Stories by Steve Agbota [email protected] 08033302331
Although agriculture provides the source of livelihood for most Nigerians and remains the base of the nation’s economy, the sector still faces many challenges.
For most farmers, access to credit, infrastructure, outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land of 1.8 hectares farming households and a very low level of irrigation development are some of the greatest challenges.
At another level, the limited adoption of research findings and high cost of farm inputs, inefficient fertiliser procurement and distribution, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets have all combined to keep agricultural productivity low with high postharvest losses and waste.
With several factors working in favour of Nigeria in terms of agriculture, it is unfortunate that the nation is still not able to produce enough food and various agricultural products to feed its ever increasing population.
Ironically, though 82 million hectares out of Nigeria’s total land area of about 91 million hectares have been found to be arable, the country still spends about $20 billion annually to import food items such as wheat, sugar, rice, among others. This has caused huge setback for the development of agriculture in the country, according to farmers.
More disturbing is the fact that much of the foods farmers manage to produce rot away right from the farm gate, sometimes amounting to N120 billion in a year due to lack of storage, and farmers blame this on successive governments’ failure to provide infrastructure such as good road network, silos and other related items.
Farming in Nigeria is still done in a crude way by subsistence farmers and the country is said to have 20,000 to 30,000 functional tractor units when it requires about 1.5 million tractor units to fully boost its food production.
This projection is against the backdrop of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO)’s recommendation of tractorisation intensity of 1.5hp (1.125kW) per hectare. The FAO study further showed that only 1 per cent farm power is supplied by mechanical means in sub-Saharan Africa, 10 per cent by animal draught power while the remaining 89 per cent is from human labour.
Farmers say that Nigeria’s drive to attain food sufficiency and economic diversification may never be realised if drastic efforts are not made to reverse the current trends of very low mechanised agriculture and government making credit accessible at a single digit rate for farmers in the country.
To make farming the bedrock of the nation’s economy, stakeholders said agriculture must be made viable and revamped or else viability is impossible and hunger is certain.
The Deputy Managing Director of Peniel Gerar International Limited, Ojiefoh Enahoro Martins, said the aim of Agricultural Credit Facility (ACF) is to facilitate the provision of medium and long term financing to projects engaged in agriculture and agro processing, focusing mainly on commercialisation and value addition.
He said, “the problem in Nigeria has always been keeping goat with yam and when the yam is missing we keep shouting thief thief… We often read on papers and watch on TV how government, through Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), set up agricultural credit for farmers but the truth is, we are familiar with the thieves’ farming method by some politicians using registered farm names to collect the credit without paying back. Today, government has been able to change the forest name while the monkeys remain the same.”
He said loans under the ACF are stragetically for real farmers and agro-processors at more favourable terms than are usually available under conventional loan. But today, he said, even commercial banks are using various CBN agricultural credit facilities to enrich themselves.
Recently, he said government and CBN gave farmers epileptic credit conditions by asking them to form cooperatives, which many farmers did, yet some farmers were asked to pay 30 per cent equity to collect credit and even when some cooperatives meet their demands, they were denied the faclitity.
Speaking on the way out, he said government should build monetary support programme to help farmers, so that the political farmers can go hungry. He said if a farmer get a credit to produce maize for example and no good market to sell what happen to the credit repayment?
He explained that, “in the area of infrastructure for agricultural sector, accessible road is accessible agriculture. Every year, we are losing millions of tonnes of crops to poor infrastructure. I was in Kwara State last year to meet with soybeans farmers in one of the local government areas; I spent over five hours driving, no road but they are 99 per cent farmers living in forest. I think we need to revisit our agricultural plan.”
According to him, the key objective of credit scheme is to facilitate agriculture and agro-processing on more favourable terms than are usually available from financial institutions.
Said he: “Some farmers on the other side of the coin are causing setback and taking advantage of some credit facilities to marry new wives; they see it as opportunity to eat from government. Most government representatives even abuse the credit facility system to enrich themselves and family members.
“Uganda designed a credit facility for farmers with a regulated body as overseer. Benin Republic has a credit facility around cotton production with a ready market as alternative back-up plan for recovery thereby monopolising the cotton industry.
“For credit facility to work effectively, Government should select some crops, develop a ready market, monopolise a monitoring structure. I also support using state and local governments as agencies to carry out a successful programme.”
A cassava farmer in Oyo State, Adebo Adetiloye, said the past administration led by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan set the pace in the cassava industry but that the present administration is yet to build on it, noting that today, nobody hears about cassava bread again.
He said there is need for CBN to implement an intervention for cassava farmers towards enhancing food production as most cassava farmers are leaving cassava farming and planting rice.
According to him, growing cassava on a large scale requires plenty of manual labour and machines to process the tubers once harvested. The absence of large commercial cassava farmers and processors hinders local production.
He urged government to provide adequate infrastructural facilities and high yield stems for farmers to encourage bumper production of cassava and increase income for them.