The Oliver Twist Effect (Asking for More)

by Abimbola Otepola, Corporate Communications Analyst, AFEX

When we spoke with three farmers working with Dimeji Green, AFEX Sustainability Manager, in Obun-Ondo and Edo regions, they all said one thing in common — “Farmers are Oliver Twist”.

We ask: what does that mean?

Akinlade Augustine is a cocoa farmer in his mid-forties manning a small hectare of land in Obun-Ondo, Ondo State. He joined AFEX in 2019 and immediately associated with the Farmers Business School Co-operative in Ondo East Local Government Area.

“2019 was a good year”, he recalls.

“It was a time I transitioned from the old method of cocoa farming to the modern practices because of the training I got from AFEX. I harvested large volumes of cocoa that year.

It is one thing to train a farmer on the best practices, it is another thing to hand them the resources to work with, and AFEX does that perfectly. We farmers are Oliver Twist, we always want more, so that we can produce more. So, when AFEX distributed pesticide, herbicide, fungicide to us, it was a timely blessing that perfectly met the needs of our planting season. Everyone wants the best product, and we could deliver that.

Farming is a gold mine, and I do not know why people especially youths shy away from it. We are making fortune with our cocoa farms. Rather than lament that there is no job, create one for yourself by returning to the farm.

Look at me for example, I have been able to send my children to obtain a good education, skill acquisition, and earn enough to feed my family. Although I would encourage the Government to make agriculture more appealing to youths. It will not be a bad idea to build houses for accommodation, provide food and internet, and educate youths on ways to farm. This is decent work contributing significantly to our economy. I encourage those who can pursue a career in agriculture to do so.”

Frederick Ekpenriebe Thomas, Procurement Officer, AFEX, and the National President of Cocoa producing states in Utese Agbama MPCS, Edo State shares similar views with Akinlade.

“Cocoa farming has taken us far and near. It has improved our standard of living because it is a major cash crop. Cocoa used to be Nigeria’s major source of income and we are working relentlessly to bring that back. At the moment, it is being touted that Nigeria cocoa has the best aroma compared to others across the world. This is because we sun-dry our cocoa naturally and ensure the quality.

Here, we have two missions in mind — to look after the welfare of farmers and the quality of cocoa. We have a strength of over 160,000 registered farmers who produce cocoa, oil palm, cassava, and the rest because we encourage diversification to grow wealth.

The cocoa industry is a value chain system that can unlock wealth and job opportunities for everyone, right from production to marketing. The profit margin of cocoa is enormous, and we need to encourage our youths to participate in the value chain. With cocoa, you can live the type of lifestyle you want. They call my cocoa farmers, cocoa “bogas” because of the car they ride. This has changed our lives.”

Ogunreti Osazee John, a cocoa farmer in Egbeta Farm Settlement, Edo State, testifies to Frederick’s statement on the financial viability of cocoa farming.

“I joined AFEX in 2014 and the training I got from the company made me realize cocoa farming is a good business for everyone. It increased my income and the volume of yields I harvest every time. I have friends that have equally made it big and even traveled out of the country from cocoa farming. We send our children to school and build houses from our earnings from the farm, but we want more interventions to help restore the glory of cocoa farming to the country. We need more people to join. This is our land.”

These conversations only remind us of a Yoruba song school children are taught to sing:

I se a gbe, ni se ilewa (Farming is the job of our land)

E ni ko sise, a ma jale (whoever doesn’t work, is likely to steal)

Iwe Kiko, la I si oko (education without learning to farm)

Ko I kpe o, ko I kpe o (is not complete, it is not complete)

In the end, achieving economic growth rapidly is a collaborative effort for everyone, to promote decent work, labor diversification, employment, creativity, and innovation.

Watch out for the next part in our next post.

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