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Agriculture: Why Nigeria should import for the next three years

Nigeria in 2016 Special Edition

Africanfarmer Afioluwa Mogaji, known as the ‘Champion for Change’ is the CEO of X-Ray Farms Consulting and AF Marketing; a new generation agriculture expert, coach and consultant, with experience spanning two decades both in livestock and crop production industry within and outside Nigeria. Mogaji bares his mind on the agriculture sector in 2015 and the prospects for the year 2016. He spoke with Boluwaji Apanisile.

 Overview

The main drive of the last administration was the agricultural transformation agenda, which was the body of all

Mogaji
Mogaji

other things they did. Under it was the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme, GESS, where they give seeds, processing and all.

However, it’s a good thing for the minister to go in the line of continuity as against starting new projects and program.

The minister, like he said, just need to reappraise what the previous administration has done. The previous administration was very good at initiating projects and programs, but not good at implementing, monitoring and evaluating. Take for instance the GESS, the first year was a success; giving seeds to farmers, giving them a bag of fertilizer and giving another bag of fertilizer at 50 percent of price. It was a very good place to start; but from year two, the seed business had now become a very good viable business. The seed companies were now selling grains. In agriculture sector, bthe eans you eat is grain but there is also seed, it’s the same thing  but how they take care of them is different. They were now selling grains as seeds, so you had more farmers losing money from year two of the GESS till the end of the administration because nobody was monitoring the implementation, nobody was evaluating and I mean real evaluation, not paper evaluation that people were doing in their offices as against real evaluation with a purpose of impact. More farmers lost money in the last three years of the last administration, more investors lost money in cassava in the last three years of the last administration and the major challenge was the implementation and evaluation of programs. So for the minister to follow up means they will only need to reappraise and repackage it, therefore the success to be recorded will be faster because it’s an existing system.

Youth participation and empowerment

For the youth, the truth is most of the initiatives for the youth didn’t work, they were selective. You have students from colleges of agriculture and universities of agriculture across the nation who are graduates, trained graduates of agriculture. But whenever the government wants to do empowerment programs, they don’t use the already trained graduates but people who have studied history, law and all that, do a three weeks training for them, then concluded that they are farmers; how can that be? What about the thousands who had been trained in the act of agriculture from the basics? The last administration had good intentions but focused more on shows. Let me say this, all the initiatives of the last administration were fantastic and commendable, just that the technical hand to see it through was not there. The minister by nature was a go-getter, he wanted to do so much and he had the energy but others following him didn’t have his passion, they all wanted to make money and they all made money. The administration made few people rich but bulk of the people poor.

Capability of the minister

I will put it mildly to say that Audu Ogbeh is likely to be the messiah in the agricultural sector. As an analyst, I have said it many times on my radio and television programs that we need someone who is experienced in the business of agriculture. The previous minister was an office person; his administration did policies, paper works, sitting down in the office to plan the lives of the farmers for the farmer. Through research without being on the field with the farmer, without living with the farmer; they don’t know what it is for a farmer to lose money, when there is no rain and the farmer loses his crops, they only understood the farmer from the theoretical point of view, they can only appraise the farmer. They are collecting salaries. The beautiful thing I have said is that after Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the new agriculture minister should be somebody who has put in money in the industry, who has lost money in the industry, and if you ask Audu Ogbeh am sure he must have lost more money than what he has made. All the other former ministers that invested in agriculture the industry from outside are different from the industry inside. Management, pilfering, staffing, climate change and many other factors; all these the new minister has experienced in. If he wants to expand maybe one policy or multiple taxing across the state, which may hinder the free flow of produce, etc, he has experienced it all. More than that he has travelled far and wide, there is nothing that is new to him on cassava, maize, rice, silos, name it, he has been behind the curtain for well over twelve years. Name any initiative on agriculture if you go to newspaper background, he’s there. The last thing for me is that it is not about money again because he’s old, at seventy years what else? So the drive will be how to become Awolowo, Azikiwe, and so on. The name is more important to him now than the money, so he will do a good job. He’s a critical player, an analyst and he knows the industry inside out.

Importation of food

We shouldn’t expect a miracle, what has been bad has been bad.

If you ask me, I will say we should still import for the next three years and use that time to focus on the development of our own local production. What the last administration did not do is allow the importation to still go on, while you develop the local production, you develop the silos and the warehouses, you encourage local production and government buys back from them to store. That should take place for three years, then as at end of the third year you can start selling Nigerian products which is 30% cheaper than imported products, then you will begin to realize local patronage.

We have to develop a system to store enough food; there is something we call food security and food safety. Most of the food we import is helping our food security, which means having the food available. However, on our food safety, most of the food imported are not good for our health, so it’s helping our food security but not helping our food safety. On the basis of that, if he pays close attention on production and processing locally, and he says we are going to produce, we are going to store, we are going to start processing and by mid-year three, we are going to start selling Nigeria rice 30% cheaper than imported rice, and put a campaign around it, that will make people to be looking at our local product. But when you say you want to ban importation and we are not producing so what are we going to eat? Are we producing anything? It will affect our food security, our silos are empty, and climate change is affecting all the production across the world. Some of the other countries have stored food that will sustain them for the next ten years. I was in America in 2014 on foreign policy and food security. America have maize and rice they can eat for another ten years, so if they don’t produce for another four to five years, they have silos. But in Nigeria, we don’t have food of any product stored to sustain us for a month, so if we stop importation, what are we going to eat? Who will supply the food to eat in the country?, so over the years, we have gotten it wrong.  For instance, we can pick four items we can run with, allow importation for the next three years while developing our local production. We may not focus more on rice, Nigeria can produce rice but we don’t have a comparative advantage in rice. Do you want to beat China or Philippine? People who have done thirty years research on rice? Moreover, we got the equipment to produce rice from them. It is more stressful to produce rice compared to producing maize; when it is time for frothing, you will chase birds from 6.00am to 6.00pm. It’s a very rigorous work, unlike maize which doesn’t require such stress. So we don’t have equipment to compete. USA is the largest producer of tomatoes in the world; however, they are one of the biggest importers of tomatoes. What they do is, they are importing fresh tomatoes from Mexico. Mexico has a more conducive climate for Tomatoes, Mexico does a lot of green houses to produce fresh tomatoes. US doesn’t have the kind of green houses that Mexico has invested money in as a country. US is the largest producer of corn and soya, they produce corn and soya; selling to Mexico and bringing in fresh tomatoes, so why can’t we do that? Why can’t we look at trading instead of banning the products? Mexico has a comparative advantage in producing fresh tomatoes, so America imports the fresh tomatoes for consumption and process their own tomatoes.  Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava, but we are not processing. Why can’t we encourage processing and sell to the Asian countries in exchange for rice while we develop our own rice production?  So the myopic approach of the previous administrations over the years is affecting agriculture as a trade. We need to be liberal about this things, gone are the days you can ban anything. Let me ask a question, is president Buhari or the minister for agriculture currently eating local rice? The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN governor that said they will not give money for imported rice, is he eating local rice? They are all eating imported rice, so let us stop deceiving ourselves; if you are making policy then you should be the first to follow it. Imagine if the government makes a policy that our official wears for Thursdays and Fridays is now local fabrics? That everyone including the president wears locally made fabrics, you can image the number of investors that will rush into that sector. We are still importing beans, yet all the northern states have the capacity to grow beans but they need to be supported. The farm lands are there. The groundnut pyramid that disappeared was not because the lands they were using were no longer there; it’s the support that was no longer there.

Agricultural challenges in 2015

The greatest challenge in the sector in 2015 was climate change. Unfortunately, Nigeria is still not planning for climate change. Talk about unstable rainfall; you find rain seized two weeks in the middle of production. 2015 was very devastating for many Nigerian farmers. Earlier in the year the rain started and not long it stopped. It started again and stopped for a very long time. With all these starts and stops, it damaged many crops; many farmers in 2015 could only plant maize once instead of twice. So in 2016, maize is going to be very expensive. For yam, a tuber was N1, 000 in 2015 almost until September in Lagos. I went round Oyo state market, the home of yam in the south-west, Bodija market did not have a single yam in a particular day. I went to Shaki, the yam hub, 100 percent of the shops were closed because it didn’t rain. So in 2016 yam flour will be very expensive and scarce. If you understand the effect of climate change in 2015, you will know how to plan for 2016. Ideally by July new yam should be out but new yam didn’t come out this year until late. It affected almost every of our food products, even the neighboring countries where we imported our foods from also had the same problem. All food items were already on the high side as at late 2015, so imagine what 2016 will be. Another threat to 2015 was substandard products; most of our chemicals are adulterated. For fertilizers, nothing has changed. Let not the former minister deceive us, the fertilizers they are still bringing in are of low quality, when you are supposed to use five bags for two and half acres normally; you will end up using ten bags because the content of the bag is half, that means the cost of production is increasing. So government need to regulate to ensure that we have quality fertilizers and quality chemicals, which is also affecting the poultry farmers. The poultry farmers are lamenting of adulterated vaccines, so if government can regulate to ensure that if a bag of fertilizer is 15, it should be 15 and not 7. We need quarantine; we need all government agencies to really do their jobs. It doesn’t cost government additional money, they just need to regulate the industry and monitor the agencies. Dora Akunyili was there, she only made sure that what needed to be done was done and that’s it.

Prospects in 2016 in the agricultural sector

I need to say this, despite all the challenges mentioned, there is no year like 2016. It will make more millionaires in the Nigeria agricultural sector than all other years because when you have challenges like these, the few people who take a step will make so much money. 2016 is a year I will advise many to invest in agriculture, only that they need to get more informed. Tomatoes will be very expensive in 2016, so those who can get involve in irrigation farming will make so much money. Yam will be very expensive, so those who can buy yam and store will also make serious money. 2016 will be very prosperous for those that can take advantage. More foreigners are buying into agricultural sector in Nigeria now, many countries are funding any organization that want to come to Nigeria and invest in agriculture presently. With or without government getting it right, 2016 will be very profitable for the farmers who are well informed.

Synergy between agriculture and transport sector

I always say this; every oversight of the government is a business opportunity for the private sector. More people will make more money in transport than going into agriculture this year. Some of my friends will be going into transport business in 2016, transporting agriculture produce, why? Before the produce is sold, the transporter has to be paid. Take for instance, if bringing watermelon from Iseyin to Lagos costs you about N20, 000, as you are getting to any of the market in Lagos, the transporter has to be paid first, how much fuel will they buy from Iseyin down here, and most times they move three times a week. So transportation is going to be a huge business in 2016, more money will be made in transportation than in production. Take for instance when I was producing 80 acres of watermelon, five buses move every day for like ten days. Government cannot fix that synergy between agriculture and transportation, it’s a private sector business. Government can’t do it because the more government put their hands in that the more challenges it will create. So I will be mad at private sector if they fail to look at that direction. As long as the car doesn’t have accident, you get paid, if you have two drivers, and they are servicing the wear and tears of the car, it’s profitable. That’s why you see that farmers don’t apply for loans to build house but they have money. Unfortunately, most of them are illiterates.

Published in the Business Eye’s print version, Jan 2016 edition.

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