The Managing Director, Atops Farms, Ayotomiwa Ogunsua, is into agriculture, water and environmental solutions. In this interview with PELUMI BOLAWA, the erstwhile banker asserts that Africa has all it takes for mechanised farming that can feed the world
You are a graduate of Agricultural Science. At first, what led you into the banking sector?
I studied Water Resources Management and Agro-meteorology at the Federal University of Agriculture, for my first degree. For my Master’s degree at the University of Ibadan, I studied Water Resources and Environmental Engineering. I went into the banking sector to earn money, just like every other graduate. After youth service, we all want a job to put food on the table.
At what point did you rediscover your passion for agriculture?
I’ve always had passion for agriculture; even my first degree is more of an applied course for agriculture. One must find fulfilment in their job. If not, they should leave. At times, you take the risk, especially when you are still young.
How have you been integrating the new technology into your poultry business?
We have been trying our best in our own little way. We thank God that we are growing. I remember, when we started, we tested temperature manually, but now we have thermometer. We now have gadgets that help us to know when to increase or reduce the heat.
Also, before we sold our birds then, we weighed them using our hands. But now, we use machine to weigh them. We are now trying to move with the trend. Technology keeps evolving every day, and if you want to move with the tide, you have to imbibe digital farming.
What is your take in the way farming is done in Nigeria?
Some things I always talk about in agriculture include commercialisation, mechanisation and digital agriculture. At the moment, over 60 per cent of the Nigerian population is into agriculture. However, over 80 per cent of the farmers are above 60 years. The implication is that most of those in the sector are old people, thus the need for young people in the sector. The way a 50 or 60-year-old would reason, in terms of creativity, innovation and use of technology, is different from the way a 25 or 30-year-old would do.
Aside that, if we are having 60 per cent of our population in the agriculture sector and we are still having so much post-harvest losses, food insecurity and other issues in the sector, there is something we are not getting right. The solution comes through commercialised and merchanised farming, not the hoe-and-cutlass type of farming. We need to start having thousands of hectares of land for intensive production of food. There is always a little beginning. However, we need the intervention of the government and private sector in the sector. We need to start seeing the agriculture sector as one that needs intensive mechanisation and commercialisation.
Concerning digital farming, drone technologies are now being utilised on farms. Just like every other sector, there is now fintech, agritech and digital farming. You can be in the comfort of your room and be operating robots on your farm. We now have urban farming; you can even wear jacket to your farm now. When there is commercialisation, there will be innovation.
If there is adequate provision of social amenities, there will be reduction in the rural-urban migration. Youths will, in turn, be motivated to go into farming.
The agriculture sector cannot be isolated; it connects with other sectors such as power, housing and transport. That’s why whenever there is increase in petrol pump price, there will be increase in the cost of banana in the market.
How have loans and grants impacted your business?
Maybe a reward for passion and hard work. To the glory of God, we receive calls that we have been nominated for this, for that, and it has really been helpful. But more needs to be done. This is because the agriculture sector is capital-intensive, but Africa has all it takes. We have all the resources to succeed.
As regards grants, we have been getting some, which have been helpful.
How much has the Technologies for African Transformation contributed to your poultry business?
In relation to the grants and loans, some of these offers do not only come in terms of finance, but also in the knowledge aspect. For example, I enrolled for TAAT with the Institute of Tropical Agriculture and African Development Bank, where we discussed how the agricultural passion could be turned into an enterprise. TAAT and AfDB have been instrumental in the growth of our industry.
What advice do you have for young graduates out there?
Follow your passion, make an impact, and make life better for yourself and others. Passion with competence and consistency will definitely bring reward – profitability; although, challenges will come. We have many challenges in the agriculture sector, especially in the poultry sub-sector. Follow your passion and build competence to make Africa greater.
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