CHARLES MADUABUEKE writes about the problems associated with slowing the growth of the agricultural sector in the country and calling on interested parties to strengthen mechanization and commercialization
The agricultural sector in Nigeria can not cope with the traditional role of feeding the nation, meeting the needs of commodity industries and export demand and creating wealth for its agricultural entrepreneurs.
Therefore, young people in this sector complain about subsistence farming, lack of technical know-how, training, mechanisms and incoherent state policy as some obstacles.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the contribution of agriculture to the national gross domestic product (GDP) from 1960 to 1970 was 55.8%. As a consequence, a downward spiral was observed, since statistics from 2007 to 2017 showed that this sector provided an average of 24.7% of GDP and only 20.9% in 2017.
This was a negative for the sector, as a result of which investments in agribusiness and youth became the task of the oatmeal.
In response, Slate Farms Chief Executive Officer Samuel Arua said during the conversation: "75% of the traditional farmers in Nigeria depend on the agricultural livelihood system, while aging men and women make up a large proportion of the workforce."
Although subsistence farming satisfied the country's agricultural needs in the post-independence era, he said that it had become ineffective.
The reason for this, he said, largely due to the demographic rise of Nigeria, growing by 3.2% per year.
If 100 people had eaten one hectare, then, he said, to grow a growing population you need to grow a lot more hectares. Consequently, the demand for food of the nation grows with its population. In addition, Arua added that subsistence farming is associated with poor agricultural practices, and they are responsible for low productivity.
Mfon Essien, Ph.D. at McGill University in Canada, said: "With subsistence farming, food security will not be achieved."
This is due to desertification and unstable rains that have been observed throughout the country due to climate change and the environment. In addition, the amount of arable land in the country is constantly depleted because of large-scale urbanization.
Arua said that more food needs to be grown as quickly as possible to meet the needs of the nation, and this can not be achieved through subsistence farming, relying on rudimentary agricultural tools and devices for breaking back.
A high rate of illiteracy among farmers is one of the problems of elephants discrediting this sector in Nigeria. Since then, this poses a threat to the technological awareness and development of the sector. The situation was complicated by little or no preparation through extension services.
Arua said: "The distribution of expansion officers for farmers in Nigeria can be compared to a ratio of 1: 900, and this is not enough to improve the literacy of agriculture of these farmers."
The apathy of investors and the reluctance of financial institutions to provide credit services to farmers are another obstacle that limits the pace of agricultural development in the country.
Access to improved seed varieties is another difficulty, as there is a limited number of properly funded research institutions and those growing these seeds.
Few high-yielding seeds in the market are expensive, therefore, forcing farmers who do not have money to adhere to poor quality and disease-prone seeds.
Access to modern agricultural implements and appropriate technologies for participation in medium and large-scale agriculture, Mfon said, was infinitely small. Farmers still rely on rudimentary instruments for cultivation, cultivation, weeds, pest and disease control, harvesting and processing of their crops.
"Mechanized agricultural equipment, such as tractors, cultivators, harrows, plows, harvesters, loggers, piezometers and sensors for precision farming in commercial or large-scale agriculture, is still largely inaccessible to farmers," Mfon added.
In addition, investment in agriculture is severely affected by the prevalence of inadequate infrastructure. This was confirmed by the logistics manager / consultant for the agricultural holding Chidozie Ejionye. He said that because of the lack of adequate electricity in the country, he spends N50,000 weekly to pump and irrigate his crops, especially in the dry season.
In addition, the lack of good access roads and rail lines for farms in rural areas is an obstacle to market access.
Uneven government and unfavorable policies also deny sector growth, as successive administrations prefer urban improvement for rural development projects. This led to the migration of young people to urban areas in search of jobs in white-collar workers.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Audu Ogbe, speaking recently at the conference of the Future Food Project in Nigeria in Abuja, criticized the high interest rate on loans in agriculture and the difficulty in obtaining loans from farmers.
Ogbeh was quoted as saying that "business owners can get a loan of N250 million to start an airline, but a farmer can barely get N250,000 to start a farm," and with this he described farmers as working as slavers.
The way forward
Having identified these cogs in the wheel, Arua said that we need to look at the developed economies that are connected with agricultural production, and work on recreating such results here.
One of the subsectors that saw huge growth, he said, is the "grain value chain". Now we consume cookies, pizza, bread, spaghetti, more flour-based products than we did a few decades ago; and therefore subsistence farming will not reduce it, because it does not even scratch the needs of industry.
Therefore, the CEO of Slate called for the adoption of modern mechanized agriculture, as this ensures improved yields, so illiterate local farmers need to be properly trained and exposed to new technologies.
In addition, agricultural education should be included and encouraged in our educational institutions for all students to properly train the next generation in the best methods of farming and crop management to ensure continuity and intensification of agribusiness.
Arua also called for subsidizing mechanization centers, which will be set up in different farm clusters by the government and agribusinesses. This will allow farmers to evaluate these machines so that their needs in farms increase more food.
The government must provide arable land for agriculture, said Egioni, and it is necessary to check the unbridled cession of land for large-scale urbanization.
Developers of monetary policy should understand that food is necessary and with its increasing demand, it has the ability to create unlimited wealth. Therefore, credit assistance to farmers in Nigeria should become a priority of the government through the relevant monetary agencies.
Ejionye and the Slate boss called on the government to make subsidized fertilizers and quality seeds. In fact, the best way to achieve this is to adequately finance agricultural research institutions.
If these institutions are well funded, they will be able to attract and retain the best innovative brains in this sector to stimulate the revolution in agriculture in the country and to help in the meaningless import of resources.
In addition, considerable investments are needed in the energy and infrastructure sectors as stable capacity, adequate storage facilities and processing facilities; Good access roads and railway lines are needed to reduce costs and increase productivity.
Extending the shelf life of perishable products contributes to commercialization and increases profitability, so stakeholders need to educate rural farmers on the importance of adding value chains, Mfon added.
As for the availability of the market, that is, companies, both local and foreign, who need different products at a very favorable price.
"The government should create a viable system in which companies can interact with cooperatives to harvest their crops as needed," Arua suggested.
If Nigeria does not accept modern technology, farmers' output may remain low, and the country may remain dependent on others for food.
Therefore, the government expects a strong commitment to a sustainable policy initiative that will stimulate innovation and help transform the sector to ensure the sufficiency, sustainability and export of food.