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Forget doctors and lawyers, farming is where the money’s at, says Nigerian entrepreneur

“Young Nigerians do not want to dirty their hands anymore, and it just shocks me.”

“Now if the average Nigerian spends ₦100 ($0.6) per meal, and we are a population of 170m people, my question to you is this: why have we neglected an industry that has the potential of generating ₦51bn ($300m) on a daily basis? Those are numbers you should begin to think about,” says Cynthia Umoru.

“Now if the average Nigerian spends 100 ($0.6) per meal, and we are a population of 170m people, my question to you is this: why have we neglected an industry that has the potential of generating 51bn ($300m) on a daily basis? Those are numbers you should begin to think about,” says Cynthia Umoru.

This is according to Cynthia Mosunmola Umoru, a Nigerian woman who has spent the last 10 years building her entrepreneurial career within agriculture.

She started Honeysuckles PTL Ventures straight out of college, and today the business is engaged in farming, food processing and distribution. The company runs its flagship retail outlet Farmshoppe in Ikeja, Lagos offering a wide range of farm produce, including poultry products, eggs, snails, catfish and vegetables.

Speaking at a recent TEDxIfe event in Nigeria, Umoru told an audience the country’s agricultural sector has been severely neglected.

“Today Nigeria is the current dumping ground for food produce from all over the world. We have grown a palate for food we don’t produce. We have developed a lifestyle we can’t sustain… We bring in tomatoes from Chad. We bring in beans from Burkina Faso,” she continued.

“We spend over 200bn (US$1.1bn) importing rice on an annual basis in Nigeria… and only in Nigeria will people prefer strawberry over mango and watermelon that is locally grown. A kilo of strawberries costs an average of 4,500 ($25) – somebody’s salary for a whole week.”

She added it is up to young people to revolutionise agriculture in Nigeria and solve its problems.

“We did a survey and realised the average age of our farmers today is 55 to 60. This means in another 10 years these guys will age and not be able to work. What is going to happen to food production? We have left that sector, we have ignored it completely. It’s about time we begin to think of a revolution in [agriculture] and begin to effect change,” she told the audience.

“And you and I are the people who will effect that change, and the time to act is now.”

Food production is where the money is

Umoru noted young people often aspire to be doctors and lawyers rather than farmers because they see agriculture as less glamorous, and do not think they can accumulate wealth. However, she emphasised entrepreneurs can be successful in farming, and that she is living proof of this.

But it has not always been easy sailing for Umoru, and success has come after learning some hard lessons. For example, after the first five years of running her company, and at just age 27, she was bankrupt.

“A 27-year-old lady had lost 27m ($150,000). I had gone bankrupt, and interest was still piling up on some of the funds I’d borrowed from the bank. And then people said I was a failure,” she recalled.

However, within three years she had managed to turn the business around and owes this to persistence, hard work, and learning from mistakes. “It has been 10 years of hard work, 10 years of discipline, 10 years of learning and 10 years of preparation.”

But despite her own challenges, she is surprised not more young people want to enter into farming and agribusiness, adding the sector holds so much potential as everyone needs to eat.

“Now if the average Nigerian spends 100 ($0.6) per meal, and we are a population of 170m people, my question to you is this: why have we neglected an industry that has the potential of generating 51bn ($300m) on a daily basis? Those are numbers you should begin to think about.”

Opportunities across the entire supply and value chain

“Nigeria currently sits on over 85 million square hectares of arable land. Guess what, we have barely cultivated 40% of that land mass,” said Umoru. “It means the potential for engagement is still huge.”

However, outside of crop cultivation, she added there are also other opportunities young entrepreneurs and university graduates should look into, such as distribution and food processing.

One opportunity is in agricultural machinery and equipment supply. For example, she noted that a minimum of 50-60 tractors are usually needed for every 1,000 hectares of farmland. But in Nigeria there are only about two per 1,000 hectares.

“So opportunities across the value chain in that sector are so enormous. As young Nigerians it’s time for us to begin to think ‘out of the box’ and see how we can strategically position ourselves across the agricultural value chain.”

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