Suraj Ajiboye, CEO, SMAP Farms Limited: “Our strategy is not only to develop the business; any business must be able to add social impact. Because the more you reach out to others, it is better for the country. “We want to spread our business ideas to the small holders, so we can have more players and possibly generate more milk for the entire country.”
It is estimated that Nigeria needs more than 1.5 billion liters of milk per year and low yields make such a target seem impossible. In dire economic times, the country is importing most of it and thus wasting valuable currency reserves. Mr Ajiboye is frank:
“We at SMAP farms cannot do it alone, but the more people we are able to bring in to the business, youth, the unemployed, graduates and so on, the better. If they have one or two dairy cows in their household, especially in the South West, this may be the best way to get more players into the market. Hopefully that will get us close to 100 million liters of milk in the first years.”
Chief Audu Ogbeh recently expressed concern about the poor output of Nigeria’s dairy farms and meat production, so solving this problem is indeed a major challenge:
“We already have evidence that it can be done. Our first calf was delivered on October 1st 2013. Our environment is humid. You can import dairy cows but if you want an animal to adapt to the local environment so we can achieve high yields, then we must go through cross breeds. And that’s what we have done. Our first such calf delivered in 2016 is producing 10-12 liters per day. By the time we get to F2, our second generation forced cross breed, I can assure you we will be at 20. In four years time it will be a very different story.”
Herdsmen in Nigeria are of course quite set on their traditional ways and the challenge of changing ancient habits concerning cattle is monumental. Who is this businessman who thinks he can achieve it?
“I introduce myself as a trained computer programmer. I refer to myself as someone with a passion in farming. When I was crossing the age of 40 I decided I needed to do something better. About seven years ago I decided milk is life, and is the only opportunity that one can tap into, it can create a lot of wealth for the youth of Nigeria. I am seeing a lot of unemployment in the country. We cannot always complain about government.
It took me two years to incubate the idea and six years ago, in 2011, I took the first step and bought seven cows. I then had three options: I could import dairy cows from outside the country, but the price was very prohibitive. The second option was to do a bio transfer but this is currently also very expensive because in Nigeria we did not have the expertise. The third option which is probably the best for the middle class, was a cross breed. And that’s how we started.
I am never in a rush for money. I believe that you must build the foundation and you must build a solid base for whatever you are doing. This is what happened in the IT business when I started it too.”
(Less than 2kg of meat available to average nigerian per year)
“The government should place its emphasis on encouraging small farm owners, that is the key. In every society the middle class, the small scale industry actually runs the economy, not the big players. So the more players that we can get into the economy the better and this will solve a lot of problems, like unemployment and to create wealth. The value chain in the dairy and beef sector is enormous. We are aiming to produce enough cross breeds so that people can just come and buy.
(Financing options question)
If you are a big investor maybe tax credit can be something of importance. I think where the government needs to focus is on how to provide financing to whichever players want to come into the market and then to serious small farmholders who want to develop their dairy farms with favorable interest rates and adequate grace periods.
One of the challenges that we faced as farmers has been the area of vaccination. We have close to 30 cross breeds at the moment and they have not been vaccinated. That poses a risk to us but we want these breeds to build resistance against local diseases.
For a dairy cow to reach its potential you need good nutrition. But I can tell you I have travelled to most parts of this country and have not seen people specialized in nutrition for dairy cattle. You need concentrates and there are no providers of concentrates in this part of the world, so we do it in our crude way, we plant legumes, we plant grass, we find enough farmland for this and then supplement this with soya beans and mix various other components to make sure that the animals get enough protein to supplement what is missing. Otherwise the cows will not reach their potential. The government has a lot of very good programmes, but does the grass really get where it is needed?
(How do you see yourself in 5 years from now?)
If we at SMAP farms keep doing what we are doing and also manage to get the government to buy in and do what we believe will lift the country in dairy farming and beef production we believe that in the next five years we may not be able to achieve the 1.5 billion liters of milk but maybe 5-25 million liters per day if we get good players in the market. Currently Kenya produces 5 million a day with a population of 40 million. The potential is there. A lot of people are getting into the beef business because the turn around is faster but the honest truth is that if you really want to save lives dairy is the way to go.”