Engr. Dotun Sanusi, the proprietor of ICAST and the Chief Farmer of Ilaji Farm is a successful gentleman with a blazing passion for agriculture.
The Engineer, who has invested heavily in agriculture which culminated in having a multi-million naira farm in this interview with our Associate Editor disclosed that his pukka passion for agriculture was borne out of the culture that has been embedded into his psychic and as well as the agricultural practices that he was taught in school then informed his bold decision.
As he puts it: “Agricultural investment is about the interest and not necessarily the amount of money you have in your bank accounts”. Excerpts.
Please introduce yourself sir?
My name is Engineer Dotun Sanusi. I am the Chairman of Ilaji Farms in Akanran, Ona-Ara, Oyo State.
You have invested heavily in agriculture which culminated in having a multi-million naira farm, the interesting part is that you are an engineer, what has the experience been like?
I am investing in agriculture due to the passion I have for it which is borne out of the culture that has been embedded into one’s psychic by our fathers and as well as the agricultural practices that we were taught in school then. What makes investment in agriculture imperative now is the price of the crude oil that has dwindled in recent times and having been in oil and gas sectors for quite some time, I have the conviction that there is no better time for diversification than now.
Aside from this, in the course of my travelling to other parts of the
world, I found out that my Chinese partners who are also into oil and gas takes pride in their agricultural practices. Each of them will rather showcase their farm to the visitors because they see it as a way of giving back to their immediate and extended society.
So agricultural investment is about the interest and not necessarily the amount of money you have in your bank accounts. For instance, we started Ilaji Farms with few hectares but today by God’s grace, Ilaji Farm is spread over hundred hectares. We started the farm
with planting of vegetables, later we got into animal husbandry before we finally settled for the poultry farming we are into. Due to the vision, we have for agriculture in the state, I have discussed with my Chinese friends about increasing our birds from its present over 75,000 to 500,000 birds and due to our conceited efforts we are confident that we shall meet that target.
Presently over 50 people are employed and live in the farm. What gladdens my heart is that the farm has made some of those who before depended on me for financial assistance now independent in that by getting buyers for the eggs produced in the farm they do not only make money for themselves they also
make money for the farm.
Sir you just painted a picture of a farm settlement; an initiative of the then western government. Are you advocating for something like that as a way of solving the menace of unemployment in the country?
That is the point I have been trying to make and that is where I gave
a big kudos to the present governor of Oyo state, Sen. Abiola Ajimobi, for creating a conducive environment towards making such initiative to thrive and for encouraging the potential investors within and outside the state and country to come home and invest. I could remember four years ago he had a fruitful discussion with some of us who are potential investors to come to the state with a view to developing it economically. But the problem is attitudinal, in that some of our youths always have at the back of their minds of what they could get out of such investments and not what they could contribute to it.
I remember not quite long ago when we needed some personnel at Ilaji Farm and we had to put up a vacancy post, over two thousands graduates applied and among them were masters holders.
You made a point earlier about increasing the birds in Ilaji Farm
from 75,000 to 500,000 with the help of your Chinese friends. Can you please expatiate on this?
What we intend doing is to transfer the Chinese technology and expertise to Ilaji Farm, such that we would be able to use the waste generated by the birds into electricity which we will be using to power the farm as well as the whole of our environment-Akanran town.
How feasible is this project?
It is very much feasible because I have seen it done in China and that is why we want to increase our birds to 500,000. This will guarantee enough waste which will be used to make fertilizers and some of the waste will be used in the production of bio-gas. It is only the technology- which is the caging and packaging systems which the
Chinese themselves copied from Germany and Holland respectively- but the birds and every other manpower are sourced locally here in Oyo state.
I have visited some farms in China and no waste is disposed, everything is being used to generate fertilizers and bio-gas and that is exactly what we want to do in Ilaji Frams. We have tried to make use of our Nigerian engineers to get this started
but when we found that they didn’t really get it after expending some resources into it, I decided to bring in foreign expertise.
Though, it might be capital intensive initially but at the long term, it pays. The waste we presently generates which are disposed away from the farm gulps huge money so also is the huge money we spend in buying diesel to power the farm.
Thus, any visionary person will never toil with agriculture- it is the live wire of any society. Crude oil will dry up one day but agriculture will never cease to be. A perfect example is United Arab Emirates, they use the money they generated from Abu-Dhabi- an oil producing emirate- to develop other emirates, especially Dubai.
The government makes Dubai very attractive having discovered that it is the centre of the globe and today Dubai is the most visited place after New-York. Millions of dollars is being generated through tourism and interestingly Abu-Dahbi that used to be money spinning city is not as rich as Dubai due to the fall in crude oil prices.
You seem to represent the present and the future, in the sense that having been into oil and gas for decades and now you have invested into agriculture which is the direction the federal government is moving into. Based on your experience in both fields, did you think they are going about it in the right direction?
It is not about policy, it is about attitudes. There is need for attitudinal change in this country. We need to believe that we
want to make this country great again. We have no reason at all to abandon agriculture because God has given us the land, a fertile one for that matter. If you fly over this country almost everywhere is covered with green vegetation. It rains incessantly here, unlike Dubai which rains once in a while.
If all of us believe this, then you don’t need to have a farm as big as Ilaji’s before you can go into agriculture. We can start in a very small way. I grew up to see my mum rearing chickens and goats. Then during the secondary school days, each student was apportioned a farm for cultivation and we were happy when we see our crops growing.
So you are advocating for a national orientation?
Exactly. That is what we need to do. Our fathers in those days who were into cocoa farming did not have the technological instruments we have now but yet they had farms and some of them were prosperous. Let everyone go into agriculture first and in the process government can come in.
Did you support the federal government of total removal of oil subsidy?
The oil and gas is very wide. I am into upstream; which involves drilling of oil and taking into consideration where our reservoir is after that I don’t know what is done with the oil.
I don’t condemn, I always believe in the solution. But my own personal opinion is that the best way is what the federal government has done- total deregulation is the way out. The present situation is very painful, yes but we cannot think that the situation now will be the same as when the crude oil is being sold for between 100 to 120 dollars per barrel.
The gap is very huge. So in my own sincerity of opinion the best way is deregulation of oil and gas sector and which is what the government has done. It is now left for all of us to think that as the head of the house how can I pay my bills? And the ready way out God has given to us is agriculture- which includes farming, poultry, and animal
husbandry and so on.
We should be realistic with ourselves, how do we expect a government that is battling political and crisis at every front would be able to concentrate on economic crisis?
Some people believe that, that is the basis upon which they were voted for?
If they were voted for that, then let us have an attitude of change. We need to work for Nigeria to survive. Not that when some are moving it forward, some will be dragging it backward. It is only in Nigeria you see the citizens sabotaging their governments’ efforts just to prove a point.
What other areas do you think the government should focus on aside from the ones you have highlighted?
Like i said earlier, the present governor has tried a lot in terms of making the state to thrive economically. From my research, I have found out that each local government in the state has a bulldozer, Lowbird, tractors and a borehole drilling machine. With these equipments, the councils’ administrators do not have any excuse of not making their councils economically viable. They should be able to go into farming by looking at the needs of their communities.
The government needs to mandate them to use these machines to their maximum output and after which they should be able to bring something to the centre. It is interesting to state here that every province in China must produce something not only to the province but also to the centre. Before you become a mayor in China, you must have been able to achieve significant achievements at the province level after which you can be considered to be a mayor.
In Ilaji Farms, we spend 8 to 10 million naira monthly to buy corns to feed our birds. Imagine, our host, Ona-Ara local government, going into maize plantation, they will definitely be our supplier which means that they will be making these millions every month. Besides, what about the employment opportunities such a farming exercise will generate? It means that the local government does not need to wait for government allocation before they can carry out their various functions and yet they will still be able to generate income for the state and federal governments.
There is notion that the entrepreneurs do not have any business in politics. Did you share this view sir?
In my own view, I believe that if you have something to offer to your society you should not hesitate to join politics, besides the fact that, we are all political animals. That is being an entrepreneur does not mean he does not have what it takes to be a successful politician. If you say you are an entrepreneur, and, thus, you leave politics for people who do not have the administrative expertise you have, then you will be ruled based on their limited exposure and knowledge. If it happens, you don’t have to complain.
Looking into the crystal ball, where would you want to see Ilaji Farms in the next ten years?
Ilaji Farm In the next years by God’s grace should be an international competitor. From our blue prints, in the next ten years, we want to have over 100,000 people that will be working and living in the farm.
Let us just say in the next 4 years, we should be able to achieve this. Because presently we have over 50 people working and living in the farm and by the time we achieve the 500,000 birds we would have something closer to that figure. We are building a games village in the farm and very soon we shall be having communication gadgets in the
farm whereby our workers would be able to know what goes on in any part of the globe. By the time we finish this, it is going to be a mini city.
How do you unwind considering your tight schedule?
I try to relax anytime I go out of the country. I use that time to meditate and see how i can bring my country in tandem with such countries.
You said earlier that entrepreneur should not shy away from joining
politics. Should we look forward to seeing Engineer Dotun Sanusi in politics in the nearest future?
You don’t need to be in government to impact on lives. My own believe is that you ought to have done something for the society first before you can aspire to lead them. And my own believe is that if you have done well enough they are the ones that will compel you to come and lead them.
To me politics is about service to
humanity and if you had done well enough it is the people that will ask you to come and serve them because they must have seen that you have the qualities in you. I am doing my own bit to the people in my environment.
So if at a time the people feel that i have done enough to warrant me to lead them or serve them in any capacity, I will oblige.
What is your own advice for Nigerian graduates who upon graduating from school got his hopes dashed due to unavailability of job in the country?
They need to have determination that they will not wait any second
upon graduation and that they will not allow the unemployment situation in the country to waste their talents.
One way or the other, the company that I am running today was not established with government’s money. I started the company from the scratch. Let me give you an instance, three years ago when I built my house at Elebu area of Ibadan, the state capital and we were doing the house warming as the people say. In the midst of eating and drinking, I was trying to see what was missing in that area and on that spot I remembered the efforts my mum put into our education and there and then I made up my mind that a standard school must germinate in
That was how International College of Arts, Science and Technology, ICAST, started and today the school has over six hundred students and over 70 people are working in the school.
Our goal is to make the school the best in the country having partnered the school with some with some of the best universities in United Kingdom and very soon ICAST products will be seen in Havards University. Initially the road to where ICAST is situated was not accessible but I was not deterred, I knew that I may not be able to asphalt the road but I graded it and I concretized it, now everyone in the community is making use of that road. I could come with the excuse that the road is bad and allow the dream to die prematurely but I refused to see the challenges but the opportunities.
In a nut shell, I charge our youths to see opportunities in any situation rather than seeing challenges in them.
You have hundreds of people working under you, what does it takes to be a good and successful employer of labour?
It takes Integrity, honesty, fairness to your Maker and employees and transparency.
Are you a multi-billionaire considering the fact that you have just less than a thousand of people working under you?
I know that God has blessed me and I recognize this fact. To me, is not about the amount of cash that you have but the number of lives that you have impacted on. I am rich when people are rich. But to answer your question, on asset base, I think I am.
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