Favour Kanu, popularly known as ‘Slay Farmer,’ is an agriculture graduate from Njala University and a certificate holder in SMEs Business Management from the Institute of Public Administration and Management in collaboration with the Netherlands Business Council SL.
The Institute works with farmers in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone. In this exclusive interview with Gabriel Benjamin, Favour, who is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Slay Farms (SL) Limited, shares her career experiences, activities as a farmer, and how women can take advantage of opportunities in the agricultural sector.
Tell us a little about growing up
I was born in Freetown at Princess Christian Maternity Hospital. In 2006, my late father retired from the civil service. My mother is a housewife. I attended St. Martins Nursery and Primary School, Black Hall Road, Freetown, before proceeding to St. Theresa Primary and Secondary School, Waterloo, where I sat for my National Primary School Examination. I attended Freetown Secondary School for Girls. We started having challenges when I was in JSS II but God was faithful. I sat for my West Africa Senior Secondary Examination in 2011/2012. I gained admission to study agriculture at Njala University. I wanted to become a medical doctor but my father died in 2011 and I had no one to pay my university fees. So, I said, ‘ok… my aim is to help people, if I cannot do that with medicine then I can do that with farming.’ My mother sold everything she had to see me through school. I graduated in 2018. So, I can’t say I had everything growing up but I thank God for everything.
Take us through your previous work experience, if any
Between 2016 and 2018, I worked with the West African Rice Company as Farmer Connector in Kafe Simira Chiefdom, Tonkolili. It was my first job. I formed farmer groups and through the groups, I supported and trained over 100 farmers. Now, I’m in Freetown working with the Produce Monitoring Board as a Quality Control Coordinator.
Agriculture is not often the first choice for women today. How were you able to convince yourself this was the right path?
When I tell people that I have a degree but I’m a farmer, they will be like, ‘you?’ For example, I was seated with some young girls the other day; they expected me to say I worked at the bank or one of those big offices. ‘I’m a farmer,’ I said to them. And they were like, really? I want to be mentioned when people are talking about agriculture in Sierra Leone, in Africa. I want to be the face of agriculture on the Continent. I want people to look at agriculture and see me. I want young people to look at me and want to come into agriculture. I want to make it sexy, attractive, and enviable. That said, I got motivated in Abidjan, and then, I came to Sierra Leone where I met a young man who has a PhD and was working with farmers. I asked him a lot of questions and he answered them. That got me really motivated.
From farming to sales and marketing. What informed the switch?
After my first harvest last year, I was finding it difficult to sell my produce because I had no support, and all the vegetables were ready almost at the same time. I had to take them to the markets to sell. Ah… Of course, we farm to make money, to improve our livelihood, and to help in achieving food security. So, I do the marketing myself.
Do you think Sierra Leone has food security or food-processing and storage problems?
For example, last year I had harvested my vegetables and transported them to Waterloo market. Due to lack of storage facilities, I had to sell them at a cheaper rate although many of them still got perished. So, for vegetables, storage facility is a problem.
What challenges do you face as a young, female agropreneur?
First, is labour. Hiring people has been difficult. For example, there is only one club in the village where I farm. The young men in the village said if I want labour, I will have to hire the entire club, like 60 people… that’s too many. I have to feed them and pay them daily. I told them why not 10? I only want to utilize about 10-acres of land but they refused. I hired 60 of them. The other challenge is seedlings. To have better and improved seeds in Sierra Leone is difficult. I’m not going to mention where I bought my seeds from but some of the seeds didn’t sprout after spending a lot of money to buy the seeds. Discrimination is another challenge… well, that was before, not now that we are making farming attractive and sexy.
The pandemic has brought with it a whole lot of challenges that have impeded various sectors. The agricultural sector was affected by the lockdown last year. Describe how you navigated that period?
During the lockdown, a lot of people were scared and stayed home. I travelled to Waterloo every weekend to make sure my farm was in good shape. And sometimes there was not even a way for me to gather people. So, with the few people I had around, I mobilized and made sure I got through the pandemic. It really wasn’t easy.
What opportunities do you see in the Agric space that you think young girls and women can take advantage of?
I think there’s a lot of space in agriculture. What I preach is that you can still be in other sectors and still be a farmer. You can be a doctor, lawyer, or even a banker and still own a farm because everyone needs food to survive. I had thought agriculture was for old people, but I think young girls and women should be part of it. If I have my own business, I have my own farm, I think I can take care of myself, my family and a lot of people around me. Trust me, you will enjoy it and you will be in control of your time..
How important is education and mentorship for young girls who may want to play in the agriculture space like you?
Very important! That is why I want to start my first cohort of mentorship; mentoring young girls who are interested in agriculture this year. The forms are already out, and I’ve had conversations with a lot of experienced people and partners in farming both in and out of Sierra Leone. I have partners who are ready to support these young girls with training, education, and farm visitations. It will be a two-month of intensive on-site and online training.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship and why?
Dr. James B.B., my present boss. He inspires me. He shares with me how he started as a teacher at The Annie Walsh Secondary School. For example, there was a time he said, Favour, what you’re doing, you’re not doing it for me. I might be here today, and I’m gone tomorrow but the knowledge and the experiences you gained is for you. So, wherever you are, something good can come out of it.
What message do you have for your fellow young Sierra Leoneans?
You just have to know you can do it. You don’t have to have everything— the plan, platform, money, etc. to start something. No! Sometimes, you just have to start… other things will fall in place. Also, you don’t have to depend on the government for everything. Learn how to create employment for yourself. Finally, you can be anything you want to be, it’s never too late.