How the ASUU strike ignited my passion for agriculture — Student

Chisom Mefor, a 400 level computer science student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, resides in Abuja with her family.

Ms. Mefor, 22, has a passion for creative writing and technology, but has extended it to farming. In this episode of our series, she tells PREMIUM TIMES how she is profiting from the ongoing University Union of Academic Staff strike that began in February 2022.

For her, farming is the best thing that ever happened to her.

PT: Can you tell us about your background in agriculture?

Mrs Mefor: I started in 2020 during the Lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. I stayed at home doing nothing, it was a waste of time, talent and energy. I decided to create a fish farm. I started with less than a hundred fry but most died. It was not a good experience. I wish I had bought a laptop with the money, but I don’t regret it. In December 2021, I attended a religious event where I met a man, a farmer and an exporter.

He also grows mushrooms in commercial quantities. He then introduced me to growing mushrooms. I started reading about them. Mushrooms have high nutritional value but many Nigerians do not eat them, myself included. It has a high export value.

But I have a challenge, a guaranteed market as Nigerians may not patronize me. I am at home because of the strike. If they call off the strike, how am I going to keep it going? This has been my journey, I continue to push despite the setbacks.

I also have 96 birds in the poultry farm and they are ready to sell, so I will restock to resell. I have 56 piles of mushrooms.

PT: Your business failed in 2020, how did you raise capital for this current business?

Mrs Mefor: I didn’t need huge capital to start the mushroom business, almost all the materials needed are free. Like sawdust which is the main thing you put in the substrate bags. You need the seedlings, then the bags. I buy the bags at N30.

Chisom Mefor, in her mushroom farm

You can easily start with N30,000. I spent N35,000 as capital and N50,000 for training. But I had to learn with my mother, we did one day and another because we thought about the best ways to manage limited resources. I was taking an online course to supplement what we learn from the physical course.

PT: You mentioned buying them, where do you buy them?

Mrs Mefor: I got them from the man who taught me how to grow mushrooms, I bought them from him.

PT: After investment, how long does it take to grow the mushroom and how much do you sell?

Mrs Mefor: I haven’t harvested yet because I started during the ASUU strike. For the bags of substrate to turn completely white, this happens within six weeks. I can’t wait to see the growth. You need to keep the mushrooms in a dark room for the bags of substrate to ferment. We didn’t have enough space in the house so we used my brother’s room. Mushrooms grow between the bags after hanging them on a rope, they should overlap, open to the side. Then you water it.

PT: You combine it with your mother, but you are the main partner here, why do you think there will be difficulties in taking care of them when you go back to school?

Mrs Mefor: My mother has a demanding job. But we’re looking at finding someone that we’ll train and help out for a while and then maybe later combine into production. This will even contribute to increasing our production capacity for export.

PT: You are interested in exporting products, what do you know about the sector in Nigeria?

Mrs Mefor: Well, I don’t know much, I rely on my mentor for guidance and I read and ask people questions, especially people who are in this line of business. I’m trying to build my online presence because the world is now global. With a good online presence, it will be an advantage to have a market all over the world.

Exporting is huge, because it requires more capital, so I prefer to sell in the local market first before thinking about exporting, it’s a long-term plan.

PT: Tell us, you own other farms like fish farming and poultry, so you focus on mushrooms, given the available market?

Mrs Mefor: For fish, it’s not like poultry where I have to work every time or mushrooms where I baste six times a day. The fish is managed by someone we pay.

READ ALSO: No end in sight as ASUU strike enters third month

I would like people to know the health benefits of mushrooms and their value in the international market. I know there is money there. I hope to feed on the profit I make. I learn to eat it.

PT: Let’s talk about your fish, how did you raise the capital for it in 2020? What do you think caused the loss?

Mrs Mefor: I raised capital thanks to the support of my parents and some savings. Then I was a novice so I was super worried for them, I changed the water every day, I took the fish out and then let them take the time to replenish. The stress was a lot on the animals. It was after the defeat that I realized all the mistakes I had made.

I met another farmer who told me that she rarely hands or even changes the water. So the person who taught me fish farming also suffered the loss, but he recovered and I grabbed him. So I pay N600,000 and get a 30% return on investment, or N900,000 over a period of five to six months. The market is available. Your business is also insured. So we used the fish profits to fund some mushroom and poultry parts.

Chisom Mefor, in her mushroom farm

PT: Do you think you would maintain your business in the future given the rising cost of production in the country?

Mrs Mefor: It won’t be easy at all. In 2020 a bag of chicken feed was N4000, now it is N8000. I really hope the market will improve considering the ASUU strike as I don’t know their plan. I intend to maintain the business for a long time. I think the government needs to step in to help small farmers like me.

PT: Belonging to associations will allow you to have a market, do you plan to join a farmers’ cooperative?

Mrs Mefor: I searched on Google and couldn’t find anything. I want to join them but I have an available market for poultry and fish.

PT: What plans do you have for marrying technology and agriculture?

Mrs Mefor: It’s very simple, digital marketing. Connecting local farmers and international farmers through technology. Connecting them through platforms provides access to inputs through technology.

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