Tony Effiong, in his mid-20s, is an oil palm seedlings producer. He had to drop out of school after his father was retrenched. Now, an agric entrepreneur and employer of two, he says the proceeds from his farm are able to finance his education, as he explains his business in this interview with OLUYINKA ALAWODE.
I grew up in the premises of the Nigerian Institute For Oil-Palm Research (NIFOR) in Benin City, Edo State, where my father worked and that was how I got to learn everything I knew about oil palm cultivation. In 2004, my father was retrenched and afterwards I had to drop out of school due to financial difficulty while I was in Senior Secondary School. I started doing menial jobs and would get paid about N5,000 a month.
Then I entered into a partnership with someone to cultivate oil palm and sell the seedlings. The person had the money to finance the business and I had the knowledge, but the business actually belonged to him as I only invested N50,000 in it. I managed the business, doing most of the work involved. But when we started realising money, the person started changing the rules of engagement and stopped treating me as a partner but just a worker.
I left and went to take up a job in Delta State in a construction company. Because I had a strong vision of going back into agribusiness, I saved a large part of my small income. I did this job for one year and six months.
While still working on my last job, I came to Benin City and started discussing with Jane Inyang, a childhood friend, who was already into farming and is now a university graduate. She encouraged me to actualise my vision of starting up my own farm. I thought about it and then went to the bank and got out my savings – about N300,000, and established an oil palm nursery April last year to raise seedlings and sell to farmers.
I prefer this business because I know that with agribusiness, one can create wealth as long as the person is focused. With the proceeds from my farm, I can finance my education as I have plans of going to higher institution.
I paid N30,000 for one year as rent on the land, which is about one plot. It cost me N25,000 to dig a well on the land. I bought a hose, I had a wheelbarrow and shovel. During the dry season the well dried up and I did not have enough funds to sink a borehole. I paid people to supply water. At a time I had to pipe water from the neighbourhood to the land. I bought the palm nuts and I paid boys about N20,000 to fill the bags and plant the seeds. We grow the oil palm from seeds to seedlings of about eight months and sell at N150 per seedlings. I have now employed two people that are paid salaries monthly.
I have sold 2,500 seedlings out of the 15,000. The largest quantity was bought by a commissioner in Edo State with a very large farm. I did my calculations and with the sales of 2,500 seedlings, I have recovered my initial investment. By April this year, even if I sell just 10,000 of the remaining 12,500 seedlings, I would get about N1.5 million.
The land is rented. I plant in bags and farmers would now take to their farms and plant. Right now, the owner of the farm has said he needs to use the land. So, I need to buy a plot of land, which is about N800,000, depending on the area. I grow Tenera specie, which takes about three years to fruit. I want to plant about 50,000 seedlings every year.