nigeria. Look at our population, if you decide to sell Garri and focus and produce Garri and sell, you cannot be hungry.
It is a staple food that everybody must eat, the only thing it can cost you is to get busy, stress yourself, go into the bush, plant the cassava or buy from those that are planting. You can keep doing yahoo to make money, the real money is in the soil, in the bush for those that know.
PT: You mentioned processing some of the vegetables, which of them do you process, why did you get involved with the value chain?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: We have our dried vegetables, we dry Ewedu, Afang leaves, and all leaves you can ever imagine which can be used to cook. We package and supply them to supermarkets and also export.
We process oils, palm oils, essential oils like carrot oil, Neem oil, and sell. We have our packaged Egusi, Garri. Presently we are trying to process starch, but the machine for starch is expensive. Starch is like the hottest product in the market now, so we are trying to buy the machine, starch which is in high demand in the international market, will compete with the dollar which will bring more yield into the country. That’s why we are looking at how to grow the economy as we are growing the people’s pockets.
PT: Are you licensed to Export?
Ms Chukwudum- Daniels: Yes, we are registered.
PT: As a licensed exporter, what are the challenges you face in the Export industry?
Ms Chukwudum- Daniels: I can’t start narrating the challenges here because I will start crying. The charges at the port are deafening. Because by the time you finish paying for those things, you will not even see your cost of production. And it is making us lose market because by the time you do all the costing of the charges being paid at the port.
We need to work on the charges, by the time people get to the port, you will pay more than 10 different people that you don’t even know what their role is. You will see five people doing the same job and you are paying the same amount to all of them.
By the time they finish, how much will remain. So, people will rather leave you and your products and go abroad to buy from Ghanaians or other countries that are cheaper for them. The charges placed on agricultural products for export is too much.
PT: Recently, a man lamented about sending a package from another country to Nigeria and it went missing. Have you ever faced such challenges that hinder the delivery of products?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: No, I make sure I don’t involve myself in products with short shelf lives. I do more of dried products to avoid stories that touch the heart. That’s why I dehydrate my products. Like snails, if you are not coming to carry it from the company in Nigeria, I don’t sell it or you give me an agent I can hand over to in Nigeria and collect my money.
Our goods have not been stolen except within Nigeria where I sent some bags of rice from Sokoto to be delivered to Lagos in December and they were missing. It took days of reporting to some authorities to help search before I finally found the goods in a bush in Kwara State. I couldn’t find the driver till date. The issue is in Nigeria, there is no issue of stolen goods when we export.
PT: Vertical farming sounds interesting, what is it all about and how can it help mitigate the problems between farmers and herders?
Ms Chukwudum- Daniels: The major thing that we need for this is Hydroponic farming. Hydroponic farming can be done in many ways. An example is vertical farming where you have a lot of sprouts within days that can be groomed into grasses that can be used to feed these cows. And it is even healthier, the nutritional value is higher than what the cows are picking on the road. You would even be able to trace the quantity of food being given to the cows. Like, Today, I gave my cows 30g of grass.
You can accurately know what the animals are eating and the weight to expect any time.
When you are growing things vertically, it saves space. Ordinarily also, there are so many lands in the North where we can grow hays, dry them and save for future use. I don’t understand the logic behind taking cows around because even as the cows move, they are losing weight. They are burning the foods they have eaten.
PT: You offer training and do it alongside your farm, and processing foods? How did you manage it with your family?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: We have come a long way; we didn’t start today. When we started, we didn’t start with training immediately. It was when we mastered growing our own foods. We had a lot of challenges, we had losses, gains from which we grew into what we are today. People invited me to places to speak in communities to teach and inspire others. So, I discovered something, women are builders so if women can be exposed to agriculture. I see agriculture as creating things. That’s how I started grooming people. The population we have in Nigeria is a privilege.
I had to include my husband in the farming, that’s how we do it. And I do some farming in the house. And when I tell my husband I am going to the farm by 2am, he understands.
When we went into processing, we realized that the middle men were killing us. They were selling our chicken at doubled price while we were only making N50 on each product. That’s because we didn’t have the market and we needed to make sales. So, I stopped the middle man thing. I realised it is better to sell directly to the market.
That’s why I have created a platform for these women that are starting up so they won’t face the same challenges I faced. Right now, growing chicken is not the same. A bag of feed we used to buy for N2500 then is now N8500. And the reason for this is that the major things we are using to make these feeds are being eaten by cows. People are running away from the farm because of the cows. And the few that are farming have to sell at very high prices to make profit. We had to follow the value chain of the products to create margin and make profits. So, we have to produce, process and package.
PT: Climate change is a thorn in the flesh of farmers, what are the challenges you face from climate change?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: Presently, the water in my farm dried up. We are looking for money to do another borehole. The same borehole that we could have done for N750T is now N1.8M. Before now, we can predict when rain will fall but now, we can’t. Now to do major vegetable farming, you have to consider irrigation.
Climate change is a major challenge but the solution is irrigation. Which is also expensive and because of this we are practicing organic. Because sometimes you can just use fertilizer to boost the plant to give you products quickly but the soil is dying. But if you use organic manure to replenish the soil to become better. We also use shifting cultivation and crop rotation and we do mixed farming too to protect the plants from pests rather than using pesticides.
PT: Can you cultivate other crops asides vegetables vertically?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels :Yes, like yam. We put the yam cuttings in sacks.
PT: Access to finance is a big challenge for farmers especially women, how can the government help farmers especially, women in financing their farming?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: I don’t want to talk about that because I don’t want to get angry. I have been a farmer for almost ten years and I have not received any money from anybody and I have applied for many. All they do is give awards. I have more than 20 awards. Awards won’t do anything, what I need is funding. The worst is, they are giving money to people who are just going to spend the money and not help women.
PT: Asides from finance, what order challenges do you face as a farmer?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: We are facing a lot of challenges but the major is finance, logistics and workers. Most times, there are no roads to move these goods from the villages to the cities. About the missing rice, if the roads were good, I would have been in the truck with the rice. Even if the roads can be connected for trains to be moving, it would help and the cost of
these goods will go down because the cost of transportation is too high.Workers: many people are not willing to work. They don’t want to work and be paid. Once they come and they don’t see what to steal, they don’t stay.
PT: For your training, what is the cost implication for the women, are there follow ups to know the level of improvement or the impact your training has on their farms? Do these women have issues getting lands for farming?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: There are some we charge and some we don’t. We organise our free training once in a year to help people. We also organise international trips where we take most of them to a bigger farm in Benin Republic which is the biggest farm in West Africa to challenge their passion and inspire them.
Whoever we train will enjoy our six months mentorship. Full mentoring and they can walk into our offices for whatever challenges they are facing. We also visit their farms or send extension workers to their farms to help them.
Most of them have their own land and those who don’t do backyard farming or vertical farming. And we train some of them to do soilless farming where you can grow with nutrients.
PT: Another interesting farming system, what is soilless farming?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: It is when you farm in the absence of soil. We use Coco Peets with rice brown. Coco Peets is made from coconut husks. The husks are grinded and activated. They are not doing it in Nigeria so we import it. Sometimes we export coconut husks and import the processed cocoa peets. That is why I always say we export our wealth and import poverty. We add nutrients that we extract from plants to these peets and use them to grow plants. You can plant in bags and grow a lot of things without soil.
The downside to it is that the startup is high. But it depends on size so I usually tell people to start with whatever they have. On the issue of land, we don’t take it with levity and we don’t go through agents. I found the family that owns the land. So, the family will give us a family receipt. I will then take the receipt to the Baálè of the village to confirm it. I will spend my time and do the legworks before we make payments to avoid complications. The experiences we had have taught me lessons on the procurement of lands.
PT: You are the brain behind your work, then you manage men. How has it been being a woman in agriculture?Last words about agriculture?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: It has not been easy because this is a field that is dominated by men. But the major challenge is when you don’t have finance to get most equipment that would make farming easy. Everyone should grow their own food. When you grow your own food, you eat right and healthy.
PT: If everyone grows their food, how would money be made from farming?
Ms Chukwudum-Daniels: If everyone grows their food then Nigeria will start exporting foods and others that are not growing will have to buy.
Culled from Premium Times