After graduation, I gave my parents my certificate —Okekunle Akintunde

President of First Massive Achievers Limited, an agricultural organisation, Okekunle Akintunde, speaks with TOFARATI IGE on the benefits of agriculture

What exactly do you do at First Massive Achievers Limited?

First Massive Achievers started in 2007, and I was motivated by the fact that there are a lot of benefits in farming, which I want people to know about. Many people believe that without white collar jobs, there is nothing else they can do. I wanted to prove to them that trading with nature can offer vast opportunities they can’t get from anywhere else. I have a passion to help low-income earners and touch lives.

We train people, both young and old, on productivity. We are farmers and we encourage agriculture. We have a ‘master trainer’ status with the National Directorate of Employment.

The impression many people have about agriculture is that of carrying hoes and cutlasses for farm cultivation. But we make them understand that farming is easier than what they think. We teach them modern ways of practising agriculture and a great number of people have benefitted from our programmes.

What were the challenges you faced when you started the organisation and how were you able to overcome them?

Our first challenge was lack of machinery such as bulldozers and tractors. We needed to rent them and they are very expensive. Because of that, we were limited in a way. Another challenge was that of lack of funding.

We overcame these challenges by doing manual cultivation, and at a point, we moved from the Yewa North Local Government Area to Sawonjo Farm Settlement, both in Ogun State. Presently, we have 280 hectares of cassava plantation, 84 hectares of pineapple, 40 hectares of castor and 95 hectares of yam.

A lot of farmers have complained of herdsmen and cows destroying their farms. Have you had such experience?

We don’t usually experience that because we know how to protect our crops. There is a particular crop that if you plant round your farm as a sort of fence, cows wouldn’t be able to penetrate the farm. Also, cows cannot invade pineapple plantation because there are thorns on the fruit.

Besides, at Sawonjo Farm Settlement, you cannot see cows around because they are not allowed there being a government settlement. So, we have peace of mind to go about our activities.

Do you think the government is doing enough to support agriculture?

The government is trying its best but the problem is that the government hasn’t got it right. There are different associations for growers of different crops. For example, I am the South-West chairman of the Castor Growers Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria. If there are any funds disbursed by the government to aid the cultivation of castor, we have experienced people who have been working with the crop for a long time.

For example, pineapple is a very lucrative crop to cultivate because of its medicinal benefits. However, many juice making companies import pineapple concentrate for their products, and that is costing Nigeria a lot of money and foreign exchange. If the government had sufficiently empowered pineapple farmers, or made it a law that those companies should source raw materials locally, it would go a long way to help.

It is sad that when the government wants to carry out any intervention, it is those who don’t know anything about agriculture that benefit from it. At the end of the day, they would squander the money because of lack of technical know-how.

There is a body called Federation of All Commodities Association of Nigeria, which is an umbrella organisation for all associations in the industry. If the government wants to do anything regarding agriculture, FACAN should be involved and they would achieve better results.

After training people, how do you empower them?

I believe there is nothing like (compared to) knowledge and that is the best empowerment we can give them. If you have N5m but don’t know what to do with it, you are likely to end up squandering the money. Apart from training our students in the classroom, we take them to the farm to see how it is done practically. Also, upon graduation, if our students lease land from us, we would cultivate it for them for free.

We have not accessed any government fund and everything on our farm is a result of our personal efforts.

Over the years, we have trained so many people and we currently have over 15,000 members. We would be having our graduation ceremony next (this) week and we would be having over 100 graduands.

What are the common mistakes inexperienced farmers make?

Some people go into agriculture without having adequate knowledge. There are four types of capital needed to excel in any business. They are idea, cash, capacity and character/attitude.

Some people just believe that once they have cash, they can succeed in agriculture. But that is not so. For example, there are specific types of soils for specific crops, and ideal seasons too. Farming goes beyond just putting a crop in the ground, covering it and waiting for it to germinate.

How did you get into farming?

I am from Ogbomosho in Oyo State. I grew up being exposed to farming as my father was a commercial farmer. I have never worked in any organisation, both private and public. As a matter of fact, when I graduated from the polytechnic, I handed over my certificate to my parents and told them I wouldn’t seek any job with it.

I have always been involved in farming and it has been working for me.

When did you have your breakthrough in this business?

That was about three years ago because the crops we planted started yielding returns, especially castor. Castor has over 3,000 uses. From castor oil, we can get biodiesel that is purer than the conventional diesel, organic fertiliser, glycerine, coolant used in compressors, among other things.

What is your educational qualification?

I studied Business Administration at the Lagos State Polytechnic. I have also attended local and international seminars on agriculture.

How do you relax?

I am very passionate about farming and that is what I do to relax. I also like to train people.