Thursday, February 16, 2017 6:40 am
By Kehinde Bamigbetan
I remember it was one Saturday morning in Decenber 1972 that my father said I should get ready to go to farm with him. I was seven and had hitherto been spared the assignment. My brothers, Uncle Agbo, who drove the family’s Peugeot 304, and Brother Dennis, my father’s Steward were already in the vehicle.
The directive came as a shock. I had, I believed, shown him sufficient promise of a bookworm son by foraging his library and devouring the classics, including Aesop’s fables. That weekend was to be my encounter with William Pitt’s autobiography.
To cut a long story short. We got to the farm. Then, I understood why I was needed. The day was set aside to take seeds out of the cocoa pods. And it required many hands. Daddy had a sickle to cut the pods off the trees, we picked the pods and threw them into the basket, carried them and emptied the pods at a place set aside for the purpose on the farm. As the pods were cut, the seeds, set like a set of white teeth, lured the eyes. I was permitted to suck the cream of the seeds as I disembowelled the pods.
It was the beginning of a long process. The seeds were brought home and covered up for days to ferment. A week later, the sacks were removed. The white seeds survived but the cream was in stages of decomposition. Maggots had taken over! Unlike the creamy white seeds that we sucked, the stench of this was scary. Yet we had to spread them to dry in the sun until the skin of the seeds was dry.
A few weeks later, the dried seeds were bagged. And taken to the store of GB Ollivant, the produce company and weighed. I remember that value in price depreciated as the years increased even when the weight increased.
These did not bother my father. He graduated from the prestigious St Andrews College, Oyo in 1937 specialising in Rural Science. He pursued a 35- year career in inspecting schools. Now that he retired, he devoted his time to farming and sitting on education and schools’ boards.
I was bothered. The effort, planting cocoa seedlings, nurturing then to fruition and harvesting counted for too little. Years later, while studying political economy, I came across the writing of J. Galtung and other critics of trade between the North and South. The thesis of unequal exchange explained why the promotion of export of raw products by African farmers was doomed to produce mass penury.
I saw the potential of agriculture clearly as the future of African industry and business. I believe the West understands this fully, hence its massive marketing of imported food items and genetic imperialism to adjust the taste buds of African people to their products.
My first attempt to intervene in agriculture failed. I spent my Youth Corps in Calabar, travelling during my spare time to Umudike to learn about research into root crops at the institute. The result was a feasibility study of soya-garri. It sought to provide proteinous supplement to garri, the popular gelatinous staple.
The proposal that took a whole year to put up was killed by the banks. The loan managers in 1988 agreed that the proposal was feasible. But since they were going to lend depositors’ funds, I would have to start paying back the loan at 30percent from the first month of operations. It was impossible! So I reversed from the bankwall, (brick wall) and decided to survive on my writing skills. To God be the glory.
But the idea of owning a farm never left my subconscious. So when I got a chance to own one, I grabbed it. I understand that is the only thing public officials are allowed to do. Plantain and palm trees. Their multiple uses are enough to make anyone marvel. The products, planted several years ago, are getting ready for harvest. Farm management is equally challenging. Getting hands is difficult. Retaining the hands is even more daunting. Thanks to the Osun State Govt, led by the irrepressible Comrade Rauf Aregbesola for the rural infrastructure project that has enabled us to gain better access to our farms. Processing the products from raw to finished goods is the next challenge.
–Kehinde Bamigbetan is Special Adviser, Communities & Communications, Lagos State