Bamidele Onibalusi, a farmer, blogger and freelance writer is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Deloni Farms Ltd and the Executive Director of WritersinCharge. In this interview with NIYI OYEDEJI, he speaks on his quest to solve the food problem in Nigeria and other African countries.
What is your business all about?
Deloni Farms Ltd is an integrated farm mainly specializing in catfish farming. We also produce other food crops such as cassava, plantains, and maize.
Our goal is to solve the food problem Nigeria and other African countries are experiencing and to eventually contribute to solving the world’s food problem.
I am widely regarded as one of the top bloggers in Nigeria. I have been featured in several major international publications including Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider, and Digital Journal. I have also been featured in over a dozen newspaper publications here in Nigeria.
I run a popular blog for freelance writers known as WritersinCharge.com and I oversee Deloni Farms Ltd, a commercial livestock and crop farm.
What inspired you to start your business?
I was inspired to venture into farming when I took a look at available data about human birth rate and death rate. This gave me a glimpse into what the future holds and made me realize the great potential in agriculture.
I came across data that shows that the number of people who are born in the world each year far exceeds the number of people who die. While 2 people die every second, approximately 4.3 people are born every second. This made me realize that not only will demand for food never wane, but it’s going to increase significantly in the near future and this is a trend I want to key into.
Based on this data, it became clear that there will always be high demand for food; as more people are born, the land available for farming purposes will continue to decline since these people have to settle down somewhere. In the same vein, the number of people who have to eat will continue to rapidly increase.
What was your start-up capital?
It’s been a while since I started my business, and I’m unfortunately not good at keeping records, so I can’t remember.
What is the number of your current employees?
I currently employ 25 people on a full-time basis.
When was your business established?
My business was established in 2014. I started with a catfish farm on an acre of land and gradually expanded my catfish farm and ventured into other types of farming over the years. It wasn’t until late 2016 that I registered my business, however.
What are your expansion plans?
I’m currently focused on serving a niche market in Nigeria and then eventually going international; so far I’m still very far from meeting the local demand and will need to scale up massively before considering packaging my produce and exporting out of the country.
For my fish farm, this means I currently have to sell to middlemen who then take the produce to various markets across the country. For my crops, this means I currently have to sell to the local market. Eventually, I’ll be in charge of the sale and distribution of my produce while also focusing on processing and packaging my produce into finished products that I have more control of and that more people can get access to at an affordable price.
What are the major challenges you have faced since you started your business?
The number 1 challenge I have faced has to do with the lack of regulation in the market leading to unpredictability; for example, as a catfish farmer we often invest a lot in raising catfish only to have to sell in unfavorable market conditions. The price of feed and ingredients often go up significantly while the price at which people buy remains fixed or even sometimes go down.
I also have issues selling my other farm produce; for example, I constantly struggle to sell my cassava at a profitable rate. Right now I have tens of acres of cassava I’ve been unable to sell.
Then there is the issue of the cattle herders; I have plans to venture into large scale cassava and maize farming but have to put it on hold due to the cattle herders’ issue. The cows are everywhere eating crops in pretty much all of my farms, and this is discouraging me from further expanding my crop farming endeavors.
I plan to eventually plant hundreds of hectares of cassava (mainly planting on land leased from local landholders and the government), but so far my pilot experiment has experienced a setback; while I have cassava farms in at least four different locations, herders continue to lead their cattle into pretty much all of my farms. This unregulated activity has led to destruction of a good portion of my crops and continues to discourage me from expanding my crop farming activities; it is unrealistic to fence my crop farms as the cost of fencing will be significantly higher than the cost of all other activities combined and this will make it totally impossible to make a profit.
How do you think the government can address these challenges?
I believe it will make a lot of difference if the government is able to regulate the sale of farm produce to prevent middlemen from taking undue advantage of farmers. This could be done in so many ways. The government can be involved in the process of buying and selling most farm produce and ensure prices never drop below a certain amount; this makes it difficult for buyers and middlemen to manipulate the price of farm produce or use artificial methods to influence the price of farm produce as they deem fit. The government can also offtake farm produce from farmers during times of glut to prevent drastic price drop due to sudden abundance of certain farm produce.
The government should also look into the cattle herder issue and not just pass regulation to prevent cattle from going into people’s farms but should also actively enforce these measures. The cows are everywhere, and cattle can be reared without having to eat people’s farms; that’s how it used to be until very recently. Government can do this by working with local community leaders and chiefs to check the excesses of cattle herders in their various communities and this can be done without these community heads having to resort to violence.
How many Awards and grants have you won so far?
As far as my farming activity is concerned, none so far I’m afraid.
What advice do you have for other young people that are interested in what you do?
I will advise young and enterprising farmers not to give up; most people believe young people aren’t cut out for farming, and they are likely to experience setbacks initially, but they shouldn’t give up; when I started catfish farming initially I incurred a significant loss due to lack of experience and technical know-how, but I have learnt from my mistakes and I’m constantly growing.
There are a lot of government initiatives that make it much easier for farmers to get funds and support, and farming isn’t stigmatized now as it once used to be; young farmers should be willing to take advantage of these initiatives and be ready to get dirty.