COLLINS NNABUIFE sopke with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development on the efforts by the government to import 500 reaper machines to help ease the burden of rice and wheat harvesting in Nigeria. His report
Nigeria’s agriculture currently is the largest employer of labour in the country, constituting about 70 per cent of the labour force in the country. Agriculture which over the years have been treated as a development programme, has in recent times, lost its attraction from the youths due perceived stress in farming.
Farmers have agitated that the stress which starts from clearing the bush to tilling the soil, planting and harvesting could be reduced if tractors and other farm machineries are deployed into farming and it looks like what the farmers have been clamouring for could be provided for by the current administration, at least according to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, who revealed that the federal government is at the verge introducing about 500 reapers and threshers to ease harvest challenges.
According to the minister, about 500 reapers will be imported by April this year, while the threshers would be locally fabricated by Nigerians, as he added that each reaper and thresher would operated by eight trained youths. “This means that the issue of unemployment will be reduced drastically if the process commence,” the minister said.
Explaining how the government intends to distribute the reapers, Ogbeh said “What we will do is to give them to the states, then, they train young people to operate the machine. Each reaper and thresher will have eight people operating it, they will push the reaper and it cuts the rice, some persons will pack the harvested rice to the thresher, then the grains is separated from the chaff and it is packaged in the sack. In one day, the boys can harvest four hectares and they are paid.”
Currently, he said many rice producing states and in the north and east have declared interest in acquiring the reapers from the federal government. “Many states are interested in the machine. Kebbi State had got some, Jigawa State will get some soon and Ebonyi State had declared interest. If we have these machines in our rice and wheat farms, the cost and stress of rice and wheat farming will reduce by almost 80 per cent,” he said.
He said when the reapers and threshers are fully deployed in the farms; youths can harvest farmers’ rice and get paid either in cash or in bags of rice.
“One young boy told me he makes N30,000 daily from rice harvesting, he doesn’t have a thresher, so imagine the kind of income youths will make if they harvest rice as their own business. When the season comes, they arrive in your farm, harvest your rice and move on, if you can’t pay with cash, you pay with rice,” he said.
On the price of the machine, the minister said the government was planning to buy about 500 machines at N1.6 million each then they will sell to states at 40 per cent discount. According to him, “because of the fall in naira, the machine costs about N1.6 million each. We will buy and bring first, then sell them to the states with a discount of 40 per cent, the young people can get guarantees from the states, we give them the machine, they go and operate and pay back, in one or two months, they would have paid more than half.
“We are going to place order for the first 500 machines now, it should be here by April. The reapers are imported while the threshers are manufactured locally in Nigeria and sold about N800,000 each. The Nigerian threshers are far stronger than the Chinese threshers and some of them will run till the next 10 seasons without breaking down. The threshers have the capacity of two and half tons per hour, that is 25 bags per hour, the reaper can cut 4 hectares per day, a hectare is like a football pitch, it depends on how strong and tough the young people are”.
The minister also expressed concern over the health of the Rice farmers on the field, he said the government is making arrangement to make hats for the farmers to reduce the effect of direct heat of sun on their heads.
“We are going to distribute hats to every rice farmer will be encouraged to wear the hat (center painted white), because the heat from the sun is very dangerous for the cranium and can lead to early blindness. So we need to protect the head. That is why you see rice farmers in China and other countries wearing those hats, it is to protect the head, we have told the Governors already.
“We will also encourage them to wear nose and mouth masks because of the dust; they have to preserve their health because we need them to feed us. We have asked somebody to make about 20,000 hats for us to distribute to farmers.”
On the government’s plan for this year agriculture, the minister said the government would work towards improving the yield of milk and meat in diary production by building cattle colonies which will restrict the movement of cattle and thereby reducing the frequent clash between herdsmen and farmers.
“This year, we are going to improve the breed of cows here to improve the yield of milk, the quality of meat and cut down on grazing and the conflict between herdsmen and farmers. We will keep the cows one place and give them water and slowly persuade the Fulanis that there is no need to roam, and their kids can go to school and they can get more water.
“The moment they stop roaming, the yield of milk will rice from 1 litre to 3 or 4 litres of milk per day or even up to 10, then they begin to make more money because when the cow roam, they lose weight and the herdsmen lose money,” he said.
Ogbeh also said that more rice mill and vegetable oil mill would arrive, more tractors, improved seeds, insecticide, cashew processing factories will be coming in, built in Nigeria by Nigerians.