The Nigerian farmer versus American farmer
Kosiso Ugwuede compares agricultural practises in the United States and Nigeria and argues that more has to be done to make Nigerian agriculture competitive.
While America’s over 300 million citizens are fed by less than 1% of its population who are farmers, the 45.7% of Nigerians engaged in agriculture is yet to solve the food deficit the country grapples with today.
According to the 2014 National Agricultural Statistics Service census, less than 1% of the America’s population are farmers. Not only do they carry out enough food production to cater for the population, about 23% of raw farm products are exported annually. This is asides the number of processed and finished products exported to various countries of which Nigeria is a major recipient.
While Nigeria’s farmers are still making ridges with hoes and cutlasses, relying on water from hoses and small rivers to irrigate large acres of farmlands, modern technology and machinery is employed by their American counterparts. Tractors, harvesters and various machinery including very efficient irrigation systems are employed in farmlands across America to ensure optimal yields during every planting season. Hence large hectares of land can be prepared for planting or harvested within a short period of time and with little exertion.
Studies show that majority of Nigeria’s farming population are small scale farmers; planting shrubs, fruits and vegetables to feed their families primarily and for economic purposes secondarily.
Sadly, most of these small scale farmers (about 95% of them) are not knowledgeable about commercial agricultural procedures such as crop rotation, irrigation, mechanisation etc. This affects hugely, how and to what extent a farm land can yield good produce.
Without the right knowledge about what crops are to be planted on what kinds of soil, how much water is enough for proper irrigation, what plants not to cultivate in quick succession, how to immunize livestock against microbial diseases or how to spot when there’s an infection amongst your livestock, proper documentation and data on what goes on daily in the farm, yields can neither be measured nor optimised.
In the US, practices like cross breeding, and hybrid livestock are advancements in technology that put the yield of their farms on a high pedestal. New variety of crops and hybrid animals, having selective advantageous traits are usually the result. For example, a mildew-resistant pea may be crossed with a high-yielding but susceptible pea, the goal of the cross being to introduce mildew resistance without losing the high-yield characteristics. Offspring from the cross would then be crossed with the high-yielding parent to ensure that the progeny were most like the high-yielding parent, (back-crossing). The offspring from that cross would then be tested for yield and mildew resistance and high-yielding resistant plants would be further developed. So, in the end, a high yielding, mildew-resistant pea has been created such that preservation is more effective and yield is guaranteed.
With constant power supply and planned preservation, farmers abroad can also store and export farm produce without having to incur lots of losses due to food spoilage. That is not the case with many Nigerian farmers.
In July, 2016, the minister of agriculture and rural development, Audu Ogbeh, reported that about 700,000 tonnes of tomatoes is lost annually due to post-harvest bottlenecks with lack of proper storage methods contributing majorly to these losses. The ministry puts the figure at 60% of all perishable farm produce being lost annually due to storage deficiencies. This is not a peril the American farmer faces, in the scale the Nigerian farmer faces it.
There have been various efforts at dimensioning the problems of agriculture in Nigeria. Much of the work has identified five core areas of concern. They bother on such aspects as inputs, access to finance, property right, the burden of poor infrastructure leading to farms and the burden of inconsistency in off-farm income.
Various government programmes have been implemented over the years to boost agricultural production. In July 2016, the government launched a Green Initiative Programme with a four year time frame. The goal of the initiative is to scale-up agriculture in such a manner that it replaces crude oil as the primary revenue channel for the country.
The Commercial Agric Credit Scheme introduced in April 2010, also implemented by the Federal Government currently offers credit facilities to commercial farmers at a single digit interest rate of 9%. Nevertheless, there has been more in the past that failed to achieve what was intended for them. And there is no guarantee that the vast majority of farmers get these grants or inputs.
One major example is the fertilizer distribution programme. Majority of farmers lamented the poor handling of the scheme even as former minister of agric and rural development disclosed that the country had lost over N776 billion due to corruption and racketeering during the fertilizer subsidy period.
We are in a recession courtesy of falling oil prices of a country that has been largely dependent on the crude oil for its revenue. There are cries here and there for the diversification of the economy. It is important to note that agriculture contributed 32% to Nigeria’s GDP in 2001 and as at 2016, it contributed 25% of GDP.
It is not enough to increase farm yields. It is imperative that the government begins to seek ways to optimize production and processing farm produce to ensure there is an overflow that can be exported to other countries for revenue. For the agriculture sector, the answer not only lies with increased yields and output.
Until they match international standards, exports of farm produce for revenue may continue to be hampered. Early this year, cocoa from Nigeria was in danger of being banned by the EU due to unacceptable residues of substandard pesticides.
In the nation’s dire need to veer off reliance on the oil sector, private sector participants and the Federal Government must put in place firm structures and policies to maximise current production, processing and export in the agriculture sector. It is now a matter of national food security not just a bid to keep old people in villages employed.
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