Many young Nigerians are abandoning farming and rural communities, choosing to migrate to urban centers in search of white-collar jobs.
But Debo Thomas, founder of Hastom Nigeria – an agricultural firm based in Ogbomosho, Oyo State, is one successful young farmers changing the narrative and image of farming in Nigeria.
Debo, who is a crop and cattle farmer, was motivated to go into agriculture when he identified an opportunity in the supply chain of cashew nuts.
Before becoming a farmer, the young entrepreneur was in the business of sales of computer and telephone accessories on the premises of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH).
He could barely make any sales whenever the students were on holiday or strike.
In search of another business, Debo ventured into poultry business, which collapsed after eight months of establishment.
The young entrepreneur says that inadequate knowledge of the poultry business in the country killed the business.
“I went into poultry business but the investment failed because I went into the business without the required skills,” he says.
Determine to succeed as an entrepreneur; Debo was back again searching for investment opportunities in the agricultural sector.
Soon, he identified an opportunity in the real estate of farmlands.
“I noticed that people interested in agriculture are mostly from the city and their major problem is farmland and in Ogbomosho, we have abundant land. So, I started helping people to purchase farmlands,” he says.
“When we sold about 100 acres of farmland in two months, then I was convinced that land sale for agriculture was the right business for me at that point,” he adds.
With time, he saw another opportunity in cashew farming and quickly took advantage and ventured into the production of the crop.
Today, Debo has cultivated cashew trees on 550 acres and has 430 herds of cattle. He has also sold about 3,000 farmlands since establishing his business in 2013.
His initial start-up capital was from the money he made on his previous business.
Since starting, the young entrepreneur has grown very fast as his business has expanded despite slow economic growth. The key to this is determination.
The business now has a platform – Hastom Farms– where individuals can invest in cashew and livestock production.
He currently has over 200 hundred direct and indirect employees working on his cashew plantation.
He tells Start-Up-Digest that the business plans to expand its operation into the processing and exporting of cashew nuts in the short run.
According to him, plans are already on-going to start a processing factory next May. “We have started putting our processing plant in place and planning to open it in May next year, but the aggregation of cashew will start by February.
“We plan to expand our production to 8, 000MT of raw cashew nuts and 3,000 of processed shelf cashew nuts in 2020,” he notes.
“You cannot process cashew when you do not have enough shelled cashew nuts and that is why our focus has been on planting in the last three years,” Debo explains.
He adds that business will commence exporting Nigeria’s cashew to India and Vietnam next year while noting that Hastom is getting offers from the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.
It has not all been rosy for Debo as he surmounts numerous challenges to scale his business.
He tells Start-Up-Digest that huge infrastructural gaps in the country remain the major hurdle confronting his business.
He notes that young people will only find agriculture attractive when the government provides the needed infrastructure to aid farming as well as adequate capital and technology.
He identifies the high cost of interest rate, inadequate capital for long-term investments and insecurity in the country as other major factors limiting his plans.
He urges the Federal Government to enact economic policies that will drive growth and development while calling for the provision of vital infrastructure to enable young entrepreneurs to succeed.
In evaluating the Nigerian cashew value chain, he says that processing remains the biggest investment opportunity that the country can harness for economic growth and diversification.
He urges the government to support the processing of the crop and give it the kind of attention currently being given to other crops.
He calls on the government to spur local consumption of cashew by supporting the production of the crop to drive down price as Nigerians want to consume it but cannot easily afford it.
On his advice to other entrepreneurs, he says, “Be focused and start small. Keep the vision alive and grow big.”
“Be honest because honesty will speak for your business,” Debo says.