Small-holding farmers are more efficient than large-scale ones, says ARMTI
• Trained over 5000 in four years
• Retains 20-25% in agribusinesses
Dr Olufemi Oladunni, the Executive Director of the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Ilorin, Kwara State, spoke with Head of Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA, on the importance of capacity development, small-holding farmer empowerment and demand-driven research activities to agriculture, food security and employment opportunities. Excerpts:
What are the mandates of ARMTI?
One of the mandates of ARMTI is that we are to develop capacity in the area of agriculture and rural development management. We are to train managers to manage agricultural ventures effectively and efficiently, and doing that, we also have some studies to conduct. We do not just train; we train based on studies conducted and gaps identified through the studies. Those gaps can then be bridged through training.
So, how well have you done these? Have the courses of training actually translated to real economic realities for the trainees?
Let me be a little bit historical. In the late 1970s, when the government started establishing the Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs) in almost every state, it was discovered that there was dearth of managers. The government then established ARMTI to train those just graduating from universities to develop them to take up the management of the ADPs. That was the concept, which was done under a World Bank programme. So, that was the genesis of it all. We were established to develop human resources to managers who could contribute towards food self-sufficiency, security and to create employment opportunities.
Have you achieved these?
Over time, newly trained managers replaced Indian agricultural managers. That was one of the achievements then. That was on the aspect of managers. Now, we talk of the real practitioners; that is, the farmers themselves. We have contributed a lot in terms of on-the-job training, extension activities and spread/adoption of new technologies on their farms to contribute to food production in the most efficient ways. The use of resources for efficient productivity in agriculture has been a core part of our training.
The mandate revolved around the management of the agricultural space before now, but we have inculcated the technical aspects of agronomical good practices in crop production, animal husbandry and aquaculture, as well as post-harvest management.We have developed players in the private sector, not just the public. We have developed farmers who are on their own and who want to be on their own. We also train fresh graduates for empowerment. The empowerment is not just giving money, but also in skills acquisition and farm inputs.
We train farmers on dry season farming so that they can compensate in cases of flooding of farms. We have trained farmers in Kwara and Oyo states on dry season farming and we have empowered about 70 farm groups with water pumping machines and seeds.
Can you give us the number of trainees that have actually benefited from the agro-allied skills building in the last four years?
If we want to be modest, they are not fewer than 5,000 trainees. If you had come about four weeks ago, you would have seen that we were running almost four programmes in a week here.
What percentage is retained in the agribusiness after training?
Based on our records and experience, we have been able to retain 20 to 25 per cent, which I think is good.
Who are the financiers of the training and the empowerment schemes?
Over 80 per cent of the schemes are through budgetary allocations.
Farming has been mainly rain-fed in Nigeria, but this cannot feed Nigeria. What can the country do to revolutionise irrigation farming in Nigeria?
The so-called small-holder irrigation scheme is the basis of dry season farming in Nigeria. They are more efficient than large-scale farmers in term of resource management, based on our experiences over the years. Even when we talk of training of farmers for irrigation, we do not train large-scale farmers because they have the wherewithal to establish their own irrigation facilities. And they can send any of their staff to Israel or elsewhere for further training. But we are talking of smallholder farmers; those who do not have more than one hectare at most.
What we do is to form them into groups and empower them through the group, and before you know it, what they turn out are enormous. Some of the testimonies from farmers revealed that before now, they did not see or have millions of naira, but they are counting millions from their farm businesses now as a result of the training and empowerment schemes.We train staff of big farms too, who go back to improve on the management of their farms. We also have a new programme on production for exports.
What exactly are you producing for export?
A large farm in Ijebu-Ode has been working with us as a partner. The farm produces vegetable for export every week. I believe many of our youths and graduates can also go into this business rather than migrate to Europe through the deserts. They are common vegetables that we eat here. We first trained them on agribusiness packages and, trained them on planting with best agronomical practices on how to harvest, package and protect the vegetables.
Do you think taking up agriculture is sustainable for graduates in Nigeria?
That is the way to go to reduce unemployment. This is what we have been encouraging them to do. If our budgets permit, we will do more. They will be able to employ themselves and others. Some of them are already employing others on their farms.
Mechanisation is said to be crucial to successful and sustainable agricultural production, but tractors are scanty in the country. How can we resolve this challenge?
Mechanisation is not about big machines. It is not just about tractors. There are simple technologies for farmers. We have a scheme we call Village Alive Initiative for rural farmers covering farming, health and rural life in general. I was going through one of the reports of the initiative on accessing tractors, saying you do not have to own a tractor as small-holding farmers. We, therefore, link them to tractor hiring operators. Before you get to tractors, you must have enough land. When you have farmers in a cluster, you can hire tractors and mechanisation will be easier.Simple tools, processing machines, sprayers and agro-chemicals are part of farm mechanisation.
If you have a group of farmers who could collectively afford tractors, we recommend they could buy. If you buy a tractor but it is under-utilised, it is like you are using a hammer to kill a fly. You have two to three hectares and you want to buy a tractor, for what?
But demand appears to be higher than supply of tractor hiring services?
I will not be able to talk much about that, but what we do for our farmers is that we try to link them with available tractor hiring service providers around.
Research institutes are not contributing much to agriculture. Why?
Research is not equal to an input-output result. Research is like a generational thing. Some will take 10 to 15 years before you could get a good result. What drags research down is lack of continuity or labour unrest.If I am a researcher conducting a research and there is an industrial action, because animals and crops do not understand Sundays and Saturdays, they must be attended to. If not, the research is truncated. If there is a strike, you start all over again when the strike is over.Whatever resources you may have invested is wasted. The results of research activities do not come immediately, and that is why it is not attractive to the government.