• Sunday, March 03, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

The mechanisation of agriculture in Nigeria

businessday-icon

Agricultural mechanization is the application of mechanical technology and increased power to agriculture, largely as a means to enhance the productivity of human labour and often to achieve results well beyond the capacity of human labour. This includes the use of tractors of various types as well as animal-powered and human-powered implements and tools, and internal combustion engines, electric motors, solar power and other methods of energy conversion. Mechanization also includes irrigation systems, food processing and related technologies and equipment. Mechanization is not an “all or nothing” process. Levels and types of improved mechanical technologies need to be appropriate, that is, compatible with local, agronomic, socio-economic, environmental and industrial conditions.

According to the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the last 50 years, few economies have been able to overcome the challenges of development and become truly competitive. In those few cases, there are concrete indications that industrial development, including agro-industrial development, has played a key role. Agricultural mechanization is part of agro-industrial development, and it has either stagnated or retrogressed in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)

Agriculture is by far one of the most important sectors of Nigeria’s economy, engaging about 70 per cent of the labour force. But, holdings have been generally small and scattered; and farming is often of the subsistence variety, characterized by simple tools and shifting cultivation. Productivity has been hampered by the use of crude tools and implements, lack of finance or credit facilities, poor transportation, inadequate land due to land tenure system, as well as inadequate agricultural education and extension services. Experts estimated that about 20-40 per cent of the yearly harvest is lost during processing. The primary cause is the lack of efficient harvesting techniques. Most farmers harvest crops by hand, instead of using machines. Also, storage methods are not generally up to standards. Most of the crops are lost to physical damage caused by insects, bacteria, or fungus.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina not long ago, set up an Advisory Ministerial Mechanisation Committee to draw up a road map and design a private sector- led framework on agricultural mechanisation aimed at ensuring that Nigeria becomes self sufficient in food production and save the nation the trillions of naira spent annually in the importation of food. In fact, according to the Minister, between now and 2016, the plan in terms of intensity and density there is a projection to make 5000 units of tractors available.  And that alone will impact in the area of clearing additional 2.6 million hectares; which when calculated in terms of jobs, will create about 30,000 jobs for the youths. 

In terms of food production, the projection is about 13.5 million metric tones of food at an average of 5000 tonnes per hectare. In terms of technological scientific application, the target is to add   15 to 20 per cent of the local content to any technology in agriculture; such that things like tyres, fenders, trafficators, will be manufactured locally.

Hence, in pursuit of this laudable goal, which is part of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), the Minister recently launched a programme which will allow farmers to buy and or lease modern mechanised machinery, 600 agricultural equipment – hiring enterprises, run by private sector to provide full compliments of tractors and pre-and post- harvest machinery to farmers.

No doubt, the agricultural sector is on the right alleyway to achieving industrialisation rebirth. However, we must be wary that in many cases where governments established tractor-hire schemes to serve small-scale farmers, planning was very short term and management was poorly trained and poorly supported. Such schemes, although relatively few across the continent, failed miserably, denting the image of agricultural mechanization in general. If the agricultural mechanization efforts are to succeed, there is an urgent need for all concerned, be they farmers, supporters, planners or policy-makers to understand and contribute to agricultural mechanization efforts across the entire farming system and with a value chain perspective. To achieve sustainable mechanization levels in agricultural production and processing, we need our own crop of entrepreneurs to seize the market and technical opportunities of the twenty- first century. The entrepreneurial potential of the farmers, agricultural engineers, artisans and traders should be enhanced systematically;