Monday, 25 July 2016

‘Opportunities abound in Nigeria’s rural agriculture’

Collins Apuoyo is the Team Leader for Propcom Mai-Karfi, a Department for International Development, UK (DFID) funded programme that works in Northern Nigeria. He was previously Market Group Director for Propcom and prior to that, had led three big programmes in other parts of Africa. In Zimbabwe, he led the Agricultural Revitalization Programme funded by DANIDA. He also worked in South Sudan to set up an agricultural development programme post-civil war in 2004. Before that, he was the Private Sector Development Advisor for DFID in Kenya. In this interview, he maintained that there are a lot of investment opportunities in Nigeria’s rural agriculture. Excerpts:
The underdevelopment of Nigeria’s agriculture does not negate the fact that opportunities lie therein. If you agree, what are the issues?
I’ll use three very specific examples that present opportunities for not only job creation, but for income earning as well. First, if you take for instance the shea crop, the bulk of Nigerian shea is picked in the wild and exported straight out of Nigeria into Ghana and other countries. The level of processing of shea is still minimal. Now if you could formalize the shea sector by creating opportunities for investors to invest in local processing of shea in this country, you could actually create quite a lot of value and opportunities and hence create jobs for people.
I still believe this is an area that could employ very many women if it could be formalised and not left to the whims of the brokers and exporters who exchange the shea with the farmer for almost nothing.
Secondly, let me focus on mechanisation. The reason why the bulk of the land in the North is not fully utilized is because there isn’t sufficient mechanisation. Land is large but people use traditional methods of land tillage and therefore, they can’t go far. Imagine if you could actually develop mechanisation services that employ the youth in the North to utilise the machines to till the land, one single tractor has the potential of employing three to four youths as operators in a season. Imagine those opportunities if you mechanise agriculture.
Also, consider the indirect employment that comes about because now you have opened more land, you need more hands to do the planting, weeding, harvesting and the knock on effects of that is massive. I think we haven’t exploited that sufficiently.
Nigeria has one of the best climates within the middle belt. I am told long ago, that Jos was a major producer of horticulture - vegetables and flowers  - in this country. This is an opportunity just waiting to be revived. If you could create opportunities for horticulture, Nigeria could compete with East Africa on an equal footing.
So, to me, these are opportunities that could be exploited for job creation and incomes but the policies should be in place to incentivise genuine private sector to invest in these sectors and hence create employment opportunities.
Would you advice investment in agriculture in rural Nigeria because of the opportunities therein for both investors and the rural dwellers?
I think the type of investor that you would advise at the moment to invest in agriculture in Nigeria is one that is a big risk taker. I say this but I still believe that if there is any African country that is standing at the edge of the big breakthrough in agriculture, it is Nigeria. And for that matter, I would encourage any investor interested in investing in agriculture in Nigeria to step in. But be ready to deal with the policy inconsistencies, though there are opportunities in several areas; mechanisation, massive opportunity in agricultural inputs especially the seeds space, and fertilizer where Notore is already operating, there is big space.
What I see when I go into the supermarkets in Nigeria is that more than half of the fresh produce are imported. An investor in agriculture would just look at that and look at the population of the middle class in Nigeria and say ‘Bingo’!

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