Though she studied English education, Amaka Chukwudum is a farmer. Since 2012 when she forayed fully into it, organic farming and exports have been a way of life for her. The “unrepentant farmer” as she tags herself, runs an agricultural outfit, Amicable Mondiale, which she describes as a friendly global network of farmers, a concept in agriculture that is not only limited to Nigeria.
How was you growing up?
I come from a family of seven. My parents were farmers. My father was a pig farmer but my mum a teacher and poultry farmer till date. I grew up loving agriculture from my parents. I learnt it first hand from them before I went to study it. I am a graduate of Abia State University where I studied English Education and I have my Masters degree from the Netherlands. I did some other training too in Germany. I worked in a bank for a couple of years, first in a logistic company, but my passion couldn’t be quelled. I managed to teach, to carry on with my certificate but my passion couldn’t just be limited so I had to enter the bush to pack the gold in the bush.
What is the concept behind Amicable Mondiale?
We grow seeds, help farmers set up farms. We also process mostly agricultural produce from other farmers, like we have our black soap, we process our honey, we have palm oil production, we do body butters but most importantly we do training for farmers.
We realised that many farmers are closing up because of capital. Many people will keep telling you agriculture is capital intensive, but we are of the opinion that farming can be run on five percent of capitals Nigerians use to run their farms. Have you ever wondered why Oyinbo will bring in their chicken and it will be cheaper than Nigerian chicken? It is because they do what we call organic farming. In organic farming, you recycle your waste. The chicken waste can actually be recycled back into feed. And that would reduce the cost of your production to five percent. So, the major thing we do is training farmers on organic farming.
What is organic farming about?
Organic farming is growing your crops without chemicals, growing it the natural way. Most people will buy NPK; buy inorganic fertilizers that they use for their crops. All these are waste of money. Have you asked why grasses you stomped on in the morning and yet in evening, they are still green and thriving? But step on your corn in the farm and they die. Grasses are naturally equipped with something that makes them resilient. So, we can dig compost pit, extract these things from grasses that make them strong and then input it into your own crop. We teach farmers how to recycle even the grass in your farm so that they become useful. So, instead of buying fertilizers, you turn the things in your farms to fertilizers. Growing maggots for your fish makes them big. Maggots on its own has 44 percent of nutrients your fishes and poultry need to grow big.
Why is it so important to practice organic farming?
Organic farming helps in the recycling of the ecosystem. It balances the ecosystem. We have seen that the weather is too hot; it is because most of us do not balance the ecosystem. And organic food too is healthier than any synthetic food, any chemical food you could buy in the market. So, organic food is the way to go. It is cheaper, healthier and balances the ecosystem. If you eat organic food, hardly will you fall sick. Take for example, the white sugar we consume daily. We have tamarind in Nigeria in excess, take these things and consume them and it takes care of your liver. But because we are not knowledgeable about them, we don’t know how to do it. Our job is to educate farmers; we go from state to state to train them. Another project we did is on children. We expose them to agriculture early, make them see the beauty of agriculture and appreciate it as an occupation.
Did the fact that your parents were farmers influenced or motivated you to become one?
My father died of cancer. I was hurt and I began to do research. Apart from him exposing me to agriculture early, I felt nature has provided us with the needed roots to take care of our health. That took me into research and that was how I got to know other things that could help our body build immunity against cancer. That was what took me actually into food processing. Instead of waiting for bad diseases to get a hold of you and you start spending a fortune on treatments, build yourself against them. I began to grow nature’s immune boosters. My parents were animal farmers but I went into crops. I can categorically tell you it has been an interesting journey. My happiest moment is when I am in the farm. No matter how sad I am, as soon as I enter the farm, my mood changes.
How safe is organic food?
Organic food is 100 percent safe. Abroad, organic food prices more than those grown with chemicals. But in Nigeria, you would grow your chicken organically and will be verbally hassled over your prices, and nobody buys it because we don’t know the difference between organic and inorganic food. Organic farmers are suffering it because we don’t make ends meet. But we are determined to plant organically, we can’t give up. It’s very simple. Organic lifestyle simply means live natural. Leave chemicals alone. Eat natural things.
Farming is vast, what is your favourite type of farming?
I love to research and I realised that every day, new things about crops keep coming up. Farming is ever evolving. I actually enjoy production of crops and it gives me what I want, like recently, I discovered a new way to do animal farming that can bring you more money. I realised that chicken only uses a quarter of what they produce, we waste the other three-quarters and we keep complaining that poultry farming is very expensive. Most farmers end up using it just as manure. We teach farmers how to turn the waste back to feed and use it to feed fish, chicken, turkey and pigs. This will save almost 80 per cent of cost in livestock farming. It is a raw truth you will not see in any book or Internet because it’s a trade secret.
In Amicable Mondiale Farms, the chicken waste is even more valuable to us than the chicken. In addition, I love research and crop farming.
You spoke earlier about also going into skincare production?
You know what brought about my cream production? I had an accident in the farm that left me with a big scar. I don’t like chemicals but I am a lady, I have to look good. What do I do? In the market, you don’t see much of organic creams. And if you see it, it will be too expensive. So I went into research. I began to do tests on myself. Those that bleached my skin, I stopped. I used pawpaw and carrots until I was able to get it right. I kept going at it until I got the right ingredients. That is what gave birth to my cream. Now I teach people how to make body cream, black soaps and hair creams organically and turn it into business. If you are a man and you want to grow your hair or beard, we teach you what to do organically. Even if you have bleached before and it has spoilt your skin, we can give you cream that will treat you and restore your skin without people knowing that you have ever bleached. Nature has gifted us with every solution we need in life.
What is your advice to Nigerian youths and women?
My advice to every Nigerian youths is that today, certificate does not pay, what pays is SABIFICATE. What makes me who I am is not my certificate; I travelled abroad to study, but it was actually on scholarship but still what I studied is not what is feeding me. What is feeding me is my SABIFICATE. Get into that bush behind your house and find your own national cake. If you can use that small space, you grow your vegetable behind your house, you can be selling from your house and you will feed your family. As a mother, whether you are a widow or a single mum or a young girl waiting for a job, you can make some fortune from the bush. And I tell you, you can still be classy and sexy as a farmer. You can look good and still be a farmer. To Nigerian youths, I advise that you don’t need to be carrying files and going about under the sun, meet me in the bush and let us start there.
You said farmers are not being represented well in the classroom that is why children are not interested in farming. Let’s discuss that.
Recently, we were in the church, and I teach in the children’s church. One day after a long absence from church, the children asked: ‘Aunty, where have you been?’ I said I went to the farm and they responded, ‘Arraaagghhh!’ The expression on their faces made me wonder and I asked why?’ They replied: ‘Farmers don’t have money.’ I said, ‘but your Aunty has money. Don’t you see my car?’ That incident got me thinking and I decided to go to schools. It is actually a project that I enjoy doing.
We call it Amicable Mondiale Little Speckles. We go to schools and expose these children to farming- both animals and crops. We hone their interests so that they can have that burning desire for agriculture, and by the time they grow into adults, they love farming as a career. We pick a date when we do our exhibition and all the children bring what they have grown and we sell, the children are excited that their little effort turned to cash for them. We encourage other parents and schools to come and see what they have done. The idea is just to encourage them and grow their interest.
Beyond organic farming, what else do you do?
I am a full time farmer. I am into export, we go to the north and other parts of Nigeria where there are farmers that grow their crops but don’t have the market, we help them and connect them with buyers, process for them and then we export. We are licensed by Nigeria Export Commission.
How has the journey been so far?
It has not been funny or easy. At a time, I lost everything. I lost all my 2,000 fishes. I lost everything I had. The people I gave money to drill borehole defrauded me. But I said I am not quitting. Today, I am happy I didn’t give up.