Despite the fact that agriculture is the largest sector of the Nigerian economy, accounting for over 70 per cent of the population’s employment, officials from both the government and the corporate sector have stated that the sector’s growth has been hampered by a severe lack of mechanisation.
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As reported by the World Bank’s Agribusiness Indicators for Nigeria, the nation has a tractor density of only 5.7 tractors per 100 square kilometers, a far cry from the 81,000 tractors needed to meet the demand. This low level of mechanisation has resulted in low productivity, poor infrastructure, and inadequate access to finance and technology.
Tractors have become an indispensable tool for farmers around the world, helping to increase efficiency and productivity. They can be used for a variety of tasks, such as plowing, harrowing, planting, and harvesting, which were previously done manually or with animal power. This not only increases productivity but also reduces the amount of labour required to complete these tasks. In addition, tractors enable farmers to manage larger fields more efficiently, as they can cover more ground in less time. This can have a significant impact on overall yield and profitability.
Based on the data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, tractor density in Nigeria is approximately 0.2 horsepower per hectare, which translates to 5.7 tractors per 100 square kilometers. This is significantly lower than the 1.5 horsepower per hectare (1.1 kW/hectare) recommended by the FAO.
In addition, the country currently has only about 200,000 irrigation pumps, 3,500 power tillers, and 45,000 tractors with various attachments, even though there are approximately 80 million hectares of arable land in Nigeria.
The low level of mechanisation in the agricultural sector has led to a number of challenges, including low productivity, poor infrastructure, and limited access to credit and technology. These challenges have made it difficult for Nigeria’s agricultural sector to reach its full potential, hampering the country’s overall economic development.
One of the main consequences of the lack of agricultural mechanisation in Nigeria is low productivity. The average cereal yields in Nigeria are just one-third of the yields in Africa’s leading agricultural countries, such as Ethiopia, Egypt, and South Africa.
According to a report by the World Bank, approximately 90 per cent of all tractor imports into Nigeria come from the public sector, with ministries of agriculture receiving most of the tractors, which are typically medium-sized. The private sector imports only about 10 percent of tractors, or about 100 tractors per year. This imbalance in imports is considered a major contributor to the low level of mechanisation in Nigeria’s agricultural sector.
The World Bank report also found that the average lifespan of a tractor in Nigeria is only about six to seven years, depending on the brand. This means that out of the approximately 1,000 tractors imported into the country each year, more than 200 of them become non-functional before their full life cycle.
Furthermore, the government’s import and distribution policy for tractors is extremely inefficient and effectively prevents the private sector from competing in the market. This is because the government buys and distributes tractors at highly subsidized prices, effectively crowding out the private sector. The government’s tractors are also often of lower quality and less suitable for the small-scale farming operations that make up the majority of Nigeria’s agricultural sector. As a result, the lack of competition in the tractor market has led to a lower quality of equipment, higher costs for farmers, and less efficient agricultural production overall.
Another consequence of the government’s policy on tractor imports is that it has led to the overstocking of tractors in some areas while others remain underserved. This is because the government does not take into account the actual needs of different regions when importing and distributing tractors. As a result, some areas have a surplus of tractors while others lack the equipment necessary to support their agricultural operations. This unequal distribution of tractors is a major obstacle to increasing productivity and improving food security in Nigeria.
In an attempt to address the issues raised by the World Bank report, the Nigerian government recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with two American agricultural companies, John Deere and Tata Nigeria. The MoU aims to make tractors more affordable for Nigerian farmers and to establish a tractor assembly plant in the country.
Under the terms of the MoU, the companies will work with the government to provide financing options for farmers, as well as technical training and support. The flexible payment plan is an important part of the MoU, as it will make it easier for farmers to access the equipment they need to improve their productivity.
Abubakar Kyari, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, commented on the potential impact of the MoU, noting that it has the potential to address the major challenges facing agricultural mechanisation in Nigeria.
In his remarks, Kyari acknowledged that Nigeria’s level of agricultural mechanisation is very low, with only about 50,000 serviceable tractors for a country with over 70 million hectares of farmland. He emphasised the need to increase the number of tractors and other agricultural machinery, as well as the need to improve the availability of spare parts and maintenance services. He also highlighted the importance of developing appropriate government policies to support agricultural mechanisation, such as the provision of subsidies and tax incentives.
“Nigeria is grossly under-mechanised; we have less than 50,000 serviceable, workable tractors today, and in a country with at least 70 million hectares of land, it is grossly inadequate, and I think this is a way to go and to modernise our agriculture,”he said.
Speaking specifically on the partnership between John Deere and the Ministry of Agriculture, the minister noted that the partnership has the potential to address some of the major challenges facing Nigerian farmers.
Kyari stated that the country needs tractors that can cover a minimum of 500 to 800 hectares per year, which would significantly increase agricultural productivity. The minister also noted that the partnership will create new job opportunities and help to stimulate the country’s economy.
Senator Kyari further stated in addition to the provision of affordable agricultural equipment, John Deere is also committed to capacity building through the training of Nigerian mechanics and artisans. This will ensure that the equipment is properly maintained and repaired, which will improve its longevity and reduce the need for costly replacements.
“The original arrangement is for 2000 tractors per year, but what we are saying is that it depends on how much the farmers are willing to take.
“This is purely a partnership for the off-take for the farmers, not the government taking, but what the government is supposed to do is to have an environment that is very conducive for John Deere to sell the tractors to the farmers,” he remarked.
Kyari also explained that one of the primary roles of the Ministry of Agriculture is to create an environment that is conducive for doing business in the agricultural sector. This includes making it easier for farmers to access financing, which will allow them to purchase the tractors. He assured that the government is currently working on a number of initiatives to facilitate access to finance, such as the creation of a dedicated agricultural bank and the provision of subsidies and tax incentives for agribusinesses.
Jason Braintley,the vice president of John Deere, expressed excitement about the MoU signed with the Nigerian government and Tata Nigeria. He stated that the partnership is critical for increasing agricultural productivity and ensuring food security, as well as for improving the livelihoods of farmers.
In addition to providing tractors, Braintley explained that the company is also exploring the feasibility of supporting the Nigerian market with after-sales services. This includes the provision of genuine spare parts, as well as the training of operators and mechanics. He noted that these services are essential for ensuring the continued efficiency and productivity of the tractors. He also highlighted the importance of hiring and acquiring skilled workers to support the growth of the agricultural sector.