A beautiful cabaret star, Eartha Mae Kitt, once said (to her male friends, obviously), if you really care for me, darling, you will give me territory – give me land, give me land. Of course that came at a time when a Valentine’s Day gift hamper from Amazon could not possibly be a girl’s most cherished wish. Around the same time, Andy Warhol also said, I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to know. If at this point you still have not correctly guessed what this month’s post is all about… Well, it’s definitely not about cabaret stars and illustrators from the booming 50’s.
A large piece of land is very essential for intensive farming – just like in a similar way, an internet connection is required for you to visit your favorite blog (wink, wink). #TeamTomatoJos’ plan has always been to start out relatively small while we develop our model, and then scale once we have hit our proof points: that farming can be productive in Nigeria, and that it’s possible to make high quality paste. We’ve observed some encouraging signs that we are on the right track, including the test runs we performed in April, our recent yields, and the resultant interest among investors over the past few months. These happenings have pushed us to be more active in our search for land, and led us on some exhausting and frustrating countrywide trips. But then again, what’s an adventure without a bit of a setback?
The land tenure system in pre-colonial Nigeria was communal – land was owned by communities and families, and not by individuals. But with the introduction of colonial rule and the push for commercialization, land began to be sold, leased, or mortgaged to individuals or groups by the government. This decree was revised in 1962, with a slight follow-up in 1978, and Nigeria grew to adopt a land tenure system that prompted full state control, and the country has remained the same since then.
The steps involved in acquiring land in Nigeria are laid out for everyone to see, and sound straightforward enough in theory. Approach the land owner. Negotiate. Seek the consent of the Governor. Get his approval. Make payments. Celebrate your new property by downing several glasses of cranberry juice while binge-watching Property Brothers. Pass out on the couch and dream about verdant fields. Easy as pie, right? Now, the real question is, can you handle the hard truth? As reported by World Bank in 2014, Nigeria is one of the most difficult places in the world to secure land – the country was ranked 185th out of 189 economies in ease of registering property. Some of the reasons cited for this discovery were concerned with excessive state involvement and obsolete government policies. From #TeamTomatoJos’ experience and an agricultural perspective, a major reason is the occasional discord between what is said and what is actually happening – and that is not a reference to reported alien sightings. “Oh, a piece of land for agrarian purposes? Ours happens to be vast and leveled, you know, take my word for it – we don’t have to go all the way out there.”
These half-truths render word of mouth less reliable, but more often than not that’s all TeamTomatoJos has to go by, until we can convince someone to actually take us all the way to the location in question. These challenges are exacerbated by the fact that the chain of command isn’t always transparent, so information is easily lost along the way. But it’s not all doom and gloom, though – we have looked at a few areas around Northern Nigeria that caught our attention, and are taking a grassroots approach to securing any land that we’re interested in, by speaking with local farmers in the area (since these guys will, we hope, become outgrowers for us), village heads or Hakimis, village assistant heads or Dakachis, FIRST, before approaching the state government and more formal channels to express interest in those areas. #TeamTomatoJos prides itself on its attention to detail, so we have been carefully evaluating our options, and we are hoping to land a deal soon enough. Yup, that was intended. Stay with us, folks.