Uche Odozor is the Managing Director, AG Aviation Nigeria, operator of Air Tractor, an agricultural plane used for spraying agrochemicals, fertilizer and seeding in large farms. In this interview, he explained how state governments and commercial farmers in the country could leverage on cheap and affordable air tractors for massive food production. Excerpts:
How would you explain agricultural aviation to an average farmer?
Agricultural aviation is that critical component where a pilot uses a special agric purpose-built airplane to aid farmers in food production either through fertilizer application, pesticides control, seeding, firefighting, or the whole value chain. We are now establishing that to the benefit of Nigeria and West Africa. We have been in the sector for eight years now. I have worked with the company in South Africa and the company decided to extend its services to the whole of West Africa.
It is a good thing that has been brought to Nigeria. We all know what agriculture means to Nigeria, with a population of about 200 million people, it is high time for the country to have taken its rightful place, but we believe that without the support of the right technology we may not be able to go far.
How effective is this technology?
The technology is very well received because nobody does a thing over a 1000 hectares without realizing how difficult it is for you to go beyond 1000 hectare. Weeding is a very major problem when you are cultivating a big farm; pests are a big issue; pesticide application and all other things. Technology, like the air tractor, will do some of this work just in few seconds depending on the size of the farm.
One of our agric aeroplanes will work on a hectare in less than 4.5 seconds and what that means is that if you have a 20,000 hectares, it take just two days to complete the work, if you have 100,000 hectares, imagine how much food you can produce, just by doing the same thing, we grow more food with this kind of technology.
In some South American countries like Uruguay, you have over 380 air tractors working in those small countries of less than 4.8 million people, but here in Nigeria we have just two aeroplanes catering for almost 200 million people. These are the ones you will find at Olam Rice Farm in Rukubi, Nasarawa State.
How affordable is the air tractor or its services?
The air tractor is as affordable as Hilux van. The operation is very affordable in terms of application in the farms but the training is not cheap as an average spray pilot is involved in intensive training. The investors have admitted that this is very phenomenal. We have pilots that are already trained in terms of being agriculture pilots, engineers, and technicians. These are people that will be in the forefront. We also have some youths in Kaduna and Niger states that are in our team. They are also learning the basic steps they need to take in this capacity building so that in the future we should be able to have as many pilots as needed because we have tractors all over the place and some of them are still good.