Collins Nnabuife spoke with the Chairman of the Nigerian Agribusiness Group (NABG), Sani Dangote, on how best the government can revitalise the agriculture sector through business approach.
What have been your achievements in the last two years?
In the last two and half years, we started this association, we have been able to bring together 17 different agribusiness from small farmers to large scale farmers, agro-input farmers, agro-processors, financial institutions, insurance, logistics suppliers, input suppliers, tractors, all to come under this umbrella and with what we have been able to achieve, we have been able to bring all the sectors under agribusiness to come as one family and our objective is to work with private sector and public sector to agree on policy and guidelines and business environment that will do well for the country as well as individual Cooperative and individual farmers.
We have been able to bring awareness of NABG to the government at the top level, state and local, where they recognize more importantly the importance of coming as one to discuss issues that will benefit the country as a whole in terms of, we have been able to bring the awareness of agribusiness as a business not a poverty stricken business but as a money making business, we have been able to bring the awareness to make a paradigm shift from seeing farming as way of sustaining to farming as a commercial activity.
Have you tried to involve the government in your activities?
Agriculture is still the way it is done in the 1960s, there is no much difference but the missing point is that there was no association then similar as the NABG, there were thousands of associations but they were all looking for their own interest, this is the only Association in the whole country that brings together all the association and you can only be a member of NABG not as an individual company, you have to be an association to be a member.
So the importance is to bring all these synergies together and fuse the way to tell the government this is the way we want things done if you are serious about agriculture, and I think the government is starting to listen, we have engaged from the office of the Minster of Agriculture, the office of the Vice President, they have agreed to engage NABG to fashion out the way forward and we have proposed to Minister of Agriculture the way forward for the next 12 months, how it will be executed, we believe if they follow what we advised to be done, in 12 months we will see a quite revolution in agribusiness and it will turn out to be a business and not a mere poverty servicing practice.
Some Nigerians are saying that the government is paying lip service to agriculture sector, how true is that?
To some extent, we won’t say it is not true, but am seeing a sign of change from the approach, first time we have seen a government that sits down with us and design the way forward for evaluating and monitoring, and if they do that, it is a good step forward. We hope not too long, they should sit down and register the evaluation, if they don’t in the next couple of weeks or months, then we believe it is probably like the same old business.
As a group, are you targeting export?
Business is business whether local or export, in agriculture, it is all inclusive, whether you are looking for your local communities or you are looking for your state, neighbouring countries or far away countries, it is all about business.
What is means is that we should get our mind put of agriculture as a means of sustaining our way of feeding and consistently remain in poverty, we should think about it as a business, as you go out to buy raw materials to make money, that’s how we should look at agriculture.
It is not just to do maize farming because you want to keep maize in your house and you will be eating it. Now you do business of farming because you want to make money from maize not because you want to keep maize in your house. A rural farmer now wants to go into agriculture because there is money, whether he want to do soya, cassava, it is driven by the commercial activity not because he wants to fill his stomach with maize. So that is what it is all about and when you are engaging in activities whether it is processing, external services, inputs, you are doing it because there is money like any other business, and once we do that, we are going to attract youths, women and men into the business.
As we have demonstrated today, in some segments of this agriculture, people have made quite some good money much more than other sectors that were the main focus before. So if we continue in that trend, prices of goods and services of agricultural products will come down because there will be high yield per hectare.
What is your take on how government is handling smuggling of products into the country?
Smuggling is one thing if Customs and government wants to tackle, it is a very simple issue, but I think with this present government determination to stamp out corruption, and bad character, we are seeing some improvement but there is room to do more, I believe with this approach, if we come together, we can have a voice under NABG where we can approach the customs, government, keep giving them more highlights, but what we are saying moat importantly is bring the right policies that will encourage local productivity, lower interest rate, available funding, bringing in development tariff and levy against those goods that are still making problem for our local capacity building.
How will you the rate of bank lending to agriculture?
The way and manner the commercial and deposit banks are structured were not meant for agricultural platform, they are more for the input suppliers, so what we have designed in the NABG and proposed to the government is to segment a low risk, medium risk and high risk area. High risk is not that it is risky, but it is a primary production of agri-produce, medium is agro-processing, low risk is just about importing fertiliser or some few equipment which is for agriculture, and we proposed a segment whereby the government should fund and recapitalise the Bank of Agriculture and remain a specialized bank for agriculture where it will provide fund for primary agri-produce, for long period and medium period and also Bank of Industry will work with them in the medium risk area where it is agro processing and so on.
We can leave our commercial banks to go on with import funding for equipment and some inputs, I believe they can get their money within six months, and that’s where their expertise is and we should leave them. Trying as much as possible to bring them into agriculture will be a failure because their mind set is not tuned to this primary production and processing.