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By Tukeni Obasi
Since the news of the mobile phone policy broke, I have had very interesting conversations with Nigerians about the what, why, and how of technology in agriculture. Earlier articles on this column such as Nigeria’s Inroads into Space Technology for Agriculture, Mobile Phones for Upward Mobility in Agriculture, and Big Brother Agriculture have focused on the importance of technology and the urgency of a technology transfer in the field. However, save one article on the merits of the policy and the importance of focusing on infrastructural development, I have spoken less to the mode and process of a technology transfer, the role of the government in this process, and how to maximize engagement and benefits for smallholder farmers and other agri-businessmen.
While many of my colleagues have conceded the benefits of technology in agriculture, they have been more vehement, and for good reason, in their opposition to the government’s plan to supply/provide mobile phones. The general gist of the dissent is that the government should not be in the business of supplying or soliciting suppliers in the name of enabling farmers and other agri-businessmen to have information at their fingertips when there are infrastructural challenges to be addressed. At the heart of the present debate is, I believe, the contention between technology transfer and technology incubation. Is the mass provision of technological inputs (machinery, phones, software, etc) the only or most efficient way to spur growth? Is there a more bottom-up approach that can be owned and appropriated by farmers, farming communities, and other stakeholders in the value chain? Where do small-scale farmers, young entrepreneurs in the service sector, and unemployed youths come in? Where does the government come in?
I found some answers to these questions in a policy brief which was presented by Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) at the Future Agricultures Consortium last year. In this brief, a very interesting concept known as the Agricultural Innovation System (AIS) was proposed. A hybrid between science and research on the one hand and business and industry on the other, the Agricultural Innovation Systems are purported to “represent a shift from technology delivery mode to capacity-strengthening – specifically the capacity to innovate”. Essentially, instead of importing phones and transplanting systems/techniques, the idea is that Nigeria/Nigerians should be looking towards creating a Silicon-Valley-type environment, an advanced Computer Village, if you will, for agriculture. This kind of environment will encourage home-grown competition, brainstorming and innovation in agricultural technology amongst Nigerians themselves. This not only creates jobs and a local market for many – especially those who are good with computers and gadgets – but also enables ensures that technology is better suited to the local conditions. I find this idea very interesting especially because of the implications for the value chain. Just like the little MTN, Glo, EcoNet call centres/kiosks that proliferated across the country at the turn of the 21st century, small-scale street-corner mobile testing systems, soil diagnostic outlets, machinery rentals, storage units, meteorological information service providers, market-based information systems and resource centres can spring up around farming communities, entrepôt cities and food markets. In my musings, I have also considered a situation whereby higher institutions work together and agricultural science and agricultural economics students team up with engineering and IT students to develop technology systems for farmers which can be subsidized by the government and sold to the farmers or higher value-chain entrepreneurs at a moderate rate. Perhaps, this can be presented as business and innovation competition between schools and faculties or perhaps one particular institution can take up the challenge to introduce this program in their school (like the annual MIT $100k competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States).
An interesting point raised against technology transfer as opposed to incubation is the exclusion of smallholder farmers — the very people the project actively seeks to reach – simply because it is impossible to reach everyone with a supply of input or handouts. The argument is that by transferring ready-made technology (such as mobile phones) to individual farmers, certain people (prominent/less remote farmers and farmer groups, the relatives of the local government chairman, more upwardly-mobile entrepreneurs) are more likely to benefit from this whereas more modest and less-connected farmer cooperatives or learning cells, forgotten womens’ groups or credit unions, people living with disabilities, farmers still struggling to rebuild their lives after last year’s floods, young unemployed graduates with no capital and no connections are more likely to miss out on this entirely.
The idea of meeting potentially marginalized smallholder farmers and groups in their local niches is one that deeply resonates with me because I have seen remote extension work in practice. Last year, I taught marketing, business management and bookkeeping to several women vocational groups at the UNHCR Liberian refugee camp in Buduburam, Ghana. Most of these Liberian women at the camp were just about to graduate with diplomas in hairdressing, cooking, or sewing and needed to take their knowledge and expertise to the next level by getting a proper but customized education in market economics. Others had already set up their own businesses — with varying degrees of success — and had a growing wealth of experience to draw from. In administering this crash course, I employed a participatory approach wherein the questions to be addressed were first posed to the women to discuss and their answers were affirmed and incorporated into my own discussion. My team also used surveys/personal assessment questionnaires, success stories of entrepreneurs across the continent, and skits to complement our instruction. The language was simple and clear and the message was realistic in that we were trying to enable these women work with the resources they had, start small, work in groups and pool resources together if possible, and then gradually scale up after years of successful management.
Perhaps, the biggest selling point of the AIS approach is the marketing angle it takes. Rather than continue the conventional path to marketing and adding value to farmers produce, it proposes farmer innovation by adapting farming behaviour to the market in order to “create an entrepreneurial culture where farmers produce what they can market, rather than trying to market what they produce”. This approach which is the known as the ERI – Enabling Rural Innovation was developed in partnership with agricultural stakeholders in Congo DRC, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and has been implemented in these countries. It is in these local innovation environments – farmers’ field classrooms, workshops, local group enterprises – that information is disseminated and new technologies are provided to the farmers for use or hire. But one weakness in this approach is that the dissonance between what farmers can produce and what farmers can market undermines the farmer’s comparative advantage in production in favour of what might be a more superficial advantage in marketing. This is something that can be worked around. A combination of improved production techniques and marketing services or education might serve farmers better. At the end of the day, all farmers do not have to be marketers and this is why the agricultural value chain is important.
So where does the government come in? The brief proposes that the government take up the task of overseer by balancing development priorities (food security, poverty reduction, improved productivity, etc), facilitating supply chains and supporting innovation pathways. I would add to that: strengthening the value chain through measures that encourage home-grown technological innovation and practice, developing more organized extension and capacity-building projects in coalition with grassroots farming, processing, marketing and financing groups, and working with agricultural institutions to translate knowledge into technological and business incubation and growth.
The discussion is far from over but by exploring ideas from different corners (as will be done in this column), putting them to work in the field, unearthing new avenues for growth and making inclusion the main priority, some strides will definitely be made in the right direction.
By Tukeni Obasi
It is the first week of the fourth month of the transformation year. As with all new years, while certain events and pursuits will be truly transformational in their ramifications, many things this year will be just as they were in years past. This is succinctly captured by the French saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same. In this country, this year finds many Nigerians from the past still working consistently to transform the agricultural landscape.
This week, I have the privilege of celebrating one of Nigeria’s most enterprising young entrepreneurs – Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu. In January 2003, at the age of 21, Ikegwuonu founded the Smallholders Foundation with the aim of complementing the government’s efforts in agricultural development and eradicating poverty among smallholder farmers. Between then and now, Smallholders has reached over 250,000 farmers in Imo State through its radio station on climate change and best practices in agriculture – Farm 98.0 FM. It also has set up several secondary school farms through the Future Farmers Programme across the Southeast and even as far as Oyo State. Through this programme, hundreds of secondary school students have also received career counselling and mentorship to pursue their dreams towards self-employment. Furthermore, through its Seeds Programme, the foundation improves farmers with improved seed varieties in order to enable them improve their productivity and increase their profits.
At this point, one might be wondering: how was Ikegwuonu able to achieve all these? The answer is passion and determination. When Ikegwuonu realised he was unabashedly passionate about agriculture, he quit his job in HIV/AIDS advocacy and began to explore the agricultural terrain full-time. He built the foundation by building relationships with scores of farmers, learning from them and working with them. He then set out planning for his radio show. As support for the radio show grew, Ikegwuonu continued to expand the frontiers of his work, moving it to the next level. He was not afraid to take risks along the way.
As a young graduate, he put his education to good use. He searched for opportunities for young entrepreneurs like himself who were passionate about change and had great ideas but not enough funds or expertise to see them fly. He applied for many opportunities across the globe – fellowships to build his skills and grants to invest in his project. Because he was passionate and determined, he kept seeking out new opportunities and making sure his propositions were in line with his vision and the needs of his target communities. And he allowed the setbacks to serve as a challenge to keep working hard until his dreams were realised.
Last week, I talked about the importance of meeting farmers/small-scale entrepreneurs in their niches. This is something that stands out in Ikegwuonu’s work and is the product of years of working at the grassroots and realising the importance of group and intensive capacity-building to enable farmers improve their productivity through new and existing farmers’ associations. This is why the foundation does not provide long-term loans to farmers’ cooperatives until the completion of a training workshop on farming practice, marketing, banking and bookkeeping. Through these processes, the Smallholders Foundation essentially enables “smallholder [farmers] living in rural communities to choose what commodities to produce, what technologies to utilise for such production, for whom to produce, when to produce and at what price to sell such products”. As a farmer himself, Ikegwuonu understands the terrain. He works hard to make his animal farms successful and manage his enterprises wisely. In doing so, he is able to serve as a legitimate model to other farmers and businessmen looking to expand their practice and when he talks about the media or the field or the market, one can rest assured that he knows what he’s talking about.
I had the privilege of meeting this young man last year at the Youth Employment in Agriculture workshop organised by the Ministry of Agriculture. What struck me the most about him was his simplicity – the way he just quietly goes in pursuit of what he loves without seeking recognition or respect, the way he treats those around him, and his deep passion to improve the lives of everyone with whom he comes in contact. It was then that I understood why someone once called his work a silent revolution. He shared some interesting stories with me about presenting his ideas before international panels and not knowing how they would be received. The big takeaways for me were courage, perseverance and the importance of believing deeply in one’s dream and going to any length to live that dream even in the face of scepticism and blatant opposition. Over the years, more people have come to see firsthand how hardworking, innovative, devoted, and genuine he is, and many with the means have been inspired to supply equipment or other inputs necessary to keep his life-changing goals alive. The impact of this has been tremendous – in the past ten years, hundreds of thousands have benefitted from one man’s dream. And this man was not a public official or some big businessman with a fat bank account; he was a simple 21-year-old with a heart for rural agriculture.
Today, Ikegwuonu is the winner of Youth Action Net/Starbucks Shared Planet Youth Award (2009), the Rolex Award for Enterprise-Young Laureates Programme (2010), the Young Person of the Year Future Awards (2011), and the 21st Century Hope Prize of the Niigata International Food Award (2012). But there is no stopping this ambitious entrepreneur now. This year, the Smallholder Foundation has already begun accepting applications to provide mini-grants for young farmer clubs in secondary schools to expand existing school gardens or set up new ones.
As the novelty of 2013 wears off and many of us sink into our old habits and lifestyles, Ikegwuonu’s story is that silent revolutionary voice tugging at our consciences, reminding us of those dreams that belong deeply to us, inviting us to ask ourselves, “what would it take to see this come to pass?” and challenging us to continue our journey – on sunny days, in the dark, and even in the rain – until we reach the point we can truly call home.
By Tukeni Obasi
In July 2012 when Ireti Farms in Kwara State sent off its first shipment of 6,000 tonnes of cassava chips to China, the understanding was that “cassava [would] surely become the foundation for the economic development of [the] state” and that “with this initiative, Kwara [was] poised to take over from Thailand as the major exporter of cassava”.
The rhetoric of agricultural transformation through value-added cassava has been around for a while. For many years, many academics, analysts and consultants wrote about the enormous potential the cassava value chain possesses for growth. And then in 2011, the government launched the cassava bread scheme. Months later, the talks about exporting cassava chips to China began.
But what is it about cassava chips that makes manufacturing them worthwhile? For one, cassava chips are a delicious local snack. In a market that has begun to embrace cassava in diverse forms through cassava bread, cassava chips are another way we can have our cake (enjoy good nutrition) and eat it too (support local farmers/industry). And with a profit margin of N20,000 per metric tonne, this is not just nationalistic support but economic advancement through business. Secondly, cassava chips are an important energy source for animal nutrition, with research showing that they can comprise up to 15 percent of animal feed. By replacing maize or other high-energy but high-cost foods in livestock feed, farmers will be able to decrease their production cost while still meeting the nutritional demands of their livestock. And well-fed livestock translates into better prices for sellers and higher quality nutrients (especially protein) for livestock consumers. Lastly, by further expanding the cassava value chain, storage losses can be minimised through the processing of farm produce, and more jobs can be created for people who choose to specialise in the production and sale of cassava chips.
It is no wonder then that in addition to a local need for cassava and cassava chips, there also exists an international demand for it from countries like China. In fact, China reportedly placed orders for 3 million tonnes of cassava chips. This export transaction is projected to fetch Nigeria $272 million. But as it stands, this demand is reported to be much higher than the current national supply. For this reason, the Nigerian Cassava Growers’ Association (NCGA) received a N4.1 billion credit facility from the Bank of Agriculture in order to enable 20,000 farmers to cultivate 60,000 hectares of land. In addition, the Nigerian government is soliciting the Egypt-based African Export and Import Bank for a $40 million loan facility for cassava production. Furthermore, plans are underway to procure 18 cassava milling machines and set up cassava chip processing centres in all six geopolitical zones, including states and cities such as Enugu, Nasarawa, Taraba, and Ibadan.
In the last month, a key debate question has been: where exactly should young people – aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs – come in along the value chain? Should they try to secure plots of land and begin to till the soil or should they look into processing, storage, distribution and marketing? Two weeks ago, a young Nigerian expressed to me his desire to go into agricultural marketing after picking up important marketing skills during a training programme. And of concern to one cassava farmer was how exactly his cassava chips would get to the much-touted Chinese market. With all the developments here and there, who wouldn’t want to be in on the action?
To those looking to take the plunge, there is no straightforward one-size-fits-all answer. Assess your strengths and try to leverage them. Also forge partnerships where necessary to enable you meet your pressing needs. Determine if cooperatives will help you go the whole nine yards of the value chain – or however far you want to go – and network with likeminded or more experienced people in your area of interest. Do not forget to seek out relevant information from your local boards, information platforms and private sector experts.
The other day I came across a video on one of the online Nigerian discussion forums about an agricultural export firm in Southwest Nigeria. Some days later, I found the same service (connecting cassava and other crop farmers to international buyers) being advertised on another website. Although there was no way to verify the claims or service quality of the firm at the time, I was happy to see people already stepping in and exploiting all available avenues for cassava and cassava chips sales. With more people advertising online (through blogs and forums) and offline (through social groups in the community), and old clients submitting reviews, cassava farmers and cassava chip suppliers will be able to compare services and seek out the most reliable and efficient channels of reaching their targeted market and maximising their profits.
At this point, the importance of the debates in January about our agricultural priorities becomes apparent. While infrastructure and financing remain a big challenge to full-scale development, this year, agriculture must be inclusive enough to reach farmers in the remotest areas, enabling them to enjoy as much access to credit, input and information as other farmers. Irrespective of what side one is on with regard to the controversial mobile phone policy, one cannot miss the importance of information to entrepreneurs in a market that is fast changing.
To maximise the potential for this transformation, adequate and effective extension is needed. As the government continues to develop the national farmers’ database through the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) and other schemes, the ministry and practice sector information/SMS platforms must continue to furnish farmers and buyers with information and help entrepreneurs to reach local and international markets. The proposed development of the marketing and trade corporations is a welcome initiative and the immediate establishment of these corporations and nexus-building between this and the youth employment projects is certainly the way forward.
Aluta continua. With 10 months remaining in the transformation year, the journey ahead of us remains long but laden with infinite possibilities.
by Tola Sunmonu
While perusing the World Wide Web to uncover the latest news in the Nigerian agricultural space, I came across a BBC interview with Jite Okoloko, MD of Notore. He discussed his reasons for moving back to Nigeria in the 90’s and his belief in the agricultural sector as a beacon of hope for the Nigerian nation. As expected, he made a call for young people to get involved in the agricultural sector. What caught my attention in particular was his claim that a young graduate with 5 hectares of land would make more than they would at an entry level position at a bank. Depending on the crop and the bank, this might be true but I am not going to go through the math to prove it; perhaps another time. What I am more concerned with is the impact that these types of messages have on youth.
It probably comes as no surprise that I am an advocate for young people getting involved in the agricultural sector, after all I practice what I preach. However, I am tired of constantly seeing the message that every young person should pick up a hoe and cutlass, a tractor if you are lucky, and become a farmer. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being a farmer, I know very successful young farmers. However, I do have a problem with the branding that implies that it is easy to be farmer. I once went to a conference where an energetic, well-established farmer emphatically told a group of young earnest individuals to throw some seeds in their backyard and see what happens. Last time I checked, Jack and the Beanstalk was fantasy.
So, let me share some reality with you. The first reality is farming can be rewarding and very lucrative if done right but it is hard work. Especially in Nigeria where most farmers have to make due without machinery and are forced to endure back breaking work. Some of the strongest people I know are farmers, I have seen 60 year old farmers perform feats that I could never imagine doing in my youth. In addition, it can be very expensive, especially if you choose to mechanize and follow best practices. This is not to discourage the potential farmers out there but only to give you a glimpse of reality so that you are best prepared for your endeavors. Sometime, in the future I will write a piece on how to run a successful farming enterprise, but not today. Today is about discussing the realities on ground.
The second reality is that there is more to the agricultural sector that farming, a whole lot more. If today, every young person decides to heed to the calls of the government and become a farmer, that still would not solve Nigeria’s agricultural woes. Why? Because in addition to hardworking individuals at the production level, we need bright minds further up the value chain and in the agricultural services. We need processors, I challenge a young person out here to start the Nigerian Cargill. We need researchers, I challenge a young person to spend months if not years obsessed with their research on pest resistant high yielding seeds that rival those being churned out of labs in America. We need retailers, I need a young person to establish a chain of Nigerian supermarkets that stock nothing but domestically grown produce. We need agricultural finance gurus, I challenge a young person to lead the way in reshaping how we structure agricultural finance in this country.
The time is ripe for creativity! Expecting hoards of young people to flock to the farm is nothing different from what Chief Obafemi Awolowo did in his day when he established farm settlements. Note that decades later, our agricultural challenges remain the same, if not worse. What we need today is for young people to start thinking out of the box. Nigeria’s agricultural sector is akin to the millions of unused arable land that decorate our landscape, untouched and ready for the taking. If you are like me and enjoy a challenge, the opportunity to effect creative solutions, challenge traditional paradigms and effect real tangible change and development literally makes you salivate. I for one am excited to see what happens the moment our generation catches onto the fact that the agricultural sector is about putting creative energetic minds to work, not committing to a life of drudgery or worse yet expecting beans to sprout into magical stalks.
Last week, I shared the story of a young entrepreneur and agribusiness strategist, Simileoluwa Lawson. He is one of the minds behind The Global Farmers Register (globalfarmersregister.com), an online agribusiness inventory of all stakeholders in the agriculture industry which provides content management, knowledge sharing, networking, information dissemination, and business matchmaking services for agricultural entrepreneurs.
In that article, Lawson, a graduate of Geography, revealed that years of research into business and economic development opportunities while at a trade firm led him to agriculture’s doorstep. Having spent several years in the trade field, he has been able to bring his business strategy expertise and research experience to bear in the field of agribusiness. Certain that knowledge, partnerships, and the skilful use of resources are everything, Lawson has created an agribusiness destination for all looking to navigate the world of agriculture.
One of the most prominent features on The Global Farmers Register platform is SMS forum – which will allow local farmers to set up their profiles automatically on the site and engage with the platform without having internet access. This SMS forum, which is nearing completion, will also include an SMS information centre that will help local farmers to access information on local and international best practices regarding their areas of expertise. In light of the ongoing discussion on what mobile phones have got to do with agricultural development, Lawson’s approach challenges the assumption that mobile technology is useless. “It has to be inclusive, or else it would not make sense,” he says, alluding to the sharing of information on his agricultural platform.
Speaking to the opportunities in the agricultural space for aspiring and upwardly-mobile young agropreneurs, Lawson says: “I have heard this question time and again – where do we find young people to engage in agriculture? The argument that follows subsequently is that young people don’t want to go to the farm. The question I ask is – why should they? I also find it interesting that most of the people who ask these questions are not farmers themselves. Fortunately or unfortunately, a third of all that is being produced globally goes to waste across the value chain.”
This statement is sure to get one puzzled. But Lawson immediately offers an explanation: “It is fortunate because it creates a huge opportunity and it is unfortunate because we are not exploiting it. I have often said that a viable entry point for youths into agriculture should be services. We can bolster and integrate two separate economies from this process – the urban and the rural. Under this arrangement, the rural sector will be the production force while the urban can be the marketing force that caters to everything from services and post-harvest activities – from storage and package to sales. Only then can any young person bring their expertise to bear in the agricultural space. I don’t have to be a farmer to make money from agriculture. We had this in mind when creating The Global Farmers Register because we realised that people would need a destination to go to where they can harness this information for commodity tracking. The opportunities are enormous – we need journalists, veterinary doctors, engineers, marketers; even transporters are needed. Who says we can’t have packaging as a profession?”
Shedding more light on his services’ answer to the youth agricultural entrepreneurship question, Lawson shared two personal anecdotes with me. One was about a conversation he once had with a member of staff of an international airline. In the course of that conversation, he discovered that all the poultry products used on the flight were imported. According to him, his station manager for Nigeria could not find one poultry farmer/supplier that had the medical reports of their chickens. Lawson’s immediate thought was: “That is an opportunity right there!”
To further drive home the point that challenge and opportunity are two sides of the same coin, he shared another about a Ghanaian friend’s complaint that every president that has come into power has promised – and failed – to irrigate the Accra plains where most of the grains come from. “I asked, ‘Do you need to wait for the government to do it? That, in itself, creates an opportunity for retailing infrastructure. Can someone invest in that and retail the use of that infrastructure per plot to the farmers who will pay monthly?’”
But is it really that simple to leap from challenge to opportunity and entrepreneurial bliss? Not really, Lawson confessed, as he shared the challenges he faced on the entrepreneurship path. “I was not spared the same challenges every entrepreneur faces when trying to take on the marketplace. In my case, I think it was even worse hit because I am a very big dreamer and I was ambitious enough to believe that I could take on the world. Working as a strategist really helped because a lot of things that we think we need money for as entrepreneurs can be sorted out by simple partnerships. There is always someone who needs something you are willing to offer; you just need to be patient and walk with God. In my case, I can confidently say I have enjoyed unprecedented favour with God. Most of the strategies we designed which blew the minds of many totally failed. God does not call the qualified; He qualifies those He calls. It was not until I totally handed it all to Him that He started to raise people from places I had no idea about.”
The biggest take-away from my time with Lawson can be summarised in the words of that Tuface song – “na community na im make us tall; secret society na im break us all”. And what better community to join than a community of committed men and women with ideas and expertise, experiences, and perhaps the very resources that need to be pooled to effectively elevate all stakeholders and ultimately transform the agricultural space.
First published in Business Day
Chief among complaints made by Nigerians in the agricultural sector is the abundance of information gaps, which makes coordination among stakeholders very difficult. This is because many stakeholders do not know where the opportunities are and, as such, cannot exploit them. Additionally, in a knowledge-based field like agriculture, the lack of knowledge on trends and techniques has very costly implications. Finally, symbiotic relationships, which are formed when like-minded individuals are able to connect, pool resources and maximise returns/outcomes, are often difficult to obtain.
In light of this, a group of individuals has taken the initiative to create an online community of knowledge for all stakeholders and key players in the agriculture industry. This serves to provide content management, knowledge sharing, networking and business matchmaking opportunities for existing and emerging agribusiness entrepreneurs looking to share business ideas and innovative technology or invest and/or buy products within and beyond borders. This online community of knowledge is called The Global Farmers Register (globalfarmersregister.com).
Leading the team is a young strategy and business development professional, Simileoluwa Lawson. Graduating from the University of Lagos with a B.Sc. in Geography, Lawson went on to work for Rimsom Associates – an international trade consulting firm with branches in Nigeria. At Rimson, he worked as a brand custodian and later on as a senior associate on economic planning. While at the firm, he worked on the annual trade-related conference – Partnership on Trade Industry and Commerce (POTICO) – which was a collaboration between the US ambassador to Nigeria 2007-2010, the Bank of Industry, and First Bank of Nigeria plc.
Notable among the successes recorded by POTICO is the landmark ACET meeting with the Oyo State Ministry of Commerce and the West Africa Trade Hub which formed a public-private partnership, integrated the ACET cashew processing plant with that of Oyo State, and ultimately created jobs for 2,500 people. Another is the launch of the US Bank of Industry/Agriculture Growth Opportunity Act (BOI AGOA) Resource Centre, which has helped Nigerian businesses better utilise the AGOA resources available to them and access the US market. Finally, with all the experience and expertise Lawson and his partners gained on their numerous projects, it is safe to say that The Global Farmers Register is an offshoot of the POTICO project.
With no previous background in agriculture, Lawson revealed how he became interested in agriculture. “It all started with POTICO,” he said. “We had to research extensively on areas of mutual interests for Nigeria and some developed economies. The focus was on developing the non-oil sector and the research was extensive. At the time, there was not a lot of noise about agriculture, but my team and I were able to determine that it was the largest sector that held the most promising opportunities. Trying to focus on those opportunities, however, became a challenge because people were more focused on discussing the challenges in the sector.
“What I was able to get out of those conferences and the research in particular was that we needed an organised body of knowledge that will cater to all concerned. As we all know, knowledge is dynamic. As such, the best way to get real-time knowledge was to create what I call an agric-business destination that is interactive and inclusive, where individuals can contribute experiences from their wealth of knowledge or share real-time experiences of challenges they just overcame. This was also intended to be an avenue for disseminating information on opportunities in the agricultural space irrespective of political boundary lines between countries. If we share knowledge about these challenges and their accompanying solutions, other people in different regions but perhaps with the same climatic, geographical, topographical and technological challenges can learn from our experiences and avert such problems before or when they surface.”
On how he founded The Global Farmers Register, Lawson said: “I have a constant yearning for cutting edge strategies and also a penchant for generating volumes in business. I strongly believe that we do not have to re-invent the wheel each time in order to create opportunities; if we tweak it well enough, we can cater to multiple needs. That was how The Global Farmers Register was conceived. We started first with a simple register or database as you may call it, but eventually it has evolved into a full community with a database covering over 50 countries, though we have little participation in some countries recorded. We only just recently launched the beta version which has come equipped with so many agric-business tools. We are currently getting ready to launch our inclusive agric financial tool called the timeline matrix, which allows agric businesses to set up virtual value chains and submit them to banks as an automated loan application. We are looking to partner with the African Rural and Agricultural Credit Association (AFRACA) to deploy this around Africa.”
In 2012, Lawson was invited to the UNDP/EMRC forum in Dakar where he passionately advocated for youth engagement in agriculture through integration, information and inspiration. Earlier in the year, he was at the 5th AFRACA Agri-banks Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, speaking on the need to unlock finance for the agricultural sector through innovative ICT systems. His presentation focused on strategies for rural outreach, market access, information dissemination and inclusive agricultural financing. As a business professional, he has seen the opportunities and prospects. Back at home, he manages the Frebay International Company Limited, providing strategy and logistics supports (including need-based assessments and opportunity charts) for businesses, advising them on how to best maximise economic returns with limited resources.
This is why The Global Farmers Register is important and the potential it promises for all stakeholders in the sector is enormous. More will be said about Lawson, agricultural opportunities and challenges for entrepreneurs in a sequel article . As a young Nigerian under 30, Lawson is a testament to the fact that there are passionate Nigerians who are working within and beyond agriculture to make a difference to society. They recognise prospects, create opportunities, advocate change, and put their money where their mouth is. And they continue to serve as role models to other young people who are still unsure of how they can engage with society, exploit their seemingly meagre resources and connect with external opportunities. They remind us that we might not see the big picture yet or believe in a national transformation agenda but in their own little niches and in big and small ways, some nagropreneurs are transforming Nigeria.
First Published in Business Day
As seen from the mobile phone saga of a few weeks ago, government policies are received differently by different Nigerians. While for the group of Nigerians in their twenties, the news of a policy which is purported to create 3 million jobs and really transform the agriculture sector represents something new and truly unprecedented, for some who have lived through the 60s and 70s, this is just another policy which is doomed to fail. But perhaps each side deserves some credit: the former group for the optimism and confidence that the nation needs to move forward, and the latter for the caution that effective policymaking requires.
At this juncture, a trip down policy memory lane to discover the mistakes of the past and build on important lessons and foundations is imperative. This trip will continue over a series of articles focusing on past agricultural policies in order to enable us steer a more informed course towards a true agricultural revolution.
Let’s start from the very beginning. The exit of the colonial administrators left the Nigerian nationalists with an independent nation and a viable agricultural economy. In the 60s, Nigeria prospered as a food- and raw material-producing and exporting nation. Indeed, between 1960 and 1975, there was a 27.7 percent rise in the production index of the major food crops with a 6.4 percent increase in the production rate of livestock.
In line with the thinking at the time – of creating a developmental state which will spearhead economic prosperity, alleviate poverty and promote self-sufficiency in food production – the government came up with a number of schemes. Under Yakubu Gowon’s government, the National Accelerated Food Production Programme was launched in 1972. The idea behind this project, as the name implies, was to vastly increase the productivity of farmers and by extension, their incomes and standards of living. This was to be achieved through an innovative combination of research and technological improvement, extension, and agro-service delivery.
This accelerated production was particularly geared towards certain food crops: cassava, maize, rice, sorghum, millet and wheat (compare this with 8 crops targeted for value chain expansion and transformation under the 2012 agenda: rice, cassava, sorghum, cocoa, cotton, maize, oil palm). As part of the 1972 programme package, farmers were to receive improved seed varieties and 24,000ha of land was supposed to be cultivated with the engagement of 324,000 farm families. Knowing that this project would need to be adequately financed to ensure a stable supply of inputs, the policy planners were also aware that farmers themselves needed better access to credit. For this reason, the Nigerian Agricultural and Cooperative Bank was created.
This grand scheme achieved some of its goals. It was reported that thousands of extension workers as well as about 75 specialists in crop production were trained for the programme. With the improved varieties, there was a reported tenfold increase in yield, particularly with the wheat crop whose yield exceeded the international standard of 3 tonnes per hectare. Over 50,000 farmers were beneficiaries of the production packages with improved seed varieties.
However, the government’s performance was less impressive when it came to the disbursement of funds and delivery of services and farm inputs. For example, while N18.7 million was allocated between 1977 and 1978, only 37 percent (N7 million) was released. And between 1979 and 1980 only 48.9 percent of the allocated N28 million was released. This happened because state governments failed to fully adopt the scheme – which was supposed to be a joint endeavour between the federal and state governments – in its entirety, making little or no provision for the delivery centres in their budget. As a result, many agro-service centres (ASCs) did not receive allocations from their state ministries. Furthermore, bureaucracy, corruption and red-tapism hampered the efficiency and effectiveness of these service centres.
On the part of smallholder farmers, there was a reluctance to adopt the new practices touted by the extension workers. In practice, it was easier for farmers with large farms and higher disposable incomes – enjoying economies of scale – to adopt improved practices and purchase input and machinery, as the risks were lower. Furthermore, the extension workers were apparently not adequately supervised and empowered to reach the grassroots in all parts of the country. In the end, a higher proportion of those who really benefitted from the programme were already well to do and the gap between their incomes and the incomes of the poorest farmers widened. As for the goal of self-sufficiency, the reverse aim was accomplished – by 1980, the national food import bill had risen to about N1 billion.
Thus, despite all its good intentions and innovative plans, the NAFPP fell far short of expectations. Forty years later, we are still working our way to keep the dream of self-sufficiency and increased food productivity alive. One key takeaway for the new transformation agenda is that the federal, state and local governments must all work together to implement government policies and there must be transparency at every level. Impact assessments must be done to ensure that policies are not only benefitting the wealthy but also, and especially, the smallholder farmers. As mentioned in my last two articles, agricultural financing must be taken very seriously. The nexus among research and technological innovation, extension and service delivery must be made, tightened and embedded within the realms of entrepreneurship, marketing and finance.
Even though Nigerian agricultural policymaking has been characterised by a series of missteps and false starts, all hope is not lost. The success of the new policy will depend on how well lessons from policies past are used as building blocks for the future. And if the government and other stakeholders take notes and remain committed to action and efficient results, we can really accelerate food production this time.
By Olawale Ojo
Among the many highlights of my participation at the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2) with the theme FORESIGHT AND PARTNERSHIP FOR INNOVATION AND IMPACT ON SMALL-HOLDER LIVELIHOODS at Punta del Este, Uruguay on 29thOctober to November 1, 2012, one experience that I would not forget very quickly was the visit to the Solari Family Farm in MonteVideo Rural in Uruguay.
Andres Solari a youth and one of the children of Mr. Solari gave a tour of the farm. The seventeen (17) hectares farm was been cared for and operated by the Solari family. These included Andres, his brother and sister, his parents and regular assistance from three of their cousins.
The farm grows peaches, apples, nectars and oranges. The processing section which is right there on the farm produces wines, jam and juice.
Touching was the fact that Andres and his siblings judiciously joined their parents in the daily running and operation of the farm business. “My mother started this farm in 1998” he said while giving a tour of the farm and sharing the history of the farm. The sister and mother handles the marketing and sales aspect of the farm while Andres, his brother and father work on the farm itself with the support of their cousins and hired labour when necessary.
A showcase of one of the main themes of the conference itself which is PARTNERSHIPwas dislayed by the Solari’s family farm. The farm works hand in hand with the National Agricultural Institute and the Department of Agronomy in the University of Uruguay. One aspect of the partnership is the reduction of the use of pesticide by provision of biological pest control at reduced cost. This partnership makes it possible for the products of the farm fit for export and allows for sustainability of the farm and environment. These factors : active involvement of the family members in the business, partnership with research bodies and cooperatives have made high productivity possible for the Solari family farm and these has bagged them so many awards such as the Sociedad Uruguay Dehortifruiticulun Award in 2005, LATU Sistemas in 2006 and right during the visit an Award of Recognition by INIA (the National Agricultural Institute).
The commercialization of their products through retailers, supermarket and joining other growers makes exporting possible for them. As a matter of fact, as at the time of the visit the mother was away in Italy to attend the Slow Food Fair which is one of the so many international fair the farm attends to expand their market base.
The example of Andres is one that African youths and families can learn from. So if you have parents that have farms: are you joining them to make it a sustainable business enterprise? Do you share your professional skills either as an accountant, HR manager, engineer and so on to improve the activities on the farm thus increasing profitability? Taking a clue from the example of Andres and his family can go a long way to elevate poverty in families both in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
First published on YPARD
By Tukeni Obasi
As Nigerians get to work on the project of transformation, the question has been asked: how will all these jobs be created and sustained? If the present challenges remain and farmers and other entrepreneurs do not have access to capital, machinery, and information; if the entry barriers for entrepreneurs remain the same; if interest rates are still high and infrastructure is still poor; if the budget allocation for agriculture remains as is, how will change happen at the grassroots? Put simply – as it was put to me some days ago by a concerned Nigerian – where will the money come from?
For private small-scale farmers who are wondering how they will fit in this transformation agenda, this is a real concern. With the current financial lending system and all its hurdles, the banks remain a no-go area for the financially challenged. By lowering these hurdles, especially the interest rates, to figures below 10 percent, banks will become a source for short-, medium- and long-term capital for agricultural entrepreneurs.
This question was addressed by the minister of agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, several weeks ago at a workshop entitled “Financing Nigeria’s Agricultural Revolution”. During this workshop, he revealed that while N119 billion is to come from the World Bank and African Development Bank, unlocking private sector funds is key to agriculture’s takeoff. Drawing from his years of expertise at home and abroad as an agricultural economist, he said: “I have seen what the power of private sector finance can do to the sector. This is in line with what agricultural stakeholders have discovered, that transformation will be a collaborative effort by all those with the means, those with the interest/passion, and those with the expertise.” According to the minister, the president has already directed the Bank of Agriculture to take the lead by offering single-digit interest rates to farmers.
For the government’s part, the minister promised that the ministry is working hard to bridge the technological gap by providing 10 million mobile phones to farmers, half of which will be earmarked for women farmers. Technical training is also on the government’s agenda as a vital lubricant for this transformation machinery. According to Adesina: “The backbone of any agricultural sector is the farmers’ access to modern technologies. There is also need for a single digit interest rate; we need to look for new ways to make long-term financing available. We want the Asset Management Corporation, pension fund managers to invest in the agricultural sector.”
In the spirit of shifting the paradigm from agriculture as development/welfare to agriculture as business opportunity, the government has said that providing N3 trillion in credit will not only financially empower about 760,000 young farmers but that it will create a turnover of about N4 billion in interest income per annum for crediting banks.
But are private sector corporations willing to bankroll this transformation project or otherwise invest in the myriad opportunities? The story of Dominion Farms, Doreo Partners and several other local and foreign companies seems to indicate that some are. Yet many remain sceptical or focused on other priorities. This is so despite affirmations by several authorities including Arumna Oteh, director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), that agro-business stocks are among the best-performing stocks on the capital market. The SEC DG has also advised currently unlisted agribusinesses to list on the trading floor of the stock exchange in order to secure much needed investments.
One of the reasons for this scepticism is that investing is generally risky business. But when the rate of returns is very high with a short operative cycle – the speed at which the fixed and working capital are able to yield the desired profits/returns – the risk is considerably less and investors are more likely to flock into the sector. But if there’s anything to be learned from the housing booms and busts in the United States, Thailand, and other countries, it is that if capital comes in easily, it can go out just as easily. Thus, the last thing Nigeria needs is volatile capital fuelled by short-term interests. Rather, what a prospective strong economy like ours needs is capital that is well entrenched in the economy and can engender further growth, development, and investment. According to recent government statistics, the agricultural sector in its current state has the capacity to contribute an additional 8.1 million metric tonnes (and over 20 million by 2015) of food produce for domestic consumption. With short-term and long-term capital and a stable financing system, agriculture will be the gift that keeps on giving – to entrepreneurs and financiers alike. This move must, however, be backed by solid insurance schemes which are made available to all to safeguard assets against disasters such as the floods of 2012.
It remains to be seen whether the Bank of Agriculture will truly lead the way through an overhaul of its financial lending system. But it is clear that once an enabling environment is created for entrepreneurs and creditors; once the likes of Dominion Farms and others who are daring enough to invest their capital now begin to reap the dividends of their investments, and continue to plough more capital into the agricultural machinery, investor confidence will rise. At this point, transformation will be a foregone conclusion.
By Tukeni Obasi
At the beginning of every year, pastors across the country come up with a declaration statement for the new year: the year of divine favour; the year of manifold blessings; the year of unparalleled prosperity; and so on. While the tendency among some members of the congregation is to sit and expect a magical turn-around incommensurate with discipline and effort or any other human input, others realise that they will in many ways reap what they sow.
No one understands this better than those in the agricultural sector. Farmers understand that one does not simply show up on the day of the harvest expecting a bountiful harvest. They understand the importance of building a good foundation: surveying the soil; clearing the land; gathering resources for input such as seeds, fertilisers, and machinery; planting; watering; weeding, and so on. And so, on the day of the harvest, barring unforeseen circumstances, a dedicated farmer prepares himself/herself to reap the fruit of his/her labour of love.
This is not lost on other agricultural entrepreneurs who, in the face of fear and uncertainty, birth their business idea. They spend time exploring all the implications of this venture, gathering resources and devising strategies. They might spend weeks or months trying to build a formidable team, secure office space, and equip their office with the necessary infrastructure before they finally start up or launch their product in the market. In those arduous start-up months, a lot of effort is made to build the brand, keep the customer satisfied, and be firmly ensconced in the market. When things start falling into place, the entrepreneur enjoys the dividends of takeoff and prosperity.
As the new year gradually unfolds, stakeholders within the agricultural fold are prepared to usher in an era of full-scale transformation. When the president and the minister of agriculture unveiled the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) in 2012, the offerings – job creation for millions of Nigerians, value-addition and value-chain transformation in eight subsectors, technological support to millions of farmers – were enough to make many ecstatic. Others were disillusioned stating that Nigerians are tired of the government’s empty promises. And in a very strategic and symbolic move, the ministry designed a programme to reveal the real secret behind this transformation: we will all have to create it together.
To this end, the flagship workshop for the ATA brought over 100 people from all across the country – professors, farmers, processors, technology enthusiasts, researchers, and especially young passionate people from a range of fields – to Abuja to proffer ideas for a sector revamp. They were to bring their expertise to bear in such an important national project, working to create a roadmap, an action plan, and a strategy. Over the past couple of months, a team of people from within the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and different private-sector establishments have continued to work together to steer this plan in the right direction. And they have not failed to connect with the agricultural community, listen to each other, and share their comprehensive reports, the product of hours and weeks of knowledge aggregation.
Many are aware that the transformation will not come easy; rather, it will be the product of hard work, perseverance and dedication. They are aware that while speeches are made in the high places and articles are written in newspapers such as this one, the transformation is not something that will be thrust upon the country. Nor will the country surprisingly happen upon it one day. It is something that everyday Nigerians will create for themselves in their agricultural ventures and pursuits.
For farmers and other businessmen affected by the floods, the transformation will involve gathering the courage to start anew, combining lessons learned from their years of practice with resources acquired from their governments and networks, and labouring night and day to create a vibrant venture. For agricultural educational institutions, it will involve developing a more comprehensive curriculum for students, with an emphasis on innovation and knowledge acquisition, incorporating topics on entrepreneurship and management and leaving students with practicable and employable skills upon graduation.
For graduates who have roamed the streets of Nigeria’s major urban centres in search of jobs, especially in major oil companies, it will involve a leap of faith. This leap will be propelled by a refocus on the meaningful venture of agriculture, and challenge them to explore the world of entrepreneurship. It might lead them to start a poultry farm or a processing unit or an agri-telecommunications company and watch it grow knowing that they are creating wealth and jobs. For policymakers, it will mean a redoubling of policy planning and implementation efforts; making sure that agendas reflect the needs of all stakeholders; sharpening monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; and supervising the takeoff of the agricultural entrepreneurship programme that should be launched in the first quarter of 2013. For the private sector, especially big corporations and financial institutions, it will mean a sustained investment in – or support of – individuals, enterprises, value chains, and research projects.
In like manner, through my BusinessDay column and through the Harambe Farmland web platform, I will be following the transformation and playing my own part to create it. On the column, the first week of every month will be dedicated to showcasing the ways in which Nigerians across the country are creating change or taking very important first steps. It will be dedicated to models in the sector and indeed models for the entire country, especially the young entrepreneurs, and research and policy professionals. These Nigerians will embody the transformation spirit through certain values: honesty, vision, hard work, dedication, innovation and resourcefulness. Other weeks will be devoted to important policy agendas, citizen concerns, lessons from history and the Nagropreneur project. And for those who are looking to join the movement or improve their agri-practice, the information sharing that characterised this column in 2012 will continue with a number of How-To series.
So, dear Nigerians, join me and let us create this turnaround together. Happy Transformation Year!!