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Mechanisation: World moves without Nigeria

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Nigeria’s dream of feeding its rapidly growing population may never crystallise if farmers fail to adopt mechanisation to steer agricultural revolution in the country, writers JOSEPHINE OKOJIE

Adamu Usman is a 45-year old farmer in Jigawa State who farms maize, cowpeas and sorghum on 15 hectares of land in Bamaina town in Birnin Kudu Local Government Area.

Despite being a farmer in the 21st century, Usman still makes use of crude farming implements used by his father who is over 90 years old to farm.

Usman wants to use tractors and other farm machines like farmers in other countries, but is limited to do so because modern farm implements are lacking in the community where his farm is located.

He has to travel to Birnin Kudu, the local government area to hire and if eventually he finds a tractor, Usman has to book for it two months earlier than the required date for use or he would be disappointed by the hiring firm.

“I love using tractors for ploughing but most times it is difficult to get them on time because the number of tractors available to farmers in Bamaina town is few and other farmers want to hire them too,” he says.

“The few tractors available are not being given to farmers because government officials prefer keeping them in the local council than leasing them out to farmers.

“Recently, I visited a government office for tractor hiring and I discovered that there were 17 tractors that have not been used. Only two tractors are being leased to farmers and I had to queue for three weeks before I could hire a tractor,” he adds.

Owing to the rigorous process and procedure in hiring a tractor, he resorted in hiring labourers instead, to clear and make ridges manually on his farm.

This is time consuming, as Usman and the hired labourers take an average of a month to till and make the ridges before each planting season commence.

Usman’s situation is similar to what a lot of farmers in Nigeria experience and this has led to low level of mechanised farming in the country.

This has continued to limit the capacity of Nigerian farmers to expand their cultivation areas, perform timely operations and achieve economies of scales.

Similarly, farmers have continued to record scanty yields, as opposed to their counterparts in developed countries who make use of advanced farming machines.

The use of hoes, cutlasses, and in some cases- tool- mounting animals is responsible for poor agric output in the country, thus making agriculture laborious and giving farmers scanty yields and poverty.

When measured on mechanisation scale in 2003, 16 years ago, Nigeria had only 30,000 tractors and is currently adding 1,000 new ones each year, according to the Agricultural Ministry, which is still not considered sufficient in replacing the aging, worn out, and the ones that are broken down.

On a per capita basis, Nigeria ranks 132nd out of the 188 countries worldwide, measured by FAO and the United Nations (UN) in terms of the number of tractors in the country.

Available statistics show that Nigeria is one of the least mechanised farming countries in the world, with the country’s tractor density put at 0.27 hp/ hectare which is far below the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s 1.5hp/hectare recommended tractor density for Africa and other developing countries.

While Iceland with a population of 337,780 has 37.2 tractors per 1,000 people, Nigeria with a population of 190 million has 0.223 tractors per 1,000 people.

This implies that Iceland has almost one tractor for each farmer and 166 times more mechanisation in their farming than Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.

Still at the early stage

Despite a renewed commitment by government at all levels and the creation of various mechanisation schemes for farmers in the last four years, Nigeria is still at the very early stage of mechanisation.

Even though the country is blessed with arable land, the cultivation of food in Nigeria is generally very labour intensive, particularly with the small holder farmers. The manual work embarked on by farmers and their families is very strenuous and time consuming.

In Nigeria, a significantly high proportion of farming area is cultivated by hand tools.

The international Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reckons that the country is still in the early stage of agricultural mechanisation.

“Currently, more than 70 percent of farm labour is provided by human power; over 20 percent is provided with draft animal power and less than 10 percent by mechanical power,” Elesa Yakubu, national president, Tractor Owners and Operators Association of Nigeria (TOOAN), told BusinessDay.

This is not because the farmers are not interested in using mechanised farming tools but they are faced with some challenges.

Ademola Adefemi, who owns a five hectare of maize and cassava farm in Ogun State, said that it is difficult for him to hire tractors because of his farm size.

“Each time I go to Abeokuta to hire a tractor to clear my farm, they usually decline my request, saying that my farm size is too small,” he says.

Most of the tractors available for hire in Nigeria are of bigger sizes that are difficult to operate on smaller pieces of land.

Nigeria has over 80 percent of smallholder farmers with less than five hectares of farmland dispersed across the country.

According to experts, this makes it difficult for them as individual farmers to hire tractors except they come together in clusters or associations to hire.

“There are two major challenges in the development of mechanisation in Nigeria; one is the size of the farm and inability of government to give affordable finance to drive mechanisation,” Antti Ritvonen, former country manager of Dizengoff says.

“If you compare the rest of Africa in terms of mechanisation; Nigeria is like half of what is obtainable from average. Nigeria is very far behind and we are in the very early stage of mechanisation,” Ritvonen adds.

The level of mechanisation in Nigerian farming is still very low.

Kenya had 25 tractors per 100 square kilometres of arable land in 2009 while Nigeria has almost seven, according to the most recent data from the World Bank. That compares with an average of 271 machines in the United States, most recent data from World Bank states.

Self-sufficiency

Nigeria’s political and economic stability and a push by government at all levels for food self-sufficiency has made the country more attractive for investments by tractor companies, farmers are yet to get the number of tractors their farms requires.

“Mechanisation is a very critical issue. We cannot feed ourselves without mechanisation and eradicate poverty for rural farmers,” Sani Dangote, president, Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG) and vice president of Dangote Industries Limited, says in an interview with BusinessDay.

“With mechanisation, agriculture becomes attractive for the youths and they can take it up as a profession,” Dangote adds.

With the continual drift of the young population from the rural to urban centres in search of white-collar jobs and away from the drudgery of manual farm labour, self-sufficiency in food production is becoming a herculean task.

Nigeria’s agricultural fundamentals are robust and include an estimated 84 million hectares of arable land out of which only 40 percent is cultivated and only 10 percent of the 40 percent is cultivated optimally, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.

Two of Africa’s largest rivers (the Niger and Benue) flow through and within the borders of the country. There is adequate annual rainfall, a large and young workforce and over 180 million consumers that offer a domestic market to support increased food production and processing.

But the innovation and technology to unlock the potential are what is lacking.

“We have all the farmers we need, at around 12.3 million, making Nigeria 14th in the world, “we simply will not properly equip them,” Dizengoff says in a statement.

Government efforts

The Federal and State governments have provided tractors to farmers under different agric mechanisation schemes but most of the efforts are being frustrated by civil servants, who ensure such schemes never benefit ordinary Nigerian farmers.

“We have over ten tractors lying idle at the local government in Abeokuta but it is only two that are being leased out to farmers,” Adefemi says.

He notes that government officials are frustrating the efforts of the government who has provided the tractors for farmers in the first place.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Nigeria needs a minimum of 746,666 tractors equipped with tillers and other support gadgetry to sufficiently mechanise agriculture going by best practices.

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