INTERVIEW WITH MR. RETSON TEDHEKE
Interview with Mr. Retson Tedheke, National Coordinator/National Secretary of Nigeria Farmers’ Group & Cooperative Society on Monday, 8th January, 2018.
Q: Good evening, with me here is Mr. Retson Tedheke, the National Coordinator and National Secretary of the Nigeria Farmers’ Group & Cooperative Society. Sir, since you’re the overseer of this Project, I think Nigerians and the World at large will be interested to know what drives the passion for this Project.
The facts are Nigerians are mostly hungry. We spend $4 billion every year to import food. We have over 50 million arable hectares of farmland across the country. We have an explosion in population. We have unemployment levels that are particularly for the youths at levels that have not been seen for a long time. We are just coming from a recession. We are a country that is so dependent on oil, is struggling to be dependent on any other thing now that we are having the crisis of oil.
And so, the passion is driven by the desire for Nigerians to be nationalistic about our growth, to think Nigerian first, to think Nigerian always, to think Nigerian only.
And so when we went into this process of trying to set up this Cooperative, it was for the key singular purpose of farming to feed Nigerians from what we have. And so, we are passionately inclined to, we are passionately driven by the Occupy Farms Movement because you see, we have gotten to the point where we feel it is no longer sexy, let me use that word, to go to the National Assembly and shut down the National Assembly, but it is much more important to go into the farms, where you’re not only empowering Nigerians in the rural areas, but also empowering Nigerians in the Urban areas and all over the world who are interested in farming but cannot come to the farms.
So let us sell a message, a message that we know that is the bedrock for how this nation started growing, a message that we know that drove this nation in the early days towards the groundnut pyramids and the cocoa pyramids of old. A message where Nigerians from the South-South produce palm oil and Nigerians from the South-East produce Garri. And we had a nation where we were dependent on what? On the agricultural value chain. A message where the cocoa house in the South-West, most of the Cocoa Houses in the South-West were built by cocoa not from oil.
And so we need to be able to get our mind to a point where we ask ourselves; Yes! Can we not do this? And I have always said that if the will is there, like the State, like the Punjab in India that have about 4 million tractors, if the will is there on the side of the government and the interest is there on the side of the private sector, we can create a synergy capable of driving the Agricultural revolution where every Nigerian can get to benefit. So yes! We are passionate to by the movement to Occupy farms to make Nigeria better.
Q: From experience, we know that Projects of this magnitude always encounter problems especially in the early stage of their birth. So what are some of these challenges that you encountered?
The principal challenge is that of finance. It has always been the challenge for most farmers. Look, anybody that tells you that Nigerian farmers are not struggling for funding is a lie. In short, we were even lucky that when we started, we had an opportunity to meet very set of young Nigerians who are running this lending agency or credit agency, www.kiakia.co under the leadership of Olajide Abiola and Chiemezie Anyadike. It was unique for us in the sense that look, you go to most of these our traditional banking institutions, you don’t have access to money. If you want to raise a million from anyone of our banks, they ask you for collateral worth almost 3-4 million. We are not salary-earners, but when faced with the challenge of how do we source money to start this project? How do we start, how do we get Nigerians to be involved? Kiakia came to mind, and when we approached Kiakia, it was fast, it was easy; it was quick. There was no collateral, all we had to do was to get someone who was going to sign as reference. Viola! Before you knew what was happening, we had about 1.5 million, the seed capital we needed to get Bulldozers to go to the site and start to clear, to pay the initial set of workers, to get boot for the initial input and implement that we needed.
And so this is also the challenges that so many Nigerians are facing because Nigerians want to go into farming, Nigerians want to become independent, Nigerians want to have something that they can point to and say Yes! This is something that I am doing that is giving me comfort. But guess what? Without the opportunity that institutions like Kiakia.co under the leadership of Olajide and co provide, you realize that it become very difficult for the farmer who is willing to farm to go into the farm.
I can tell you that once you are able to solve the challenge of financing and government is able to provide subsidies that we need, because one of the problem with being competitive in the agricultural sector is having the benefit that the Indian farmer is having. The Indian farmer is subsidized by the Federal Government more than in some cases, 70%. What subsidy does the Nigerian farmer get? None.
We produce our own electricity, we pay our staff, we end up providing most of our equipment. But when you have a financial support or financial institutions like what we have with Kiakia and then you have government subsidies coming in, and then you have the communities who are willing to create relationship with you so that you can avoid the crisis of the herdsmen and the rest, then you will have a balance. You have a triad, a triad of financial support, micro financial support, a triad of government subsidies and community support. Once you have that kind of support across board, then you can begin to look at things like improved seedlings, so that the Nigerian farmer will no longer be struggling because if a farmer in Zimbabwe plants maize and his harvest is minimum of ten tonnes per hectare, why should a farmer in Nigeria be struggling with two or three tonnes per hectare from the same maize. So, it’s all about proper support structure that is driven by the current research and the right financing from agencies like Kiakia. Of course, we know that the traditional banks are not doing yet enough, but then where the traditional banks are failing, people like Kiakia can step in and then make it easier like they have done for the Cooperative.
Q: You did mention the Initial Start-up Capital, Seed Capital that Kiakia provided. Has Kiakia been able to provide other financing need, meet your financing needs as the Project went on or was the Seed capital enough to run the Project all through?
Well No! Kiakia has actually been like the Angel Investor for the Cooperative. At every point along the way from when we started trying to prepare the land to when we talked about provision of seedlings, from when we went into things like planting and project management, harvesting and now we are talking about irrigation farming, Kiakia has provided support every step of the way. In short, we jokingly say anytime we speak to them that ‘look, we have come to you again, our lender of last resort’, because Kiakia provides that opportunity for us. And like I said, imagine going to meet Kiakia and telling them ‘Look, we are preparing to harvest, and we don’t have the right finances to start harvesting’. And several times, Kiakia has put as much as N5 million on the table for us at very reasonable interest rate. Once we pay off that, we go to them and say, ‘Kiakia, we need another 2 or 3 million for further support.’ Kiakia has provided this kind of support. So, this support have practically been eternal for us, with regards to Kiakia.
And guess what?! We are actually talking them into Commodity Exchange. As I speak to you right now, Kiakia is providing the backing for us to be able to have a Commodity Exchange that can practically be the largest Commodity Exchange you can have, that is open not just to Nigerians but for everybody in the world over who is interested in coming to buy farm produce from Nigeria. And not just that, Kiakia recently is discussing with us to provide about 50% support for our farmers. So, if the cost of one hectare of maize, for example, is N280,000 a hectare, Kiakia is willing to match 50% of that for every farmer who is coming to the Cooperative as new members. So that relationship with Kiakia is actually very complete, holistic and robust. And that is the kind of relationship we think, we believe should be created.
And we are thinking that going into the future, we want Kiakia to be able to handle most of the finances of the Cooperative. Because what it means therefore is that they are able to go out and say ‘Yes! This is our Project. This is our opportunity. This is what we have supported. And overtime, we are confident we can only progress and not digress.’ And so, yes! The opportunities are available from Kiakia and related agencies, but practically it has been Kiakia for now.
But we feel that like I said earlier, it has to be a synergy. Kiakia alone cannot do it. Where Kiakia is willing to go and mobilize funds to support what we are doing, where Kiakia is willing to invest in the Cooperative, where Kiakia is willing to become the lender of last resort, where Kiakia is willing to provide matching lending ability for farmers, where they are willing to say, ‘Look, yes! Nigeria Farmers’ Group & Cooperative Society, it’s time for you to take off with your Commex, Commodity Exchange arm of farming or it’s time for you to take off with your, we want you people to be able to mill, because Kiakia is also having that conversation with us, to be able to create, to bring in millers, so that all the maize we produce, all the beans we produce, the rice; we can not only produce, mill them, process them and package them for sale. Kiakia is having that conversation. So, it’s an all encompassing discussion we have had with Kiakia. But can they do it alone? We are saying that synergy must be created between Kiakia as a funding agency and Federal Government as a subsidizing agency and the community as the host agency, as the host unit that can make the whole process effective for all. So yes! They have done much more than the initial seed capital they provided.
Q: You did mention that one of the problems of going into Agriculture in Nigeria is that of financing. Yes, Nigeria Farmers’ Group & Cooperative Society is a big organization. Do you think any other small-scale farmer can have the ease of access to financing through Kiakia like you did?
Absolutely! One of the beautiful thing about Kiakia loan and support Program is that every Nigerian has access to them. So, it is not, because we are a big farmer. No! It is because the processes of accessing Kiakia loans are easy. They are swift. They are fast. So, every Nigerian, all you need to do, I think what they are trying to do is to start giving loans with credit history like you use to have in a lot of the advanced countries. I am worried if that can work but they have been able to, they succeeded strongly. They provide loan for every Nigerian who is ready to farm, who is ready to do business. Okay! But your business must be viable, the opportunity you are asking them to fund must be viable. So, I can say that he has seen that, yes! The Nigeria Farmers’ Group & Cooperative Society has a future. And so while 1.5 million naira was a lot of money to us because we didn’t have anything then, probably, it was nothing to them, but it was something, okay? There are Nigerians who are going to be needing maybe a hundred thousand, Kiakia, I think provides that. Maybe fifty thousand, I think they also provide that. Even though their loans are short term, they are available, readily available. So, you can sacrifice a little bit of more interest, knowing that the fund is going to come to you and you are not going to be needing collateral for them. So yes! Every Nigerian Farmer and then guess what? What we are also trying to do?
If you feel you are going to have difficulties accessing Kiakia loans, join the Cooperative. Then through the Cooperative, the Cooperative can practically give you a cover for Kiakia to fund whatever project you have. So those are some of the dynamics that are open to those who are interested in accessing Kiakia funds, who also want to be part of the Cooperative and benefit from what we have. Because at the end of the day, it is something that is open to all Nigerians. But how many Nigerians have access to this information? And I have always said, that when you have opportunities like this, it should be more about information dissemination. People should read!!!
We have posted about Kiakia on our Facebook page several times; they are on our website. They have provided a lot of support for us. But how many Nigerians are willing to sit down. For example, the conversation we are having about Kiakia and what they did for the Cooperative and how their influence over time has made it possible for the Cooperative to operate. How many Nigerians are willing to sit down and listen? And have the understanding? And then look at what needs to be done to be able to have access to that kind of facility? So, we need to educate our people more. And that is why we are doing some of these things we are doing so that people can get to see that, Yes! Financing is a challenge for farmers. Yes! It is difficult for Nigerian farmers because he provides everything for himself; the Nigerian farmer subsidizes himself and how does he subsidize himself? He actually subsidizes himself by providing everything that he needs. That’s not subsidy!
We are saying that even with all of these difficulties, there are support structures provided for, created by agencies like Kiakia that can help you. You don’t have to be a big man you don’t have to be a big farmer. You can farm one plot, you can farm one acre, you can farm one hectare, you can farm ten hectares, a hundred hectares and a thousand hectares; Kiakia will be able to provide support for you like they provided for our cooperative. Because without them, I can tell you categorically that there would have been no Nigeria Farmers’ Group & Cooperative Society.
Q: The last question, you’ve been in the agriculture fore-front now, you have experienced challenges, you have overcome them, and you keep experiencing challenges and you keep overcoming and waxing stronger. In few words, if you were to describe the perfect solution to the problems, the myriad of problems besieging agricultural sector in Nigeria, what would it be?
First and famous if I want to tell you about the problems facing us because the problems are many. Point blank, number one problem is that government is not doing near enough. You see in Europe like in most of the world, government provide subsidy for their farmers. Do we have subsidy here, No! Well I can say unequivocally that we have started getting some support from the federal government. We brought in some equipment recently that were worth almost 3 million, we got them at less than five hundred thousand which is a good thing. If this kind of support keep coming from government, then you can be rest assured that what is going to cost the Nigeria farmer 200,000, a hectare that’s going to cost a Nigeria farmer 200,000 to cultivate is likely going to spend about 100,000. The cost of food and the cost of produce that sell can then be a little bit cheaper. So, subsidy for farmers is the number one problem, I have always say that there are three subsidies that the Nigeria man need, Nigeria farmer need all of them. We need subsidy, we need to be subsidies, PMS need to be subsidized for the Nigerian, electricity need to be subsidized for the Nigerian and farm inputs and implements need to be subsidized for the Nigerian. Once you have those three subsidies, Nigeria have the spirit, have the tenacity, have the capacity and the passion to do whatever they want in this country.
Now, one of the other solution we need is to empower agencies like Kiakia. Look if the Federal Government is thinking of dumping ten billion naira into the Nigerian Agricultural sector, and they are having difficulties disbursing this money, why can’t we use agencies like Kiakia who already have a track record of supporting small individuals who are willing to do business? Once you are able to provide that support to people like Kiakia, what are you doing? You are automatically providing that support to people like us who need the support, okay?
Three, and this is very important, when the concept of N-POWER came, it was to get graduates, pay them 30,000 naira a month and send them to primary schools where they can teach. It is time for N-POWER and Nigeria Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to focus mostly on sending some of those people to farms across the country. There is no reason for hundreds of thousands of graduates to leave the school and begin to think about teaching. No! Let them go and learn to be self-sufficient and independent in the farms. 50 million arable hectares of farm land over that is where we have in Nigeria, who is farming them? And before you begin to give those youth the capacity to farm, provide what I always say is a central hub of tools for the Nigeria farmer. What stops Government from having a centre in the North-West, North-Central, North-East, South-South, South-East, and South-West where you have one million tractors in each and every one of these zones. Where you have one hundred thousand bulldozers in each and every one of these zones. Where you have one million Boom Sprayers, one million harvesters, in all of these zones. What are you going do? What you automatically do is that you empower most of those people who are into farming right now.
Whether we are talking about the small farmer or we are talking about the large-scale farmer, you empower all of us by providing the tools that we need to farm. You are not only empowering us, you are actually giving us the capacity to expand. Once we have that capacity to expand, then you realize that the GDP you are talking about will then increase geometrically. Because we’ve been talking about six million tractors, when we are talking about six million tractors, what you are simply doing is that you are aiding the Nigeria farmer to increase their capacity for production. Once you succeed in doing that, you cannot complain of hunger. Like I said, four billion dollars is what we spend every year to import food. Four Billion! What stops us from spending that four billion to subsidize the Nigerian farmer, to provide implement, to provide fertilizers, to provide chemicals and get to fight things like the army worm; pesticide, herbicide, to pop a lot of tools into the Nigeria market, into the Nigeria agricultural sector and to what end. You can give yourself a target because a nation that is not capable of feeding herself is a nation that will never grow. And if people who are failing; we failed yesterday, we are failing today, if we continue on this path of yesterday, there is absolutely no way the future can be better. So, we are just telling Nigerians that above all things, with agencies like Kikia.co, support should be provided to ensure that the occupy farm movement is taken to the next level. That our desire and our commitment above all things should be on how we can farm to feed Nigeria together for the good of our country and our people. Thank you!
And so, this is where we end this interview and thank you for listening.
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