With a campaign to get youths into agriculture, the Agriprineurs programme, founded by the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Nteranya Sanginga is yielding results. Joe Agbro Jr. was among journalists that recently visited Frotchery Farms Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State, one of the beneficiaries of the scheme and writes.
As one approaches the building, there is no sign that it is a smoked fish processing factory. No fishy smell, no smoke and the large compound nestled in a sleepy neighbourhood of Ibadan, Oyo State, is clean compared to traditional fish-smoking set-ups which is often dirty. It was precisely to address the unhygienic environment of fish processing that founders started Frocthery Farms.
“We wanted a situation where people can actually eat hygienic fish at no extra cost,” said Ngozi Okeke, a co-founder of the fish processing firm.
“Instead of buying a fish and you have to go home and soak it in hot water and use sponge (to clean it).”
Debunking the stereotype that Nigerian youths are running away from agriculture, the trio of Oni Ahmed, Ngozi Okeke and Yusuf Babatunde founded Frotchery when they met at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, Ibadan during the mandatory National Youth Service Corps scheme for Nigerian graduates under the age of 30.
With an academic background in agriculture, the three of them enrolled in an 18-month incubation training at IITA, experimenting in various livestock programme before settling for fish.
“Fish was something that for me was the in-thing,” said Okeke, who studied agricultural economics at the Michael Okpara University.
Her two other colleagues also loved the idea of fish farming. And during the programme, they formed a company, did a market survey, drew a business plan and ploughed in their savings, convinced it would work.
Determined to stand for quality, they upped their processing techniques. They hired a three room building, partitioned it into wet and dry regions with the kiln in a shed outside. First, when a batch of fish is brought in, they are quarantined for 24 hours to be sure they are of good quality. Once they pass that stage, the fish are killed, gutted and washed and passed on to the kiln. The fish stay in the kiln for about 17hours to 24 hours at between 100oC and 150oC.
Throughout the process, Okeke says the watchword is hygiene. On the tour, journalists were made to wear special white slippers, alternating them as they move between inside and outside the building.
Okeke also admitted they faced a lot of challenges.
Yusuf, who studied agriculture and bio resources engineering at the Federal University of Technology, Minna, advises that youths interested in agriculture must be patient as the dividends do not come fast.
“Even for us, for our first two years, we were not even able to breakeven because we’re monitoring our records and we’re improving by the day,” he said.
“Presently, we’re trying to register with the US FDA,” said Oni, who studied plant breeding and biotechnology at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta.
This success story would not have been possible without the intervention of IITA. In 2012, when Nteranya Sanginga, the current DG of IITA was in Abuja, some young graduates lost their lives in a stampede during a recruitment exercise by the Nigerian Immigration.
“Everyone wanted to get a job and the government couldn’t provide the jobs,” he said.
Three weeks later, he said about 500 young people were fighting to get menial jobs like weeding cassava at the IITA gate.
“I was making a tour and I saw the fight. I said, ‘well, is there going to be a riot here.’ So, I went to mediate. That’s the time I found out that they were young people. I spent four hours interviewing them and I was asking a simple question – where are you from? What did you study? What are you going to do?”
Deciding to intervene by challenging the mindset of youths towards agriculture, he created the IITA Youth Agriprineurs (IYA) programme, with 60 graduates on the incubation programme.
After the first training, Sanginga said about 50% of the Agriprineurs ran away because “they thought they would get a job here (IITA).”
He however, disclosed that the Agriprineurs has been successful in 24 countries presently and the African Development Bank, Mastercard Foundations and other organisations are keying into it.
IYA trains and exposes trainees to the business opportunity in the production and value addition of commodities like cassava, maize, soybean, vegetable, plantain and banana, fishery and piggery. In Nigeria, IITA has established incubation centres in Kano, Abuja, Borno, Imo and Onne. And presently, there are 235 IYA members in Nigeria and they have trained over 1, 680 youths across the country.
As reward for its impact, IYA won the 2019 International Innovation Award for sustainable food and Agriculture in recognition of its commitment to improving both agribusiness opportunities and creditworthiness of youth across Africa.
When Frotchery started in 2017, it processed an average of 500kg of fishes per month but the firm now processes an average of 1.5 tonnes per month and is poised for more growth. But it has not been an entirely smooth ride.