• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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The African Farmers’ Stories: The Business of Agriculture – A Personal Journey

The African Farmers’ Stories: The Business of Agriculture – A Personal Journey

The African Farmers’ Stories is an initiative of Support4AfricaSMEs, in collaboration with BusinessDay, to tell the stories and challenges of farmers and agribusinesses on the continent and proffer solutions. The newest episode of Instagram Live sessions with host Aderinoye Aderonke features Seyi Babaeko, General Manager of Babaeko Farms on the business of agriculture.

Speaking on his interest and journey into agriculture, he notes that he had an interest in farming while growing up, as his father farmed to provide for their immediate family. He was also raised in an area where community farming was the norm. Babaeko Farms has the vision to be a commercial hub for palm oil production. It has also begun fishery and animal husbandry, and is invested in maize production. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the farm assisted members of its host community with food items, and made efforts to keep salaries regular for its workers. The farm is also keen on collaborations with its host community in Kogi state, implementing various CSR projects for their benefit and working with the state university.

Seyi emphasizes the importance of agriculture because of the global challenges of malnutrition and food security. With the projection that the global population will reach 9.8 billion people by 2050, we cannot be fed without concerted and collective efforts to sustain food production. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, COVID-19, climate change and insecurity are worsening the gains of agriculture, such as in the maize production sector.

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Addressing the challenge of investment in agriculture, he notes that private sector industries have significant roles to play, as they have the resources to invest in or partner with farms to produce raw materials needed for their businesses, and can develop financing options that are appealing to farmers and off-takers.

Population growth in Nigeria is at such an exponential rate that smallholder farmers simply cannot be the only option to feed the nation, especially as they are barely able to produce enough or break even. The finances needed to set up a large-scale commercial farm, especially with current interest rates, are not feasible, highlighting the need for a holistic approach to funding agriculture that benefits both the investors and the community. Farmers and investors must be able to assess expected returns on investment, and should venture into agribusiness with the mindset of profit maximisation.

The government must also formulate policies to encourage youth in agriculture, because some are willing and able, but are restricted by poor availability of land and resources. If youth can be empowered, either by government initiatives or the private sector, to simply be able to provide for their families and immediate society, the sector will be on the road to redemption and simultaneously the high rate of youth unemployment will be reduced.

Seyi acknowledges that although there are government initiatives targeted towards youth in agriculture, like the CBN Anchor Borrowers’ programme, they are often not properly utilised. Channels of distribution are hijacked and resources are often diverted from many farmers who need them and fraudulently shared to people who resell. Even farmers who are educated and internet-savvy often cannot access government resources. Extension services are also poor; formerly, recipients of such programmes would be evaluated and followed up, but this is no longer done, presenting another barrier to programme success. Relevant government agencies must implement measures like anti-racketeering committees to ensure that rural farmers can access allocated resources, especially during the narrow periods when they are needed.
Collaboration should be the key focus in combating food insecurity, using platforms of advocates like The African Farmers’ Stories to gather and provide solutions. Such collaboration works optimally when the vision is clearly defined and communicated.

Investments into farming are truly important; it is projected that by 2030, the agricultural sector will be worth $1 trillion. Even with setbacks that may cost investors their money, Africa is the future and can be a global leader in food security if its agricultural sector is managed properly.
To harness this opportunity, African governments must provide necessary infrastructure, increase their budgetary allocations to agriculture, in line with the Maputo Declaration even as the deadline expires in 2020, and review land acts to give youth better access to land through their families, communities or the government. The gap between government leaders and the agricultural community also needs to be bridged, so that the latter are involved in policy formulation and can communicate their challenges to the government, assisted by platforms like The African Farmers’ Stories and various farmers associations.

On the part of farmers, they must explore hybrid seed options, ensure good irrigation systems, use previous mistakes to guide future plans, and be open to employing creative, low-cost options to equip their farms or improve surrounding infrastructure. Finally, with current advances in technology, agriculture must be inclusive of technology, and the farmers of today must be educated accordingly.