At just 22, Haruna Hassan Tukur, MD/ CEO of Hafaz Integrated Farms Ltd, has not allowed his royal pedigree to deter him from going into farming, a profession viewed as back breaking and unrewarding by most youths.  In this interview with AMINA ALHASSAN, he says the government has a long way to go in diversifying the economy to agriculture and also shares his experience as an entrepreneur, giving an insight on why most youths avoid going into agriculture.

How did you find yourself becoming an entrepreneur?
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was in school. I was in the textile business, buying fabric from Dubai and having them sewn for high profile customers. I also delved in public transportation, which didn’t work out because I was in school at the time and couldn’t keep track of the business.
After graduating with an Accounting and Finance degree from the Heriot-Watt University Dubai Campus, my interest in agriculture was sparked when some friends and I came across Ana Dariya Farms owned by Usman Dantata. I was inspired by him and also by Munir of Deenat Farms.

Why did you think farming would work for you?
I’ve always loved helping people. Growing up, my mom, had an NGO called Kebbi Women Empowerment and Poverty Alleviation and I grew up in a very large family where we always help people. Whatever I want to do in life, I would like to see that people will also benefit from it because  the love of my people has been instilled in me by my parents. My father is from a royal family and my mother, a politician. I thought, what better career for me to venture into than agriculture? In the north, we have the problem of having a lot of our youths who, though they went to school, cannot actually express themselves properly in English much less get white collar jobs. Agriculture is one sector that I know we have the number of people and also the land, so why not take advantage of that?
There aren’t a lot of youths going into agriculture. I have actually been discouraged by family members and friends who have told me it can’t work. Two days before starting, I told my mom that I didn’t think I could continue. She encouraged me to try it and see, and if it didn’t work out, then I could venture into anything else I wanted to do since I am still young. I was a complete novice but I had confidence.

What do you grow on your farm?
We started with soy beans, then sorghum and maize production because my main aim is to start a poultry farm. Initially we couldn’t do maize because the farmland we first started on had primates around that would come and eat up the crops before harvest. So we were able to get another farmland. So far, we have only been able to do about 100 hectares out of the 430 hectare farm.

Has it met your expectations so far?
It has been good so far but challenging because in Nigeria, we lack mechanisation. Due to this, if you go beyond 100 hectares, you are running into a loss. We have tractors and we are planning on getting a planter, sprayer and a combined harvester because to me, the whole chain should be automated. We would like to expand but you can’t expand on manual labour. If you go beyond 100 heactares manually, you lose close to 40 per cent of your produce close to harvest because of pests or theft.

Apart from the dire need for mechanised farming which you outlined, what other challenges have you faced as a farmer?
I think the problem is that in Nigeria, we don’t have a body that regulates the price of grains. So the price may go from N5,000 to N15,000 or could drom from N15,000 to N5,000 per sack of maize. Another thing is, although I haven’t experienced personally, is the problem of those who will take the produce off the farmers directly. Export is also a major challenge; I don’t think the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) is doing enough. This is because I have an export licence and I still don’t know how to go about exporting my goods. NEPC isn’t explaining to farmers what produce they should grow, what is needed outside Nigeria and how to export it.
I also know that many farmers have a problem accessing grants, loans and others under CBN and BOI. I haven’t personally applied for any of these because, first of all, as a Muslim there is what we call ‘riba’ or interest which is forbidden in Islam. Every loan that is given by government is with interest, therefore, that in itself would prevent me from taking the loan even if I needed to. Most banks don’t like to give out loans for agriculture because they think it is a high risk venture. Most farmers have also said that it is not easy going to the Bank of Industry because of the demands that an average farmer cannot afford such as collateral, percentage of interest or the time frame of paying back.

What plans do you have in place for marketing and storage of your produce?
Before now, our home grown crops were almost the same price or even more than the cost of the imported ones, therefore consumers would rather go for the foreign produce instead of ours. So when it comes to marketing, I think it is easier now that the borders have been closed. We don’t have any option but to consume our own. I think it is easier for farmers to sell off their goods now than in the past. When it comes to storage, that would depend on what you actually produce. Sorghum and Maize are less difficult to store compared to beans, which you have to keep in specific sacks, seal and store in airtight tanks. I look into all these from beginning to end before deciding on what to grow because I am still new to this and wouldn’t want to go into what is high maintenance.

Kebbi State has been in the news lately due to strides that are being taken in rice farming. Are you considering growing rice as well?
Yes, we are currently growing rice but it is independent of Kebbi state government. I recently acquired a rice farm from my grandfather, so we are already growing the crop and have also started a rice mill since we are looking into value addition as well as growing rice. It is called Hafhas Rice.
Your generation is seen as one that wants to make a lot of money to have it all and be relevant; some don’t even want to go through the rigours of working a nine to five job but want to adopt the ‘get-rich-quick’ syndrome. Now, being a youth yourself, how do you think the youth look at agriculture which is seen as a poor man’s profession?
At first, most of my friends didn’t quite understand when they saw me going to the farm but when I post anything on my social media page, they see it and I get positive feedback from them because I try to make it as fun as possible. I don’t think they are adverse to farming but it’s more like they don’t understand the terrain. Some of us don’t know how much money is in agriculture, so there is a need for awareness. Even though the government is doing that now, much more needs to be done to get the youths on board. Another thing is, the moment we start making farming mechanised,  many more youths will go into it because from videos of how farming is done abroad, it looks very attractive.

What are the measures you would want to see government put in place to make farming easier?
I have seen in the news that government is supplying tractors but when we talk of mechanised farming, we don’t just mean tractors. There are equipment like planters, combined harvesters, sprayers etc that need to be imported into Nigeria for us to be able to go fully mechanised.

Do you think government is not fully committed to making efforts towards doing this?
If we say we are diversifying an economy towards agriculture, we need to take it seriously and do it right. We can’t just bring in tractors and think that it will be enough. I am very disappointed because in two years of this administration and all the hype about agriculture, I have not seen what I hoped for. Yes, there has been some level of improvement such as more people going into farming because they know that government supports agriculture but I dont think the government fully understands what is involved. FG is not doing what it should to fully diversify the economy. My suggestion is that if the government could procure some of these equipments on a state by state level, each farmer could hire what they need. This could be done through various farmers’ associations or groups that will pay the government and that will be a way of generating revenue for the state as well.

How accessible are seeds and fertiliser to farmers in your view?
I know that the FG is in talks with the Morroccan government that are planning to build a fertiliser plant in Nigeria and I’m aware of some companies in Nigeria that are producing organic fertilisers. Fertiliser is also being imported and the government tries to subsidise it but it doesn’t actually reach the people it should. I have had discussions with local farmers who informed me that politics and selfish interests are involved in the distribution of fertiliser. Therefore, in order to get it, you have to either buy at an exorbitant price from those who are buying and hoarding it, or be favoured by politicians. I think government has to do a lot to make sure the distribution is being carried out properly.

What else are you into apart from farming?
I have an NGO which focuses on the youths in my state. When people hear the word ‘Almajiri’ they think of them as nuisances but I actually see great potential in them. These are youths that are very curious about life and whatever you engage them in, they are most likely to follow and that is why we have the issue of insurgency, peer pressure, drug abuse and crime. I am trying to put them into cooperatives, get them farms and then I would give them seeds, herbicides, fertilisers and find someone to off-take from them. This is a project I am doing on my own but I enjoin others who have the means to also do the same. I want to leave a good legacy for the future.