She is a woman in a class of her own. Meeting her, you will mistake her for a graduate of a university or perhaps a big-time socialite, but alas, she is a farmer, who plants Ugu for a leaving. She has been in the trade and farming since ten years, though she had been a farmer from her childhood. She prides herself as an accomplished farmer, mother of graduates and undergraduate children, an employer of labour and a happily married housewife. Oluseyi Dasilva met her at a programme organized for members of the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Funds, ACGSF board in Ilorin. Meet Mrs Joy Okeckukwu, who spoke with our correspondent, excerpts:
Can we meet you?
My name is Mrs Joy Okechukwu. I came from Ovim in Isuikwuato Local Government Area of Abia State.
How did you start farming?
Back in the village, my father and mother are farmers. All the children, myself inclusive, follow them to farm. Though, as at then, I see their act of asking us to go to farm as wickedness but as I grow older, I realize that they were teaching us some skills which became a way of life for me. When I came to Ilorin, through marriage, I realize that I don’t want to be sitting down idle, so I approached my husband for his permission and he granted it because he knows that I am a farmer’s daughter. He even supported me with part of the initial capital. I went round, looking for good land and eventually got a place and money posed challenges. I took some from my husband and started approaching banks. All the banks gave me stringent conditions that they knew I cannot meet and I became frustrated. After praying for a way out, a friend told me about LAPO Micro Finance, I spoke with them and they gave me two hundred thousand naira, N200,000. That fund did a lot in my plans and after I paid back, LAPO informed me that Central Bank gave me a grant of 40% of the money as dash. I have been using their money to expand my farm and to te glory of God, I am comfortable planting Ugwu on commercial bases. Initially, I harvest and take to places like Osogbo, Ogbomosho and other places but now I don’t go anywhere, te customers that I have in Ilorin alone has captured all that I produce.
How often do you harvest Ugu per time?
I harvest every week. The more you harvest, the better the Ugwu performs. As long as there is water and fertile land, Ugwu will do very well. I have about three locations so I interchange my harvest plans, I go from here to my second farm and from there to the third and fourth. Before you know it, the first farm is again ready for harvest.
How profitable is Ugu farming?
Ha, my brother, I must say that God has been on my side. I will not say that it is because I am good at farming, I pray and God answers my prayers. By Gods grace, I make average of N300,000 per month from sales of Ugwu alone after paying my workers salaries and that of the casuals.
How many workers do you have?
I have about thirteen, nine permanent workers and four casuals. When my children are on holidays, they also assist on the farm because no matter what they learn in school, I know that farming should be part of them like I inherited from my parents. I teach them farming too.
How many of your children are in school?
One of them is presently serving, NYSC in Delta State, three are in the University of Ilorin while others are still in secondary school. All my children are in school.
How do you feel as a woman doing what men should be doing?
What do you mean, doing what men should be doing? I am created as a help meet for my husband, there is nothing wrong if I engage myself doing work that can help my husband. What if I stay home idle and fight neighbours and cause problems for my husband? There is no work that is meant for man that woman cannot do. It is lazy people that say this is a man’s work.
Do you feel happy doing this farm work?
It’s not that I feel happy, I am a happy person, look at me, God has given me every reason to be happy and my husband is also happy that I am his wife. My children eat what they like and go to school like children of the rich, in fact, I am also a rich person. Just last week, I was part of the participants that were invited for the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Funds, ACGSF seminar in Ilorin. I feel happy that I also reckon with by my hard work, not as a beggar, not a harlot sleeping all about with me before I can make ends meet. I am glad that God is supporting all my efforts. I didn’t go to school but I am sitting with people that are highly educated. I am a happy person.
Can you point to some remarkable achievements since you started this Ugu farming?
I started ten years ago and I thank God that so far, I live in a house built with my sweat and I have three other houses that I rent out to out to people. To mention what I have invested in my children’s education is part of my achievement. Education in Nigeria costs money and God has helped me to build houses and also build my children. Aside from that, I am an employer of labour. People collect salary from me to take care of their families and some people come to learn how to do this Ugwu business from me.
How can the government come in to assist more in your farming?
Thank you, I need more money for expansion. If you borrow land to farm, the day the owner decides to start his own project you will lose that site, but if I have my own land, I can do my farming without fear of anybody chasing me out any day. Also, many times we need a tractor for clearing land; I tried sometimes ago to get tractor but after several trials, became discouraged and I limit myself to what my labour can handle, but imagine if I have a tractor to assist. Also I want Kwara state government to look at a way of assisting we that are farmers. As a way of expansion, I have started a fish pond. I realize the shortage in supply of fish as people tend to prefer fish to meat. I need money to do well in my new farm. I have just 4000 fishes now ready to be harvested but I can assure you that this quantity may not last two days.
But do you think any other tribe can do Ugu farming like you an Igbo woman is doing it.?
Hahaa, why are you saying this? Is there anything that an Igbo woman would do that a Yoruba woman cannot do, even better. This is Yorubaland, I didn’t bring this land from my place. The people working for me, some are Yoruba people, my own is just to stand and supervise. There is not magic, just determination and prayers. There are many Yoruba people that are also doing farming, we always meet at the market and discuss experience. What matters is, when you are starting on any project, pray to God because God is alwo a farmer. He planted the seeds we eat first before man was created; Our God is not lazy so as children of God, we must also be hard working too. You asked how government can assist us more in this work, I wish that government can create adult agricultural school for us that didn’t go to much school so that we can learn better ways of doing this farming. I have gone to agric in Ilorin to learn what I don’t understand about this farming and I also add the experience that I gained from my parent since I was young.
Is there any way your work affects your marriage?
Yes, it affects it positively. My husband feels at rest and at home with me. I don’t give him any pressure or stress on how the home should be kept. When I observe any need, I put hands in my pocket and do that needful. Quarrel in the home starts with when as a woman you ask at a time that your husband is not buoyant and you put him under pressure, the man, like every other man would vent his anger on you for not trying to understanding his plight. That is why whenever I meet woman like me, I advise them to find work to do to support their husbands. In the Nigeria of today, the husband and wife must put heads together to make their marriage work. Money is important in marriage, feeding, upkeep of the children as well as enjoying life with each other. A home where money is lacking will take the grace of God. Aide from that a woman who is hard working will appreciate the little that her husband gives for upkeep. Those woman who don’t value what their husbands give at home must be people who don’t know the stress the man go through before making the money.
Did you pass through any formal school?
Yes I passed out of secondary school, in my village.
So how did you meet your husband?
(Laughs), why did you ask? He came to the village and saw me and we started talking,family to family and that is how God started this journey.
Your children are in the University, did you advise them on which course to chose?
Noo, I just pray for them. My talent is different from your own and it is like that all around. If I force you to do what I do, you may not do well in it, so I allow them to pick according to their individual talents. My own as a mother is to pray for them and let God do his part over them. I also watch the things that I do to the of children of others, in life, what you sow, you shall also reap.
Any advice for Nigerian youths?
Sometimes ago, I was talking with some young men that too to Okada riding as a profession. I told that that there is risk in the business of Okada riding. I wonder how much they can make from Okada in a month. Many of them said that they are graduates from University and yet they cannot reason that if salary job didn’t come, farming is more prestigious. I am proud to be a farmer; I say it everywhere I go. Without farmers, food will be scarce in town or not even available. Aside when there is no rain that my profit goes down, I have no regret being a farmer.
What day of your life would you say is your happiest ever?
Well, my wedding day s my happiest day. I am happy that I married the man who came to tell me that he loves me. It was indeed a day of joy that I cannot forget in my life.
Which day is the saddest in your life?
I will not say that I don’t have challenges, but when challenges come, I sit down, pray and God opens the door. The time I was looking for money to start farming was a challenging period but when I prayed to God, he came in for me. I have decided to live my life in his hands and nothing can happen to it other than what he wills that happens to me. God has been very good to me and my family.
Thank you for your attention
You are welcome sir