The modern story of the revolution of cashew farming in Nigeria cannot be told without a proper reference and credit to the efforts of Miftah Adediran, 39, an Oyo-born prince who is arguably the biggest individual cashew grower in Nigeria.
With an MBA from Liverpool John Moores University, England after a first degree in agronomy from the Ladoke Akintola University Of Technology, LAUTECH, Ogbomoso, Adediran tells the story of why he went into agribusiness.
According to him, “I have been farming in my own little was since about eight years of age. I started out with a garden in front of our house trying out my hands on maize. I was also keeping rabbits in cages and my late grandmother gave me about 20 local chickens to raise then. So I can say that was where I cut my teeth in farming,” he began jokingly.
The journey to the sleepy village of Ofiki in ATISBO local government of Oyo state, about 120km from Ibadan, the state capital, started at 9.20 am. Our host, Miftah Adediran, having just arrived from Lagos the same morning, sounded us a mild warning: “Gentlemen, prepare for a bumpy and long ride to our cashew plantation.”
As we journeyed through the dusty Ibadan-Iseyin road, this reporter already had enough questions to be asked ‘Mr. Cashew’ or the ‘Cashew King’. Our first stop was a small roadside restaurant popularly called Buka just by the entrance to Iseyin. He asked if this reporter would like to have a breakfast of amala, a local delicacy popular among the people of the southwest Nigeria, but he said with his mind already made up for the bumpy ride as earlier warned before leaving Ibadan.
What motivated you to come this far in the jungle to establish a cashew plantation? This reporter asked the ‘Cashew King’.
The big grin on his face that morning was enough to pass a huge message across that this man would be a reporter’s delight. Taking me through how the cashew project began, he will intermittently ask if we were all comfortable in the vehicle conveying us.
“Years back, I used to grow cassava, maize and soybeans,” he began. He continued: “But having weighed all the options and facing the stark reality heads-on, growing maize is not as lucrative as cashew plantation.
We lost our pride of place in agriculture as a nation to smaller countries in West Africa like Ghana, Cote d’ivoire, even the Gambia due to discovery of hydrocarbon.”
“They all faced the development of their agriculture while Nigeria faces oil. Today, oil revenue that is the major and chief earner of Nigeria’s foreign exchange is unpredictable.
“Ghana earned a princely sum of $233 million from the sale of cashew nut in 2017 from about 150,000 hectares of land.
My immediate neighbor on the farm owns about 20,000 hectares of land. Assuming her 20,000 hectares was among the 150,000 hectraes cultivated in Ghana,your guess is as good as mine.”
As we approach some hamlets in the cashew plantation community, the local toll collectors that usually use a tiny string of rope to barricade the road were heard hailing and greeting all the occupants of the vehicle. As we waltz through the village, residents, mostly women and children, run to a particular spot to gather as it is the custom for the cashew man to stop, fraternize and identify with them.
Out of the over 23 kids that came frolicking around, he seems to know all of them by their first names. As he reached for the vehicle trunk, I wondered what he was about to open until he brought out packs of candies and started distributing to his adopted village children. Asked what informed this Father Christmas-like behavior, no response came immediately.
Observed to have a very deep philosophy about life, he revisited the question as we drove into the farm. “The thought of my two kids come to my mind as soon as I approach the village. They are mostly of their age group. Each time I go candy shopping, I buy spare and keep in the car for my village children. In my mind, I have this feeling that at least they taste what is being sold in the city and what my biological children eats too.”
On arrival at the farm after about a two and a half hours ride from Ibadan, we were welcomed by the lush green array of already planted cashew trees, blossoming under the sun and heavy-duty farm machineries neatly arranged by a shed and workers tending to the young plants.
This reporter, pregnant with a lot of questions, started reeling them out one after the other.
Sir, why don’t a lot of people plant cashew? He retorted: “It’s really not for everyone. Many smallholders can’t do the three-year wait before making money, so they opt for quick growing crops. Another factor is that most smallholder farmers don’t own the land they farm on. They are mostly borrowed lands so they cannot put cash crops on them.”
Pointing at a bulldozer, he explained further: “A good example is that man standing by the bulldozer; he has spent 40 years in this village. He is a foreigner. What he does all his life is maize and yam planting. With all the 40 years spent here, he has not had more than 10 hectares of cultivated land. We came to open up this place less than two years ago, we have cultivated over 850 hectares of cashew trees. We intend to cultivate another 3000 hectares in the next 2 years.”
How do you get farm workers to this remote village? “We are partners with our host community and the kind of benefit they can get for us is to engage their willing youth on the farm. At first, they were lethargic towards farmwork but with the right motivation, we were able to draw them out in large numbers that it even became a competition as to who will go to the farm and who will not. In fact by the time we were rounding up planting of the trees, and it began to dawn on them that there might not be this kind of activity again until the next planting season, they started choosing among themselves who would work as maintenance hand on the farm.”
Can we go round the farm? “Sure, why not?
As we take a look round the farm to check how the trees planted are coming up, the passion with which the cashew man was tending to the plants was unmistakable. He took time to explain all the stages they will pass through before maturity.”
Explaining how he funds the activities on the farm, he noted that “What you see here is 80 per cent self-funded. No bank loans whatsoever. In fact you just might be wasting precious time going after the so-called agricultural loans because the banks wont give you the loan on the particular project you intend to use it except you have other business doing a good turnover to repay the loans.”
But does he seek investors? “Oh Yes! Recall I said the farm is 80 per cent self funded, the remaining 20 per cent is for other investors. This particular project is capital intensive. It requires a lot of money to get to where I envisioned.”
What advise do you have for those coming to agriculture? “They should have it at the back of their mind that farming/agriculture is never a get-rich-quick business; it takes time to stabilize and yield money. However, the end justifies the mean, it is worth the wait.