Last month #TeamTomatoJos profiled our current employees in our "Monday to Friday" blog. Now a month later and a week before our first transplants hit the fields we thought it apt to profile our farm manager, Bala Dabang, who has been nothing but instrumental in getting us through this early part of the season.
So this week we have a conversation with Bala and learn about what brought him to the Tomato Jos fields here in Nasarawa.
Please tell us about your childhood in Nigeria
I was born in the family of Dabang Dadep in the district of Lankam in Pankshin Local Government Area in Plateau state. The area is very remote with Jos, the state capital, 60km away. My primary schooling was at LGEA Mupun in Lankam district. Every morning I travelled 15km by foot to get to school.
To get into secondary school in Nigeria there is a secondary school entrance examination for all students in the country. Despite obtaining the highest marks in all my subjects I was unable to attend the Federal Government college due to a lack of a financial sponsor. Instead my secondary schooling was conducted at the State college Pankshin in Plateau state. This school was an all boys boarding school so I only got home on holidays.
By 20 I had finished my schooling at the State college and I spent one year at home because financial sponsorship was not available to go to University. The following year after saving money I got admission to the School of Preliminary Studies in Keffi, Nasarawa State. I spent two years there where I obtained admission to study agriculture at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria in Kaduna state.
What interested you about agriculture?
As a small boy I can remember many times returning home from the long journey to school only for my parents to say there was no food available to feed the family. I could never understand how we were not able to grow enough to feed ourselves on our land. While schooling at Keffi I better understood farming challenges with current practices and I remembered my childhood. From this point onwards I vowed to make a contribution to agriculture.
Can you tell us about some of the challenges you see in farming in Nigeria?
Farmers in Nigeria face the same problems as farmers elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa but in particular:
1. There is no blending of research institutions and the farmers on the ground.
2. Access to finance and loans is not easy for all farmers but especially for the smallholder farmer.
3. Processing of farm commodities is for the most part non-existent. Storage of all crops but especially fruits & vegetables is extremely problematic as you see trailers of fruits & vegetables rot every year and no solution exists for the farmers.
4. The extension system in this country has almost collapsed. Farmers do not have access to the latest methods and best farming practices for their crops. Most farmers just farm the way their parents, or their wider family farmed. There is no culture of farming as a business instead it is about subsistence.
Those are some of the challenges but what about the opportunities in Nigeria?
Given the size and growth rate of the population the opportunities in Nigeria are so many but some of the largest are:
1. Livestock – The demand in particular for beef and for diary is growing hugely in Nigeria.
2. Tree crops – Mango, citrus, guava, dead palm and grapes vine all have export markets which them very attractive for investors.
3. Vegetables grow very well in Nigeria particularly tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and onions. If these can be turned into added value products or stored there is great possibility and demand for these products in the marketplace.
At #TeamTomatoJos we talk about putting farmers first. Can you tell us a little about the promise of smallholder farmers?
Smallholders need equipment, seeds and other inputs in combination with the proper training to use these tools. Introduce the farmers to these items and have an end market available to sell their produce to then the sky is the limit for the smallholder. But the market is crucial. Without an established market the farmer may have his crop spoil and rot and will not be incentivized to use expensive inputs that give higher yield.
Thankfully evidence on the ground is showing smallholder farmers are beginning to form cooperatives in geographic regions and in specific crops like maize. This allows these groups to pool their power and products to get a better price in the market and cut out middle men along the way. Furthermore by coming together as a community they will be able raise finance to purchase the much needed inputs.
What is your role in bringing about these changes?
I want to bring change to smallholders. I have lived the life of a smallholder as boy. Here in Nasarawa with Tomato Jos I have the opportunity and access to the resources to help smallholders increase their yield by changing their current pattern of production of using out dated techniques and inferior inputs. I know that my role here allows me to help farmers increase their productivity and greatly increase their income and their standard of living. Perhaps enabling their child to attend the school of their choice not of their means. With our practices if we are able to get 100 farmers we will have a 1,000 famers the next year and 10,000 the year after that.
From our side it is very clear that Bala has the right passion, experience and desire to put farmers first, It is the reason why we here at #TeamTomatoJos are so excited to introduce him to you!