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Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, about to take Nigeria’s fortunes in agric mechanization – Tractor manufacturer

Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, about to take Nigeria’s fortunes in agric mechanization – Tractor manufacturer

Any moment from now, countries like Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana, may snatch the lead and take over opportunities being dangled before Nigeria that would lead to massive tractorization and agric mechanization.

The opportunities, according to an agric investor based in Port Harcourt would lead to processing and higher yield per hectare that would make a benefitting country to get ahead of others in Africa.

The CEO of BobTrack Nigeria Limited, Ibifiri Bobmanuel, an investor working with Asians and some Europeans and Americans, told BusinessDay in an exclusive interview at the headquarters of the company that he just cannot understand why Nigeria is this docile. He said the potentials in the agric space can blow your mind. “And it is worse when other countries are cashing in. Many offers our governments ignore here are being snapped up by other countries. It is really unimaginable.’

Bobmanuel, who is president of the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF), said Nigeria has the market to outsource and mop up investments. “You see smaller countries (Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, etc), with smaller populations, now maximize the population in areas of comparative advantage in agric. They not only just do farming but mechanized farming, processing, and send those products to Nigeria and we end up buying.”

For now, he said, the company is busy with the market in the West and Central Africa. “Few months ago, we played host to the Rwandan Ambassador here and we have been invited to Rwanda next month for partnership discussion. We have such interests from Kenya and Ghana.”

He said that it is painful watching a wholly Nigerian company about taking the opportunities outside Nigeria to her competitors on the African continent. “It would be sad that Nigeria does not see what other African countries see. Let the Nigerian government smell the coffee and cash into the potentials, beyond oil. The wealth is buried in the farms and entrepreneurship.

“Not until Nigeria begins to look into that sector, our currency will continue to suffer. We must go back to the farm and produce. We should go further and process what we get from the farms and export the final products and earn the much-needed foreign exchange.”

He said these were reasons why Nigeria’s economy is not doing well. “Nigeria’s problem is production. Today we come up with monetary policies but it is not where our problem is. It is scratching the surface. It is about production in the real sector. When you begin to produce, you begin to export, and your currency will automatically gain strength. When this happens, then, doing business becomes more profitable.”

Produce or die

He said the weakening currency is a threat. “When your currency is weak, it will take so much effort to be profitable when you invest in your country than when you invest in the next country. Their currency has already given them the push it needs. In your case, because your currency is very weak, you will have to produce many times over for you to even become competitive with others. These are the real issues.”

The REIF boss said Nigeria has to begin to fix the problems that have to do with production. The best way is to fix it from the root. The root is agricultural sector that is not working. That is simple.

Read also: Rising input, finance costs drag Livestock Feeds to N209m loss

Invest N5Bn, get N6bn and 50,000 jobs

Steps to massive mechanization and tractorization

Bobmanuel gave steps that can lead to massive agric mechanization, saying tractorization is the first step. “An average state can spend say between N3Bn and N5Bn annually on tractorization, provide land, seeding (as part of the tractorisation). That amount would provide a minimum of 50,000 jobs directly and indirectly.

He said the beauty of these jobs is that these are serviceable or sustainable jobs, not the jobs government has to deepen hands in the pocket to sustain. These agric jobs are viable and will service the source of the funds.

H also said the state would expect a minimum of N6bn as returns. “It creates primary and secondary wealth, raw material for industry, product development, export, foreign exchange, etc. The benefits are many. I just wonder why the government cannot see this opportunity. It beats my imagination.

Where are the CBN grants to states?

The Fg through the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) mentions trillions of naira so far pumped into agriculture but critics says when they divide it by metric tonnes of rice produced in Nigeria, it does not add up.

Bobmanuel seems to also wonder why this is so. “Look at the FG and its policies such as pronouncing priority sectors, and they talk about the amount of money the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has given as loans to different states. You begin to ask yourself how they assess those loans.

“One wonders the parameters the CBN uses, since it is a grant. It bothers many as to what parameters they use to know the proper investment and grants. We in the industry are interested in knowing the parameters because going by the CBN public expenditures, we see that state governments have been given between N5Bn and N10Bn. So, many want to know what those grants are used for. Private investors who do the real investments do not see such grants, though we do not crave for it much. The problem is that we do not see the benefits of the said grants.”

He said if the state governments were not snapping up tractors and other implements and were not processing products, one wonders what the grants were used for. “It is tempting to wonder if the CBN is not encouraging them to mechanize. One would then want to know what the CBN is asking them to do with the money.

“Yes, we see some efforts in Bayelsa, and some big efforts in the north where every government that comes in takes agric serious knowing agric for what it is. That is why they call themselves the food baskets of the nation. Even at that, we want the FG to think through that process with state governments and see how they can improve upon the practices.

“You find a situation where a man farms much and makes bumper harvests, but the products end up around him and get bad. Issues of processing, warehousing, etc, are virtually cut off.”

He said the government needs to encourage the CBN to help more people to go into that space. Else, it becomes a challenge for the government. Production will become elusive.

BobTrack can lead the revolution

The CEO said BobTrack is an indigenous tractor manufacturing and assembling plant. “In all of this, BobTrack facilities can produce between 30 and 60 tractors each month, according to demand.

“The amount of knowledge in BobTrack can drive agric revolution in Nigeria. Port Harcourt has what it takes in BobTrack to cause a revolution but the FG and state governments have not seen that.

Sad Nigeria has looked on Brazil’s $2Bn offer go waste:

He said a sign that Nigeria was not showing signs of seriousness in an agric revolution and mechanization is the mere fact that discussions around the $2Bn tractor project loan between Nigeria and Brazil has lasted from Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari administrations and seems to be going to the next administration. He said this alone must send negative signals to the international community. “It does not portend well for Nigeria as a people. It does not show seriousness; from Jonathan to now is over 16 years, discussing one loan. If anyone offers you $2Bn and for 16 years you have not drawn it down to see the benefit, it simply means you are not serious.”

He said Agric is taking the back seat in the scheme of things in Nigeria. “Let’s look at the prospects of Nigeria’s food security and the fact that we have not been able to get it right. Every nation needs to get her food sufficiency programme right, but at the moment, we seem to be playing with this sensitive matter.’

He said if Nigeria had been using the same farming method since 1960, now that the population has exploded from 36m in 1960 to now over 200 million, it is strange the nation is practising same thing.

He went on: “So, when the government says Nigeria is food sufficient, it flies in the face of facts and figures on ground. The assertion does not get support from facts and realities on ground.

“As players in the agro-sector, we have invested so much in this space that we expect our efforts to be trickling into the real sector but this has not been so. It is not lack of funds because we have invested as much as was needed.”

The problem, he pointed out, is that the Government does not seem to be in same boat with the investors. “If we invest so much in mechanization but the government is not coming in with partnerships and patronage, it is not going to match.’

He said very few of the states were taking advantage of this, but that most of the states do not care. “If you do not get your agric sector and practice right, you disenfranchise and dissuade young entrants into farming and Agriculture.

“Today, government people say agriculture provides the chunk of jobs but the quality of such jobs is questionable. These are very low and gruesome types of jobs. No country transcends practising this kind of gruesome jobs that are in our agriculture.”

In 1960, he said, Nigerians practised subsistence farming when technology was not here, but the nation has it now. “Unfortunately, Nigeria has not even embraced 20 per cent of technology available in agriculture in a 21st century. Mechanisation has gone to the next level. We have entered the iOS or intelligence stage. Human involvement has gone very down.

“By 2023, BobTrack is getting into non-human or self-driven tractors. The government has not even joined the human-driven tractor stage.”

He said there is a study that Nigeria will need 500,000 tractors within the next five years. “As we speak, we still scratch the surface. We still have states with governors that run full terms of eight years without buying one tractor for farmers. How can anybody say such states are food-sufficient? How did they do it, did they use hoe and hands to feed over 200 million mouths?

“These are all the issues that we think are bedeviling the growth of Nigeria. Beyond mechanization, you still have food processing. You have a lot of cassava especially in the south. Every part of Nigeria has one product.’

Agric produce, better than oil:

He said there is something better than oil: “The income from most agric produce is more than oil: cashew, cassava, palm oil, etc. These are everywhere and they fetch revenue more than oil. So, I, therefore, wonder why Nigeria can’t get around the bottlenecks hampering their mass production; I prefer to call them low-hanging fruits that every government should cash in to milk.”

He urged the government to provide tractors and mechanization to the people. “Do not allow the people to invest in machines so they can invest in the actual farming. Other states in the north go into partnership and provide the tractors and implements to those ready to farm and give them at subsized prices.

“That’s what BobTract is doing with some states in the north. We supply the tractors, implements and technology (experts to monitor and teach them to use the implements well, and advise them on best ways to use them). They are reaping bumper harvests on yearly basis. I wonder why most states are not queuing into these potentials around them. It is unbelievable.”

In Europe of today, Bobmanuel said, tractors do not need humans to operate. “The new phase which we are going to display here next year is going to be assembled to operate without humans. You go into the map, programme them with the Global Positioning System (GPS). The tractor just goes to work. Nobody needs to be inside. It is even going to do the planting for you.

“We in Nigeria are still walloping in our ancient practice of using hoes to till the land. It is not encouraging at all. We expect that the Nigerian governments (federal, states, LGAs) to take a cue from what other African countries are doing. They are taking a cue from the new technology in town and they are doing well.”

Today, he said, you look at what Ivory Coast and Ghana are doing in Cocoa and you marvel. “If you look at what Nigeria use to do in cocoa and now, you weep. We need to go back to our ambitions. We used those processes in 1960 and we are still forcing our farmers to do same today and we expect change.

“Today, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Central Africa, southern Africa, etc, have embraced mechanization. That is why the processing companies do not have to be in Europe anymore. With mechanization, they can key into the processing hubs in Africa. These are the key issues.

“Come 2023, when we would have change in the land, we expect that the political parties can look at agric and take it as a business instead of as an option. Agric is a business. If you apply it properly, it does not only repay the investment but breathes other benefits. You will see a win-win.”

He said this will repay the amount of money invested in it at some point, and sit back and see what the investment is doing. “It is only in agric that you can put a certain amount of money or interest and be sure of the amount it will bring back as returns. No other sector has that power: jobs, wealth creation, security, human capital development, etc.”