• Tuesday, December 05, 2023
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Smallholder agricpreneurs, trees and food security


One truth we must recognise and hold on to strongly is that agribusiness is vital to the life of the nation’s economy. Yes, it is. It is doubtful if anyone can fault it. We are only fooling ourselves by romancing in perpetuity with crude oil that has created for us a killing rent economy. The earlier we face this truth and retrace our steps, the better for us.

This is why some of us have our thumbs up for the current administration’s drive to make agriculture a business, its drive to rethink agriculture. Interestingly, we have one of the world’s finest agriculture technocrats, as chief driver. Agriculture is now being truthfully looked at holistically, the entire value chain.

Agriculture is business. In Nigeria, like in other parts of Africa and some emerging economies, it is largely small business – small holder farming. This is why they are agricpreneurs. To talk of small business or small enterprises in Nigeria without including this group of business, will be an anomaly. After all, over 70 percent of Nigerians live in the rural areas of the country and most of them till the land, harvest their products (some process them) and sell.

Top on the agenda of agricpreneurs is food production. They feed the nation. The nation cannot ignore them. If it does, it will do so at its own peril. We had this problem of subsistence farming by smallholder farmers in the past. We are gradually putting this aside. This is coming with the entering into the agriculture space by school graduates – graduates of tertiary institutions and experienced investors who now know agriculture is the sector to invest in.

This is rethinking agriculture in practice. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s ‘nagropreneur’ project comes in here. Nagropreneur is the ministry’s initiative created to address the challenge of ageing farmers and the insecurity that this poses, a challenge to address rising youth unemployment. It is meant to grow a new generation of young commercial farmers that will help transform the agricultural sector – and feed Nigeria today and well into the future.

The programme is a product of the Federal Government ‘Youth in Agric-Business’ project and it is designed to raise one million young farmers by 2015, who would take agriculture as a profession and business.

At the launch in Abuja recently, Akinwumi Adesina, minister, agriculture and rural development, explained that considering the competitive nature of global agricultural markets, with changing technologies, demands for quality and standards, there was the need to change labour composition of the agricultural sector from the ageing population to the vibrant and energetic ones.

For him, the agricultural sector requires new skills, younger and more entrepreneurial farmers, who will be able to compete at the global scale. He said these entrepreneurs must be versed in business, to be able to run sound agribusiness that will make Nigeria’s agriculture modern, commercial and profitable. He said the Federal Government in collaboration with commercial banks would provide loans at single-digit rates as well as make them to have access to land, and called for the re-designing of the university curriculum to develop business entrepreneurship for students.

Rethinking agriculture is work in progress. Researchers are coming in with inputs daily, from World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

To mark the first annual International Day of Forests, researchers at the Centre say that trees on farms and outside of forests are important to the survival of major rain forests like those in the Amazon and Congo Basin. Trees provide valuable environmental services regardless of where they grow, and researchers are now embracing the many ways they help stabilise and improve the productivity of farms of all sizes.

Tony Simons, director-general, World Agroforestry Centre, pointed out the tension between the need for more arable land to meet the world’s growing demand for food, and maintaining the diversity of the world’s forests. A large part of the solution, he said, can be found through a diverse set of agroforestry practices – planting trees inside and on the edges of cropland. This is suggesting that smallholder farmers should not just depend on their traditional cropping, that they can, at the same time plant trees on their cropland.

Simon said: “By 2050 there will be 2.4 billion more people to feed. Their survival will largely depend on the poorest of farmers, most of who own and farm less than two acres of land in the developing world. These farmers are critical to helping us recover the trees we lose in the forests. And through agroforestry, they reap more income from tree products and they diversify their diets, providing better nutrition for their families.

“As deforestation continues around the world, we lose more than US$7,000 of forest products per second. Farmers are key to recovering these biodiversity assets.”

According to the World Agroforestry Centre, research demonstrates how the practice of agroforestry creates productive, profitable and sustainable land-use systems. Some examples of benefits include:

Stabilising staple crop yields: In Malawi and Zambia, inter-cropping maize with the nitrogen-fixing tree Gliricidia has helped farmers increase their maize yields three- to four-fold and sustain-ably maintain these higher production levels.

Increasing food and nutritional security: In South East Asia, planting vegetables under trees increased the productivity of the vegetable plants by up to 40 percent.

Increasing milk production: In Kenya, a farmer with one cow and 500 fodder trees (which cost less than $8 to establish) can increase net income by $60 to $115 per year.

Generating income through carbon trade: In Andhra Pradesh, India, the carbon market could raise $55,000 per year for households within the Reducing Emission from All Land Uses (REALU) program, an initiative that aims to sequester carbon through planting trees.

Diversifying and supporting primary incomes: In Indonesia, where seven million farmers earn a living from growing and selling rubber, farmers are increasing profits by growing rubber inter-cropped with fruit and timber trees.

“Almost half of the world’s farmland now has more than 10 percent tree cover,” Simons noted. “As the practice of agroforestry spreads, smallholder farmers—who will be expected to feed most of the nine billion people in the world by 2050 – will do so more sustainable.”

Nigeria should be part of this project

The World Agroforestry Centre, based in Nairobi, Kenya, is the world’s leading research institution on the diverse role trees play in agricultural landscapes and rural livelihoods. As part of its work to bring tree-based solutions to bear on poverty and environmental problems, centre researchers – working in close collaboration with national partners and farmers – have developed new technologies, tools and policy recommendations for increased food security and ecosystem health

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