Muhammad: We do more than groundnut pyramids of those days
Professor Sanusi Gaya Muhammad is the Deputy Director, Training, Centre for Dry Land Agriculture, Bayero University, Kano, who specialises in Plant Breeding-Development and Improvement of new varieties of crops and majors in Groundnuts. He spoke with ABBA ANWAR, on topical issues concerning groundnuts farming and Federal Government’s new agricultural policy.
Only Little Incentive From Government
Many years back, there was groundnut pyramid in Kano, what led to its disappearance?
During the colonial era, Europeans, particularly the Britons who ruled the country, helped in evacuating the excess groundnuts we produced then to the United Kingdom (UK) for processing. Then, there were very few industries in Nigeria, particularly in Northern Nigeria, where groundnuts were mostly produced. So, what farmers produced could not be utilised in the industries.
They therefore, parked the bulk of the produce to Europe, where they processed it into various products and returned the end product to us. In the Mid 1970s groundnut was a very important crop in this country, until when a disease called Groundnut Transept came and ravaged our plantations. That has really caused a serious decline in groundnut production in Northern Nigeria, Kano State in particular.
Who were the stakeholders that were largely responsible for the over-production then?
It’s always the farmers, those who cultivate the crops in their farmlands. They are the major stakeholders. If you recall, there used to be a Marketing Board in the country. So, in Kano here, there used to be a Groundnut Marketing Board, which organises the general marketing of groundnut, from the farmers to the middlemen up to the level where they take it to a point. And at that time they used the produce to make what we know as pyramid, which was synonymous with Kano State.
But to be honest with you, people are agitating when will the groundnuts pyramids come back? Really, we don’t need the groundnut pyramids to come back to Kano, essentially because; pyramids at that time were just mere symbols.
Now, we have many cottage industries, many of them around Kano, Katsina, Kebbi and other places. There are so many of them processing groundnuts, to the point that the number of industries outweigh the supplies. We cannot meet the demands of industries for groundnut as of today. When you visit Nigerian Oil Mills and several others that are scattered here in Kano, they will tell you they don’t get up to 60 per cent of what they need. So, virtually, they work from harvest time, which is from October, November up to February and March, after which they have to turn to other crops for their industrial activities.
But actually, what we produce now in terms of tonnage is much higher than what we produced in the 70s when we had groundnut pyramids.
Was there any policy on groundnut production then, and how do you measure it?
Yes, there was. You know Nigeria used to have this 10-Year Development Plan and agriculture is the mainstay of our economy. I can say they were more organised than now, when it comes to the issue of implementation. But then, the farmers were not as large as what we have today. Remember in the 70s, the landholding of a farmer may be several acreage. Land ownership per family or per person has really decreased. Still, we have vast area of land where groundnuts can be produced. We have a great potential for groundnut production.
What is your assessment of groundnut production nowadays?
Well, from the look of things, we are coming back to where we left it. Now we are very lucky that new improved varieties are coming on board. There are several types with the Institute of Agricultural Research, Samaru, which I also belong to. Currently, there are six varieties. We also have other highly potential varieties in the shelves, that if we organise ourselves very well, these varieties will be getting to farmers on time. We hope that they are going to improve groundnuts production tremendously.
Are there incentives from the part of government to groundnut farmers?
Honestly, there is very little incentive from government. What the farmers need now is a sustainable supply of quality seeds. And then a sustainable supply of fertilizer, especially SSP, Single Super, which is the fertilizer generally used. So, there is need from government at all levels to come up with a clear-cut system, which ensures that quality and affordable fertilizer reaches farmers at the right time and at the right price. These are the major things we need.
Then if a farmer produces, he should be assured of good price. It should not be ideal for a farmer to produce and when he sells he doesn’t realise anything. For instance, farmers sell their produce at harvest time and at that time the prices are always lowest. So, if we can have some mechanisms that a farmer sell his produce until a later time when the prices are a bit high, so that he gains more profit than what he should have got at harvest time, that will be nice for farmers. And I assure you that more farmers will come into groundnuts production.
Just recently the Federal Government unveiled its agricultural policy, what is the effect of that on groundnuts production in the country?
Let me talk from the farmers’ point of view. I was discussing with groups of farmers, they were not happy. This is not what they are expecting from the government. Just look at it very critically; the policy came after the planting season. And then at a later time the government announced that it didn’t have any plan for agriculture for this season. We are blessed this season because the rains were good and the distribution of the rain was good. So we are expecting a bumper harvest for all agricultural crops.
Farmers really expected government to come with direct assistance to them. They should do what they are supposed to do at the right time. Imagine a group of rice farmers were telling me that they were about to harvest their rice when they heard that their loan was approved. What will a farmer gain when you approve rice loan in August for goodness sake?
There is every need for government to be more proactive for rainy season activities. Whatever assistance is going to the farmers should be made available to them by March. There is the need for more action from the part of government to show seriousness, they should always do things at the right time.
Some people are suggesting public private partnership in groundnuts production. What is your take on this?
Well, public private partnership in what sense? I agree if there will be a group of producers for specific varieties, for specific industries, that will be very fine. That will be very good. Maybe an oil milling company may need a particular variety of groundnut to be produced by a particular group of farmers in a particular location. Yes, let that company source a particular seed, give to the farmers, give them necessary input to produce and then assure them of good price. That will be good. Rather than every one just growing what he wants, take to the market and the market now rejects them.
A confectionery industry, for instance, will want large-seeded groundnuts, which they process and sell for consumption, but an oil miller will want high oil-content groundnuts, because large-seeded groundnuts will not be comfortable for them to work with. You know there is a correlation between the size of groundnuts and its oil content, the smaller the size of groundnut kernel the more the oil. There is specific need to be attended to.
What is your projection for groundnut production in the next five years?
It is going to be more. There are two projects we are running now, led by a Research Institute in Samaru and Bayero University, Kano. They are called ‘Groundnut Up scaling Project’ and the other one is ‘Tropical Legume Project.’ With these two projects, we are trying to take two varieties of groundnut to farmers. And we are lucky these farmers have been organised by the ADPs of the states, we are working with the groups. So, any group you will meet, they are ready to work. And they are ready to accept these varieties. And the varieties are doing well in their farmlands.
So, in the next five years I assure you there will be more varieties, and more high yielding varieties. The varieties that are going to give more produce to the farmers, which consequently will give them more profit.
Are you satisfied with what the Kano government is doing to groundnut farmers in the state?
One cannot say he is 100 per cent satisfied with what they are doing. I think what the state is doing is commendable. But they need to do more for groundnuts farmers in the state.