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Maximising local designs, fabrications of agro-allied tools

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
08 April 2022   |   2:38 am
To transform agricultural system in the country and change its landscape from subsistence nature along the value-chain, spanning production, processing, storage and transportation

Tractor

Innovations are hardly taken up, don laments

To transform agricultural system in the country and change its landscape from subsistence nature along the value-chain, spanning production, processing, storage and transportation, improved indigenous technologies are inevitable.

This will involve the design, fabrication and distribution of devices, tools and techniques capable of reducing raw labour, increasing productivity and enhancing the efficiency of crop production/protection, harvesting, preservation and processing.

These are submissions of researchers and entrepreneurs during a workshop for Nigerian agro-allied fabricators by the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), recently.

At the workshop tagged, ‘Enhancing local content in engineering, equipment design and fabrication: Awakening the drive for excellence in indigenous fabricators,’ experts said affordability, adaptability, acceptability and multiplication challenges were confronting the adoption and escalation of indigenous technologies in agricultural value chains and small-scale businesses.

A lecturer in the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering, Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Prof. Ayoola Olalusi, said several indigenous types of machinery and equipment had been developed in the country over the last four decades, “but there still exists a wide gap in the efficiencies of some of them when compared with the imported ones.”

He said: “Samples of the locally developed technologies are hand-held rice reaper, small-scale rice milling machine, multi-crops thresher, small-scale combined rice de-stoning, rice de-husking, polishing and milling machine, groundnut harvester, planting/transplanting machines, and many others.”

Olalusi added that several machinery and equipment imported into the country did not adapt to the peculiarity of the country’s environmental requirements. This has tasked engineers, technicians, technologists and fabricators to engage in the local manufacture of agricultural machines and implements.

He pointed out that several agricultural research institutes, colleges, FIIRO and the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM), Ilorin, are prominent research centres that have produced s
simple, local and cost-effective agricultural implements that would reduce drudgery attached to agriculture.

But again, poor agricultural extension services, lack of investment in the multiplication of the prototypes and other challenges have prevented widespread adoption of such machines and expected benefits, such as poverty reduction, higher productivity and better individual and household incomes, among others, have been eroded.

The lecturer acknowledged that the local fabricators and local companies recently organised themselves into the Agricultural Machinery Equipment Fabrication Association of Nigeria (AMEFAN), but “these efforts have not redressed importation of agricultural machines into the country.”

“Patronage of local fabrications are still poor, while small-scale farmers continue to use hoe and cutlass to perform their farm operations,” he lamented.

The missing links in improved indigenous fabrications and adoption, he identified, are inadequate infrastructure, including modern fabrication workshops and laboratories.

Hence, he advocated upgrading workshops and factories of research and development institutions involved in developing local technologies, including NCAM, FIIRO, Raw Material Research and Development Councils (RMRDC), FIIRO, and other agricultural research institutes in Nigeria.

“The government should endeavor to provide adequate infrastructure like electricity, a good road network, and improved communication infrastructures to facilitate the production and movement of goods.

“The revitalisation of the moribund steel industry, which provides raw materials for most machine manufacturing plants and fabrication outfits in Nigeria, needs to be addressed.”

Part of the solution, he said, is a globally competitive design and dynamic engineering curriculum, with inventive principles.

Prof. Olalusi said the government should put in place measures to ensure that local fabricators have easy access to credit at low-interest rates.

“Various attempts in the past to make Nigeria a steel-producing nation through the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Company and various steel mill projects must actualise productions that will impact on the agricultural machinery and equipment industry,” he added.

Again, the Chief Executive Officer, Process Concepts and Technologies (Procontec) Ltd and National Secretary, Agricultural Machinery and Equipment Fabricators Association of Nigeria (AMEFAN), Victor Olusegun Olomo, said the concept of self-reliance is sometimes confused with self-sufficiency.

Clarifying, he said: “Self-sufficiency simply means that a country needs not to depend on other sources to fulfil the needs of its citizens and enterprises. That the country produces all the goods and services it requires without depending on others.

“Self-reliance, on the other hand, implies that the country generates sufficient surplus to buy what it needs and therefore, it does not have to bank upon the loans and aids of outside organisations or countries for resources or funds to acquire them.”

He said while self-sufficiency rules out imports, self-reliance allows a country to import provided it has the capacity to pay for it.

Therefore, he said, attaining significant national self-reliance would require the will and commitment to undertake whatever it takes to unleash and leverage huge human resource capacities (both in number, knowledge base and creativity), and many natural resources to tackle multifaceted economic, industrial and financial challenges with minimal dependence on foreign assistance and external interventions, including avoidable debilitating loans.

“The significant level of self-reliance recorded in India today is largely attributed to the private sector and today, the government has woken up to the futility of public enterprises,” Olomo added.

Learning from India’s recent efforts at national self-reliance, he advised, would provide Nigeria with useful insights on how to achieve progress and attain some national objectives related to import substitution, accelerated exports and the general diversification of the economy.

He said the agro-industry is part of a whole system that deals with the post-harvest utilisation of agricultural raw materials, and this includes harvesting, storage, primary and secondary processing, packaging, distribution and marketing.

“Specifically, the Nigerian agricultural sector is characterised by low technology intensity, poor agricultural productivity, low-value addition (leading to very poorly developed crop), livestock and biomaterials value chains; inadequate outputs to assure national food sufficiency and security, and poor international competitiveness, amongst others,” he lamented.

“A favorable national industrial policy,” he recommended, “could be a powerful tool for accelerating industrial development, and could speedily facilitate Nigeria’s decoupling from its current state of classification as one of the five nations with the largest number of poor people on earth into a formidable agro-industrial powerhouse in which poverty is effectively banished from the overwhelming majority of Nigerians within the shortest possible time.”

Olomo said he was convinced that the industrial transformation and empowerment of the Nigerian agricultural machinery industry/sector would awaken the giant in Nigeria, and that agro-machinery fabricator could serve as effective facilitators of a comprehensive national agro-industrial development effort by providing practical technologies for commercial agriculture, food, feed and fibre processing and rural handicrafts.

The modernisation of Nigerian agriculture, he added, required a significant infusion of engineering technologies at the field production, harvesting and post-harvest levels.

He said: “A comprehensive development strategy for Nigerian agricultural equipment fabricators is a requirement for the indigenous manufacture of commercial level machinery and equipment for ensuring the productivity and global competitiveness of Nigerian agriculture and its agro-industrial value chains.”

On leveraging local equipment manufacture for national self-reliance, he recommended consolidation and enhancement of equipment fabrication and manufacturing know-how.

Olomo also emphasised the strengthening of relevant public and private sector organisations to provide cutting-edge manufacturing information and support, building capacity for intensification of local technical know-how and partnerships and industrial mentorships with technology savvy, industry-active Nigerians in the diaspora.

He also harped on accelerated access to modern production machine tools and technologies, government-assisted, heavily subsidised, long-term-repayment funding of machinery/equipment manufacturers for corporate development and upgrade of product quality.

“Specifically, the government support for the widespread procurement of machine tools and modern manufacturing tools like CNC machines, small and medium-scale foundries, and regular shop floor fabrication equipment” is inevitable for growth and development, he explained.

Supervising Director-General of FIIRO, Dr Yemisi Asagbra, said the institute had been encouraging the capacity building of fabricators of modern and cost-effective agro-allied machines through ministry empowerment, partnership and collaboration as parts of the move to improve productivity, create more jobs, alleviate poverty and food sufficiency.

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