Women in Agriculture: My struggles with herders – Beekeeper

Hope Isaac, a final year student of a Nigerian university, owns farms and bee hives in Imo State. She is the CEO of Hopifloral Resources. She practices both livestock and crop farming on four acres of land.

Hope shared her experience with PREMIUM TIME (PT) in Nigeria.

PT: Can you put us through your journey in agriculture?

Hope Isaac: I started going to farm with my mother in 2005, she is an agricultural economist. Then she was into cassava farming and poultry. So I continued helping her till I finished secondary school. I lost my first admission after the second semester due to family problems.

I rewrote another JAMB and got admission to study a course but my O level disqualified me, so I was offered Forestry and Wildlife. By 2013, I had began the bee hives.

My mum encouraged me so I continued with the course, before then I had started honey production. I started expanding my bee hives from five to 10 then to 20 and then 50. I started cultivating 419 cassava and fish farming but on a small scale because I didn’t have enough funds.

The honey production was and is still massive but herders attacked my farm and destroyed some of my hives, leaving me with few. I sold all and restocked. Usually, when I see a land that is in a safe location, I lease it from the owners.

The fish farm, I started it in our backyard with 3, 000 fingerlings (hybrid). After three to four months, I will be having 700 – 800 kilograms, then I will smoke all of them at the Anambra/Imo river basin and sell them.

When I call customers to buy the fish (when they are fresh) they price below the value. I cultivated cucumber on a five hectare of land, so after the first harvest I had to source for customers. I sell to my lecturers and colleagues.

Last month, 30 bee hives were vandaliseqd and I was to harvest in some days. I have never allowed my challenges stop me from going further. I have I.T (Industrial Training) students undergoing some training on my farm. I am also into maggot production, I use them to feed the fishes and birds.

I had some of my training with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Songhai farms. I still work with them (Songhai) but it is still a learning process because they usually have new species of crops or improvement in any seeds. Now that we have a short holiday, I will produce organic fertilizer instead of buying from the market and also prepare my organic herbicide and pesticide.

For me, even if I want to stop any agribusiness, it will not be beekeeping, because it is something you start with a small capital and earn well. Currently, a liter is N6,000 so I supply to doctors and some other customers, infact my honey went for a competition and came out first. I have plans of setting up more ponds and piggeries. I have 400 birds now, I sell to retailers.

PT: As a young person and a woman, what are the challenges you face in agriculture?

Hope Isaac: Aside capital, the other challenge I face is herders. For example, when it’s time to harvest the honey, I cannot go there alone, I have to go with a man for security reasons or maybe I will meet the herders on my farm. But even to call someone to join you on the farm, you have to pay them.

They get scared of the bees but the bees are friendly, you can even have them in your house. There are things I can do that some men cannot do, I make ridges. Even if people insult me because of my profession, I don’t see it as a challenge because it has not stopped me from making progress. I can’t allow these challenges.

I have personal land and I hope to develop it. I just have a passion for agriculture. People ask me on my Facebook page if I’m really a farmer especially when they see me on the farm wearing bumshorts. I think this is a general problem, I don’t have machines for my cultivation. I need them to make the process easy.

PT: You have about four acres of land in the South East where women don’t own land, how did you do it?

Hope Isaac: Firstly, they don’t belong to my parents, so what I do is aside from leasing, I buy. When I sell honey I use the profit to purchase land. There was a time I made about N600,000 from honey sale, so I got some land. When I look out for land, I go for the ones in cheaper areas.

So I got mine at N400,000 per plot and the land is roughly three acres and two plots so I had to save about N8 million. It took me years to save up and pay for the whole four acres. It got to a point the money was not coming as I wanted so I had to invest the money in a microfinance bank for one year, then I used the capital and interest to buy land.

PT: Aside from the IT students, how many staff do you have?

Hope Isaac: I have about four, the IT students are also four. Although 21 people came for IT, 17 of them were not serious. They didn’t want to learn.

PT: There are policies that have been rolled out by the government, such as Anchor Borrowers Programme, Agricultural Promotion Policy, and others. Do you think they have any space for women generally? Have you benefited from any?

Hope Isaac: I applied for survival funds but I did not get, I also applied for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) loan. I met a man that promised me he will help me secure the CBN loan but I will give him 30 per cent. I accepted the offer but I met another person, this time my lecturer but he started making sexual advances.

There was this honey competition in Enugu, so a man used my honey to go for the competition and he won. When he came back, I proposed that we should share the proceeds from every supply he gets but he refused so I stopped giving him money. He was selfish even when the organisation requested my contact, he refused to share with them so he listed it. He priced a litre at N10,000 but I refused to sell.

PT: Are there plans you have, or something you are working on?

Hope Isaac: Yes, I organise training for students especially those studying Agriculture because many students who are studying Agriculture are forced into it. I tell them ” There is life in Agriculture “. I have helped some students establish farms, when they need help they call me and I am always at their service.

I organised a training too in my community but only one person came for it. I still try to fix training in my school. I carry out online training too but you know some people will not understand. So I try to follow up. I have plans of going for my Masters in Germany, and also secure my lands properly.

PT: When you go for your Masters, who will take care of the farm?

Hope Isaac: My younger sister will do that, I have trained her so she is capable of doing it. But the farms will be in one location to make it easier for her.

PT: You lost 30 bee hives recently, how much did you lose?

Ms Isaac: One bee hive gives me a minimum of 15 litres of honey. I sell one litre at N6,000. So it means in one hive, I lost N90,000. Then in 30 hives I lost N 2.7 million. This is a huge loss. I have used that land for five years and they vandalised it. I just saw it during the inspection. Currently, I have harvested 40 litres from the remaining ones, I’m yet to harvest all.

PT: As a registered organisation, do you pay tax?

Hope Isaac: Well, I registered my farm just last year after so many years of being into agriculture and I am yet to start paying tax, although in the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) form, it was indicated that I will pay tax. I was reluctant to register because I felt I can’t be suffering and someone is enjoying my tax, but my mother insisted I register the farm.

PT: Do you belong to any association? If yes, how have you benefited from the association?

Hope Isaac: Yes I do, that is Beekeeping Association, Imo State chapter. I have not benefited but there was a time the group had a programme in Abuja in 2018, I was unable to attend because I was writing my exams, I was told that the group was given money.

Some of the executives just share the money anytime it comes. In fact, a leader of the association trained me. He dupes me, let alone the government’s money. He went to my farm during my IT and harvested honey, then told me the honey was stolen.

When I got to the farm, a security guard who stayed near my farm said a man came to harvest the honey. He described the man and his car and the description fits my trainer. I keep telling him “Sir you betrayed me, after serving you for five years.” I served him from 2010 to 2015.

PT: If You are in a position to advise the Nigerian government with respect to the agriculture sector, what would that be?

Hope Isaac: Firstly, they should help Nigerians adjust their lives hereby valuing farming and other agriculture related issues. Also, they should venture into and implement the provision of capital to Nigerians and also the security of lives and properties. Introduce policies that will work and favour the agricultural sector in the country.

People are into farming and more people want to venture into farming but are not encouraged because of the situation of the country with respect to the way the government intervenes in the sector. The government should therefore stop eye service and work genuinely towards the growth of the sector. This will reduce the risk of food shortage in the country.

PT: How were you able to raise capital to start your business in 2013?

Hope Isaac: I actually used the money I saved from my pocket money and kept expanding with it. I used the money to first set up three bee hives which gave me 60 litres of honey, from there I got money to buy birds. After every sale, I invest both the capital and the profit to increase my income.

For example cucumber, I planted 2500 seeds and I harvested 110 bags after six weeks. Now I can construct a hive by myself. To construct it in the market, you need N30,000 to do it but I save N15,000 to N20,000 when I do it myself. I go to a saw mill, when they see me, they say “Hope onye ike”.

I go there with seriousness, choose my own species of wood, then explain to them what I want and come back for it later. I have my hammer and nails, so I nail it and do the necessary things and mount it. I produce candle wax from the shaft that’s what I use in attracting them.

PT: Do you feed the bees?

Hope Isaac: No, I don’t. They feed themselves. I advise people to go into the business because it is very cheap and lucrative. You can cultivate some plants for them like sunflowers and cannabis.

PT: Farmers say they are unable to access seeds and fertilizers, how do you cope?

Hope Isaac: I buy seeds from the market, sometimes I dry the seeds of some rice crops and keep them for the next season. For the fertilizer, I use organic fertilizer. I get a big drum, pour water into it.

I will harvest neem plants, scent leaf, bitter leaf, turmeric and garlic and put them into the drum. Then leave it for seven days then it ferments. Once it ferments it has turned into a serious fertilizer. When I have exams, I use inorganic fertilizer.

PT: Studying in Nigeria is a tedious task, how do you manage your academics and farming?

Hope Isaac: I have my personal timetable. I collect handouts from my predecessors ahead of the semester. I talk with my lecturers and we have an understanding, but there are four lecturers that are very strict, I don’t miss their lectures.

When I harvest some produce, I share with them but I have never given them money. I talk with my Head of Department too so he is aware of what I’m doing. Although he keeps telling me to study hard.

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