• Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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Boosting agric mechanisation using local technology

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It will make a simple economic sense that using local technology will be more cost effective for Nigerian farmers, who have been yearning for increased yield through technology enhanced devices.

Knowing well that no country can advance without a set of industrial machine tools, the Nigerian/Indian government set up the Nigeria Machine Tools Limited (NMT), Nigeria’s pioneer machine tools manufacturing firm, in 1980, to develop the industrial capacities of the Nigerian real sector.

For years, due to various imports inconsistent policies, this factory was left to ruin. The death of this factory led to massive importation of the various industrial tools needed for the real sector to advance. This also led to lose of jobs, therefore increasing the unemployment rate in the nation. Invariably, billions of dollars were left to rot away without accountability.

However, relief came in 2007, under President Olusegun Obasanjo, when the government decided to privatise public enterprises, under the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). Some group came together (core investors) to buy 70 percent of the NMT for N1 billion; currently, the company is owned by private sector (70%), Federal Government of Nigeria (15%), and the India government (15%), though the management of the place is strictly under private control.

To succeed, the company entered into partnership with institutions relevant to its mission and vision.

Currently, it is in partnership with NASENi for the production of technical equipment for Nigerian technical institutions, and with BECK Prosper (England/Aberden-Scotland) to learn every aspect of making stud bolts from the raw-material entry stage to the finished product.

For capacity building, it is a subsidiary of QUINN McGrath Group, to boost its expertise in various manufacturing machine and industrial tools.

The factory today has about 220 workers in direct employment, and hopes that at full production level it will become 350.

Today, the NMT has the largest indigenous tractor assembly in Nigeria, and in sub-Saharan Africa, producing complementary implements such as ridgers and harrows. Also, the NMT is working with the agric research institutes to mass produce affordable agro-processing machines that are most suited for the smallholder farmers. The equipment would greatly ease the farmers in carrying out the following processes: Harvesting; transportation (tipping and non-tipping trailers); peeling; drying and sunning; grating and chipping; shelling, stripping and threshing; milling and grinding; fermentation; fryers and stoves; sifting, cleaning and sorting, and oil processing.

For products such as: cassava, oil palm, rice, groundnuts, yams, maize, potatoes, livestock etc.

Early this year, after a tour of the factory, a question was asked: “will government allow this kind of factory that can galvanise our real sector with enough industrial tools suffer from the continued hardship the manufacturing sector in the country has been grappling with?”

Indeed, stakeholders are becoming restive in their quest for action by the Federal Government to truly set the real sector in the path of industrialisation by giving every support needed by investor, especially those that have shown seriousness, to protect them from cheap imports so as to grow them to maturity.

This stems from the fact that, knowing fully well that it takes a committed investor to put his money in manufacturing, especially investor who understands what manufacturing processes and expected returns are. Currently, its target for patronage are the ministries agriculture, trade and investment (both states and federal); agricultural co-operatives across the states; Tractor Owners Association of Nigeria; NAPEP; Bank of Industry; small and large-scale farmers, etc.

It is still most unfortunate that the buying public still leans towards the less durable, low quality products that are dumped in the country at relatively much cheaper prices, despite bank lending rate of 23 percent per annum, insecurity and other challenges the real sector has been facing.

So far, it is therefore left to be seen how government and Nigerian institutions that have need of what are produced here would resolve to do within the foreseeable future, to boost patronage, knowing fully well that Nigeria’s loss is other countries’ gain as far as industrial machines are concerned.

In a recent interview with Norbert Chukwumah, managing director/CEO, NMT, he said: “Nigeria Machine Tools is really ready for business.”

Calling for adequate support and protection from relevant arms of government to ensure that the company and other Nigerian manufacturing entities succeed, he said “NMT, in which the Nigerian government holds 15 percent equity, along with the government of India (through HMT International), which also holds another15 percent equity, is the only machine tools manufacturing company in Nigeria and is in stiff competition with cheap foreign imports with ample prospects for future expansion and growth.”

The idea being that no country can industrialise without a viable machine tools industry because they refer to machine tools industry as the mother industry, why because its able to produce equipment that are used in the production of a whole wide range of goods, he argued.

“When we came in we took a comprehensive study and determined that without proper government support purely as a machine tool company it will not be a viable business because it required a whole lot of things. It required government’s support and patronage; it required government’s protection from unhealthy competition from Asia, which made us almost like a dumping ground for sorts of products.

“So, we had to embark on an extensive rehabilitation exercise, we had to embark on an extensive upgrade, we had to embark on an extensive expansion wherein we have increased the production capacity of Nigeria Machine Tools not only to manufacture the machine tools that it was originally set up for but also to expand its level of operations into areas such as agriculture, oil and gas, industrial training and high end machining capabilities.

“We are the only company in-country right now with the capability to manufacture stud bolts for the oil and gas industry in the country and when you add those coating facilities I mentioned like the PTFE and the galvanising, we can also treat the materials for corrosion. We right now also assemble tractors out of that facility, they are European spec tractors ranging from 55 horsepower to 80 horsepower. We are working in collaboration with a Czech company called Wisconsin Engineering. We also manufacture implements like barrows, ploughs, ridgers, all those stuffs that are necessary if you are doing farming,” he said.

The question that still remains to be answered is – are those state governments desirous to boost agriculture in its various capacity not seeing the opportunities NMT offers in agriculture mechanisation using local technology?

OSA VICTOR OBAYAGBONA