Survival Poultry Farm Services’ CEO, Mr. Oluwatobiloba Oduntan.
According to a report published in the Leadership newspapers earlier in 2023, Nigeria’s poultry industry is now worth N3 trillion as a result of local domestication of its investments in the country. However, despite contributing nothing less than 25% to Nigeria’s Agricultural Gross Domestic Product (AGDP), the subsector, due to the recent Naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), lost about 15 million crates of egg worth N30 billion naira during the period. FarmingFarmersFarms recently had a one-on-one conversation with the founder and managing director of three agricultural companies in Ibadan, Oyo State, Mr. Oluwatobiloba Oduntan, on the state of poultry farming business at his end as well as issues surrounding agriculture consulting. Mr. Oduntan heads and manages Survival Poultry Farm Services (SPFS), Survival Agricultural Hub Services (SAHL) and SDG Agric Consulting. In this exclusive interview with our reporter, Olamide Tejuoso, Oluwatobiloba Oduntan talks about his companies, farm operations, successful poultry business, agric policy and agro-consulting. Excerpts:
How long have you been into poultry services, consultancy and management?
I have been in the agricultural space for over 10 years now. I am an experienced poultry farmer myself and I am also helping other people to become successful poultry farmers as well.
How many farms have you consulted for since you started? And how do you operate?
As an agric consultant, I have consulted for many people; over 30 of them these past few years, which we started alongside managing my other two companies earlier. All of the people I have consulted for now have their big farms running successfully. I walked them through the journey of starting the farm, acquiring the land, guiding the construction process, the stocking, the procurement, the tools, the birds and even to the point of training their workers. Why I do this is because one of the easiest ways to fail, as a farmer, is to have incompetent people in the course of operations and management. Engaging competent hands is necessary for successful farming. I also link them to stakeholders in the industry – I mean the people who can buy what they are producing. I never abandoned them as a professional consultant; I was with them even till the point that they felt they could be on their own. In this business sometimes, people need to hear their own voice too in order to be confident and bold about what they produce. They don’t need to keep hearing the consultant’s voice all the time, else they would not learn, hence they need to think and take the burden of operations on themselves, by being proactive. What I just do at this point of letting them handle their own thing is what I call, ‘check and balance’ – to help them evaluate their ideas, and see how feasible and workable it is. I don’t tell them what to do all the time; this is mentorship – guiding them on how to be strong on their business. Sometimes, some of them just get tired and they want to give up. At such critical moments, apart from being their consultant, they also come for a therapy session, you could call that “agri-business therapy”. This is because if the owner of the business is not fine, the business cannot be fine. Agriculture demands a whole lot of you – there is always an issue to address so you must always be on your toes thinking. If you are not addressing your stock, you are addressing your workers; if you are not addressing your workers, you are addressing your suppliers; if you are not addressing your suppliers, you are addressing your buyers; so there is always one thing or the other to address, and if not properly managed, your mental health could be affected. Due to quite a number of uncertainties in the country and in the industry, as an agripreneur and farm owner, you have a responsibility of thinking deep, fast and strategic on how to survive. These and more are what we offer through our consultancy services.
Speaking of government policies, what can you say about the recent cash policy of naira redesign and how it affected farmers?
The period really affected farmers, a lot because it came as a surprise to a lot of people. Many were not prepared for the after-effects. Due to how the agricultural supply chain has to deal more with people at the grassroots level, that is, the consumers/households, the policy took a huge effect on producers since individuals were not having access to money to purchase and because of that a lot of farmers had to suffer losses. Although the situation presented eye-opening moments for some of us to see some other opportunities in agribusiness, the cash redesign policy did a huge blow on the egg market. This is beyond what the news read; I know as a poultry farmer. Many farmers had to learn from with their experience, how to incorporate their farms and go beyond just farming. Truly, many farmers have not seen yet how to turn their farm into a corporate venture whereby they can be able to relate to other corporate bodies that can always off-take their produce promptly. I also believe that the effect was so much because the farmers depended more on the off-takers; the middlemen. A majority of the farmers are not willing to reach out to users of their produce themselves and because of that, the moment the middle men experience shortage of demand and they cannot come to pick up their produce then, there would be a problem. Also, many farmers are not motivated to reason alongside exportation, due to policies binding such transactions. There are regions that they can’t practise agriculture there, surrounding our nation. They don’t do poultry because of the harsh climate there and hence, they depend on imports. This is an opportunity for farmers in Nigeria, to take advantage of and move our products to; however, most of the time, some of our farmers don’t even know opportunities are there. A few that know, do not want to pass through the rigours due to binding policies. Let me also use this opportunity to plead with the government to be flexible with policies on farmers, especially when farmers want to take their produce off the border to neighbouring countries to sell.
What would you say are the factors that contributed to the huge loss of eggs during the cash crunch crisis?
First of all, I will say there is no oneness in poultry practice in Nigeria despite the existing organisations that we have. I am not insinuating some of these organisations are not there, but the truth is, they are not functioning optimally. Just like the egg glut situation, one of the ways to control such well, is being proactive. But that’s not the case with many of them. Many times, these organisations are not on their feet always, but rather, they are reactive. What happens when situations like harsh government policies are enforced, these regulatory bodies, most often times, only give out advisories to farmers, and because of this, a lot of poultry farmers rather stay aloof and don’t join these bodies because they feel, they have no need them to sell. So, people at the helm of affairs in this unions and organisations must find a means of convincing people to join them by the kind of ideas, which they roll on the table. They should digitalise their procedures and operations. Things are changing and they need to be more functional.
Can you mention some of the agric bodies you are a part of here in Nigeria, based on what you do?
I am a part of the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and in Oyo State here, we have a very strong body in terms of youth agripreneurs; that is the Oyo State Agropreneurs Network (OYAP)
What differentiates your three agro-companies from others?
The first two companies, survival poultry and farm services are different entities, that operate in same space. They are however with different objectives and aims. Survival Poultry Farm Services (SPFS), which was established in 2013, is meant to help poultry farmers – whether new or existing – to help in their management and operations. Survival Agricultural Hub limited (SAHL) is an entirely farm operations from production, processing and packaging. Both companies can be said to be a “farm to home” kind of venture. SAHL, for instance, focuses on poultry, fisheries, livestock and crops. Meanwhile, we don’t just produce these things, we package, process them and sell to consumers as well as businesses or corporate bodies. What gave birth to Survival Agricultural Hub Limited is actually the expansion of our five farms and making them an entity. We have ponds, broilers, cockerel, turkeys in their thousands on these farms occupying hectares of land.
What is the motivation behind starting SDG Agric Consulting?
SDG Agric Consulting, which started two years ago, is a different business on its own, with the main aim to mentor people, who own farms and those, who want to own farms. SDG is a name born out of my children’s names. The three letters are the first letters of my children’s names. With SDG consulting, we have taken it as responsibility to make sure many people like myself, within the agricultural space, get the right information to run with. At SDG consult; we mentor, train and walk them through the journey of agropreneurship. We also put them through to sail to success. The mentoring business was born out of the fact that a lot of people usually reach out to me to counsel them on what to do, seeking my advice and all, based on my experience. These people are youth basically, as well as middle-class folks and people in the corporate world. A lot of them, having seen what I have achieved with my companies, over the years, found me worthy to mentor them. So, when they often reach out to me, I started thinking of what I could do to ensure I proffer the best services – and that was how we started. The agro-mentorship platform is for people, who took personal interest in me – they want to deal with me directly and not the company. Many of them desire to see me, engage me in some conversations and because of my busy nature – they feel paying me would attract me to focus on them – and that was how SDG Agric Consulting began. SDG then became another stream of income, for my personal self. I sell my experience so that people don’t have to learn the hard way, which I did. It’s just like paying a token to become all that I have become in the last 10 years and to avoid making same mistakes while running an agric business.
What were the hard ways you feel you learnt when you started poultry business and later poultry services?
I started with 100 birds in 2012, a year before I started the poultry services. It was quite unfortunate that then, I didn’t have mentors. Not that they were not existing; but those figures I had in my life then; rather than mentoring me, saw me as a competitor because of the age bracket. I mean, they were quite older than me and seeing me as a young person coming to do well in that space, they saw me as a threat. Many of them did not want to “show me the way”, so I had to learn mostly through personal development, taking risks, making mistakes and going for trainings. I got my hands burnt while trying to grow and did a lot of wrong investments. I later learnt during that time that there is a language every business has, and for you to be successful in that business, you have to understand its language. I had to learn that hardly before I scaled through. Later, I started rendering services like cage construction, installations, repairs, from there, having done poultry myself, I felt I could use that channel to penetrate more people and get across to many farmers, who I can gain experience from. This worked for me for some time, after which I started my own farm again with point-of-lay birds.
There is a common parlance that, he who is not strong-hearted cannot do poultry business? Does that resonate with you?
Well, yes, in all honesty, I think poultry practice is an-high-risk industry, however, there are sustainable ways to mitigate the risks. One of such mitigation ideas, is proper management structure. When you, as the owner, is keying on those structures being observed, and your farm policy being enforced, your farm will not just survive, but be successful. You must ensure that workers don’t lazy around the farm when they ought to be working. Staff members may want to misbehave and earn money for not working, but you as, the owner of the farm or the investor, have the responsibility of ensuring your workers play according to the rules, the contract of agreement. Sometimes, there could be situations beyond your control, but if you have some certain procedures put in place already, it is going to reduce the effect of those situations when they arrive. There are different kinds of infections in poultry, which are basically viral and bacterial infections. The worst of them is the viral infection that would not give you a notice when they come. However, when you have a good management, like putting biosecurity procedure in place, you get to identify the problem early enough, to address it and proffer a timely solution.
10 years so far, what has doing poultry business taught you?
I have learnt that so far, there is no short cut in poultry practice. It is a business where you cannot avoid any process; it is step-by-step. You cannot say your birds are fine today and because of that, you relax or go to sleep. Whether they are fine or not fine, you have to make sure that you do what is necessary as long as it is one of the procedures you have to follow, to run a successful farm. Another thing is that I realised that a lot of people just see poultry as a practice and not as a business, so they handle many matters with levity and laxity. Poultry is not a business you just do on your own. You can’t do it in isolation, doing your own thing. You must always look out to learn from peoples’ experiences. It is not just about feeding the birds and giving them water to get your eggs or let them grow – the poultry business is way more than that.
CEO of Survival Poultry Farm Services and Survival Agricultural Hub Limited, Mr. Oluwatobiloba Oduntan, inspecting a poultry farm with his workers.
How would you describe the acceptability of agriculture consulting in Ibadan, Oyo State, and Nigeria as a whole?
In Ibadan, Oyo State, and even in Nigeria; the rate at which people demand agric consultants is very low. This may not be unconnected to how people feel that they can do these things by themselves, depending on online information and in books, or even what they hear people say. But one thing I often say is that, as much as there is information out there, you cannot have it 100% to be successful. There is always some secret (language) of the business that you will not find in an open space; they are borne out of experience. And it is only by relating with such people of experience that you learn those secrets. There are things that experience will teach you, which are dynamic over time, due to the nature of the practice. For instance, the formulae you use this time, might not work next time, and it might keep giving you a negative result despite that it had worked for you before. This is because a lot of developments have now come into the poultry business space; from the equipment, to the feed, and even the medications. There is a whole lot of advancements happening. So, what you knew or what you read somewhere might not actually work for you, even if it had worked for you before, it may work for you again. Even times and seasons, are not stagnant.
Comparing the profitability of organic and conventional poultry production, which would you advocate for?
I believe anything anybody wants to do; they have to consider the sustainability of those things. With my years of experience, I can recall a lot of people were advocating for organic farming, but now, the tone has dropped because it has proven to be unsustainable. Looking at it from the angle of health, it is more healthy consuming organically-produced farm products, but looking at the availability of sustainable materials to rear on a commercial basis, you will find out that it is not sustainable in Nigeria. It is a disadvantage for large scale producers, so it is best for them to go inorganic. Interestingly, a lot of developments have been done, in terms of medications, to raise safe inorganic birds for chicken. There are now some pharmaceutical companies that produce veterinary drugs that now mix some organic materials, as part of their compositions for drugs, so there are some companies that they use organic materials to produce their medications – it is well known fact that you buy it on shelf and read the composition that you see on those contents. Interestingly now, there are also some feed companies that put organic additives in their feed as well, which also help the birds. From the profitability angle, I will say it is best to do inorganic poultry for large scale farming?
As a professional, what would you say makes successful poultry farming business?
Integrity is very important for you as a young farmer to run a successful poultry business. Your personality is very important for your business to thrive, because people will first of all fall in love with you before they fall in love with your business or whatever we produce. So maintain your quality, maintain your stand and avoid greed. Make sure whatever you are doing, you put it in the public eye, make it affordable and find a way to work on your market. Before you start, while you are running operations, find a way to increase on your market scope. Try and market to many people, as much as possible. Don’t be in isolation, nothing works, nothing sells in isolation, don’t be afraid to talk about your farm to people. Any opportunity you get, always talk about your investment, your farm, because you never can tell where your customers are. Interestingly, your customers can be anywhere, even in the least places you can expect. Therefore, be bold to speak about your business.
What are the current issues in agriculture that need to be addressed with urgency?
There is need for regularisation of agricultural products for them to maintain high standards. Some farmers produce and then when they package to take it to some regions and upon examination, they say it is not acceptable in the country you are taking it to. This is most likely because in the course of production, people have cut corners to get to that stage. It is not the fault of those farmers most times – it is unfortunate that, often times, it is because, if you don’t cut corners, you wouldn’t be able to sell in some situations. Most times, in agriculture, the buyers determine the price. We don’t have a strong body that helps us regulate pricing. For instance, a farmer can say he wants to sell for N1,500 and the buyer says he is buying for N1,000. So, another seller could reason in such a way that, if I still sell at N1,000, I can still make some profit from it. And that is how the value and standard of goods decline. Before you know it, the buyer would most likely get it from someone else that needs money urgently. So, it is a societal problem we need to address. Although, there are some agricultural firms that stand their ground and insist on their price, to ensure that it is quality that they keep putting out there. Price control is not just about one-time purchase; it is to ensure sustainable supply of quality agricultural produce.
Have you ever been defrauded before as a farmer and agripreneur?
There is no industry that does not have situations like this. There will always be bad eggs in every industry and even the agriculture sector is not an exception. One of the ways such dubious people use is in pricing. This is because many of us too, as farmers, want to reduce our cost by all means. The situation for me then happened in 2017 when I wanted to buy some birds and I reached out to the farm and all that. Then, he told me I could come for the birds, unfortunately during that period, I wasn’t available to say I want to go and inspect. I decided to go ahead with it, and paid a 10% of the money and told the man that when I had the chance, I would come and inspect the birds. Unfortunately, when I got to the address given the farm never existed, so they took the money away. The contact number and everything could not be traced because as at that time, the National Identification Number (NIN) had not been enforced. Those people, till date, were untraceable and that money, as at then, was over N 1 million.
What precautions are you putting in place now to avoid being defrauded?
Ever since the event I spoke, I have taken it upon myself to verify information personally and also verify vendors. One of the things that people need to work more on is recommendations. This might actually affect a lot of new businesses but I feel, it should not be a discouragement, but rather, it should be a motivation for them to see how they can always satisfy their customers and treat people well. It is best when you get to know of a brand and you do your research about them, and also someone else recommends them and guarantees their product/service. Reviews and recommendations will give you a level of assurance that these people are reliable to deal with. If there is a new company or a brand nobody has told you about or you have not heard of them before, if you have to jump with them, you do that with your sense. If you have like 10 deals to do with them, you could start with one first and see how it goes. And if you find out that they are reliable, you are good to go. We can’t excuse the fact that some people are always out there to scam farmers and like I said one of the methods they use is by giving ridiculous prices for agricultural inputs and because farmers too want to save cost and keep some money, they fall victim. On the other hand too, farmers also scam people and most of the times, I think from my observation, the act is borne out of greed. Some people make enquiries about some things from you and you know you don’t have that capacity, instead of being honest, such farmer could take on the project and get all the funds to himself instead of referring you to another farmer. Some of them, who may not even have the mind of defrauding people beforehand, could have entered the act through reaching out to other farmers, whose prices differ from what they sell. These way, they fall into situations they can’t control. Let me also add that the percentage of farmers that give what customers actually demand; is not more than an average. It think it is another societal problem that people don’t know how to say “no” to offers, and a lot of people also take advantage of farmers’ situations – such as low finances, state of farm and other weakness – and offer ridiculous prices to farmers.
Being successful in agribusiness, what can you say is the secret for you?
There is model I got from the Igbo people. The Igbo people are greedily after huge returns on sales; rather, they want to make something on a unit of product or produce. I have seen them rather focus on the little profit on a unit of product and take pleasure in its ripple effects in large sales. It is a very good model that I think farmers can adopt to save them a whole. Instead of waiting to earn N500 on a unit, you would rather sell more instantly gain N250-N300 and you will get your turn over and make good money.