Turning Farms into Goldmines


Bankole Oyeniyi, Kunle Olonoh and Ree Adintola returned to Nigeria four years ago after a 10-year sojourn in the United States. The three friends had received degrees in aeronautical engineering, aviation administration and business management respectively. They were gainfully employed in the United States before the urge to return home overwhelmed them.

But the situation they found on their return was frightening. Unemployment was (and is still) rampant, inflation was running wild and basic essential commodities had become a luxury. The situation was enough to send the three of them “checking out.” But they did not. At Ibadan, where they lived, the trio took a hard look at the situation and decided to do something for themselves. They set up a farm. Banade Farms Limited at Iseyin, near Oyo, on a piece of land obtained through the Oyo State farm settlement programme. Banade Farms started with the cultivation of 10 hectares of improved yam seedling. But trouble struck in the midst of a bountiful harvest. The yield was more than the young men could cope with. Their efforts yielded more than 300,000 tubers for sale. But buyers were nowhere to be found.

Band Farms was scared stiff, that it would be stuck with thousands of unsold yams. Advertisements were placed on the radio, television and newspapers, for buyers. Handbills and posters went out. “No order is too small, no order is too big, said one of the posters. When it still appeared there would be no market for the yams in the country, Banade Farms dispatched Oyeneyin to Florida, United States, in February this year, to look for a market.

Oyeniyin’s trip was a success. He struck a deal with the Florida State Department of Commerce and Agriculture to export the yam immediately. But, by the time Oyeniyin came back to Nigeria with the good news, the adverts had done the magic. Everything had sold out. Some buyers, such as the National Seed Service, NSS, Ibadan, bought as many as 50,000 tubers. The average price of a tuber was about 45 kobo.

Banade Farms’ tremendous success was due mainly to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, Ibadan. Said Oyeniyin: “We are lucky to have IITA next door. They made improved seed yam available to us. This is what has made our efforts worthwhile and enjoyable.”

Banade Farms is not alone in reaping fortunes from the IITA. The institute has turned farmlands into gold-mines for many others.

Gloria Adebambo, 30, has been nicknamed “wonder woman” or “cassava millionaire.” When Adebambo came home from Ghana at the peak of that country’s food crisis a few years ago, she was virtually a nobody. Soon, she acquired some land in Ojoh village in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Bendel State. She quickly developed 300 hectares of cassava.

A year later, the harvest was beyond anything Adebambo ever imagined. Market for cassava in the area was already flooded. For her, there were no advertisements. Her ingenious solution was to establish a cassava factory. Her gari factory now turns out an average of 50,000kg a month and employs a permanent staff of 150. “When I started my cassava farm,” Adebambo said, “I went to Ibadan to get good cassava cuttings from IITA. It was very successful and I decided to commercialize it’.

The IITA is one name that may not ring a bell, the way the IMF or OPEC would. But the institute could prove to be as important, if not more important in the economic life of Nigerians. One of 13 international agricultural research and training centres in the world, IITA has, in the past 19 years, directed its efforts towards improving crop yields and food production in the tropics.

In July 1967, when it was established, it became the first international agricultural research centre to be sited in Africa. Nigeria provided a 1,000-hectare piece of land in Ibadan for its headquarters. Principal funding came initially from Ford and Rockefeller Foundations in the United States. Today, the list of IITA’s sponsors has expanded considerably and now includes 24 donor countries, several international organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme, development banks, foundations and several other agencies. The funding is channelled through an international body called the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research, CGIAR.
The IITA’s main research effort or “mandate,” as IITA scientists like to put it, is concentrated on the improvement of the yield of such tropical crops as yam, cassava, cocoyam, sweet potato, rice, maize, cowpea and soybean. The institute is also mandated to carry out research into how to improve the farming methods in the sub-Saharan zones, so as to ensure efficient land use as well as a sustained production of food.

For experts, government officials and farmers worldwide, who have come in contact with the IITA, the institute has come a long way. The result of its research is set to change the entire picture of tropical agriculture. In Zaire, Tanzania, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Columbia Cameroon and several other tropical countries, the IITA’s improved seeds are revolutionizing farming. Said Lawrence Stifel, the newly-appointed director-general of the IITA: “We are entrusted with a mission that has a profound human consequence. The most direct means of attacking poverty in Africa is to increase food production. The IITA is creating a stream of technologies that (should) give (farmers) the means to start a quiet revolution in the villages of Africa.”

Indeed, most of the IITA’s research breakthroughs seem quite incredible. The institute has bred several disease-resistant crops. But more remarkable is its development of various methods to boost crop yields about 10 times over. One of such crops is cassava.

Cassava is to Nigeria and other equatorial countries of the world what potato was to Europe in the 19th century. Experts say it is the most important carbohydrate for some 400 million people and accounts for 50 percent of the calories taken in by people living in the coastal zones of Africa. Conscious of this fact, the IITA started working on an improved variety of cassava that would mature faster, yield plenty, and contain none of the cassava’s dangerous acids such as cyanide, which have sometimes made cassava a “killer menu” for man (and animals alike).
It had been discovered by IITA scientists, way back in the 70’s that cassava in the tropics was prone to many diseases such as mosaic disease. They also discovered that the disease was causing yield reduction of up to 60 percent and estimate annual losses of $1.8 billion. Scientists at the IITA led by Sang Ki Hahn, a South Korean, therefore directed their efforts towards developing improved cassava types. Many varieties were developed. Some were even proved to be useful in making bread.

But the most recent and dramatic result is the type called TMS 30555. Tests in Nigeria, Zaire and Malawi have proved that this variety is capable of yielding more than 69 tons per hectare as against four tons per hectare obtained from the traditional varieties. The Ikire community in Oyo State was so impressed by IITA cassava types that they bestowed a chieftaincy title on Hahn and nicknamed some of the cassava types Idileruwa which means “the load is at the bottom” and Isunikunkiyan, which means “not only yam can be used for pounded yam.”

One of those who first heard of the IITA’s “wonder” cassava was Michael Olawuyi, 54, who hails from Ajibade village, some 10 kilometres from the manicured lawns and tidily cultivated fields of the IITA. A few years ago, he was cultivating less than two acres and barely surviving. But when he began using the IITA varieties, his output increase, and he extended the farm to 200 acres with a permanent staff of 20. He is planning to buy a tractor to boost output.

Olawuyi’s townsman, Joseph Adediji, 58, another cassava farmer, earns his living selling the cassava sticks. The IITA cassava sticks are in high demand in Ibadan. Buyers come from as far as Gongola and Benue states with their trucks. Some 100 sticks sell for N50 in Ajibade village. Adediji told Newswatch that he makes as much as N16,000 a year from his 30 acres of cassava farm.

Unlike Olawuyi, Adediji doesn’t look prosperous. His field clothes seem to become part and his black gym shoes do not have laces. But he is a highly prosperous farmer. “The management of the farm is made easy because the foliage of IITA cassava does not permit many weeds in the farm. So the farm virtually does not require any weeding,” Adediji said through an interpreter.

Hahn, the man who was behind the development of the IITA cassava, also found the way to increase the yield of yam, which Banade Farms took off with. Traditionally, farmers plant one small piece of yam to get a full-size grown yam. To do that, they set aside about 30 percent of the harvest as seeds for the next planting season. Hahn devised the method of slicing one yam into as many as 20 pieces (about the size of a cube of sugar) each of which could serve as a seed yam. He called the method, minisett technology.

He then pioneered a method of growing the minisetts under plastic sheets (called plastic mulch), whereby the yam does not require tall sticks (stakes) to climb, but grows as a shrub, sometimes just as tall as water leaves on ridges. The plastic mulch makes weeding almost unnecessary, therefore reducing the labour as much as possible. The yield has been stunning. In a short period of five to six months, farmers who have grown the IITA yam, reap as many as 47,000 yams per hectare.

Sometime in 1984, the IITA set aside rules which debar it from dealing directly with farmers, and invited 250-yam farmers in Nigeria to the institute for a field demonstration. At the end of the demonstration, the farmers formed an organization now known as National Seed Yam Growers’ association, NSYGA. IITA is helping it to maintain a secretariat and publish a quarterly newsletter. Membership of the association include Banade Farms, Obasanjo Farms and Gloria (“the wonder woman”) Adebambo farms. Adebambo is probably one of the biggest growers of the IITA yam in the country. Early in the year, she planted as many as 450,000 seed yam.

The IITA has also made striking progress in the development of a new variety of cowpeas (beans). Normally, traditional beans grow on stakes and take more than three months to mature. But the variety that was bred by IITA’s Indian scientist B.B. Singh ripens in just 60 days and is called 60-day cowpea. In addition, the 60-day cowpea does not take much labour to plant because it requires no stake. It grows erect, about a foot above the ground, and is resistant to cowpea disease. The yield is as much as 1.2 tons per acre, two times more than the local variety. Moreover, the IITA cowpea thrives even in very dry conditions that would defeat any other crop. It survived Bostwana’s drought in 1983, and has become very popular among farmers in Kano, where it is called Dan Knarda, after the Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority, which helped in the multiplication and distribution of the cowpeas.

The yield of maize in Nigeria has consistently been about one ton per hectare. The IITA thought the yield was very low and undertook to develop hybrid varieties. B y 1984, scientists at the institute had cross-bred a variety with a record yield of II tons per hectare. Former Rivers State Governor Fidelis Oyakhilome’s school-to-land programme was one of the agricultural projects in the country which utilized IITA maize, and the bumper yields earned the programme national recognition last year and led to its adoption by many states this year.

Many farmers think plantain can only grow near the family cooking fire, whose smoke is believed to be beneficial to it. IITA scientists, led by George Wilson, working at the institute’s sub-station at Onne, near Port Harcourt, discovered a few years ago that smoke from the home fire has nothing to do with the thriving of plantain. What is responsible is the large quantity of household refuse dumped around them which serve as effective manure.

Wilson, a Jamaican, then came up with the idea of planting the fast-growing, bushy-leaved plant, called Flemengia, between rows of plantain. By pruning, the Flemengia leaves from time to time and spreading them around, a farmer could easily protect the plantain’s fragile roots from the sun. Wilson discovered that 2 ½ acres of flemingia could easily support up to 2,500 plantain plants, each capable of producing one bunch a year worth about N10 at current prices.

The news spread fast around Onne, and one of those who heard it was Joe Ebodaghe, a man whose only previous agricultural experience was running a poultry farm. He invested the bulk of his savings in acquiring 100 prime acres of land which he named Ebony farms and hired labourers to plough and plant it with plantain. He felt confident that he could double his investment in the first year. Now, he is thinking of getting into processing where profit would be bigger. Already, plantain chips are being made from Ebony Farms and packaged for sale throughout the country. Ebodaghe said he is looking into the possibility of milling the plantain into flour which could be used for making bread.

The IITA rice scientists have also developed long grains, early maturing (151 days) and high yielding rice that performs wonderfully both in lowland and upland conditions. The yield for the IITA rice, as shown by tests conducted among local farmers in many parts of Africa, is four tons per hectare compared to less than a ton obtained from the local variety.

Although improving crops is, in some ways, the most dramatic work done by IITA, the institute has taken a close look at the farming systems in the tropics and has come up with good results. A.S.R. Juo, the director of the IITA’s farming system programme, sees the key to increased food production in Africa in soil management. Juo, a soil scientist, says African soil, apparently so fertile, is in fact very fragile, once its protective canopy of thick vegetation is removed. Bulldozers, suitable for temperate soil, do a quick job of bringing new tropical land into production, but often do damage that will take more than 50 years for nature to repair. “African soil cannot withstand the impact of heavy equipment and must be disturbed as little as possible,” Juo said.

To overcome the problem, IITA engineers, led by Charles German, developed “appropriate technologies for tropical farmers.” They include a system called “no-tillage” agriculture based on the use of light, simple and manually operated equipment for land clearing, preparation, planting and harvesting. Such equipments include the rolling injection planter, farmobile, boom sprayer, cassava lifter and maize shelters.

The rolling injection planter, for example, punches a hole in the ground even through a thick layer of vegetation or debris. Simultaneously, it drops the seeds in the hole. No ploughing or other forms of tillage are required. The tool is now in use in more than 30 tropical countries, and together with other IITA simple tools, are being manufactured by local blacksmiths in Ibadan, Benin and Enugu, some at a price as low as N100.

Despite the proximity of the IITA to Nigerian farmers, investigations revealed that the impact of the institute has not been felt all over the country. Millions of farmers in Nigeria have probably never heard of IITA. But unlike them, those countries like Brazil, Zaire, Cameroon, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Malawi are believed to have made greater use of the IITA’s research findings. Said one scientist at the institute: “Perhaps, only one farmer in a 100 is using IITA” improved varieties and techniques in Nigeria. To that extent, the acreage farmed with new technologies is minuscule.”

IITA’s public affairs boss, J. O. Oyekan says the institute is not to blame. “The IITA is not in a seed selling business,” he said. As an international organization, the institute is not supposed to deal directly with individual farmers but through government agricultural agencies. In Nigeria, such an agricultural agency is the National Seed Services, NSS, Ibadan, to which IITA has constantly donated improved seeds for multiplication and distribution to farmers.

Newswatch was told that the impact of IITA in Cameroon, for instance, owes much to the Cameroonian equivalent of NSS, the Cameroon National Root Crop Improvement Programme, CNRCIP. The CNRCIP has proved to be an indispensable link between the IITA and rural farmers, providing them with the institute’s improved seeds. The same, according to farmers in Nigeria, cannot be said of the NSS. Spreading information about these “golden seeds” has been hampered by the country’s common malaise-bureaucratic red-tape.

The director-general of the NSS, A. Joshua, has, however, defended the organization’s poor records, claiming that “good use has always been made of IITA seeds.” According to him the 10 tons of maize and two tons of 60-day cowpeas given to the NSS early this year by the IITA, had already been distributed to state units of NSS for multiplication all over the country. But another senior official of the NSS told Newswatch that the NSS extension workers have lost contact with the farmers mostly because some foreign countries that were funding extension services in Nigeria, have withdrawn their support because they think Nigeria is rich. “We have since not done much to beef up the extension services,” the official said.

Impatient with the inertia of the NSS, farmers in Nigeria, who are increasingly becoming aware of the IITA, have been trooping to Ibadan to request for improved seeds. One of such farmers is Nigeria’s former Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo. His farm, reputed to be one of the largest privately-owned farms in Africa, is already growing IITA cassava, yam, maize and sweet potato. Said Obasanjo: “I hope there will be more interaction between this great research institute and all levels of practicing commercial farmers in Africa generally, in Nigeria in particular.”

Previous Post
Newer Post

Leave A Comment


No products in the cart.