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For educated Jos farmers, agric pays better than white-collar jobs

Picking what could be described as dirty farm work over a white-collar job is a no brainer for some educated young people, who are gradually thriving in the agribusiness space in Jos.

34-year-old Heriju Gadzama, CEO, Greenhill Farms schooled in the US, where he also worked briefly before returning to Nigeria for National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and served at the University of Jos in 2014.

He was later offered employment by the university in 2016, where he teaches business management and marketing. Farming started in 2017, a year after becoming a lecturer. When asked to compare farming and lecturing, and which returns more financially; “definitely the farm,” he said.

“Last year, ASUU was on strike from around January till this year and all that time we were not paid. There was also COVID. But because I had this farm, I was still able to survive, pay my staff on time and monthly,” he said.

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For him, lecturing is a way to give back, which he loves doing by impacting his students. It also allows him to have a flexible schedule maybe Mondays and Tuesdays on the farm, then Wednesdays and Thursdays, lecturing then Fridays, tries to combine a little bit of the two and get some rest.

“The farm work is an ongoing thing and the ceiling for agriculture is higher than being a lecturer. In both regards, you cannot go into these occupations just for money; you have to be passionate about it,” he says.

Gadzama’s main cash crop is Bell pepper, but he has other supplementary crops in the open field, like red cabbage which he planted close to 15,000 plants.

Trying to give perspective of financial gain, assuming he sold 10,000 of those red cabbages for N200 each, that would net him N2 million from just red cabbage, which is not even the real money spinner on his farm.

“Obviously, I had to buy seeds, fertilizer etc but that alone is more than the annual salary an assistant lecturer would make at a federal university,” he says. He cultivates vegetables on a 1.8-hectare farm in Kwang, with a combination of open field and greenhouse farming with six greenhouses. He grows bell peppers in the greenhouses as well as seedless cucumber and beef tomato. In the open field, he grows red cabbage, green beans, green pepper and just vegetables in general during the dry season. During the rainy season, he grows corn and has grown potatoes and organic strawberries during the dry season.

For Dabin Nenpominyi, an Economics graduate of Covenant University, who also holds a Masters degree from the University of Jos where he concentrated on international economics, going into agriculture is an exciting venture he is committing to.

He manages a seven-hectare Fonio farm in Kwall, for a business he says focuses on ‘climate friendly’ crops, which are those that do not require fertiliser and replenish the soil in the long run. Fonio, moringa, and hibiscus, which are the focus crops are being produced with a view to do more exports.

Nanpan Guyit started Jasond Bloom Enterprise as a recreational company but after a near-death experience following an accident, it was transformed into an agriculture company.

The 44-year-old, who had run his family’s hotel business in the past and executed IT contracts through his company, started farming in 2008. He says he was ambitious and started with 8 acres.

“I was just excited and ambitious and felt I would conquer the world. Only to do that and realise that Nigeria is not ready for that, especially in the vegetable sector because they are perishable,” he said.

When someone told him to slow down and take it in bits, he says he thought to himself, ‘No, you don’t know what we are doing here. We want to feed the world!’, but, now says he “learnt his lessons”.

Rather than give up, he says, “as a trained economist, this type of thing intrigues me; I needed to understand why. That was what pulled me in even further.”

With a first degree in Economics from Ahmadu Bello University, and a Banking and Finance Post-graduate diploma from the University of Abuja, he now cultivates an estimated 2.5 hectares he says is enough business. Among other vegetables, he produces a lot of bell peppers and at the time of meeting in Jos, was planting strawberry for someone that wants to ship them out of Nigeria to other African countries.

Would he have done better with paid employment? “I always believe in creating new wealth and I would still do this because for one I think I have better creative expression with farming,” he responds.

After 13 years of farming, he says “it has been rewarding.”

Paul Weng is in his 50s but has only done salaried job for six years. Three years with an NGO and another three years with a company he did not state.

“As I was working in those places, I was still practising my gardening and I realised there was more money in what I was doing than collecting salary so I opted out completely,” he says. He admits it has not been easy because farming is the mainstay for his family of five; paying school fees and all the bills.

He cultivates about 10 plots of lands in total, but stresses, “one thing people don’t understand is it’s not the size of the land that matters. Somebody can produce on one hectare and someone else on half hectare, yet the half-hectare can produce more. It all boils down to the farming practices.” While he produces a range of crops, mostly vegetables and berries, he farms strawberries, mulberries and gooseberries in commercial quantities.

Two years ago, he realised about N450,000 from three mulberry trees and now has 32 in nurseries to expand on that particular crop as a business.

Ruth Damar, a 24-year-old maker of spices, graduated from the University of Jos in 2017 with a Political Science degree, but started the business in 2015 while in school.

“I actually tried taking a job last year but it was a distraction to my hustle so I just left it,” she says. Damar produces organic spices such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, chilli, curry seasonings all in powdered form, selling to those who package for retail, restaurants, and directly to individuals.

Does she get more revenue compared to formal employment? “Very well!” she says excitedly. “I know I’m not exactly where I want to be but it has potentials, and there’s room for growth. If I were to work somewhere, how much will they pay me?”

Christiana Tongman also studied Political Science before working in a bank for four years. She quit banking and later started farming using both conventional greenhouses and, interestingly, repurposing uncompleted structures inside the family compound, to function as greenhouses. Like most greenhouse farmers, her main crop is the bell pepper, and the income helps complement the family’s earnings.

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