Thursday, 14 July 2016

We Make Inputs Accessible to Smallholder Farmers'

By Ahmed Dio Agbo
Ocheche Oscar Okpe is the Head of Sales, Notore Chemical Industries Limited. In this interview, he told Daily Trust how Notore is making inputs, especially fertilizers available to smallholder farmers in the right quality and quantity at the right time and price. Excerpts:

Accessing agro inputs especially fertilizers has been a perennial challenge in Nigeria. What are the main issues?

I will not go to the political aspects of this matter but let me go to the real issues on ground. Generally speaking, infrastructural challenges have played no small role in this - roads are poor and so getting products to the hinter land is a major challenge. The really poor road network makes products distribution a near insurmountable task. Transporters struggle to get to the hinterland because of damage to their vehicles and man hours lost on long travels. The railways have not functioned for ages. This would have been such an easy means of moving goods around the country. And it was when they functioned.

There are also issues of warehousing and distribution channels. The majority of small holder farmers do not reside in state capitals or big towns; they reside in the smaller towns and villages. Agro dealers with the capacity to warehouse products on the other hand live and do business in the bigger towns and state capitals. Distributing the products to the areas where they are really needed in the localities then becomes a challenge because of the cost implication.

The farmer too, considering the total cost implication of going to purchase the products far away from his location would rather forfeit the benefits of adopting best practice of using agro input because of this challenge.

So this issue of road infrastructure has multiple negative impact on all areas of the economy and quality of life. There is also the issue of little or no rural development over the years. However, the private sector which we are a part of has been exploring and working on various ways to tackle the challenge, especially finding innovative ways to take the products closer to the resource poor farmers in the villages.

Where products are available, it is usually beyond the reach of the smallholder farmers because of pricing. How can this be changed?

Yes, for the smallholder farmers, you know we have about 14 million farming families of about 4 to 5 people in each country. Among these people, there are non-users, mild-users and those that have fully adopted.

Like you said and in reality, a large percentage of the farming populace can hardly purchase 50kg of fertilizer. And this is predominantly the mild and non-users. So, what we did was to introduce small packs, 1kg, which farmers can try on a small portion of their farm. Every farmer can afford to buy 1kg of fertilizer. When they buy, and try it out and see the difference in their output and ultimately in their finances, then they are able to buy more and consequently, gradually and constantly improve their output and income.

Usually, some of the farmers will tell you their lands are fertile, so they don't need fertilizers. But there is actually the case of purchasing power. So the experience after purchasing and using the small packs leads to a total turnaround in their process. So as an organization, we fight to ensure that the products are available all year round at affordable prices. The 1kg goes for as low as N250.

You made a bold step in breaking bulk - creating smaller packs of fertilizer. Tell us about this.

Never in the history of fertilizer sales have small packs been produced so we are very proud to have done this. It is also in keeping with our mission which is "Enhancing the quality of life". So we are not just thinking of selling products, but of making it affordable for every single Nigerian farmer.

As I explained, with the 1kg pack size, we not only created 1kg, but eventually 10kg pack as well. So the farmer "graduates" from 1kg to 10kg and eventually 50kg. The size

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