The most enduring and damaging impacts of Nigeria’s oil and gas resource curse has been the long and steady decline of the country’s agricultural sector over the years.
Once the primary source of government revenue and foreign exchange earnings, agriculture in Nigeria has suffered from decades of underinvestment, corruption, policy neglect and lost opportunities. It is shocking that despite government talk about economic diversifiction and development of agriculture, Nigerian farmers are still using crude implements instead of modern farm machinery, which yield little results at the end of a farm season.
Today, despite its vast agricultural potential, coupled with the fertile arable land, Nigeria is a net food importer of food, with the vast majority of people engaged in agriculture operating at subsistence level.
Low farm power availability and utilisation has been noted as one of the key factors limiting the production capacities and productivity of Nigerian farmers, as lack of indigenous farm machinery poses a great threat to food security across the country.
Statistics show that Nigeria has less than 30,000 tractors as at today, when it should have a million to service numerous farmers across the country. This means there is still a predominant use of age long hand tools for agricultural production instead of mechanised agriculture.
If Nigeria must attain food security and maximise its food production potential to feed its ever increasing population in this present age, focus must shift from the traditional method of farming to mechanisation of both small and medium scale farms, which has hitherto remained in the forefront of sustaining food production.
Already, parts of the country, especially in the Northeast, are being crippled by food insecurity due to conflict, high food prices, inflation, and major disruptions to livelihoods and farming, Nigeria is ranked 92 out of 104 countries in the Global Hunger Index and 152 out of 188 in the United Nation Human Development Index. This is not too good for the image of Nigeria.
Ironically, in USA, only about 3 per cent of the entire population are farmers. Yet, they are able to meet, to a reasonable extent, the food needs of the United States. This massive production rate is made possible by use of sophisticated farming machines and techniques, currently lacking in the Nigerian farming system.
Majority of farmers in Nigeria still make use of crude farming tools such as hoes, machetes, diggers and others, with only about 2 per cent reported to engage in mechanised agricultural system in the country.
Statistically, the mechanisation rate in Nigeria is 0.27 hp/hectare. This is far below the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recommended rate of 1.5hp/hectare. So without mechanised farming, there is no way Nigeria can achieve food security and then use its agricultural product for industrial purpose.
Stakeholders say that government should make farm machineries available to farmers at affordable prices because no farmer can cover 10 hectares of land with a hoe and cutlass in a day but machines like tractors can cover more than 10 hectares per day.
Stakeholders said upon the provision, there should be extension workers and technicians on ground who will train the farmers on how to use the machines, noting mechanised farming system would improve Nigeria’s foreign exchange earning potential and boost food production.
Speaking to Daily Sun, the National President of Tractors Owners and Operators Association of Nigeria (TOOAN), Mr. Elesa Bitrus Yakubu said: “The reason Nigerian farmers still use crude implements is not far fetched; cost of machinery is very high, that is, the tractors, the ploughs, harrows and riggers, tripping trailers, harvesters and other farm equipment. Now, the tractor we used to get for N4.5 million has gone to almost N7.5 million because of the exchange rate.
“So if the cost of tractor has increased, the cost of land preparation will also increase. So the common farmer will not be able to afford even the cost of hiring a tractor to work on the farm because of the high cost. And this high cost is as a result of importing these machines from abroad and we have to use foreign exchange. Supposing we are manufacturing these farm implements in Nigeria, the cost will not increase that much. So actually, we can ascribe the low level of mechanisation in Nigeria to lack of indigenous farm machinery.”
Speaking on the way forward, he said owing to the importance of mechanisation, the Federal Government should revive the assembling plants in Kano and Bauchi by entering into agreement with some foreign partners to come and assemble these tractors in Nigeria.
According to him, government should also encourage institutions of higher learning to invest in modern farm machinery because many Nigerian universities and polytechnics can design farm implements and crop processing machinery that will add value to the crop that farmers produce in the country. He stated that because of lack of willing businessmen that will commercialise the machines that are locally produced, Nigeria was still importing farm machinery into the country.
He added: “Government should try to invite reputable manufacturers to come and partner with some Nigerians to start assembling tractors in Nigeria as a prelude to becoming manufacturer of its own tractors. Government should also give special exchange rate for the importation of tractors so that farmers will be able to get them at affordable price but if this is not done, we will still have the problem of using crude implement to cultivate the land because they can’t afford high cost of the mechanisation.”
According to Mr. Gideon Ojo, an Agriculture Engineer, agricultural mechanisation involves the substitution of crude farm implements and practices with advanced machines and systems of rearing plants and animals and improving the shelf life of such produce using modern processing techniques.
He said the Federal Government needs to encourage sustainable private sector development that can offer farmers the right choice of technology at the right price to increase agricultural productivity to support rural economic development, contribute to local and national food security, reduce post-harvest losses and promote local manufacturing of equipment and machinery. Government must drive policies to increase the rate of growth in the agriculture sector and put the economy back on the path of sustainable development.
If government is serious about diversifying the nation’s economy and reducing unemployment, the rural infrastructure, domestic supply chains, service providers, local manufacturers and world markets in equipment and machinery are all of vital importance.
In order to ensure food availability and affordability in the country, he said government needs to unleash a holistic multi-stakeholder approach on the agriculture value chain and food supply chain development.