Mr. Taiwo Adeoye, a renowned animal scientist and President of the Animal Science Association of Nigeria (ASAN) is the Managing Director of Rostal Resources Limited and a very successful poultry farmer. In a recent interview with Isa Isawade in his Ikeja, Lagos corporate office, he highlighted the challenges facing poultry farmers in the country and what government should do urgently to arrest the situation.
Q: sir, what are the products or services your outfit provides?
A: Yes, we are into poultry production. We are into importation of poultry inputs for the benefit of poultry farmers. We are into consultancy. I can also tell you that I am currently the President, Animal Science Association of Nigeria, and not just a poultry farmer. I am also a council member of the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science. The institute regulates the practice of animal science in Nigeria.
Q: You read agriculture in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria
A: (Cut in) That’s my first degree. I studied animal science (option), then I got my master’s degree from the University of Ibadan. I have three fellowships as well, Fellow, Animal Science Association of Nigeria, Fellow, Nigeria Institute of Animal Science and Fellow, College of Animal Science of Nigeria. I must also tell you that I am a registered animal scientist in Nigeria with the institute, and also professional animal scientist with American registration on professional animal matters. With that, I have international practicing licence in Animal Science.
Q: It will be more correct to call you a scientist than a farmer?
A: (Laughs) I am a professional farmer. Yes, you can say that. I am also a practicing scientist.
Q: What informed your choice of profession?
A: Ok, the same question was asked recently. Really for my contemporaries then, when we were in school, we wanted either to study medicine or pharmacy or engineering. I remember in our own time, agriculture would be the third choice in JAMB or whatever. The same thing was applicable to me. I tried to study medicine. After my A-level, I tried to go for medicine, later when my guardian in ABU then, Professor Kolawole, said that agric would be good for me. I remember I cried throughout the night because if I would have studied agriculture, it would have been since 1982 in the university when I left secondary school. I went to A’ level so that I could have better point to study medicine and I would not mind to even study pharmacy. As a matter of fact, at the time, ABU was taking 6 points for pharmacy and I had 7 points. So, like I told you, providence picked me out for agriculture, and today I am grateful to God that I am in this line.
Then, when we got in there, the first year I was not that serious because I was looking at certain things i.e whether to study agriculture or other things. The second year some things began to happen that made me to like agriculture and because of that, some of our group members, including the current Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture (UNAB), Prof Bala Abdullah and some of us who were considered to be brilliant, to the glory of God, were given commendation letter of the dean for performing well each semester. I have samples of those ones in my library. So, before I finished I had felt so much in love with studying agriculture. Let me not forget to tell you that I was born into farming. So, farming had been part of me it’s only that I wouldn’t want to study it as a profession. That was it. I was born into farming and when I was in school in ABU studying agriculture, I had farm right inside the University of Ilorin that I operated any time I was on holiday. My sister had poultry.
That gave me a very good advantage of practicing what I study in school. Then, I began to develop so much interest in agriculture. Then, just before we finished, I came to Lagos and visited the pioneer animal company in Nigeria, Pfizer livestock feeds, and when I saw a man there with gold wrist watch I asked them what the man’s discipline was. They said agriculture, animal science. That also boosted my morale in studying agriculture. So, after my degree, I served with the company. That was how my career started in the field of practical agriculture. Then in 1993, I started a poultry of my own on a rented farm while still working with Pfizer because they encouraged us to do that at that time, and that was the beginning of it.
Q: So, you have started Rostal Resources since then?
A: No, we had Roster ventures. It was Rostal ventures that now graduated to Rostal resources limited.
Q: I got information that Rostal Resources started in January 2005. Is that correct?
A: Yes. I must also tell you that after I left Pfizer I went into banking briefly. I was in the Gateway, now Access bank. Gateway bank transformed into Intercontinental then to Access.
Q: What was a farmer doing in bank?
A: (Laughs). Yah, actually I think we are also needed. I did a study for the bank when I was in Pfizer and management of the bank felt I had something to offer them, especially, in the area of marketing. We were among the people that developed products for them while I was there. And the MD felt I was doing well, let this guy go and do more of banking and I was transferred to Ikeja head of business unit at that time. But I was not getting fulfillment. So, less than three years, I felt I would need to come out. As a matter of fact, I came marketing here (at Press House). Some of my colleagues wanted to go and see a customer. They wanted me to follow them, and I followed them. And I told my colleague that came with me that I would be leaving the bank at the end of this year. So, I need a place. I asked them, can I get a place in this complex? They said I could get a small place here. And that was how I started here, resumed here in January 2005.
Q: sir, you have been the MD of Rostal Resources since then, that is, over 14 years now. How do you describe your experience? Will you say it has been easy or tough or rewarding or combination of some or all of these?
A: Thank you very much. I must tell you, not just 14 yrs. I’ve been here for almost 30 years. Since 1989, I have been in the industry. I can tell you some historical things in the industry at that time. When we came in there were not big farms as we have today. So, there have been a kind of development and progress. There have been improvement in some things, in science, in sizes, stock holdings and so on. I remember first set of firms / bonds that reached 150, 200,000, it was a rare occasion at that time because in the late 80s, early 90s most of the farms you could classify as big would breed between 20,000 and 30,000. To have 50,000 at that time was not too common.
Technology has improved the industry really. Today, we are not rearing on the floor again. It has come to rearing in cage of a day old chicken. There have been a lot of improvement borrowed institutional genetic and all that. A lot has taken place. But if you ask me, the industry might be growing, the population also growing which reports say is about 180 million now, the truth of it is that the culture of people regarding eating of eggs has not changed. Despite the new information that egg has many health benefits for human beings, Nigerians still don’t eat much eggs, except the Northerners.
On poultry, my association, the Poultry Association of Nigeria, other professionals in the industry are trying to ensure that we lobby the government to enforce the ban on imported frozen chicken. Obasanjo did very well in the area at that time to encourage the home growers. It was 2015 that we met with NAFDAC, the Customs, our association and all that to tell the government to instruct its agents to enforce the ban, not only for business improvement of the farmers in Nigeria but, also for the healthy living of our people, because the imported frozen chicken is not healthy. Our colleagues, some animal scientists in the University of Ibadan did some research on the imported frozen chicken and discovered that there were residues of antibiotics that will make it not to allow the antibiotics to work well with human if they use such antibiotics or similar antibiotics. There is what we call cross resistance. All these can take place and human being will not know.
So, today I can tell you categorically that there have been a kind of control, not complete. We still have some imported chicken in the market place, but not as much as before. Our people have embraced the home grown chicken and the market is steadily growing. But on the part of egg, the traditional glut occurrence is still there and is now even not the way it used to be. We could easily predict and I could say, categorically, the timing of egg glut in those days. Whenever there is border closure during military coup d’etat, you know that you are going to have problem or whenever there is political unrest in Nigeria and there is restriction of vehicular movement, we know that there would be glut. Any time there is fuel crisis too, you know that you will have egg glut, because there will not be vehicular movement.
Now in that route of the north we have the neighbouring countries, Chad, Mali, Niger, and Cameroon. Bulk of our eggs go to the neighbouring countries and the north. Nigerians don’t eat eggs, and the problem is just the myth and belief that cholesterol in egg is not good for man. Research has overturned that. So, we have the routes of egg in Nigeria- Lagos, Port Harcourt, North and those neigbouring countries. But with the insecurity in the region, the bandits, the boko haram, night activities in the North are almost at comatose. It’s like it is not existing any longer. So everybody runs for safety. So, that affect consumption of egg in the North. The routes through which eggs are transported to those places are no longer safe because of banditry and insurgency. That is what is responsible for the current egg glut that we are having combined with the myth that egg is not good.
As the economy plays a major role. During Ramadan, the trend used to be that we sell a lot of eggs that time in the north because they used it for sahur, eating it with noodles. But, this time around, it was not so. Sales became dull. Then, in those days too, when the new yam came out, oh! Farmers would be happy, because people would eat new yam with eggs. But, in the last few years, it was not so, and that brings me to the purchasing power of people. A lot of people have considered egg as luxury. So, rather than looking for money to buy N100 or N50 egg, they will use ororo (groundnut oil), they will use palm oil to eat their yam. And that has also reduced the consumption of egg. I can go on and on. So, now we may be looking at what will be the solution.
Number one, government must support farmers and all of us, the farmers must have formidable association that will enlighten the people. Nobody will blow our trumpet. People we expect to blow our trumpet are busy blowing their own. Today youths are consuming a lot of alcohol in this country because the advert on the Television alone is enough to entice them and to make them feel good. They promote it and say you don’t need to use any energy drink to be a man and for your wife to be happy and so on. So, the government should also assist. I have said it in several fora that government has no business in business. But government can create the enablement and atmosphere that make business to strive better.
All over the world, whenever farmers have problems like this, government come to their aid. It is either you buy it off and give it to IDPs or the school feeding. So that farmers could be encouraged. Even as it is now, you see government is still running after farmers for tax. Whereas, it’s not out of it to give them a rebate now. These are the things to encourage farmers, and then it will encourage continuity. Food security is part of the implication that will come and government is not doing anything about it.
Q: That brings me to the issue of policies of the present government as tilting toward agriculture. Aides of the government have come out from time to time to talk about incentives here and there. How far has your business been affected by such, and how can you assess the current administration in that regard?
Government policy? Many at times I fault the policies, because regulation and deregulation, and all that never worked in the interest of farmers in Nigeria. Having said so, I will not say that the government of the day is not trying to do something. They are trying but who are the people they are using to get certain results? What are the parameters to measure the policies they are putting in place? Who are the stakeholders? Who are the professionals that they are using? The same thing is happening with this cattle/farmers clash. There could be a resolution, there could a way out if only government use the appropriate people. Right now, I don’t see any attempt. For instance, I have not heard any pronouncement on the current egg glut in Nigeria. We have not heard anything from the government. Are they not aware through the appropriate ministries? If Ministry of Agriculture said they don’t know anything about what is currently happening, then what are they doing as ministry? Why do they have all those personnel there? Who is giving reports? Have they not gotten the report on the extent of the damage of the situation right now in the market place?
I will tell you one, there is a department of Animal Husbandry Services that is supposed to be manned or headed by a registered animal scientist by the extant law of Act 16 of 2007 as amended in 2015. It’s not being followed. The present Permanent Secretary of the ministry, who is from Sokoto, is untouchable. This is Nigeria for us. When somebody thinks that I have done something and nobody can change it because of his position, the question you ask yourself is that, is the right thing? Does it benefit the masses? Can it stand the test of time? Are you being fair? Are you truthful? As long as you are not having all those things, you are going nowhere. System should work not an individual. When Adesina was there as a minister, we had progress. Ask any responsible farmer, there was progress. He was laying a kind of foundation that will help farmers in this country.
But these people came in, they would claim there is lake rice outside. How much rice are there outside? I am not saying there is no rice at all. To a large extent, I am not a card carrying party member. I don’t belong to any party. And one of the things that I love Buhari for is his integrity. But it does not end there. You must use the right people. Like this Permanent Secretary now that is talking rubbish there. He has said it several times that nobody can do anything to him. He is untouchable. That is impunity. You see all those impunities, and I am not surprised, the President instructed the former IG to move to Benue, nothing happened. So, what are we talking about? And these are things that we need to really look at as it concerns our policy.
Are we able to follow it through? The policy may look good, so good, but what of the implementation. The implementation is faulty. And that is what is happening. Right now, we are selling eggs at N650 when we have buried many crates of eggs, more than ten thousand crates have been destroyed. I have a friend who said Taiwo, I am already planning my exit, sell everything, then put my money in Treasury bill, I will survive, when all the children have gone out of university. If you have more farmers thinking that way, then the system will collapse. We cannot continue with that. The authority must hear and do something. Don’t put round peg in square hole.
Today it is the farmer that will provide the road on his own, he will provide generator because there is no light. It is the same farmer that will provide water. Everything must be provided by himself. He is a government on his own. So, these are the issues. But, I must thank the media, like you people, who put us to the limelight on what is happening in every corner or hidden issues or certain issues that are not known to the public. If not, what would have happened? In my 30 years in this industry, I have not seen this kind of glut before. I can send some pictures or videos to you where we were unable to carry eggs on the tray because there is no more tray to put eggs for several days. Salary for last month has not been paid to some staff. We have to manage to pay the lower staff, because there would be more crisis if those ones do not have what to survive on. How much is their salary? God will help us.
Q: So, with all these, what is the hope of youths who are being told daily to go into agriculture?
A: That is just a good one that you are bringing. I have been at several programmes encouraging our youths. Agriculture is one singular place that can provide the needs or the necessary employment that we are talking about. And it will be good, God has given us everything. Just drop a grain of beans here it will grow. We have advocated for that. But now? Hum! I have a boy who has been looking for a plot of land to start a poultry business, but with what is happening, you know what I told him this morning- I said thank God that you have not started. It is his brother that even gave him the money to start. You can imagine the guy has called me now to say thanks. The discouragement will be enormous. Today, you see so many youths committing suicide because they don’t have hope.
If you get people job and they are able to take care of themselves, you find out that suicide will reduce. Some of them owe just a small amount of money and they will conclude that oh, life is finished and then they attempt to kill themselves. Yah, the thing is that if the government could still do it right, there is hope. Do more in the rural areas where they can have light and do some things. You will be surprised when you see some youths now in the farm. Some of them are determined. Our youths are not as lazy as people think, if only you show them and provide that mentorship. Some of us need to do that.
Provide mentorship and you see that some of these youths will do well. They will go to the rural areas if they know that there is light. But, why do you want me to be in the rural area and the one that is in Lagos is superior to me? I would also want to come to the city. Suny (Ade) sang that song long time ago that “ko sagbe mo loko, ara oko ti dari wale e” (no more farmers are left in the farm, all have returned to the city).