Saturday, 9 June 2018

Nigeria Agriculture Sector Still in Shamble


By Usman Ali Lawani

A friend of mine once told me how someone started a 100k ton p.a Cassava starch company simply because Nigeria is the largest producer of Cassava in the world. What he didn't realise however is that Nigeria only produce a little more than enough Cassava for consumption. Less than two years down the road, the Cassava Starch processing company was closed down because they couldn't find enough Cassava to feed their lines!

Similarly, Dangote built one of the talk about Tomatoes processing plant in Kadawa, Kano State... Unfortunately not so much has been produced their since 2015. Only recently, a friend told me that they were loosing over 45m Naira monthly in interest rates payment and salaries among other things. Today, the gates of the Tomatoes processing plant is closed because of what my friend termed - School Boy's Mistake. In my opinion, they focused more on production & other business analysis of the plant without first considering how to secure sustainable supply of industry grade tomatoes for the paste.

I see a similar trend to the above examples around the efforts and talks about rice processing plants in Nigeria.

I know at least 2 functional rice processing plants in Kebbi state with 16 tons ph processing capacity....  Maybe a 3rd is underway. And there are several small rice processing mills being established.

In Kano,  I know at least 2 such rice mills. Only about 2 weeks ago,  a 1b Naira rice mill was commissioned in Kano. The Lagos State governor also announced that Lagos will establish the biggest rice mill in Africa.

I must say,  that all these are very important strides... But who is going to produce all the rice paddy that will go into these processing plants?

In all of these, government has paid very little attention towards the development of rural farmers. Whenever we celebrate increase in production, it is because of increase land use or expansion - Instead of working on increase yield per hectare. Extension services in Nigeria is near extinction with a ratio of about 1 extension worker to 10,000 farmers. Paddy harvesting is still done using archaic methods of beating paddy on mats.

Government interventions such as the Anchor Borrower programs have been hijacked by mostly politicians and portfolio farmers.... Little wonder why most of the loans are going bad.

We celebrate that our rice import from Thailand has reduced by 80%... But the rice import of Benin Republic (our neighbor) has increased by about 900% even though the population of Benin is only about 11 million. Considering how porous our border is, I'll let you do the maths.

I think the government needs to focus more on the primary production of paddy rice. Help the rural farmers to become more effective & increase their productivity per hectare. It's no rocket science - all the government needs is commitment,  will power and sincererity of purpose.

1. Increase the numbers of extension workers per farmers.  And here I mean actual extension workers on the field not those who collect NPower stippends and disappear only to return at month end for verification.

2. Focus on increasing knowledge base of the rural farmers. Provide them with small mechanized tools that are suitable for their work to help reduce post harvest losses. Provide them with improved seedlings & teach them simple innovative farm practices.

3. Focus more on the REAL farmers not the 'portfolio' farmers. We can start by collecting data of rural farmers across the country.

We have seen several government interventions in the past like the Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, MAMSER, etc.... The reasons most of these policies failed is not far fetched - They were started from the end.

The government of change must focus on starting our Agricultural diversification efforts from the beginning lest it suffers same faith like the many policies before it. Unless this is achieved, we haven't diversify.

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