Revamping the image of Nigeria’s agricultural sector for sustainable growth -Part 2
Continued from yesterday
They do exist these ‘model farms’ in Nigeria such as the Songhai Farm Rivers Initiative, a locally established sustainable farm in Rivers State, which utilises new technology and new inputs such as bio-fuel, advanced cropping methods, closed loop farming systems and labour maximising techniques. However, the marketing of these initiatives and techniques have been terribly poor. Perhaps as a result of being reliant on government spending, this model farm has been unable to produce, sell and market itself effectively enough to make a profit. A change is required to enable favourable growth as seen in other areas of the country such as the service sector, manufacturing or telecommunications. Upon visiting Songhai Farms, it was clear that it lacked the entrepreneurial spirit present in any business institution. If this situation persists, it will continue to remain an unviable farm model, instead of the thriving agribusiness it could be. Agricultural technology must be marketed adequately, easily accessible to industry actors and must be dynamic enough to react to changes in resource endowments (changes in land laws, changes in human capital, and changes in capital allocation).
A call for co-operative farming
Co-operatives are a refreshing alternative to large mono-cropping, high-profit margin business models that should not exist as the majority. Co-operatives bring the focus to not what is produced but how it is produced. In the compelling book titled “Agribusiness in the Americas” by Roger Burbach and Patricia Flynn, the business model applied to agriculture has ‘the shaping of a new system of social relations and labour exploitation that profoundly transforms people’s means of livelihood and the very fabric of their lives’. He gives many examples of how large international agribusiness firms in Latin America achieved their relentless growth by squeezing out people at the bottom – the smallholder farmers – by buying up land and hiring the farmers – the former owners of the land to work as hired hands. Their wages, while stable and secure sources of income, were penury compared to the large profits reaped by the international organisations, which processed and packaged these goods for export.
Agriculture, a means of nurturing and cultivating land, became backbreaking work. We need to learn from history. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) shows that cooperatives have demonstrated their capacity to help small-scale producers, especially women, overcome barriers to gain better access to resources and inputs, and thus to play a greater role in meeting the growing global food demand. Co-operatives offer networks of mutual support and solidarity that allow them to grow their social capital, improve their self-esteem and self-reliance, acquire a greater voice in decision-making, and collectively negotiate better contract terms, prices and access to a wide range of resources thus keeping them empowered.
Creating value with Nigerian herbs and plants
Nigeria is blessed with plant products which are highly medicinal, nutritionally beneficial to the human population and substantially very lucrative but as a result of the lack of highly publicised knowledge in this area, people discount the local herbs and fruits that contain perhaps more benefits than the Westernised ‘super foods’ imported at twice or even three times the price. If we look at China, they have capitalised on this point to the extreme. The Chinese herbs and medicine industry is expected to be worth USD$88 billion by 2017. African herbs and plants have extensive medicinal benefits and need to be harnessed to benefit the wider population both in terms of employability and an increase in affordable, localised healthcare. In China, traditional medicine is tied into the formal health sector, enabling citizens to reap the benefits of both valuable knowledge systems.
Long term expenditure reform and continuous review
Another vital point on sustaining agricultural growth is the emphasis on continuous provision of expenditure on agriculture and most importantly, the monitoring of the funds being made available for agricultural expansion. Studies show it is not enough to provide funds for agricultural growth but the compelling need exists for policy formulators to ensure that these funds are justly used. Not much news has been heard about former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP), and indeed, how the funds for the $100 million Government and Donor Fund for Agricultural Financing in Nigeria (FAFIN) will be used. This state of affairs needs to change. The agriculture sector is unique in that there is a one or two year lag for the effects of government spending to have an impact on agricultural product output. As such, there needs to be a continual onus on the government to provide funding. Even if Nigeria was to double agriculture’s share of government expenditure, it would still be below the required 10 per cent set by the African Unions’ Maputo Resolution, which advise the level of national budgeting spent on agricultural sector investments. The FAO recommends a higher percentage – 25 per cent – showing that Nigeria falls seriously below this optimum limit to reduce food security.
A recent paper by the Nigerian Strategy Support Programme (NSSP), of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), agrees that for improved performance in agricultural lending, a reform must occur in its focus to one of financing ideas or enterprises that promote the integration of all aspects of the agricultural value system. Moreover, there is a need for increased public spending on the development of infrastructural facilities, including agricultural storage, transportation, marketing, and processing facilities, so as to reduce post-harvest losses and enhance productivity. This, the NSSP states should lead to an improvement in competitiveness and repayment capacity of agricultural enterprises, buttressing my point above for the diversity of opportunities that exist for employment and entrepreneurship. Thus, the grasp by the government on the issue must also be long term. Simply empowering the local actors (that is, farmers) is not enough but facilitating the linkage with other intermediate actors in the value chain such as producers down to the consumers is part of their responsibility, and this would have to work alongside intensive rural development efforts. This ensures that the private sector investors have to be able to access the financial incentives (for companies processing food), subsidies (for farming equipment and fertiliser), and research initiatives and be able to transform them into improved crop utilisation and other value added activities on the supply chain.
The initiatives outlined above are some ideas that may ensure that funds are used befittingly and that food insecurity becomes an issue of the past. Projects, which are clear in tackling the ignorance that exists about opportunities and initiatives available to revive and exploit the potential of agriculture without a detriment to the smallholder farmers, are crucial; otherwise productivity growth will be vitiated. Only then will growth in this latent, but potentially effective, industry be fully grasped.
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