– Says agribusiness set to become Africa’s “new oil”
Pharm. Patrick Ugwumba is one of the few young Nigerians revolutionising the farming world. In this exciting interview with Pharmanews, Ugwumba, who is the managing director of Veragate Pharmacy Limited, Surulere, Lagos, as well as being the founder of FarmKash Limited, an agribusiness platform that connects people to agriculture-based businesses, speaks on his journey from community pharmacy to farming. Excerpts:
You are a pharmacist, who has fallen in love with agriculture. Tell us about your new love, FarmKash Nigera Limited – how and when was it established and what is the philosophy behind its establishment?
FarmKash is a trusted provider of home grown products and services, linking farmers and prospective farmers to markets, quality seeds, practical trainings, loans and businesses around agriculture and technology. Our major focus is in the production of organic spices, cash crops and food crops. Our mission is to provide easy access to market, for smallholder farmers in urban and rural areas, thereby making organic foods available to Nigerians and reducing the deleterious effects of chemically produced foods.
FarmKash is a startup established in November 2017. It was established primarily to solve two major problems encountered by farmers and consumers in Nigeria. One is to reduce the poisonous effects of chemically produced food in the Nigerian market by introducing safe and organic farm produce to every home in Nigeria using technology; the second is to provide easy access to market for smallholder farmers in urban and rural areas, thereby increasing profitability and growth.
Tell us what led to the establishment of FarmKash Nigeria Limited, and why you quit community pharmacy which was your first love.
(Laughs) I didn’t quit community pharmacy because I am an active member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and currently the public relations officer of the Association of Community Pharmacists Nigeria, Surulere Zone. I have a pharmacy, Veragate Pharmacy Limited in Surulere, Lagos, and whenever I am not at the farm, I consult at the pharmacy. Also, my wife, Pharm. Omolola Modupe Ugwumba, manages the pharmacy.
A few years back, I lost my mother to cancer. During the course of her treatment and management, she was advised to stay off processed foods and genetically modified organism (GMO) foods. This was a herculean task because in as much as we had to go the extra mile to get pure organically produced foods, they were not pocket-friendly. I even took up a teaching job during that period in order to support my siblings. I observed that only few farmers produced organic foods; many others used chemicals to increase yield in quicker time. At this point, I knew I had to go into food production to fill this gap and to revolutionise farming in Nigeria. I also believe that every Nigerian deserves to have access to healthy, safe and chemically- free foods at the best possible price.
Aside from the reason you gave above, were there other reasons that made you a trained pharmacist to think outside the box?
Yes, apart from the organic farming concept, I wanted to solve some of the major problems that smallholder farmers in the urban and rural area were facing. That was the problem of accessing market for their produce. FarmKash is providing easy access to market for smallholder farmers as well as providing input support for prospective farmers. We believe that farmers and investors alike can produce more if they have guaranteed market. We are also connecting people to businesses around agriculture in order to create wealth for themselves. So there are great opportunities in this industry and this is the message we are trying to pass across.
Many people see farming as a career that entails drudgery on farmlands, how would you react to this?
Yes, this is the perception of most people out there, but things have changed. This is the 21st century. People are interested in farming but uninterested in farming the old way. Through FarmKash, you can now control tonnes of farm produce or harvest from the comfort of your home. You can now produce different food crops without getting your hands dirty. We are approaching the agro sector differently with a unique value proposition, using the power of trust-based collaboration and technology.
There is also this belief that success stories in farming business are often about men. What can you say about this? Is there no opportunity for women in farming?
This is an erroneous belief as every Nigerian man or woman has the potential to create wealth through agriculture. In fact, most of FarmKash partner-companies are owned by women and they are doing very well. The agro sector in not gender selective and will never be. It’s more of interest.
How lucrative is farming business, compared to full-time pharmacy practice?
I will say that both are very lucrative because people hardly do without food or drugs when they are hungry or sick. The only difference is in the rate at which people consume food per time and so if you start a farm business today, the rate at which you will break even is faster when compared to pharmacy business.
Do you know that Africa’s agribusiness industry will be worth $1 trillion by 2030, according to the United Nations’ projection? If this projection by the UN comes true, agribusiness will become the “new oil” in Africa. No wonder Aliko Dangote recently invested $1 billion in rice production which indicates that he wants a juicy part of the market.
A lot of people see farming as a very risky venture. How can the government help to make it more attractive?
Yes farming is risky because of the many processes involved. There is no business that is without risk but what matters is the level of knowledge, skill and commitment for the business.At FarmKash, we are very passionate about what we do and we believe in smart agricultural practices. The government can create an enabling environment, put infrastructures in place and security for farmers especially, in the rural areas. By so doing, food security will be guaranteed.
What is FarmKash doing differently in agribusiness?
Presently, we are making farming simple and easy for our partners who are either farming for commercial purpose or family consumption. We are using technology to increase the availability of organically produced foods to Nigerians, thereby reducing their choice of buying chemically produced foods. FarmKash is connecting every farmer and prospective farmers on our platform to a wider and hungry audience for purchasing of their produce, thereby increasing profitability and growth. The registration process for this exercise is free and seamless. Just reach out to the project coordinator on 08098507619 or you visit our website, www.farmkash.com.
What is your assessment of pharmacy practice in Nigeria?
The pharmacy practice in Nigeria is not doing badly. As an emerging profession in Nigeria, the leadership of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria has tried so far and has been relatively successful in putting pharmacy on a higher pedestal – although there is so much to be done and some of the change factors are under our control as individuals and as pharmacy groups. It is a global world and we must move with the trend.