Only technology can bring down prices of food
Provost of Federal College of Agriculture, Akure (FECA), Dr. Samson Odedina spoke with OLUWASEUN AKINGBOYE in Akure, on failed efforts to reduce high cost of agro-products and food commodities in the market.
Prices of agricultural commodities have kept on increasing, despite government’s much hyped interventions, what do you think is the permanent solution to this?
Farmers can only reduce price of food commodities, if they have bountiful harvests. Technology will increase yield. You can’t force any farmer to reduce their prices, but if they spend a lot of money to cultivate and they have high yields, nobody will tell them to reduce their prices, they will do that smiling; and consumers too will come and buy the commodities smiling. It’s going to be a win-win situation. So many people don’t know the fact I just told you, that you can only use technology to bring down food prices not policy, not price control. So, if you use advisory services and technology to advise farmers to use right and good technology, food prices will fall.
A farmer that is harvesting 10 baskets of tomatoes before and because you advised him to use the right technology, his harvest increases to about hundreds of baskets, without even telling him, he will want to dispose it at lower price.
Are you saying government cannot force farmers to reduce their prices?
No, it won’t work that way. The farmers don’t even need you to preach price control because on a very good day, if they have good harvest, on their own, they would drop the prices because they know that from the same land where they get 10 baskets and somebody just showed them a trick and they can produce 40 baskets, they will definitely drop their prices.
So people need to know this about farming and you know that productivity is very low in Nigeria, which is the problem of farming. People tend to underestimate advisory services and training on getting good yields from their farms. Not only from farms, also from their fishery businesses and other agro-ventures. You need to target high yield and low cost. High yields and low cost will bring down price.
What technicalities can be adopted to maximise high scale productivity?
For all crops, there is what we call good agricultural practices or recommended practices. They are not negotiable if you are an entrepreneur or a business farmer and you need to do it to get the right amount of yield. For example, if you are cultivating cassava and your yield is less than 20 tonnes per hectare, you won’t make any profit. That is when you make a marginal profit, but if you jump it to 25 tonnes that is appreciable, but 25 to 30, 40 that is when you are making it.
So, there is a relationship between good agricultural practices and the profit you will make. Some farmers complain about drought because when you have good yield, prices will come down. But that’s when good farmers make their profits because if you plan your farm very well, plant at the right time, use right amount of input at the proper time, you know what will happen. Before you are having four baskets of maize, now, using the same amount of money, you used improved seed but little bit above your previous cost, you use technology and you increase it to 20 baskets.
How can farmers have this understanding?
Everything you do in the farm, from the seed to sales, there are good practices and bad practices. So if you follow good practices, the result is bumper harvest that whether you like it or not, you must drop price. You just need to go back and do more. So, that’s the only way. Its not that you will just wake up one day and tell farmers to drop their prices.
It appears FECA focuses only on maize and cassava, how about rice plantation?
We also plant rice here, but not on a large scale like maize and cassava. We make it imperative so that when the students go out, they can advise other farmers on how to do it and they can also do it on their own so that other youths can follow suit, they can also take it to their communities.
That is why we don’t do rice on a large scale, but we do it at demonstration level. In Ondo State, there is hardly any crop that you can’t grow because of the suitability of weather, in terms of rainfall and soil facilities status. So, there is nothing we don’t grow here.
There are many agriculture-based industries across the country that are presently moribund; what technical steps can be taken to revive them?
Some years ago, government asked people to come and invest and they are still saying it. And you as a private business, you have invested. You have established cocoa industry, rubber Industry and palm oil industry.
Now, these are opportunities and I call them value chain agricultural opportunities. What we need to do as stakeholders is to amplify those value chain opportunities and then make sure that people are trained to take them up. The situation we found ourselves is that people don’t have enough training to take up those opportunities.
So the way for the government is to team up with institutions like our own so that we can train youths who are determined to make a living in agriculture about value chain opportunities and how to make money from it.