Josephine Malokwu, 51, is a smallholder farmer. She is into animal and crop production in Enugu State. She started farming as a retirement plan after leaving her fashion business two years ago.
In this episode the mother of seven shares her experience with PREMIUM TIMES.
PT: You were a seamstress for 25 years, but suddenly switched to agriculture two years ago. What caused the change of plans?
Ms Malokwu: My husband was bedridden for seven years so I reduced the speed of business then, two years ago we lost him. After his death I just got tired of the business so I started farming. The tailoring is stressful because I have to sit every time and I keep pedaling the machine. Considering my age, I cannot go through that stress so I settled for farming.
Farming is a lot easier for me because I go to the farm in the morning and return at noon. When I return from the farm, I rest. It’s like an exercise for me, I just burn fat.
PT: You moved from the urban area to a rural area where you have to fight to own land, how were you able to get the land for your farming activities?
Ms Malokwu: I use my husband’s land so there is no struggle for that and just two plots and I lease land for my animals (birds and pigs) where I pay N100,000 per annum to keep them. On the two plots of land, I cultivate cassava and maize. I process the cassava to “garri”.
PT: You mentioned animals as part of your business, how many of them do you have?
Ms Malokwu: The pigs are above 100 but I don’t keep all because of space. I sold them after weaning for two months. I have 10 sows (female mature pigs) and one boar ( male mature pig). I have piglets often, they give birth in four months and they weaned after two months. The reproduction is every six months for each sow. Once a sow is done weaning, I mate it with the boar again to begin another process.
The sow gives birth to seven or eight at once. They started with two but over time they increased to seven then eight then 10. The pigs are in set, when one set is done producing I replace them with the other. I wish I had more space. I will allow the pig to get to the grower stage before selling. Some of the pigs reproduced in March will be weaned in May that is two months. I have about 200 birds.
Josephine Malokwu, 51, is a smallholder farmer.
PT: When people belong to groups or associations, it poses as a help to farmers because they may be able to access funds or other benefits, do you belong to any association?
Ms Malokwu: I don’t belong to any one. I’m just managing this business on my own.
PT: The government has been rolling out policies and measures to help boost Agriculture, which of them have you benefited from?
Ms Malokwu: Last year, some people came from the Ministry of Agriculture, took my name and pictures on my farm and left with the promise of getting back to me. They said they were asked to collect details of farmers in the state, but nothing to show for. I called my niece who works there, she confirmed that ‘something’ came in but was syphoned by some people. I cannot confirm this claim but I know she is in a position to give some information.
I think these people use our pictures to get money from the government for their personal use. I wanted to follow up but she advised we forget it.
PT: Being a widow with only one source of income, do sell or consume your crops?
Ms Malokwu: I consume the crops, it’s not even enough to feed my children. I process the cassava to ‘fufu’ as well. A paint of garri is N1400 and the output from the farm is small so I can’t even sell any. I can only sell when I get hectares of land.
PT: Nigeria’s security situation is not so impressive, communal clashes, farmer herders clashes and all, what’s your experience?
Ms Malokwu: Well I will say I’m fortunate, I have not experienced any of such. My farm is close to residential areas so the herders do not come around. No petty thieves who steal the animals because there are vigilante groups here.
PT: Market sometimes may be a challenge for farmers, how do you manipulate it?
Ms Malokwu: For the birds, the market is always available but we lost some of the birds last year because of the weather. Then the pigs are usually not the same size just like every other animal. The market is available but customers under price them, I have piglets of N8000 while some go as low as N5000. But if a customer wants to buy in bulk, the person will buy all at the same price.
PT: Since you don’t have access to financial support how do you deal with labour, do your children support you?
Ms Malokwu: My children are the unpaid labourers I have. They help buy feeds and take care of the animals. In fact the business is still functioning because of their commitment towards the farm. I’m more of a supervisor, they know I have suffered for them. Do you know when I started struggling?
PT: As a “young person” in the business, you must have realised that agriculture is regarded as a man’s work, tell us your story?
Ms Malokwu: Don’t you know a widow is a man? You can’t try such things with me. I buy the seeds and finance the farm and one man somewhere comes to open his mouth to harass me or tell me I’m not fit to be a farmer, the man is not serious.
PT: The prices of feeds have skyrocketed in the markets, how do you cope to feed your animals?
Ms Malokwu: The prices have really increased, last year the price of one bag of feed was N3000, currently, it is N4000 and I buy in bulk. I have to add bambara nuts, cassava, soybean and palm nuts. They eat different foods and different stages, a weaning pig eats a different food from the others and I cannot add all the other supplements so it is strictly fed on the normal feed.
PT: Generally, what is your basic challenge as a woman farmer?
Ms Malokwu: Funds, my basic problem is funds. I have an idea on what I want. I want to expand this business, buy land and build more pens and poultry. I want to create employment for young people but I cannot do it on this small farm.
This is a retirement plan for me and I love Agriculture. My children may have to leave the farm because it’s small and they will not grow here but if I expand it it will be a huge business.