• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Policy summersault always destroy the gains we achieve in the agricultural sector

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With 10 years behind and still marching on, Sumchi Farm at Emene Industrial Layout in Enugu State, is a success story despite challenges.

In this interview Sunday Ezeobiora, founder of the farm and the national president, Poultry Association Nigeria (PAN), speaks to Regis Anukwuoji on the farm’s anniversary, government policy as it affects agricultural development, among others.

Why are you marking the 10th anniversary of Sumchi Farm?

The reason is because the harsh business environment in Nigeria, especially in poultry and agriculture in general, is not easy for a company to survive. As well for agribusiness because the government does not give much attention to agriculture. In other parts of the world government subsidies agricultural products but not in Nigeria. Apart from that, they also use policy summersault to keep on destroying the gains we achieved in the past, so we are just celebrating surviving in an harsh environment called Nigeria.

In the past 10 years what economic impact has Sumchi Farm made?

The number of people we employed and put food on their table is a big plus for us because government does not bother to create enabling working environment and employment.

They keep paying lipservice to that and give fake figures of people employed. We in the private sector decided to carry the load, which the government is supposed to carry.

We employ people and give them opportunity to feed their families and live better life.

What is your workforce?

Right now, we have over 200 workers, who we pay every month.

What is your views on federal government’s agricultural policy and have you benefited from it?

Well, I do not want to say we have not benefited because sometimes they give us maize, sometimes they will make a policy like banning frozen chicken, they also help the poultry industry to grow. But that is not enough,so I will not say categorically no. We do not receive enough from the government, interest rate is too high, it is the duty of government to bring down interest rate to help agricultural sector to grow in Nigeria. There is no magic, no agricultural product here can compete with products coming from other nations with the Nigerian harsh environment, high electricity bill, lack of good infrastructure like roads.

To bring agricultural products from North Central to the South East will cost you above N1million. I am looking for a vehicle to carry rice from Benue State and they are charging me N1million just, from Benue here to bring few bags of rice.

These are the things agricultural products suffer in Nigeria. There is no efficienct railway system, if we have railway it will reduce cost and enable is to compete with other nations.

What is the way out?

I suggest that the government should sit up and call all the stakeholders for a meeting to discuss the way out. I do not want to send message to them, they should invite us so that we put all the challenges on a table and discuss it and come up with something that should work for Nigeria. The government should mean it and show the sign that they are ready to do it.

What has been the major challenges over the years?

The challenges are policy summersault. For instance, this year, we have faced three major challenges, which were very bad situations, like the Naira redesign.

You produce day-old chicks nobody buys. As the president of Poultry Association of Nigeria, we have published severally on how we lose billions of Naira all over the federation; about N200 billion from either egg or frozen chicken or day-old chicks no body buys because there was no Naira to buy. The people in the village that normally consume these eggs do not know what is called transfer and there are no facilities to make it possible. So, after two weeks your eggs will spoil, those that are raising birds, after one to two months, their coldroom will fill and no space to stock the processed birds. We are forced to start selling to the people that train dogs and fish. The environment is very hash for us to survive but we keep on surviving because we have developed hard skin. It is not an easy thing for us to be in business uptill now and same for every other poultry business in Nigeria.

Is Sumchi Farm into vegetable production too?

Yes. The oil has been here before, but it was in a small scale. Now, we have scaled up the operation and that is one of the things that sustain Sumchi during the most difficult moment this year, because there was a time each day old chick we sold we lose about 80 percent of the production cost, will go down drain. It was that oil you saw and feed mill that sustaining Sumchi within those difficult moments, that is backward integration because we crush soya beans use the cake to produce feed and refine the oil as a table oil, which I am sure you are also consuming.

What do you think should be done for farmers to grow the agricultural sector?

I have said it before now, the government should not sit in their office and make policy or ask us to bring documents, which they will after reading, discard. The best option is to call all stakeholders on a roundtable and formulate a policy together. The government and private sector have to agree that this is implementable and the government will be serious about it and even create committee to to man it, in which government officials will be ordinarily member in that committee, it must be driving by private sector person like Manufacturers Association of Nigeria or Poultry Association, among others.

The private sector has take the lead, if government officials chair the committee it will still be unproductive and the same way we have been running around, and achieve nothing.

How many products do you have?

We have day-old chick, we have feeds of different formulations, we have oil ans we sell shellcakes some times. Frozen chicken recently joined.

What are the major challenges of your association?

Like I have mentioned before, this year alone three major crisis challenged poultry industry in Nigeria.

This is because what we are dealing on are almost perishable goods, it a question of two or three weeks the money will go down the drain. Naira redesign, subsidy removal and devaluation of the Naira impacted us negatively. Of course, fuel subsidy removal dislocated the poor masses from eating three times a day, transportation cost eats deep into the little money they earn. Simple Analogy is that, I am married and I have four children with my wife receive thirty thousand in a month, it means that we rely on one loaf of bread per a day that is sold for N1000 every day. Meaning that once you get this loaf that day is gone you will not drink water or cock, you do not get sick or enter motor, one loaf of bread for a family to survive in Nigeria.

So, how can such a person buy egg or even meat because the government has made it impossible for them live as human beings. How can you pay people N30,000 while federal government is spending N160 million to buy a single vehicle for one senator, how do you explain it, how do you explain a senator or House of Representatives member moving with five to ten conveys, how do you explain that. So, until the government sit up, Nigeria as a country is sitting on the keg of gunpowder because one day the total population of Nigeria will explode and chase every one of us out including those in the government and those out of government that are feeding three square meals a day; they will be victims. Also, the government should sit up and declare state of emergency in Nigeria more especially in agricultural production.

Let me generalize it, poultry industry has lost about N200 billon this year alone on this three things I mentioned earlier

The present government is talking about palliatives, how does that help?

For me, the best palliative from the government should be compelling Bank of Industry and Bank of Agriculture to give out loans to manufacturers and farmers with not more than five percent interest rate. That is the best palliative and not sharing 5kg and 10kg rice to people.

So, the best is for the government to provide enough money for Bank of Industry and Agriculture because they don’t have enough money. If they provide enough money, let them bring down the interest rate to 5 percent and it should be regulated so that it will not be hijacked by government officials also. It should be channeled through MAN or PAN. These two bodies can manage the fund 80 percent correctly.

What is your view on government tax drives as it affects distribution and prices of agricultural products?

The state governments and local governments have a big role to play with regards to the number of thugs they deploy on the roads to disturb vehicle carrying produce, particulary in the southern part of Nigeria. If you go to the north you can travel for about 200km without seeing a police and thugs on the road. But when you come to the south particularly South East and South South you will be seeing them at every hundred kilometer collecting revenues, which no body knows where it goes to . I am not bothered about collecting revenue, but they make business very uncomfortable and uneasy for people of the South South and South East. If the government must collect money, let them review the cost of renewing motor license and share it among themselves because those vehicles are convening products. By so doing, you the cost of bringing products from the North will drop.

With the current trends, can Nigeria products compete internationally?

Nigeria cannot compete in intercontinental trade because of a lot of factors ranging from inconsistency in power supply. If you are not on CNG gas’s pipe line you cannot compete. Let me use EEDC as a sample. When we were fighting the cost of tariff I was one of the people that went to Abuja during the time of Sam Amadi . He was in charge of REC, we told them they should be an equalization fund the same way we have for petrol, so that people that produce in Maduguri, in Jos, in Enugu, every body will have the same electricity cost because all of us go to the same market, they refused. Now Enugu EEDC tariff is 10 percent more than Eko Disco, more than Ikeja and Ibadan discos, yet we end up in the same market.

Now the cost CAG gas in the South West is 200 per cubic meter while in Enugu it is 350 per a cubic meter. You can see about 40 percent different, how can we compete. Now let us go to the African market, if you go to Ghana and Cameron all these thugs that cause cost of production to go higher are not there.

If Nigeria wants to be serious and compete in Africa and intercontinental trade, she must eliminate all these barriers we created by ourselves and deal with ourselves.

We are talking about about foreign exchange in Nigeria we do not have foreign exchange in Nigeria our pocket has dried. The only way out is to make it possible for us to export and earn, no matter, how small it will reduce the presuse in foreign exchange, but we are using thugs to make the cost of our production high, we cannot even compete, foreigners cannot invest in Nigeria because everywhere is too difficult for them.

Let us talk about insecurity, the federal government, states and local governments should provide security. Today we are burying one of our members who was killed by kidnappers here in Enugu. So, how would another lady go and establish farm in a bush where her member were killed. The government should make the environment good for people to go and farm and feed the nation.