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Agric entrepreneurs call for intensified mechanisation, commercialisation

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CHARLES MADUABUEKE writes on ills stunting growth of the agricultural sector in the country and calls by stakeholders for intensified mechanisation and commercialisation

Agricultural sector in Nigeria has been falling short in its traditional role of feeding the nation, meeting raw material needs of industries and export demand, and creating wealth for its agricultural entrepreneurs.

Therefore, youths in the sector have lamented subsistence farming, lack of technical know-how, skills training, machineries, and incoherent government policies as some of the hindrances.

According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), agricultural contribution to national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 1960 to 1970 was 55.8%. Sequel to this, there was a downward spiral as statistics from 2007 to 2017 showed that the sector contributed an average figure of 24.7% to GDP and just 20.9% in 2017.

This was a minus to the sector, making investments in agribusiness and youths participation a herculean task.
Reacting to this, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Slate Farms, Samuel Arua, while speaking with The Guardian, said, “75% of traditional farmers in Nigeria are dependent on subsistence system of farming, with ageing men and women making up a larger percentage of the workforce.”

Although subsistence farming catered for the agricultural needs of the country during the post-independence era, he said, it has become ineffective.
The reason for this, he said, is largely due to Nigeria’s population explosion, growing at the rate of 3.2% per annum.

If 100 people were fed by one hectare then, he said, a lot more hectares need to be cultivated to feed the growing population. Hence, the food demand of the nation increases with its population. Also, Arua added that subsistence farming was associated with poor farming practices and these were responsible for low productivity.

Mfon Essien, a PhD candidate at McGil University Canada, said, “with subsistence farming, food sustainability would not be attained.”

This she attributed to desertification and erratic rainfalls witnessed across the country due to environment and climate change. In addition, the number of arable land in the country is continually being depleted due to large-scale urbanization.

More food needs to be grown as quickly as possible to meet the needs of the nation, Arua said, and this could not be achieved with subsistence farming, over reliance on rudimentary farm implements and back breaking devices.

Other challenges
High illiteracy figure of farmers is one of the elephantine challenges bedevilling the sector in Nigeria. This has since posed threats to the technological awareness and advancement of the sector. Little or no training through extension services has complicated the situation.

Arua said, “The margin of extension officers to farmers in Nigeria could be likened to a ratio of 1:900 and this is not enough to improve agric literacy of these farmers.”

Investors’ apathy and reluctance of financial institutions to grant credit facilities to farmers constitute another hurdle that has limited the pace of agric development in the country.

Access to improved seed varieties is another difficulty as there is limited number of adequately funded research institutes breeding and growing these seeds.

Few high yielding seeds in the market are expensive, therefore, forcing cash-strapped farmers to stick to low quality and disease prone seeds.

Access to modern farm implements and appropriate technologies to engage in medium to large scale farming, Mfon said, had been infinitesimal. Farmers still rely on rudimentary appliances to till, cultivate, weed, control pest and diseases, harvest and process their crops.

“Mechanised farming equipment like tractors, cultivator, harrow, plough, combined harvesters, level loggers, piezometers and sensors for precision agriculture in commercial or large-scale farming are still largely inaccessible to farmers,” Mfon added.

Also, investments in agric suffers immensely due to prevalence of inadequate infrastructure. This was affirmed by a Logistics Manager/Agro Consultant, Chidozie Ejionye. He told The Guardian that owing to lack of adequate electricity supply in the country, he spends over N50,000 weekly to pump and irrigate his crops, especially during the dry season.

In addition, lack of good access roads and rail lines to farms in the rural areas is an impediment to market accessibility.

Incoherent government and unfavorable policies have also negated the growth of the sector, as successive administrations have favoured urban beautification to rural developmental projects. This has led to migration of youths to urban areas in search of white collar jobs.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, speaking at the conference of Feed the Future Nigeria Agricultural Policy Project in Abuja recently, criticized the high interest rate on agric loans and difficulty to access credit by farmers.

Ogbeh was quoted as saying that “Business owners can get a loan of N250 million to run an airline but a farmer can barely get N250,000 to start a farm,” and with this, he described farmers as being treated as slave workers.

Way forward
Having identified these cogs in the wheel, Arua said, we need to look at the developed economies that are agric driven, and work towards recreating such results here.

One of the sub-sectors that have seen massive growth, he said, is the “grain value chain.” We now consume biscuits, pizzas, breads, spaghetti, more flour-based foods than we did some decades ago; and so, subsistence farming won’t cut it, as it wouldn’t even scratch the demands of the industry.

Therefore, the Slate CEO made a call for the adoption of modern mechanised farming as this guarantees improved yield output, hence, illiterate local farmers should be adequately trained and exposed to emerging technologies.

In addition, agric education should be incorporated and encouraged at our institutions of learning for all undergraduates, so as to properly educate the next generation on best farming and crop management practices to ensure continuity and intensification of agribusiness.

Arua also called for subsidised mechanisation hubs to be established in different farming clusters by the government and agric investors. This is to enable farmers assess these machines for their farm needs to grow more food.
The government should provide arable land for farming, Ejionye said, and unbridled ceding of land for large-scale urbanisation should be checked.

Monetary policy makers should grasp that food is a necessity and with its demand ever increasing, it possesses the capacity to create unlimited wealth. Therefore, credit assistance to farmers in Nigeria should be made a priority by the government through appropriate monetary agencies.

Ejionye and the Slate boss called for the government to make subsidized fertiliser and quality seeds available. Indeed, the best way to achieve these is by adequately funding agric research institutions.

If these institutions are well funded, they can attract and retain the best innovative brains in the sector to drive agric revolution in the country and help stem wanton importation of inputs.

Also, massive investment is needed in the power and infrastructural sector as stable power, adequate storage and processing facilities; good access roads and rail lines are essential to reducing cost and boosting productivity.

Extending the shelf life of perishable produce promotes commercialization and increases profitability, hence, stakeholders should educate rural farmers on the importance of value chain addition, Mfon added.

In terms of market accessibility, there are companies both local and foreign, who need various products at a very good price.

“The government should establish a viable system where companies can interface with co-operatives to offtake their harvests as at when due,” Arua suggested.

Unless Nigeria adopts modern technologies, farmers’ output could remain low and the country could remain dependent on others for food.

More commitment is therefore expected from the government to initiate sustainable policies that would drive innovations and help transform the sector to attain food sufficiency, sustainability and exportation.


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