The African Farmers’ Stories tweet chat, hosted by Edobong Akpabio of Agro Centre, most recently featured Femi Ayinde Owolabi, MD/CEO of Morakempire Farms and Investment Ltd, a top player in the piggery value chain that promotes the piggery business and is focused on empowering farmers with information and knowledge about livestock and agriculture in general. He obtained a degree in Agricultural Economics from Obafemi Awolowo University and began his career as a general supervisor and in-house consultant with Solcorp Farms before working with Imokhai Farmers Initiative, an NGO helping farmers in remote areas access funds for production, as an agricultural officer, and then going on to establish his own enterprise in partnership with his wife and brother-in-law. His vision, dynamism and industry have earned him recognition and the post of Acting National President of the National Pig Producers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (NAPPPMAN).
Femi’s love for agriculture began when he was encouraged to pursue his degree, and during his work experience where he learnt about how agriculture could be done with ease and the business aspects of agriculture.
Morakempire Farms and Investment Ltd started with no tangible resources. The initial profits were invested into a space that was offered for free for business expansion, but the business was evicted few months later without proper documentation. Despite the setback, he started over again, incorporating farm setups into the pig rearing business.
Passion, consistency, and focus have always been his watchwords, as well as the eagerness to make impact, and today, he has set up hundreds of pig farms directly and indirectly within and outside Nigeria. The business also has a YouTube channel with step-by-step farm setup and training content. Femi also notes that he is extremely fortunate to have his wife as his business partner and advisor.
Femi emphasizes that the piggery business is indeed a sustainable one, whether as a farmer or value chain player, noting that he left poultry and fish rearing for pig rearing. He stresses that it must however be done right, with seriousness and patience, and must be taken as a business and not a “side hustle”. He also says that despite religious laws against pig meat, pigs still have a place in the value chain that many are not aware of, for example in soaps and cosmetics.
Speaking on the tragic African Swine Fever outbreak at the Oke-Aro pig settlement, the largest in West Africa, and its consequent havoc, Femi says that the outbreak was as a result of demands for price hikes by some farmers, and the entry of new pigs into the settlement without informing authorities or following due process such as quarantining during Covid19 lockdown. Calls for price increases should ordinarily begin with reduced production to drive artificial scarcity and talks with buyers, but with the price agitation among some youths in the settlement, buyers began to avoid the settlement, because there are now more piggery options available for them than there were years ago. Formerly, the regular influx of buyers and the number of animals they bought helped to reduce the risk of outbreaks in the settlement, but the pricing disagreements increased the number of animals in the settlement and many farmers could no longer feed their pigs or meet their health management needs. He notes that the Covid19 induced lockdown was not even the biggest contributor to the outbreak, as buyers indeed showed solidarity and tried to buy up some livestock. The losses from the outbreak are estimated at about 155,000 animals, and they are still dying.
Assessing the impact of the disaster on farmers in Oke-Aro, Femi notes that many farmers, shop owners, attendants and raw materials vendors have lost their sources of livelihood; some farmers are dead and other hospitalised because they took out bank loans to stock their farms, some have moved to other areas of livestock, and others are looking to the government for help before restocking.
To avoid such a disaster in the future, he emphasises the need for serious regulation and development of standardization in the industry. Facilities at Oke-Aro should include standard feed mills, artificial insemination centres, resident veterinary scientists, animal quarantine sections, waste management, power plant/biogas, processing section/standard abattoirs, cold storage, effective logistics, standard training centres and private extension services. These facilities should be coupled with adherence to laws and order to guide business activities.
As an official of NAPPMAN, he notes that the pig industry in Nigeria is in dire need of structure and standardization, and notes that his vision is to provide standard templates to improve output and meet global practices to allow for exportation, increase awareness on benefits of pork consumption, diversify the market to improve prices for farmers, and provide financial and technical support for farmers. Opportunities in the pig value chain lie in value addition in meat production/processing, one of the most underdeveloped but most valuable parts of the sector that requires major investment and increased market demand. Another is lard, a pork by-product that can be a foreign exchange earner because it is in high demand.
NAPPMAN is looking to develop processing plants to improve this sector and employ many people, and is willing to work with investor and consortium partners who will ensure good returns on investment and contribute to the GDP. Femi also encourages those interested in the piggery industry to become involved via the NAPPMAN website or the Morakempire Farms YouTube channel.
The African Farmers’ Stories series is brought to you by Support4AfricanSMEs. Tweet interviews by Edobong Akpabio of Agrocentre. Interview edited by Oluchi Buchi-Njere.