Nigeria’s agricultural sector received more than a fair share of attention during the recent meeting in Washington D.C., United States between Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, and US president, Donald Trump.
In the face of this attention, expectations were expected to be built up among Nigerian farmers about the positives that could result from this unusual interest of the US president in Nigeria’s agricultural sector.
But it would seem, from business a.m.’s findings that sector players are caught between optimism and pessimism as they differed on the degree of impact the gesture could likely have on the struggling sector. President Trump pledged to facilitate the coming of American farmers to assist local farmers and, in fact, provide a huge subsidy to remove obstacles in the new relationship between Nigeria.
Aminu Goronyo, the president of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) reacting to this promise said the assistance likely to come in the form of technical knowledge transfer will be an advantage to farmers, farming, the economy, and government. He stressed that the farming practices were already bewildered by wide mechanization gaps, especially for smallholder farmers, but that this could be addressed by the U.S. and Nigeria collaboration. Such support, in addition to sustained internal interventions through the Central Bank of Nigeria, he said, could help the country achieve the feat of self-sustainability as well as feed other members of the continent.
“The assistance is a technical assistance particularly in the area of training and knowing fully, that America is a superpower that has gone far in terms of technology and science, I know the country will benefit immensely from that relationship. For the country as a whole, we need mechanization skills.
We need modern equipment that can give us very good results of our laboratory tests,” said Goronyo. But Salim Saleh, the president, Wheat Farmer’s Association of Nigeria (WFAN) wondered if the support could actually halt the growing dependency on foreign foods or whether the pronouncement was another avenue to make a dumping ground of Nigeria’s economy.
“All through the years that foreign aids have been coming to Nigeria, based on impact assessment, what have we achieved? Why have we not become self-sustaining? We are still importing food. I don’t know how they are coming to help us. Are they coming to help or they are just coming to do a survey on our activities to know how they can start dumping their food products on us and stunt our growth?” Saleh asked. He said such support would only be impactful if carried out via commodity associations that are viable on ground, noting that many support schemes implemented through the government directly, usually fail to end up with expected beneficiaries.
Beyond production hurdles that farmers grapple with, Salim said inconsistent availability of off-take systems remains a crucial bone of contention as available processors usually demand a levelled price with imported products.
He said: “We have major processors like the milling companies in Nigeria, but the offtake agreement on the price is where the problem lies. They usually compare the cheap material that can be bought from abroad which is not as fresh as the ones produced here.
Some have been stocked for over 17 years before being brought into this country. Those who bring them sell at cheaper prices to do away with them.
Then their governments give them subsidy at the end of production which also makes it cheaper compared to our cost of production here in this country.” He suggested that the sector be mechanised in order to reduce the cost of production while ensuring that local produce are consumed in the country before routing for external source to augment the balance of what the factories need. “But in as much as we look outside, definitely farming is not going to grow and it won’t be a business venture,” the WFAN president said.
There should be a consensus approach that farming is not merely a hand to mouth exercise but a commercial activity with investment that can reel out profit, Salim said, stressing that its activities have to cut across all value chains not only to boost production capacity but also aspects of processing, packaging and marketing. He, however, noted that Nigerian farmers were as well prepared and open to new innovations including technology transfer.
According to him, “Nigerian farmers basically lack capacity building and training to boost their knowledge on modern techniques of farming activities. If their capacity can be developed according to modern technology, new innovations, our farmers are quick to learn and catch up with it. Farming in Nigeria cannot be successful if we are still doing it manually.”
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average U.S. farmer feeds approximately 155 people, a major shift from the 1960s when a farmer fed two dozen people. This remarkable progress has been driven by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, helping farmers meet the growing demand for food.
In 2014, United State Department of Agriculture supported research into methods to remove about 98 percent of allergens from peanuts without affecting their flavour and developed a new process that pasteurizes shelled eggs 50 percent faster than the existing process, using radio frequency energy.
The department also developed a portable method to identify harmful food bacteria that could help people respond better to outbreaks of food-borne illness, innovated a soil test that rapidly and affordably determines the total amount of available nitrogen, reducing costs for farmers while benefiting the environment, among others. Hence, farmers have adopted technologies such as moisture sensors, drones, smart irrigation, terrain contour mapping, self-driving and GPS enabled tractors to produce food more sustainably.
According to the ‘Future of Agriculture’ published in The Economist, farms are being ‘teched up’ when it comes to growing food to be both sustainable and profitable. Also investments in Agricultural technologies have risen as AgTech companies injected more than $1.75 billion as at 2016. Although some local farmers in Nigeria are gradually leveraging technology to improve their practice, many are challenged by limited support still operate under basic conditions.
Frontpage August 20, 2019