By Mohammed Kandi
The quest by the federal government to restore the teeming farm population in Nigeria with an efficient food storage system and viable mechanization facilities that would stimulate economic development via agricultural activities has received a major boost. The government’s mission is for the country to achieve self sufficiency in food production, as well as contribute towards the global food security index.
This followed the flag-off of the private-sector driven agricultural equipment hiring enterprises and the commissioning of a 100, 000 metric tones (MT) silo complex in Kwali, Abuja yesterday. Consequently, the scheme which was born out of federal government’s Agricultural Food Reserve Programme that is being spearheaded by the Strategic Grains Reserve Department (SGR) became even more promising when the federal government announced its intention by pledging a N50 billion commitment for the scheme via the Central Bank of Nigeria Intervention Support Funds.
As a government policy, the idea of SGR is to store at least five percent of the total food grains produced in the country, with a view to building a robust strategic food security stock that would be used to address food crisis and national disasters in Nigeria. And this is in-tandem with the yearning and aspiration of Nigerian farmers.
Historically, the Agricultural Food Reserve Programme was first launched in 1987, with a mandate of preventing post-harvest losses, to provide food relief for the country and neighbours affected by natural or human induced disasters and to ensure the availability of food to citizens at affordable rates.
The Kwali silo is notably one of 12 already completed out of 33 silo complexes in the country. Experts said the country’s food storage capacity will increase to 1, 475, 000 upon the completion of the entire silos in the country.
Similarly, the Private-Sector Driven Agricultural Equipment Hiring Enterprises (AEHE) was introduced to assist the farmers have access to farm apparatus that could facilitate farming and increase their production capacity. Through the initiative, the government intends to partner with the private organizations to set up in strategic location various AEHE centers for farmers. In addition, the programme would provide the farmers with value addition services, such as leasing/ hiring out of various agricultural equipments for land preparation, harvesting and post-harvesting, repair and maintenance of the equipment. The idea is to enable farmers to have free access to the expensive equipment without necessarily owning them.
While addressing the gathering, President Goodluck Jonathan, promised to raise food production, mop up food production by the farmers in Nigeria. Represented by the Vice President, Muhammad Namadi Sambo, the President announced a huge N50 billion support for the initiative.
“As part of our drive to limit the hand hoes and cutlasses and to replace them with modern agricultural equipment, I direct the CBN to set aside the sum of N50 billion for mechanization intervention fund,” Jonathan said. “This support fund will allow and speed up the full establishment of the 1, 200 private-sector driven agricultural equipment hiring enterprises across all states of the federation.”
“To get our teeming youth excited about agriculture, they must be provided with modern agricultural machineries, not hoes and cutlasses,” he said.
Recalling that the country’s agriculture sector had persevered through copious challenges, Jonathan, upon commissioning the silo complex and farm equipments assured that his government was looking forward to commissioning the rest of the 32 silos across the states of “Kebbi, Katsina, Sokoto, Adamawa, and Osun.
He added: “These networks of silos across the country will help provide proper stock of food, and for mopping up the increasing grains production to help stabilize prices for farmers. These silos across the country will be leased to private sector to use to store grains and support development of agricultural commodity exchange for Nigeria.”
“For far too long, our farmers have depended largely on rudimentary tools such as hoes and cutlasses. The small scale farmers that produce 80 percent of our food have very little or access to modern agricultural machineries. This laudable of mechanization limits the ability of our farmers to expand cultivated areas, reduce chances of performing timely farm operations, index opportunities to achieve economies of scale in rising food production, and lower returns in agricultural investments,” the President explained.
The remarks of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina was thought-provoking—analytical and succinct.
“All across the nation, smallholder farmers are witnessing a refreshing new dawn. Our food import bill has declined from N 1.1 trillion ($ 6.9 billion) in 2009 to N 684.7 billion ($4.35 billion) by December 2013 and continues to decline in 2014.” He also said the transformation journey is not without challenges. But, the minister was optimistic and insisted they are surmountable.
“But despite our gains, challenges remain. One of such challenges is the low level of mechanization of the agriculture sector.
“While our farmers toil, day and night, working their fields, they do so with rudimentary implements. The high cost of land clearing is a major disincentive for the expansion of cultivated area, especially in the southern parts of the country due to the dense vegetation; while the high cost of mechanization, from plowing to harvesting, pose great challenges to farmers across the country,” Adesina stated.
Adesina added that “A farmer with access to a tractor will be able to plant 10 hectares per day, compared to just one hectare per day if the same operation is being done manually with hoes and cutlasses with human labor. Harvesting with cutlasses or sickles is not efficient, and leads to high losses from harvest and post harvest operations.”