Young, dynamic, rich and ambitious, the new “gentlemen farmers” of Nigeria
“Do you want to see what billions of dollars are in pregnancy? Okocha, jeans and sneakers on his feet, plunges into a small modern house lost in the countryside of Abeokuta, in southern Nigeria. Behind the door are spread a thousand seedlings of sweet potato.
“With that, we can produce millions of other seedlings,” says the young man with a broad smile.
At 34, Peter Okocha Junior, aka P.J., has already invested in port transportation and the development of the Delta oil region, where his family has made a fortune. But his eldorado will be green, he is convinced.
“I always wanted to invest in agriculture, but I did not know how,” he told AFP. “One day, while dragging on Twitter, I came across an agronomist and wrote to him ‘Hi my brother, how would you like to change the world together?’ ”
In a few months, their company PS Nutrac was born. Two years later, tens of thousands of plants grow under greenhouses of bamboo, grown to infinity in aeropony, that is to say without land and thanks to an ingenious system of aeration and watering, a a rare off-soil form of cultivation in developing countries.
Sweet potato seedlings grow above ground on PJ Okocha’s farm, June 5, 2018 in Wasinmi, Nigeria (AFP / STEFAN HEUNIS)
This afternoon in June, PS Nutrac employees gathered a group of small farmers from the neighboring town to train them on the new organic sweet potato varieties they developed.
All the young people from the village left the countryside to go and live in the city, explains Chef Awufe Ademola, in his sixties and owner of a small farm of just over three hectares.
Sitting in rows, traditional farmers have curved backs and calloused hands. Facing them, the trainers are all under 35 years old.
– Food challenge –
“We’re all young and we want to make farming more profitable and sexier,” says P. Okocha. “The average age of farmers is 60, it is necessary that the new generation returns to the land (…) and technologies and automation can make the sector more attractive for young people,” he says. .
P.J. Okocha (d) co-founder of PS Nutrac and agronomist Gbolahan Falarin (g) inspecting the new seedlings on 5 June 2018 in Wasinmi, near Abeokuta, Nigeria (AFP / STEFAN HEUNIS)
The food challenge is immense: Nigeria has 180 million inhabitants and is expected to be the 3rd most populous country in the world in 2050.
After the discovery of huge reserves of black gold in the 1950s, successive leaders and private investors have had an obsession, oil, neglecting the other economic sectors.
The access of agricultural products to the megacities of several million inhabitants is done thanks to trucks over age on broken roads. There are not enough storage sheds, let alone refrigerated, and processing plants remain scarce.
To take just the example of citrus fruits, Nigeria produces nearly 4 million tons each year … but 60% of fruits rot. And the country imports $ 315 million worth of concentrated juice per year, or 91% of its consumption (USDA Gain Report, 2009).
An economic aberration which is however dreaming today, the investors.
“The opportunities that agriculture offers are beyond imagination,” says Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu, 34, a proud owner of 200 hectares of palm oil in the southeast for two years.
“The future billionaires of this country will be farmers or people who invest in new technologies or renewable energy. And unlike oil, these are sectors that create jobs, “says the one who is none other than the grandson of the agriculture minister of the post-colonial era.
– Former trader –
But the return to the land is not simple. The main problem for business leaders in Nigeria is access to bank loans, even more so in agriculture, considered a “risky” sector.
“Interest rates are often double-digit and we need loan guarantees at 150% of the amount borrowed, that makes no sense. As a result, those who invest in agriculture do so on their own funds. These are the ones who are already rich, “says the trader in the United States and England.
PJ Okocha, co-founder of PS Nutrac, and agricultural engineer Gbolahan Folarin inspect an eggplant plant on June 5, 2018 in Wasinmi, near Abeokuta, Nigeria (AFP / STEFAN HEUNIS)
Seyi Oyenuga, too, spent most of his life between Chicago and Washington, before returning to his father’s country three years ago: he traded his American life and his construction equipment rental business. to settle in Oyo State (southwestern Nigeria).
Along the way, women pound dried manioc on the tarmac and the villages seem asleep. Nearly all the large farms around were abandoned by their owners and left uncultivated.
– Hard –
But at the farm of Seyi Oyenuga, Atman Farm, we are busy recharging the batteries of tractors before going to plow the fields of cassava.
John Deere cap on the head, blue gingham shirt and keffiyeh around the neck, the farmer lifts tractor trailers with his workers under a blazing sun.
“We learned the hard way,” he says.
This year, it aims to plant cassava on 400 hectares, five times more than last year, at the first harvest. And this is just the beginning: he has barely taken ten years to reach his ultimate goal of cultivating 2,000 hectares.
“It’s difficult, but it’s really exciting,” breathed Seyi Oyenuga wiping his forehead. “I am now able to do things that I could never have imagined possible.”