BY ONOME AMUGE
Plantain business in Nigeria has over the years grown significantly into a lucrative agricultural venture, underpinned by its numerous robust consumer demand, rapidly increasing urban population, rising appetite for easy and convenient foods, emergence of a number of local processing industries, all contributing to making the crop a prominent feature among the country’s most-widely produced commodities.
Asides being consumed through boiling, roasting, steaming or in raw form, plantains contain numerous value addition qualities which heighten demand as they can be processed into flour; snacks, animal feed, soap, and added into other food products that are already processed.
Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), ranks Nigeria as the fifth largest plantain producer in the world with an estimated annual production capacity of 3.1 million tonnes, behind Cameroun (4.3 million tonnes), Ghana (3.9 million tonnes), Uganda (3.7 million tonnes), and Colombia (3.5 million tonnes).
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Production of the staple crop is concentrated in the southern region of Nigeria including, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ondo, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Imo, Anambra, Lagos, Kwara, Benue, Plateau, Kogi, Abia and Enugu States.
However, despite the crop’s prominence, production is inconsistent and low, as production is dominated by small-scale farmers whose production is mainly focused on subsistence production, while a comparatively small fraction of plantain farmers operate on a large-scale production.
As a result, Nigeria does not play a significant role in the international plantain trade, while producers are on a struggle to gratify a fast-rising local demand, leaving production and business opportunity of the crop underexploited.
Market analysts have attributed the failure to fully optimise production to many challenges, such as insufficient capital for large scale farming, inadequate farmland, lack of storage facilities, poor knowledge and slow adoption to modern agricultural innovations, poor marketing and price volatility.
They further asserted that despite the massive rate of production, the government’s lack of export policy on plantain has made it only a crop for the local market, thereby discouraging large scale investors.
Insufficient agricultural grants and extension services have also been attributed to have discouraged farmers and entrepreneurs who are willing to partake in the lucrative business.
Adjarho Oghenekaro, national president, Banana and Plantain Farmers Association of Nigeria (BAPFAN), in a telephone conversation with Business A.M., lamented that the government has not done enough in terms of providing incentives such as funding and provision of farming equipment to local producers at subsidised rates.
Oghenekaro further noted that basic amenities such as good road infrastructure to enhance transportation of products, and electricity to aid storage and processing of the crop are oftentime unavailable, making plantain production and its other value chains tedious and distressing for stakeholders involved in the business.
According to the BAPFAN president, plantain was excluded from the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (APB) and efforts to have the commodity included had been greeted with rejections on the excuse that it has a long gestation period unlike rice, maize and other immediate economic crops that yield within few months of cultivation.
He also noted that many farmers belonging to the association had often complained about land acquisition challenges for plantain farming, adding that the conversion of many farmlands into residential areas has affected production.
Oghenekaro added that many plantain producers across the country still practice the traditional methods of cultivation rather than making research on new innovations concerning the latest and most productive cultural practice applicable.
On efforts the association has taken towards improving production on a national level, he noted that BAPFAN has supported members financially by raising funds with the support of some financial institutions and providing farming and storage implements at subsidised fees.
He added that the association is in progressive talks with the relevant authorities handling the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, assuring that plantain producers will soon receive the loan support needed to boost production.
The BAPFAN president also said the association ensures that members are regularly trained and sensitised on latest developments relating to production and marketing of the product to boost output, as well as revenue, and encourage more efficient and productive value chain.
Oghenekaro, who noted that the plantain industry has the potential to generate $2.5 billion annually from export, if taken more seriously, encouraged the ministry of agriculture to fund research programmes and facilitate training that will boost every area of plantain production.
On his part, Aigbodun Ojehomon, chief executive officer, River Rock Agro Farms, a plantain production and processing firm based in Owan West, Edo State, said rising cost of transportation has posed a big challenge for producers who are forced to spend huge amounts of money in the movement and distribution of plantain to major markets, especially in the urban areas where the demand is high. Ojehomon further explained that many producers end up generating revenues below expectations.
The plantain production value chain consultant also noted that plantain has a very low shelf life due to the fact that it is easily affected by environmental factors, such as temperature, relative humidity and air composition. This, he explained, has made many farmers who do not possess adequate storage systems suffer a significant amount of wastage on their farms.
Ojehomon asserted that plantain production, processing and marketing are very profitable businesses if conducted under the right management practices.
He, therefore, advised intending plantain entrepreneurs to have a clear understanding of how the market operates and make proper planning before venturing into the business.
He also advised farmers to get sufficient storage facility for their farm product or device an efficient distribution method to get the products to buyers as soon as possible, to avoid wastages and financial losses.
Ojehomon called on the government and financial agencies to support the development of plantain production and help increase output through the provision of credit facilities on favourable conditions to the farmers.
He further called for the formulation of policies that would improve credit access to stakeholders in the value chain and the establishment of state extension services in the dissemination of improved production techniques for plantain production.
Emmanuel Adebayo, chief executive officer, Epiphany Farm Limited, opined that plantain farming is not capital intensive in subsistence farming, compared to other crops, noting that the suckers for propagating are very affordable.
Adebayo, however, highlighted some of the challenges facing commercial production to include, getting available land space for planting the crops due to its large spacing requirement, pests and disease infestation, and decline in soil fertility.
According to him, good management of a plantain farm requires having the appropriate knowledge in cultivation, farm maintenance, storage and marketing especially when it is done for commercial purposes, as being ignorant of the processes could pose serious threat to the producer’s expectations.