The Agriculture industry in Nigeria, should be giving its pride of place, after all this is an industry, that feeds the citizenry. Alas! that is not to be, for an agriculturally repressive society such as ours, being called a farmer is synonymic to being derogated. However there are a few individuals, who wear the name farmer and take pride in what they do. Through the eyes of their passions, we are able to see the inexhaustible potential lying latent and untapped in the agriculture industry.
We meet one of of such individuals Wale Olajide, a passionate, engaging and driven entrepreneur who wears the mantle of farmer with such pride. Indeed if we aren’t aware, Wale Olajide lets us know that those who till the land and brings forth nature’s bounty are the true kings.The platform Grow Crops Online becomes the new face of agriculture, which goes well beyond the traditional activity of tilling the soil, to be all encompassing of our digital space. Thanks to Wale Olajide, we can all be E-Farmers and engage in the lucrative venture of E-Agriculture, where we log into the GROW CROPS ONLINE platform, to choose whatever crop we will prefer to cultivate and invest in, with a promise of a return in our investments at harvest time. In anticipation of our SME Anatomy conference in August, Happenings Media in the person of Yussuf Busari got us acquainted with Wale Olajide Marketing and Partnership Head for Grow Crops online.
May we be acquainted?
My name is Wale Olajide, although I was born Wale Solanke, but chose to change my surname to Olajide, which is my father’s first name. I am a lawyer and an entrepreneur.
Tell us about E-Agric.
Agriculture is an industry I have always had exposure to, you see I was born in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and grew up in Zaria. At the time my father a professor of architecture had begun to dabble in agriculture, for some reason he was fascinated with growing crops.
I remember a time in Nigeria, under the Babaginda regime, where teachers of universities and tertiary institutions went on strike and in the course of the strike, they were not paid salaries or benefits. My father then was among the lucky ones, he had agriculture to fall back on, when his colleagues were experiencing extreme deprivation. At the time he was growing cowpeas, what is popularly called beans these days. He had a large farm of this crop and my family ate a lot of beans related meals, the extras we had, we put on the market. The money we made from sales of this crop, kept the family afloat.
Therefore at a tender age, I had become exposed to the inexhaustible potential of agriculture, although our society do not encourage farmers as they should. Now in the present, after my father’s demise, my interest in agriculture never waned thus I looked for a more feasible approach to agriculture, in relation to our agriculturally repressive society. Agriculture is an industry that is all consuming, therefore it is not something to get into haphazardly, you must have adequate knowledge and agricultural know how, to delve into this field.
It became my prerogative to set up an organization that will represent the interest of those who may want to delve into agriculture but lack the knowledge or have too much fear for the risks involved in the industry. This organization has its aim, solely founded on a need to ensure there is an availability of crops and produce, minimize the risk and losses that besets the industry and protect our customers. Indeed the agriculture industry is one laden with risk, because the chance of losing your capital investment is almost 50%-60%. For example: In an Ugwu farm we run, we bought about 10 bags of ugwu seeds for planting, a competitor did the same. When harvest time arrived ours was bountiful, hers wasn’t, you may ask why? After all it is same seeds, same source, same planting process. Therein lies the advantage of having intrinsic knowledge of agriculture before venturing into it. Being a farmer, is not merely to be looked upon as a hobby, it is an all consuming, energy sapping venture. For the competition, her harvest may not have been bountiful because she did not pay attention as she should have. Probably insufficiently laying fertilizer, the improper use of pesticides and not watering the plant properly or too much. Anything could have gone wrong, that’s why in our organisation, we give our customers an opportunity to be farmers from afar. You will not be burdened with the fundamentals of farming. We take on the responsibilities of taking care of your farmland and crops, when it is harvest time, we sell and give you the proceeds. We are practical about the returns you should expect, because we put the cost of the crops side by side with an estimated minimum and maximum profit you should be getting at harvest on our platform.
What do you Sell on Grow Crops Online?
Contrary to what many may think, we do not sell seedlings for planting, what my organization is most concerned with, is selling the idea of farming in its entirety. As a potential client, interested in farming, you go on our site, where you are presented with a variety of 14 crops spread across 12 states, you pick the land size you prefer, we rent this land and then send you the financial details, which can be paid for in installments, we cultivate this land on your behalf, at harvest time, you have the option of having us sell your produce for you and remit the proceeds or deliver them to you, straight from the farm. This is the essence of what grow crops online is about.
Do the Client Need to Have a Farm?
Not necessarily, owning a land to be used for farming is not a criteria, if you don’t own one, you can rent one with our help. We handle the details of procuring the land and cultivating the crops, you can sleep well at night, knowing you own a farmland somewhere that is managed on your behalf. Of course you can visit the farm whenever you pleases to monitor progress.
What if I Own a Land I Would Like to Make a Farm?
This is the second most important question we are asked by potential customers, there are many who own land and would prefer to turn it into a farm. Therefore they approach us for a type of joint venture, what many do not realize is that, it really isn’t that easy to turn a land into a farm, there is so much that must be taken into consideration, four major factors we take into consideration before choosing the site for a farm, are; soil test ( is the soil fertile enough to support plant life?), security ( is there danger that thieves will strike at harvest time?) ; furthermore what is the sociocultural climate of the environment, where the farm is located? In a situation where there is unrest, fear and hazard, our workers may not be productive. Cattle route is also an important factor while picking a farm site ( it is disheartening when cattle go through a well tended farm and then destroy it). The fourth of the factor we take into consideration before choosing a site for a farm is the proximity to the market place (we are conscious of the extra cost of transportation and the hassle of transporting perishable farm produce, if the farm is a distance from the market). If a potential client’s land, pass these four major tests, we are not averse to using that property, we have worked well with client’s whose farmland pass these tests.
E-Agric Seems to be a Revamp of Farming, how has Consumer’s Reaction being Like Towards your Brand?
I must confess, the responses to our brand have been quite encouraging, although we have to deal with the initial skepticism of customers. Most are also concerned about the profit margin we present, as expected, nobody likes to lose money and many go into this venture, with a view of making profit. Therefore we are realistic in our estimates of what your financial expectations at harvest should be. And we work well within the minimum or maximum estimate, as expected of the crops being harvested, whatever the case may be. Many are in awe of the high profit margins of some crops. Ugwu for example, if you invest a hundred and sixty thousand Naira for instance, you are likely to get 80 thousand Naira in return and this payment is anticipated for an additional 4-5 months. The idea of this much profit is founded on the fact Ugwu is a multi-harvest crop, which can be harvested every 2-3 weeks, stretched out for 10 months.We have been able to convince customers that depending on the crop, agriculture is a very profitable business. Most farmers are rich, because the magic of profit making, lies in the volume.
There is an instance where an exporter interested in our Ugwu at harvest time, was unable to get half the yield, from our harvesters in a day, because of the sheer volume of the crops. Even some that had already being harvested, would flourish again. We make our clients aware of the profit margin, expected of each crop, as they differ, we also encourage clients to visit their farmlands. So far the reception to our brand has been good and we can’t complain.
Has there been any Limitations with the Technological Medium your Brand Stands Upon?
The answer to the question is no, in our brand’s proceedings, we utilize the most elemental of technological mediums. We are not concerned with out of this world tech, it is not our aim to confuse our customers or those working for us, with that in view, simpler is better. We as an organization have come to recognize that complex technological mediums hampers or productivity and causes a dissonance between us, customers and workers and that is not our aim. We even adopt simple technology in our farming processes.
How Important is it for one to be Internet Savy in Order to be to take up such Entrepreneurial Endeavour ?
What our platform requires is just basic internet knowledge, because it is very simple and easy to use. All it entails is navigate our platform, choose the crop you would rather invest in. I can comfortably say, it is even easier than shopping online, because you will not be confused with a vast variety of colours or products. It is as straightforward as navigating crops, reading about the crop information, considering profit margins and how much time to harvest and sales; with these information, you can make the choice of what crop to invest in.
How do you think Evolving Technology Will Impact the way you do Business in the Next few Years?
Undoubtedly evolving technology will have an impact in the way we do business, technology will widen the scope of business to a much wider sphere. And it is our aim to key into evolving technology, because we have a much bigger picture for our brand. We have no plans to stay stagnant or unmoving from where we are, as it is our starting point.
We foresee a future, where more people will rely on agriculture for wealth creations. And our platform will be a portal for young entrepreneurs with interest in the business to connect to the agriculture industry. Furthermore it is our belief that evolving technology will introduce much needed structure into the agriculture industry, and further foster a relationship between farmers and consumers, that is a major challenge in this industry, were a farmer is able to have access to those likely to purchase and consume his produce. Evolving technology will also expose several lacuna that is to be plugged, where a farmer has no clue the several needs his crop may fulfill, beyond selling it at the market place, for example in the west, farmers aware that they may not sell off all the apples at harvest to consumers, have created an apple cider industry, where leftover apples not sold are crushed and made into juice and beer; apple slices also being sold to airlines, definitely evolving technology will reveal newer uses for agricultural produce. In anticipation of how agriculture will evolve because of new technology, we are being proactive in our cultivation of plants, for example we have begun a cultivation of sweet corns in our farms, because we recognize that there is a viable sweet corn market, left untapped for too long. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire these new technologies.
Do your Clients still have pre-existing Notions about Agriculturists as Opposed to People who take up White Collar Jobs?
I think that notion is changing, back then being called a farmer, is looked on in derogatory light. These days when I tell people I am a farmer, it fascinates them and they get interested in my occupation and seek to be a part of it. I believe it is because people are gradually coming to a realization that farming is not only profitable but it is an occupation that have within it, inexhaustible potential. For example, farmers in the north are amongst the wealthiest, because their produce supplies countries like Niger Republic, Libya, Chad and some parts of Cameroon. Indeed the agricultural market is vibrant and profitable in the north. Furthermore there is a sense of satisfaction from our customers knowing they are E-Farmers with flourishing farmlands somewhere. Clearly the orientation has changed towards the farming occupation.
How do you ensure Products are Farm Fresh and Meet up with International Standards, given the Epileptic Power Situation in the Country?
To tackle that situation, we do not store farm produce, rather we ensure they are supplied straight from harvest. As a result of the vast farmlands we have to manage, we do not store produce as part of our farm proceedings, it will be almost impossible. We leave the responsibilities of storage and preservation to people we supply. Hence straight from the farm to you, is what we offer, it is my hope that in the near future, our country’s power outages will improve and also technology that effectively preserves fresh produce, will be created, so these crops when stored, still retain their freshness.
What would you say was the most Influential Factor in the Success of your Business?
I must confess that the government of the day have been instrumental in ensuring the success of my business. You may ask what the correlation is between politics and agriculture, well, it has created a drive for young people to succeed, because there is an awareness that with this new government, there is no free lunch; to eat, you must work. This has created entrepreneurs and business minded individuals, who have begun to look inwards. The unreliability of foreign exchange, is making the importation business, unattractive and capital intensive, therefore people are looking to more domestic avenues to create wealth. Agriculture becomes a feasible industry for investments. We do have our challenges but we are thankful that we continue to thrive as an organization.
What are the Challenges you have Encountered?
There are several challenges that besets our brand, there is the matter of acquiring land to use as farms and in Nigeria, acquiring land either to rent or sell is not direct, Furthermore employing workers who will work on these farms, and giving them proper training, and the risk of having them leave after training that is another challenge. Before we undergo any planting process, we get the approval of consultants which isn’t cheap. There is also a challenge of being unable to sell after harvest, when this happens, produce may go bad and waste. In desperation to prevent spoilage, we may have to sell off produce at a much lesser price than originally anticipated. So far it hasn’t been easy but we endeavour to overcome these challenges as we encounter them along the way.
What do you know Today that you Wish you knew when you First Started your Business?
From the experiences I have gained today, there is so much I wish I would have changed, especially in the areas of market and input, I would have been able to manage cost effectively and not spent as much as we had spent so far. Also we would have had a better understanding of customer’s needs and worked towards fulfilling them. For example customers prefer fresh cut fruits, rather than fresh cut vegetables we are involved in. It is an oversight we will be rectifying in due time. It is our intention to be involved in supplying customers fresh cut fruits, green peas and the like. If we had the experience we have gained today, these things would have been put in place already.
Have you had any Forms of Partnership with the Government?
Yes ,we have been in several partnership with the government, such as the minister of Agriculture. So far they have been committed to our course. The chairman of our board, Dr Christopher Kolade has also been most helpful, especially in the area of financing.
What Advice do you have for would be Entrepreneurs who want to go into the E-Agric Business?
I would advice entrepreneurs who are looking to into agriculture, to first have experience and knowledge before going into agriculture. As I reiterated before, agriculture is not a field to get into haphazardly. Another factor would be entrepreneurs must consider, is before they begin a cultivation of any crop, they must ensure that there is a ready market for these crops, if there is no ready market, are they able to create one for their crops? Agriculture is not restricted to just tilling the land and cultivating, there is the business aspect of agriculture to take into consideration. For example a commercial farmer must ascertain that at harvest time, there are ready customers for his crop, to avoid having crops being stored for too long and going bad. When you have gained proper knowledge of the market and the agriculture industry, then go into the business with confidence. You will lose money, you will fail, so learn from your mistakes and failures. The beauty is that you will be a far better person after the challenges and experience. Therefore young entrepreneurs should get their shock absorbers ready, because the agriculture industry is not an easy ride.
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