He is a young brilliant, shrewd, vastly travelled and well-read entrepreneur. Born into raising livestock from the age of 10 and love for animals, he went to earn various degrees in business management, business administration, accounting and engineering, but his passion lies in farming. Over the years, he’s been an aggressive learner, and has developed to be more formidable and versatile. His biggest achievement has been his ability to be able to proffer business solutions none like other in the poultry industry. Today he runs a Mega Farm Jocarl Breeder Farm, which rakes in a fortune weekly. Managing Director, Jocarl Breeder Farms, Dr. Adebayo Soboyejo speaks to Adedayo Adejobi on his inspiration, the unique essence of poultry, among other issues
What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Well, I was born into it. I have started raising livestock from the age of 10, ever before I dreamt of being a veterinarian. It all started from the old sci-fi movie “Doctor Who” which I’ve been a fan of at a tender age. So I had always wanted to be a doctor, though wasn’t sure of what type of doctor I wanted to be. So as I grew older, couple with my love for animals which I cater so much to and care about. I got determined of being a Veterinarian.
Share on your business and why it was started, your days of little beginnings and where you are today. Some success stories and your involvement with private individuals, organisations or the federal government. Our business, Jocarl Breeder Farm was establish to bridge the supply gap the Nigerian poultry industry was facing, and also the urgent need for the country to improve its food security, and that was why a heavy investment was made to establish a state-of-the-art poultry farm with latest technology in poultry breeding. It was a challenging feat due to the fact that the sector is faced with lots of challenges varying from feedstuff supplies, inflation, forex liquidity, power and insufficient know how. But we were able to surmount it all, by working round the clock, and also keeping our eyes on the vision and mission at which we were established in the first place. Gradually things started falling in place and we are proud to be one of the biggest producers in the industry. Our facility was installed to produce over 800,000 DOC weekly. With our recent improvements, we have been able to expand to be able to produce as much as 1.2 million DOC weekly from our two state-of-the-art hatcheries. Thus partnering with private organisation in the value chains and also indirectly supporting the federal government move for economic diversification.
What are your major challenges?
Challenges are a constant factor in any production sector. Challenges become greater when your dreams and visions are big and when you never intend to settle for less. Our challenges majorly like every other big player in this sector is the availability if quality feedstuff. Unlike our counterparts in the western world, they have been able to industrialise each of the value chain, and there are regulations in place, which are totally lacking here, and because if that nobody really cares or regulate the quality of raw materials that come in for feed production which take about 70 per cent in your operation cost. Furthermore, the issue of smuggling of frozen chicken and eggs into the country is paralysing the industry thus making it harder for farmers to compete and breakeven. All these still boil down to proper regulation and policies.
For a farm like ours that depends on 24/7 electricity, power generation is also a big task especially when the cost of diesel is very expensive. The challenges are quite enormous nowadays than it used to be in the industry, and that is why farmers are yelling and even closing down daily.
How can we know a healthy livestock even when frozen?
Well for you, it might be difficulty except you start seeing changes in colour or odour of the frozen product. For me as a Veterinarian, we were trained to know the normal anatomy of livestock animal, when they are diseased this normal anatomy changes, both in size, texture, colour and many other parameters, and that was why is said earlier that it might be difficult for you to know beyond what you can see and smell.
There are people who treat animals and aren’t vet doctors even though they are skilled in animal care. Are there risks in patronising such persons?
Yes, there are great risks. Veterinarians are trained to diagnose, treat and cater for welfare of animals, both livestock and pet animal. Patronising quacks like I would call them puts your investments at high risk, beside you spending more to treat due to wrong diagnosis, you will also lose a lot of your stock or your pets. The veterinary curriculum was specially designed and indepth. So a good veterinarian besides being able to accurately diagnose should also be economical in his/her therapeutic intervention.
What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
The passion got me going strong in this job. I love what I do, and have so much passion for it. This has made me develop myself, honed my skills in my core discipline, and others such as business management by earning a Masters degree in business administration, accounting and engineering to make me as versatile as possible to be able to proffer prompt solutions which are cost effective to situations and challenges I face every day in operating a mega farm.
Who inspired you as a kid?
My dad does. He had trained me to be independent and not yielding to pressure. To be strongly determined and keeping my eyes fixed on my targets.
How does your company manage its branding and product differentiation?
In poultry industry, the performance of your products is the ultimate brand. Every farm has expectations, the moment your products, day old chicks can surpass these expectations, it creates a brand that will be reckoned with. Our products are quite distinct, and every farmer client that has encounter with us can attest to this. We have three brand of brown egg layers chicken with performance which are quite distinctive and surpasses expectation of farmers, and doing well in the market. Our broilers are also of such nature.
Would you agree that the poultry industry isn’t as much fun to work in as it has been?
Yes, I will agree to this. This is because of the multitudes facing livestock farmers daily, the low per capita consumption of poultry product, diseases, inflation in cost of raw materials and power generation. All of these make the profit margin in the industry non attractive compared to what it has been in time past. Couple with its huge capital intensiveness and the lower and lower margin, the business is getting tougher by the day. The panacea to this challenges entails players in the industry to be more strategic, economical and technical to be able to manage the indices that affect the up and down trends of the business, the industry goes beyond being scientific, strong entrepreneurship and management skill can still guarantee success in the industry.
How is Nigeria’s poultry market currently developing?
Except for the last two years, the growth in the industry has been steady. The industry has enjoyed a steady growth, which has led to the expansion of the value chain, which occupies a lot of players both agro allied players, farmers, catering services, and there are linkages. With the recent devaluation, and recession the country experience, the poultry industry was hard hit, and this is because of increase in cost of production, which invariable dose not translate to an increase in cost of goods, leading to losses for farmers. Couple with the low per capita consumption, which drops further due to recession and low purchasing power of consumers, and the alternatives of smuggled frozen chicken into the country. The industry made enormous loss, which inhibits the rate of growth and expansion in the industry as farmers are closing down due to high cost of production and bearish price of goods. A lot of players couldn’t sustain it, especially farmers operating on bank loans, which are affected by increased lending rates by banks. As result of these multiple factors contending with smooth operations in the industry, the GDP from the industry plummeted until of recent when things are taking shape little by little, as prices of goods were moderately increased, and consumers being able to afford them, and also could be due to fewer players in the industry now as compared to what it used to be, thus making the supply bearish, and demand bullish for poultry product, and subsequently increase price, which is remaining players in the industry make marginal profit to sustain operations.
The farm’s layer hens are kept cage-free. How common is this in Nigerian poultry breeder production?
I think it’s a common practice. Same thing is applicable to western countries where the industry is well regulated and laws guiding animal welfare. But in our own case, we operate a closed house system, in which our birds live and breed in an artificial environment, where light, water, ventilation, temperature, humidity, feeding and egg collections are automated. Some people call it “air conditioned houses”. But in this kind of production, we are able to control the interaction of the chickens to the outside world filled with diseases, pest and stray animals. This has been one of the major factors that has made our chicken and breed out performing other breeds in the industry. Furthermore, our research and developments on the breed TETRA SL LL (long life bird) has made this breeds to exhibit special characteristics to be to tolerate more the harshness of the Nigerian climate, without affecting their performances on egg or meat production.
What particular challenges do Nigerian farmers face who seek alternatives to intensive production systems?
The major challenge facing intensive production systems majorly is power. For instance, I have 35 closed houses that can take 7,000 breeder each in a land area of over five million square meter. Powering this kind of farm community is a big task in Nigeria where power supply is epileptic. I had to power my farm most times with heavy duty generators which are expensive to maintain, couple with the fact that diesel supply is of bad quality and also expensive. This majorly bore a deep hole in our pocket yearly as a company. Other challenges which cut across all players in the industry is majorly increase cost of feeding which is about 70 per cent cost of production, thus subsequently increasing overall cost of production. In 2014, a bag of new maize goes for 4000-5000 but now it is between 8000-10000. This is about 100 per cent increase, whereas cost of a crate of egg never got 100 per cent increase in price between 2014 and 2017. All these is making the poultry industry unattractive, unfortunately it’s a kind of business that is difficult to liquidate and cash out, so most farmers invariably keep licking their wounds while the pray for better days again.
You have worked across the industry for over a decade, what have been your biggest achievements?
Over the years I have been an aggressive learner, and have developed to be more formidable and versatile. And my biggest achievement has been my ability to be able to proffer business solutions none like other in the poultry industry. My business management style has focused on cost management, efficient utilisation of resources and scientific approach. As seen in my currently workplace where I was able to transform the farm operation in eight months, cutting across business management, productions, operations, and making the business stronger than it ever was.
Where are the next challenges facing the Nigerian broiler industry?
One of the biggest challenges facing the broiler industry is the continuous flow of smuggled frozen chicken into Nigeria. I read an article quoted to the former PAN chairman Dr. Ayoola Oduntan, about the industry having an estimated N2bn worth of frozen chicken in various cold rooms. But this shouldn’t be the trend, because looking at our population that should be a stock of frozen chicken that can be consumed in 2-3 months. But with the continuous inflow of smuggled frozen chicken, it is paralysing the broiler industry. Followed with the low per capita consumption of chicken in Nigeria, as most household still see as a luxury. Other major challenges remain the need for the food industry to develop more technologies to package and process chicken meat into variable products of different ranges. This can also help increase the consumption. Lastly, if the cost of feed reduces, I believe the broiler industry will be more competitive and consumers will be able to afford it more.
What do we see when we look at the current production standards in the sector in terms of safety and health?
Well from my perspective, our production standards and safety is quite high, and we improve regularly on set standards. In another perspective, I think there is need for more regulations in the industry, as most farmers do not observe drug withdrawal periods. These vastly affect the quality of products available to the consumers. Moreso, I think we should also join our western counterparts in the campaign against the indiscriminate use of anti-biotics in poultry production. The importation of poultry products and live birds into the country also needs to be addressed further, as it’s being regarded as the major gateway of livestock diseases into the country.
Does egg production have an important share in the sector?
Yes, statistical data of 2012 revealed Nigeria as the largest egg producer in Africa. I don’t know how valid that remains in the current reality. But majority of poultry producers in Nigeria are commercial egg producers.
How do you see the future of Nigerian poultry sector?
Well, I believe strongly that the future is bright for farmers that are cost conscious, economically sound, and management-wise to guide their investments. The poultry terrain in Nigeria is gradually changing because we can no longer continue with the status quo. Banks are no longer willing to give loans, because of the perceived nature of poultry as a high risk, and even when they do, the rate are really high. Thus for any farmer to be able to succeed nowadays, you need to be more than just farmer, and you will need to understand the dynamics of the business very well.
How big is the Nigerian Poultry Industry?
Quite big, data available states the industry contributing about 10 per cent to Agric GDP. And the industry as an employer of over 20 million people in different value chains. In 2010, Nigeria chicken population was close to 200 million birds. It’s quite a big industry with a lot of players.
Chickens lay most of their eggs in their nests, but some end up in the hay. Egg collection is therefore both necessary and time-consuming. In response to this need, Wageningen researchers in the Netherlands have developed an autonomous robot that can move through the poultry house freely.
Is robotic egg collection the future?
Already there is an automated egg collection system in place. And I believe robotic egg collection is still a budding research, and more work will be needed to make it a success. Furthermore, depending on the management style, chicken should lay close to 80 per cent of their eggs in nest. The remaining 20 per cent I believe might not be too laborious to engage a robotics, and if so that means the robot must be cheap enough to afford, and also to maintain and upgrade. Cost is important in every operation.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
Food security in Nigeria is still very poor, looking at what our population is and the growth rate. Thus the biggest opportunity is to be able to feed ourselves, and that’s why I applaud President Buhari’s drive for economic diversification and food security. And I think it’s a move every old and young of this country has to participate in. Not just in farm, but industralised to be able to expand the value chains further, and engage more citizens of the country.
With the current crisis in the oil sector, attention has shifted naturally to agricultural sector to guarantee the country’s economic survival. What quality of investments is needed in this sector to help realise their potentials to contribute to the continued growth of the economy?
Industrialisation of the agric sector can guarantee this for us. And to be able to industrialise agriculture, three basic infrastructure the government needs to invest in is electricity and transport and IT. These three sectors will create an enabling environment and drive to entice foreign investors into the sector.
The poverty line is increasing, whilst young Nigerians are migrating to Europe for the perceived “greener pastures”, what should investors and the government be looking at, to make the sector profitable, attractive for young people?
I think the curriculum needs to change, and also a state of emergency declared in the sector, to which our NYSC should make a farming year for the teeming youths. The sector is a very big one that everyone has a room to play. So orientation has to be changed that the greener pasture being sought is right here. Government policies can make agriculture profitable and attractive. The moment the government is able to create enabling environment, and ban importation of products that we naturally can produce by ourselves, this will drive the demand from inside. You know Nigerians flood any business that generates good profit returns, this will attract both the old and young into this sector to play, and there will be more jobs.
The government regards agriculture as a “panacea” for rural poverty, and the country’s leaders have been promoting agribusiness investments on huge swaths of land. However, flaws in the government’s regulation of commercial agriculture, and its poor efforts at protecting the rights of vulnerable people, instead of helping people climb out of the poverty mire, are actually hurting them. Families that have lived and farmed for generations on land now allocated to commercial farms are being displaced without due process or compensation. Some have been left hungry and homeless.
What is the ideal role of the government in combating this growing concern?
I think what the government can do in this regard is what is termed as conscious inclusiveness. Conscious inclusiveness will give such families the orientation to contribute to such investment and with an understanding for a job placement. The fact is that the land can be better utilised when the agriculture is industrialised than for peasant farming. But such families parting with such landed assets needed to be included and carried along in the vision and also to give them security of being able to earn something by working in such farms and being able to provide for themselves.
What opportunities are there for value addition in poultry feed industry, raw materials, growth and development of poultry production and management system in agriculture?
Bountiful opportunities. Like I said earlier, it’s a diversified value chain. Do you know that majority of the vitamins, colorants and amino acids used in poultry feed are made from petrochemicals. This is poultry industry reaching the oil and gas sector. The industry is very large that I cannot estimate its extent. And at such, it provides job opportunity for all.
What are the needs of Nigeria’s agricultural sector in terms of innovations?
More scientific research into diseases and vaccine developments, management innovations, more husbandry research. Our agricultural institutions and universities need to be empowered to deliver on their vision.
Where else do you see opportunities for investment?
Feed additives and chemical production, veterinary pharmaceuticals and biologics, poultry product innovations and varieties.
What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
I will like to see Nigeria get to the point where we are net exporter of refined and value added agriculture products to the rest of the world. At this point, am sure the nation would have been able to feed itself comfortably.
What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
Learning one thing every day, and keeping your vision intact. Never get distracted.
What is your advice to President Buhari and the lawmakers on food and agriculture?
Keep up the drive for economic diversification, and above all create the enabling environment in electricity and transportation infrastructure to drive in more foreign direct investment in the sector.