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Nigeria faces rising pains in agriculture

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When Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, then a 24-year-old civil servant, determined to enter a contest to design a nationwide flag within the run-up to Nigeria’s independence in 1960, he had little question about which color to emphasize. Inexperienced ought to dominate this image of the nation, he believed, to replicate the significance of agriculture to the nation.

Agriculture stays on the centre of Nigeria’s nationwide id – however the nation can hardly be mentioned to have made farming a precedence within the years after independence. As a substitute, it was oil that got here to dominate the financial system on the expense of all different sectors. Successive governments have paid little greater than lip service to creating agriculture over the previous six many years.

This has led to a state of affairs by which Nigeria, which boasts weather conditions which can be well-suited to rising all kinds of crops, relies on meals imports. The entire worth of agricultural imports was greater than thrice increased than exports between 2018 and 2022, based on official commerce information. Some staples, notably wheat, are virtually totally imported; even crops that may simply be grown in Nigeria, together with rice, are sometimes purchased from abroad.

However, some inexperienced shoots seem like rising, with attitudes in direction of agriculture slowly altering and know-how poised to play a higher function within the sector. The brand new authorities of President Bola Tinubu has promised to make agriculture a precedence; if it might achieve elevating manufacturing, Nigeria’s financial system will take an enormous leap in direction of restoration.

A variety of work to do

Reuven Cohen, initially from Israel, arrived in Nigeria within the early Eighties after being provided a job as a farm supervisor. “Nigeria is a really, very blessed nation,” he says, noting that various weather conditions throughout completely different elements of the nation permit for an enormous vary of meals sorts to be produced.

Cohen, who now owns an agricultural companies firm referred to as Afri Fruits, tells African Enterprise that he was the primary to introduce numerous improvements to Nigerian agriculture, together with drip irrigation, greenhouses and hydroponic programs for producing lettuce. However his 4 many years within the farming sector have been removed from straightforward.

“You must be by yourself,” he says. “You don’t have any assist from authorities.” Whereas meals manufacturing is closely subsidised by governments in lots of elements of the world, Cohen says that farmers can count on little monetary assist from the federal government in Nigeria. Worse nonetheless, the federal government has uncared for to place an enabling setting in place. Important infrastructure for meals processing and chilly storage is basically absent.

On prime of this, Cohen complains that agriculture is usually not taken severely as a enterprise enterprise in Nigeria, noting that banks are usually reluctant to supply credit score to farmers that need to broaden their operations.

A brand new authorities taking workplace does increase hope that the nation can lastly get nearer to fulfilling its potential in agriculture – however few would disagree with agricultural knowledgeable Chijioke Ndem, who cautions that the federal government has “a variety of work to do”. He echoes Cohen in stressing that poor logistics infrastructure is a “massive obstacle” for farmers, whereas agreeing that discovering methods to enhance mechanisation should be a key precedence.

Ndem notes that incoming administrations usually produce “lovely insurance policies” that usually show difficult to implement. However an “encouraging” signal is that Tinubu instantly added ‘meals safety’ to the title of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Meals Safety. The title change, says Ndem, is an acknowledgement of how the sector is crucial to the nation’s wellbeing.

Meals insecurity

The renamed ministry has its work lower out to mitigate main meals shortages within the coming months. USAID’s Famine Early Warning Methods Community warns that giant elements of Northern Nigeria face ‘disaster’ ranges of meals insecurity. Pockets of the north-east are going through an ‘emergency’ state of affairs.

This displays how meals costs shot up within the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which disrupted Nigeria’s entry to grain imports. This surge in costs has been additional worsened by the depreciation of the naira since mid-2023, which has led to all imported items turning into dearer.

The grave state of affairs underlines the significance of Nigeria ramping up its home meals manufacturing. In tackling this problem, says Umar Mohammed from the non-profit Africa Enterprise Problem Fund (AECF), joined-up pondering is required. “There hasn’t been a dearth of initiatives,” he says, referring to varied schemes to spice up mechanisation and enhance entry to inputs, “but it surely must have a holistic strategy to ensure that it to truly work higher.”

A key concern, he provides, is to reinforce the contribution of women-owned agricultural companies. Mohammed is the programme supervisor of AECF’s Investing in Girls in Nigeria scheme, by way of which feminine farmers can apply for matching fund grants in the event that they meet sure standards. Empowering ladies in agriculture, he says, has a number of advantages all through society. “When ladies expend their earnings, it’s often in direction of supporting household actions,” he says.

The rise of tech

Whereas the challenges going through the sector could seem virtually overwhelming, Ndem does see constructive indicators by way of the rising use of know-how. “The ICT growth can be factor for the agriculture house in Nigeria,” he says, noting that the improved capacity to speak with farmers on the “final mile” can permit for information and information to be transferred way more simply – with important advantages for productiveness.

One firm searching for to speed up using know-how is agtech agency Thrive Agric. “We’re ranging from the smallholder farmers,” says Oshone Anavhe, the agency’s vp of operations. “We need to basically empower them with economies of scale,” he explains, noting this may cowl enter financing, extension companies, entry to markets and even monetary literacy.

Anavhe says that Thrive Agric works with round 600,000 farmers in complete. One of many methods it’s utilizing know-how is in “information pushed selections”. Farmers use the corporate’s app, which works in offline mode, to enter information. They then obtain recommendation, for instance on the optimum time to plant crops based mostly on the circumstances they report of their fields.

Thrive Agric’s use of know-how goes far past offering recommendation. The corporate’s ambitions contain reshaping whole agriculture worth chains. It supplies ‘financing in variety’, by supplying farmers with inputs resembling seeds and fertilisers and delivers steering to assist farmers optimise manufacturing. At harvest season, the farmers repay Thrive Agric in variety by promoting their crops to the corporate, which then delivers the produce to meals processors or different bulk patrons.

In different phrases, Thrive Agric operates at a scale that sees farmers bypassing the middlemen to whom they might historically promote.

Whether or not this sort of enterprise mannequin in the end proves profitable stays to be seen. What is evident is that know-how will play an ever-greater function in agriculture. Dashing-up the deployment of applied sciences that assist to farmers to extend manufacturing and make higher use of their sources shall be very important if Nigeria’s agricultural sector is to lastly fulfil its potential and feed the nation’s greater than 200 million individuals.


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