By Hakeem Ogunniyi
Globally, the issue of food insecurity has been a source of concern for governments. Experts opine that to achieve enhanced productivity in the agricultural sector, special focus must be placed on rural smallholder farmers, especially in developing countries where agriculture remains largely a subsistence enterprise that fuels the rural economy. The subsistence level of agriculture is one of the contributory reasons to poverty especially in the rural areas. It therefore follows that when agriculture is enhanced, there will be an appreciable decrease in poverty levels.
One of the greatest obstacles standing in the way of farmers and agricultural investors in Nigeria is poor access to loans and other credit facilities. This is often due to their evaluation by commercial banks as a less creditworthy group, coupled with their notion of farming as a high-risk venture. Hence, there is need for government to evolve ways of removing constraints posed to growth in agriculture, especially for smallholder farmers who find credit facilities inaccessible. While the existing individual single digit loan interest offered by the government is commendable, it is however difficult for individual farmers to benefit from it. Therefore, to enable rural farmers have easy access to credit facilities and foster rural agricultural productivity, due consideration should be given to a wholesale packaging of rural farmers.
Lack of storage facilities, such as warehouses, cold storage and paved roads as well as reliable energy, have also continued to contribute to post-harvest losses among farmers, particularly in rural communities. Nigeria produces more than enough food to feed its citizens, unfortunately, not all the food that we produce get to our table. Therefore, curbing post-harvest losses is a critical factor for achieving food security. The challenge is that a large percentage of the food Nigerians consume is produced by rural smallholder farmers who do not have the capacity to acquire or access storage facilities to store their harvest.
Existing government institutions such as Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute and the Raw Material Research Development Council (RMRDC) should synergize their efforts in a bid to reducing post-harvest losses and assisting smallholder farmers to achieve on-farm processing.
Remarkably, the private sector and international organizations have critical roles to play also as government cannot shoulder the responsibility all alone. They can specialise in innovative ways of training smallholder farmers to enhance productivity and efficiency and ultimately ensuring food security and accelerating economic development. In doing so, they often align their developmental and intervention schemes with existing government policies on agriculture.
Notable among such organizations that have been providing assistance to rural farmers are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States African Development Foundation (USADF), the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) and A.G Leventis. Some of these organizations work directly with needy communities in Nigeria, provide funding to small-scale agricultural producers, small and medium-sized businesses and community-based organizations, and train smallholder farmers in modern agricultural methods thereby eradicating hunger and poverty in Nigeria.
A model that has worked very well and which can be replicated by other corporate organizations is the intervention championed by the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF). The organisation has consistently invested its resource in developing interventions for farmers in Nigeria. These interventions are not only sustainable but also technically and socially viable and adaptable to the operations of rural smallholder farmers who are the main focus of the Foundation’s initiatives. They enable them to migrate from the subsistence level, which is the baseline level, to a larger commercial scale. In providing support for this set of farmers, BATNF seeks to understand what their challenges are, and from the feedback provided, interventions that address these needs are developed.
The farmers are also availed of periodic requisite training by the Foundation to enhance their capacity and expertise. Another unique functionality of the interventions is that they link the farmers with the market, where they sell directly to industrial buyers, and by so doing increasing farmers’ incomes.
BATNF also provides credit facilities to farmers by encouraging cluster or group farming in which farmers are organised into cooperative groups; significant successes have been recorded by it in this regard. The Foundation’s interventions do not target individuals, but groups; all these benefits go to the group. The premium for the farmers is the quality and the timeliness of the interventions.
For food to be available and affordable in the country, government needs to unleash a holistic multi-stakeholder approach to the agriculture value chain and food supply chain development.
By so doing, many people will be engaged, either working directly or providing enabling and supportive services for the farms through aggregation of produce, processing, packaging, transportation, marketing, wholesale, retail, catering services, among others. This will also be accompanied by enormous job opportunities and socioeconomic growth.
Government must drive policies to increase the rate of growth in the agriculture sector and put the economy back on the path of sustainable growth.
Ogunniyi writes from Lagos