Dearth of gardeners threatens distressed horticulture industry
Compared to Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa and some other African countries where horticulture is a money-spinning venture, Nigeria still ranks low in terms of production and output of horticultural products.
This untoward development is attributed to poor funding, lack of government’s support, unfavourable environment, unavailability of land, pollution, epileptic power supply and other such challenges.
But as the practitioners strive to stay afloat in the midst of dire challenges, another major issue that is threatening the prospect of the industry is the dearth of gardeners – the farm hands.
Investigations showed that the venture is currently hit by shortage of gardeners, a development that has not only significantly affected the quality and profit of the business, but has also contributed to increased cost of production.
One of the factors attributed to this, is restrictions in the mobility of migrant gardeners across borders, which have decreased the availability of low-cost workers, says Samson Olaniyi Olaniran, the Founder of Ola’s Agro Services, Igbeti, Oyo State.
He said: “Most horticultural producers rely on seasonal and migrant gardeners, from Togo and Benin Republic to grow, harvest, process, transport, and distribute horticultural produce. Restrictions in the mobility of migrant gardeners across borders have decreased the availability of low-cost migrant gardeners. Gardeners’ shortages significantly affect the quality and profit of the business and contribute to increase in the cost of production.
“It is overwhelmingly apparent that the shortage of skilled, manual, and migrant gardener is a serious threat to the horticulture industry. Though there are gardeners locally, basically from Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states, but their working efficiencies are less compared to foreign gardeners. Coupled with this is the fact that most of our local gardeners are not reliable, they can quit the work at any time without accomplishing them.”
A garden Designer based in Lagos, Mrs. Ireti Ogunlesi, attributed the problem to lack of vocation or training for gardeners, noting that the profession is not taken seriously.
She said: “If we are serious, this is a billion dollars industry; we have to set aside proper investment. The revenue Holland is making from Nigeria is huge, from flowers they are importing into the country.
“I know of some of the roadside horticulturists that have built houses, is that not a serious business? They pay their house rents; they sponsor their children to school and they are living well. I am in dire need of gardeners now, but there are none because there’s no vocation or training for gardeners, because people don’t take it seriously. To generate income from the industry, we need to take it serious as a business.”
While noting that it’s not only oil and other areas of focus in Nigeria that can generate income, Ogunlesi said flower cultivation is a big blooming business.
“How many individuals can set up a green house? The smallest green house that I priced in Oregun, in Ikeja two years ago was N5m, how many individuals selling plants could affords the N5m to buy green house for the cultivation of flowers?
“We need a lot of inputs for the sector, not necessarily from government, what is wrong with the body of the chartered accountants, what is wrong with the body of bankers or individual banks on their own and philanthropists? If we are a serious economy, this is a billion dollars industry,” she said.
While confirming that the country can generate billions of naira from the industry, she identified lack of support – finance and conducive environment, unavailability of land, pollution, epileptic power supply and thirst for foreign products by Nigerians, as major challenges killing the industry.
To Olaniran, the lingering problem can be addressed, if government can amend its immigrants’ policies, provide machineries and implements at subsidised rate to practitioners, to serve as alternative to reduce manpower.
“There are other pressing issues that are hindering the industry from competing favourably with countries like Kenya and others. The challenges include – pest and diseases; poor agricultural pricing and low fertilizer use; low access to agricultural credit; land tenure insecurity; low and unstable investment in agricultural research; poor market access; infrastructure; and post harvest losses.
“Pest and diseases affect fruits and vegetables in the field and subsequently reduce their shelf lives and affect their appearance, which is one important aspect of horticultural crops. Fruits and vegetables are vulnerable to bacterial,
viral, fugal and nutritional diseases.
“When research is poorly funded, agricultural technologies cannot be improved, and there will be no downstream farm income increase, rural employment generation, reduction in food prices, establishment of agro-based industries, and economic growth. In short, the absence of new technologies in agriculture will slow the growth of agricultural productivity and the reduction of rural poverty,” he said.
Olaniran noted that the necessary infrastructure, such as adequate water supply, transport and marketing systems is generally lacking in Nigeria, giving producers, processors and marketers little incentive to expand operations. “An
inefficient, expensive transport system adversely affects input/output cost and supply, reducing farmers’ potential income from marketing their products.
“Losses of horticultural produce are a major problem in the post-harvest chain. They can be caused by a wide variety of factors, ranging from growing conditions.”