The population of Nigeria has been repeatedly predicted to swell exponentially in the next 10 to 20 years and would require enough food to sustain the growth, which can only be achieved through mechanised farming.
To a large extent, subsistent farming is what is currently obtainable despite land availability, good soil and weather. Nigeria has 70 million hectares of arable land for agriculture but only 48 per cent of the land is being used to feed 190 million people.
More so, the country has less than 7,000 functional tractors in circulation, meaning seven tractors are available for every 10,000 hectares of land while available statistics say it needs 1.5 million tractors to attain food sufficiency.
According to Tractors Owners and Hiring Facilities Association of Nigeria (TOHFAN), the cost of a new tractor is N11 million, while hiring cost is N75,000 per day, which is beyond the affordability of most smallholder farmers.
Head, Administration and Logistics of TOHFAN, Musa Samaila, explained that: “We hire a tractor to a hiring agent for N35,000 per day. But if we are to go and service the farmer directly and do ploughing operation, we charge N25,000 per day; we do harrowing and ridging for N12,000 per hectare. So in a day we can do three hectares, which means the farmer will pay about N75,000 for three hectares.”
Although the Federal Government, through the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with John Deere/Tata, for the supply of 10,000 tractors to bridge the gap, which agriculturists say is just a drop in the ocean.
In this wise, Propcom Mai-Karfi, a programme funded by UKaid, managed by Palladium Nigeria, and implemented in six North-eastern states, namely, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Yobe and Taraba, and DFID’s partner states – Kaduna, Kano and Jigawa, organised an agricultural mechanisation investment roadshow in Abuja and Lagos respectively, to dissect the opportunities embedded in mechanised farming through tractorisation.
It assembled Mechanisation Service Providers (MSPs) namely, TOHFAN, Alluvial, ACT-agribusiness, Traxi Continental, Agricultural Equipment Hiring Operators Association (AEHOA), MECA and NECAS.
It also brought together agricultural equipment vendors like Springfield Agro/Mahindra, Tata/John Deere, Tak Agro/Sonika, Dizengoff/Case11, Pan African/Massey Ferguson, SCOA/New Holland and Vision Agric/Fasttrack.
Highlighting some of the setbacks affecting MSPs, its Deputy Team Leader, Ogheneovo Ugbebor, said enough support has not been given to smallholder farmers who are still farming manually, warning that if allowed to continue, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for banks or any financial institution to give loans for them to purchase high quality equipment.
“The agricultural space in Nigeria is largely undeveloped and if we remain at subsistent level, there is very little interest you will get from the commercial bank who wants big borrowers, limited risks on the associated factors.
“There is power at the bottom. But you need to aggregate the numbers for efficiency. If you want to deliver tractor services to smallholder farmers, how do you do that when you consider the challenge of their disparate lands, small size and logistics associated that commercial entities want to overcome in order to service them?
“Whether it is the bank, tractor owners or input suppliers, there is a huge statistical challenge in reaching smallholder farmers and those are the models we try to promote as a programme,” she said.
Ugbebor also identified land leasing as another snag which she said limits large scale farming and production.
“Another issue is land leasing which makes a farmer work on 0.5 hectares or 5 hectares which is about 10 kilometres away. It does not make it efficient for you to mechanise. But if you have contiguous landholding and, assuming government is interested in offering land leases in contiguous areas, you can fully mechanise those areas.”
She explained further that, “if you have 100 farmers working within a 100 hectares of land not scattered around, those are the kinds of reforms we are talking about at government level; that way, you create an enabling environment for private service providers to bring their services together for the farmers because they know that 100 farmers are within a location which will make it easier to distribute farm inputs like seeds, tractors and bring down the cost to the farmers.”
In addition, she said there is poor knowledge on the use of new technology, resulting to peasant farmers relying largely on hoes, cutlasses, and the likes, to boost production.
To wriggle out of the problem, Ugbebor, while noting that awareness should be created on the use of sophisticated modern farm technology, said farmers should be sufficiently supported with farm inputs and lands to guarantee food sufficiency.
“Government should release more lands, encourage smallholder farmers to use those lands and provide farm inputs and infrastructure like getting it irrigated.
“Farmers should be taught the use of new technology around agricultural production, which is why they still use hoes and the likes. Who in the value chain will invest in that? We have food security interest to create awareness around new technology.
“So, investing in the area of awareness on new technology is a role government at all levels can invest in and it can come like an agricultural policy,” she stated.
On the economic importance, she said, “if you use tractors for land preparation, you potentially increase your yield by 40 per cent. If, also, you use it for planting, it means you will get the spacing correctly, number of seeds you need to put per point and that way you are able to manage the plant population within the region. When it comes to harvesting, those losses associated with manual harvesting, like threshing, will not arise.”
Aside corroborating Ugbebor’s assertion that the efficient use of these tools would scale up food availability, Managing Director, ACT-Agribusiness, Chibueze Emenike, said without the use of modern equipment, the cost of production would be higher and potential yield would be lower.
For his part, Senior Programme Manager, Propcom Mai-Karfi, Godson Ohuruogu, stated that the private sector should not wait for government alone. He said individuals should take up the gauntlet and invest.
Ohuruogu equally made reference to the declining budgetary allocation to agriculture, which he said was poor and should not be relied upon to meet the needs of Nigerians.
Regardless of the challenges, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, has promised to review the Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) and Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP), to ensure standardisation of farm inputs and for smallholder farmers to access tractors and other equipment.
“The ministry has established two important committees to review the ATA, APP and other relevant policy frameworks in order to develop an agricultural policy that will be vigorously pursued in the next three to four years to ensure standardisation of inputs, access to mechanisation, extension, finance and markets for farmers,” he said.