Farming is Good Business

Shortly after graduation, Lanre Isah, the co-founder of Pangorado Limited, an agricultural production company, looked away from the white-collar jobs and went to the farm. All he had was a small piece of land he rented. But little did the graduate of political economics and philosophy know that greater farming opportunities will be entrusted to him.

His judicious use of that piece of farmland caught the attention of the State Government of Osun. As a result, Mr. Isah’s Pangorado Limited benefited from the state’s agriculture support programme and was awarded 25 hectares of land for farming.

In an interview with FinIntell, Mr. Isah shares his company’s journey into agribusiness and its future plans, while also advocating for the need to encourage more youth to participate in the business.

Tell us about Pangorado Limited and the recent support the State Government of Osun gave to you.
Pangorado Limited is a registered agricultural producing company involved in the production of various crops. The farm is located in Iwo area of Osun State. The company’s name was derived from two words, ‘pan’ and ‘gorado.’ The word ‘pan’ means something that cuts across, while ‘gorado’ –derived from a Spanish word, ‘grado,’ means the loved one. So in a nutshell, Pangorado Limited is that company that is using its farm produce to reach out to all its loved ones.

Presently, on our small rented farmland we cultivated plantain, cassava, maize and some fruits. But with the new documented 25 hectares of land that the State Government of Osun just granted to us in 2013 after approaching them for agricultural land in 2011, we would also be planting vegetables and some other crops because we have done our research in those areas.

We plan to expand our production. We are also looking at building our own processing firm so that whatever produce we yield from our farm goes into the processing firm, before it is taken to the market as a finished product.

How many are you in your team?
I actually assembled a team of young men who are also passionate about farming. While I was serving in Yobe State, I met Olamide Jacob who is also passionate about agricultural business; we connected and started a partnership from there. Akeem Majekodunmi is another passionate youth that is a team member.

Getting such package from government must have cost you some money. How much did you spend chasing government’s support?
All we were asked to do was to provide our tax clearance for the last three years, water corporation development levy, and our certificate of origin.

There wasn’t anything like a bribe. The State officials treated us well; as if we were actually their kids. I never even expected that they would be that good to us. They picked interest in us because we were young and because of our backgrounds –what we’ve been able to do as a small company.

Is being an indigene of Osun State a prerequisite for this government support?
I should think so. For instance, Olamide and I are from Osun State while Akeem is from Ogun State.

Apart from the farmland, was there any other incentive from the state government?
Osun State actually has a plan to continue to support farmers. Under the leadership of the State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, there is a new policy now. If you want to approach the State for a grant or loan, you must form a group of ten as a corporative. The group will then forward a proposal to the State for loan.

Are you planning to form your group of ten?
Yes. We are gradually forming a group. We just want people who have no stringent conditions for joining us. But for now, the company is still being financed by the founders.

What motivated your decision to venture into agribusiness?
The journey started a long time ago, even though it was just an idea in my mind. I had nurtured the dream before my university days. I like reading newspapers even as a child, and there was this particular day that I came across an article in Tell Magazine, written by Dare Babarinsa, Tell’s former editor. The article was all about the huge amount of money Nigerian government was spending on food importation yearly. I felt that shouldn’t be the case since Nigeria is blessed with arable land. That was what actually spurred me into agricultural business. Having read that article, I felt the nation needs more farmers.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is yet to resolve the food crisis facing the country even with the high food importation. Africa as a whole is also finding ways to end food crisis despite the fact that a large number of farmers exist in the continent.

Do you have a market for these produce?
Of course we do. Food traders come to our farm to buy these produce. Presently, we are dealing with retailers because the quantities we produce are small. But in terms of quality, crops produced in Pangorado are of good quality. We are very interested in the processing and branding of our produce to make it attractive. Pangorado is gradually changing the way farming business is done in Nigeria. Why are people running after foreign goods? It is because the goods are well branded. Branding makes goods attractive. But the truth is that the way things are done abroad we can do it locally too.

When I was serving in Yobe State, I discovered that farmers in the State produce rice but have problems in processing the food to meet international standard. When you buy their local rice for instance, you have to handpick stones, dirt and rinds because they lack the machineries that are designed for such purposes. That is where the government needs to come in because equipment designed for such purposes are too expensive for an individual to purchase.

Someone like me for instance, where am I going to get such money from? I started this business with the little I had left from my savings.

Have you ever approached any bank for loan?
No. Before approaching a bank for a loan I believe it would be good if we can get something great done on the land first, so that the bank will know that we are very serious.

How rewarding has it been venturing into agricultural business?
One may not be smiling very well to the bank yet, but we are not regretting venturing into agriculture because the future is green.

Was Pangorado affected by the recent flooding in the country?
The impact of flooding on our crops was one of the reasons why we are yet to smile very well to the bank.

The farm was badly affected. After the heavy downpour, the farm became waterlogged. It affected the crops and that had an overall effect on the yield. However, despite the experience we were still able to get something out of the farm.

How often do you do climatic analysis to know when it is best to plant?
We often go to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to know the best season for cultivation. That was where we started from. We didn’t just jump into the agriculture sector without doing our research. Immediately after our compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), we went to IITA for the basic technical knowhow that would get us through the business, and a director was assigned to us. We usually call him from time to time for advice. We have being working with him since we started the business.

What other challenges do you face on the job?
In our few years of operations, the company has been faced mainly with two challenges; financial considerations and market risks.

Presently, the company is being bootstrapped by the owners. But to expand operations, we want investors either as equity holders or through loan repayment plan.

The scope of the our business includes cultivation of cash and arable crops, food processing, animal husbandry, distribution and transportation of agricultural produce, exportation of farm produce, and franchise deals.

In terms of market risks, our major concerns have been government policy, pest and predators, climatic conditions, herdsmen activities, and farm destruction. In 2011 for instance, 10 acres of cassava were destroyed in one of our farms. However, we have been able to manage market risks appreciably through solutions such as erecting a fence around the farmland, hiring security personnel, and setting up an irrigation system.

What is your view on the current effort of the government in promoting cassava flour?
It is a welcomed development. We have been praying for such a development. Even non-farmers should be happy about this. In Nigeria today, the unemployment rate is huge because we are not a producing nation. All we do is to consume products from other countries; indirectly helping to reduce the unemployment rates in those countries while it rises in our own country. Now that government is encouraging cassava production in large quantities and creating markets for it locally and internationally, I believe more jobs will be created as people look for opportunities in that direction.

What is your advice for people that would like to go into agricultural business?
People should not be afraid to venture into agribusiness. If you are afraid of putting your money into agriculture simply because of unfavourable climatic conditions, how will you survive without food? A hungry man, they say, is an angry man. There will always be natural disaster, whether as a result of global warming or not. All we need to do is to find a way out of the problem.

If you are interested in vegetables for instance, you can start reaping the rewards of your investment after about three months because vegetables take a few times to mature; depending on the variety you are planting.

For plantains, the hybrid ones take up to one year to mature. A good thing about plantains is that it keeps sprouting new plants as well as a continuous yield of fruits. The moment the old fruits are harvested, new upspring comes up. Food business is a very good business. If you put your money in agriculture, you will not regret it if you exercise patience.

And if government is also committed to diversifying the economy, it can introduce young graduate to agribusiness from NYSC level irrespective of their field of studies.

During your service year, you had a pet project which got you an award. Please share that experience with us.
I served in Yobe State, in a town called Gashua under Bade Local Government. I served in a school and I gave my best while serving. I also made money organising private classes for the students because some parents still wanted me to coach their children after school despite the fact that I gave my best during school hours.

While I was there, I had a pet programme in form of community development initiative. What I noticed while serving in the Local Government was that we had quite a number of young men and ladies who were jobless. Apart from the Almajeries, there were young ones who either finished or dropped out of secondary schools and don’t know what else to do to make a living in life. I then looked for a way to impact lives there as a way of giving back to the society. So I organised a skill acquisition programme in tailoring and computer technology.

(Interjects) Do you also have knowledge in those areas?
Yes. I learnt tailoring from a friend immediately after secondary school; months before I got an admission into the university. I also have a diploma certificate in computer knowledge. However, my friend Olamide, who is an Information Technology expert, helped out in the computer technology training.

So, I was able to assemble a team of professionals within the community, both in fashion and IT business. I approached some tailors in the community, sold the idea to them, and they bought into it. At the initial stage of the programme, we started from a shop. And as God would have it, the Emir of the place and the Local Government authority got to know about it. Even though they didn’t give us any money, they gave us a skill acquisition centre that belongs to the community. There were equipment in the centre for us to use, and some tailors who volunteered to train the youth also brought in their machines.

From the 10 wards in the Local Government, we chose two representatives (a male and a female) from different wards –one in tailoring and another in computer technology. We were able to train 10 youth in tailoring and another 10 youth, who could read and write, in computer technology. I also issued them certificate for participating in the training.

The experience was a brilliant one for the kids. In fact, after the serve year, some of the trainees called me that they got employment base on the skill and the certificate we gave them.   

The Local Government gave me two awards –The Most Industrious Corp Member 2009/10 and The Best Team Player 2009/10. I won the Best Team Player award alongside Olamide, my current business partner.

With so much work to do, how do you relax?
I like reading books to relax. Reading is fun, especially interesting articles, stories, and novels. I also watch movies and football matches. I am a proud Barcelona fan.