by Chinyere Anyanwu
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector and the Federal Government have been urged to collaborate in finding solutions to challenges militating
against the development of agriculture in the country.
The call was made recently by the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of JR Farms Ltd, Mr. Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi, during an interactive session with members of the Nigeria Association of Agricultural Journalists (NAAJ) in his office in Lagos.
Opeyemi said agriculture has huge potential to create jobs and generate wealth for the Nigerian youth if the enabling environment is made possible for it to thrive.
The JR Farms CEO stated that electricity, roads, security, funding and an efficient logistics chain are crucial factors necessary for the development of agriculture in the country and vital to ensure food security for Nigeria and Nigerians.
Opeyemi also identified knowledge gap as another serious challenge in making agriculture a lucrative business venture in Nigeria. According to him, “there is a dearth of knowledge across continents but much more in Nigeria when it comes to agriculture. A lot of persons think agriculture is about digging the ground, planting some seeds or having a fish pond in your backyard as farming. Agriculture is big business which has not blossomed for lack of knowledge.
“For us at JR Farms, we realised very early that we lacked the requisite knowledge to succeed in the business of farming so we sought and acquired knowledge from all available sources within and outside Nigeria. It has helped us in getting to where we are today. While there is much more to learn and do, we are grateful to our partners and all those who have supported us in our journey so far.”
The JR boss also identified logistics as a likely huddle in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in Nigeria as borders are opened for continental trade. He said, “when you look at the cost of production even within the sub-region, the cost differs from country to country. In Nigeria, the issues of electricity, road network and other challenges are affecting production across sectors, agriculture inclusive. I am worried that if we do not produce enough for our people, our markets may be flooded with imported goods which could be substandard but we have the population, we have the market, and the demand for consumables and other items is very high.”
The JR Farms boss noted that, “our production capacity is, however, affected by a combination of factors which I have talked about and if nothing is done, unemployment could become a bigger issue, food quality could be tampered with because existing producers may want to cut corners to meet the rising demand and quality could be compromised for quantity when the pressure becomes too much.”
Speaking on road infrastructure and how it affects production and cost of food items, Opeyemi said, “two years ago, if not less, we used to pay N120,000 for trucks to move produce from Ogbomosho to Lagos. Today, the cost has gone up to N350,000. While it was cheaper two years ago, the delivery time was also faster because then we could reasonably predict when our trucks would be in Lagos.
“Today, the story is different. While cost has gone up, there is no way you can predict when your goods would arrive. It is not that the distance has increased, no, it is just that the roads have become very bad and so many other factors have combined to elongate the journey of 8-12 hours to days amidst uncertainties. Who bears the additional cost? It is the consumer, the average Nigerian who bears the additional cost and not the business owner nor the driver and this is why prices keep going up.”
On value addition, the JR Farms chief executive was emphatic that it is in value addition that jobs are created in the business of agriculture. He explained that, “if we want to move up and make progress, we must invest in value addition. You know that so much cocoa is grown in Africa but the processors in France, Netherlands, Switzerland enjoy from the value they add to cocoa to make chocolates. So it is in value addition that you create direct and indirect jobs. You don’t create jobs from farming because the truck drivers will buy gas, they will eat, do some maintenance/servicing of their trucks and this chain of events is where the jobs come from because on a daily basis, with good roads, electricity and security, these services are carried out by persons who get paid for their services.
“To add value, we need an enabling environment and I must commend the Federal Government for the rail construction being executed across the country. It will really help in the movement of goods and save the roads from further deterioration.”