• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Agriculture is yet to really take off in Nigeria – Bob Track CEO

Agriculture is yet to really take off in Nigeria – Bob Track CEO

Despite everything Nigeria is doing in the area of agriculture and food security, without massive tractor revolution to boost production tenfold, Nigeria would still be regarded as a paperweight in Africa and the world.

Ibifiri Bobmanuel, an agric investor and managing director of Bob Track Tractor Nigeria, said Nigeria needs 30,000 new tractors into the farms every year but only sees less than 3,000.

Bobmanuel, President of the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF), told BDSunday in an exclusive interview that going by the market dynamics, agriculture has not really taken off in Nigeria. “Going by statistics, Agriculture is still on the drawing board. We as a company are preparing for that time when real agriculture would dawn on Nigeria. The country ought to be able to do as much as 30,000 tractors per year to be seen as serious and sufficient. Today, it’s not more than a couple of thousands of tractors per annum purchases. Nigeria would be better off with up to 30,000 tractors per year.”

He said in Africa tractorisation index, Nigeria is ranked one of the lowest. “We do not have much interest and we do not seem to have the culture of mechanized farming. We still stay with subsistence farming, which was prevalent in the first industrial revolution. Now, with the fourth industrial revolution, Nigeria still operates the trappings of the first industrial revolution.”

The investor who has investments in some other keys sectors of the economy including oil and gas said Bob Track as a company sees the weak interest of Nigerians in tractorisation as its corporate social responsibility to sensitise Nigerians in this area.

He went on: “What we are setting up is a multi-billion naira facility being done in stages and phases. We are in the second phase hoping to go to the third phase. So far, it has been good but with lots of interesting twists and challenges.

“I must say that the Federal Ministry of Finance has been very supportive, even if not financially. They have tried to see how they could work closely with us. They seem to see that the activities of Bob Track would impact the Nigerian economy and impact produce index in the country because if we have enough tractors then mechanisation kicks in. If this happens, employment will be boosted. That’s what Agriculture does in any economy,” he said.

He said if Bob Track can boost employment which is what Nigeria needs desperately, then the economy would be enhanced. That is why he said the Federal Ministry of Finance is keen on what Bob Track is doing. “Ministry of Agriculture has chipped in some attention but they seem trapped for now. Their hands seem to be tied down because they can do little or nothing. Many initiatives and projects are still on the shelf collecting dust.

“For us we think if the government can wake up and see sectors that have most comparative advantage and channel action to those areas, the country would be much better.”

On the expansion works going on at Bob Track, the CEO said what is happening is a very interesting investment in Nigeria and indeed West Africa. “As most people know, Bob Track Tractor Nigeria Limited is the only indigenous manufacturing (and assembling plant) in Nigeria and West Africa. That is why it is unique.”

For expansion, he stated, the company is undergoing what he called a staged developmental plan in the investment. “We are done with the first and just started the second phase. We have done the groundbreaking of the second phase which involves the second plant.”

Read also: Agric revolution: Focus should now be on mechanisation in Africa – Bobmanuel

Bobmanuel said the second plant comes with higher technology because they have learnt the ropes through the first phase, a hybrid factory. “Now, we are going into more technology. All of the agreement has been signed out and the foreign company has been awarded the construction job. They have started the structural work. We hope that by the agreement, in a short while, it will come on stream. It will give us better capacity so we can double our production capacity.

“What we are doing at Bob Track is purely 100 per cent private effort. If it is 100 per cent private-based with little or no input with the FG, it tells you how bad things are in Agriculture. The young ones are running away from Agriculture because it is seen as a ‘poor man business.’ This is because of the way we carry out agricultural practices. Today, you will see that the palms of all farmers are rough and even deformed. I have shaken the palms of elite farmers in Nigeria and they have same characteristics: stiff palms.

“They have been exposed to too much subsistence farming and use of hoes. If that is the defect your parents and uncles and lineage suffered, how would you finish school and jump into farming voluntarily? This is what the Government should think about. I think this is what Akinwumi Adesina now at the African Development Bank (AfDB) did when he was Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture. I think he did a lot in that direction.

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“Going by his philosophy, we could as a country pay all the needed attention to the Agric sector, and Nigeria would spring out of the dungeon. We will realize that we have no business with any other sector than agric. It gives you the opportunity to process, refine, to create jobs, etc. If we follow through with agriculture, we would have better yield, food security, and more jobs for the youths. That is what makes Agriculture sacrosanct. We at Bob Track have decided to make that change we are looking for in the agric sector.”

Romance with polo clubs

Bob Track Nigeria and Port Harcourt Polo Club have just consummated a partnership agreement. Bobmanuel, who was one time president of the club, explained. “You know I am a passionate polo player but despite my personal passion, polo is structured around ranches and their needs; it falls along the interests of Bob Track Nigeria. We have been partnering with Polo Club but what we just did is redeem some of our agreements with them for the upcoming 50th anniversary tournament. The Polo Club is 50 this December (2021) and by January 2022, they are having the 50th anniversary tournament. Bob Track identifies with the club. We are an agric-based business. We have a handful of other clubs in the country that we have partnerships with and we hope to expand this relationship.”

In all they do at Bob Track, the CEO said the vision is giving back to society. “It’s the passion that keeps pushing us, looking for opportunities to give back, and that is what the partnership with Port Harcourt Polo Club represents.’

On what exactly Bob Track Nigeria is doing in the partnership for polo clubs or ranches, the CEO said most of them have tractors to work with and to tend to the land and to handle heavy items. “We have identified some of the leading polo facilities and we have supported them with tractors. But for the Polo Club in Port Harcourt and some others, what we intend to do is display our state-of-art tractors within their facilities and have a stand where we would have our marketing staff to intimate people about the tractors or give them driving experience. Interested agro-business leaders would get an opportunity on our tractors. Some top-of-the-range tractors we have do come with factory-fitted air conditioners. Some have mapping devices to show you the size of your farm and how long you will spend in the farm.”

Foreign tractors are not suitable for African soil and climate

He said foreign tractors dumped on Africa soil do not last long. Bobmanuel said: “Bob Track tractors are uniquely built for the African market. There is no tractor in the market today that is built with Africa in mind. They manufacture and dump on Africa without considering Africa’s needs. Bob Tractor has Africa in mind especially in temperature adaptation. This is to ensure that they will not break down because of harsh climatic conditions.

“Foreign tractors are built for soft soils that have been tilled for centuries but Africa has hard soil. When you bring those tractors here, you find out why FG tractors many years ago are never in the farms because they break down easily.”

He said Bob Tractors are guaranteed for up to 40 years with bank-backed assurance. That is why his firm wants to use the Polo Club facility to spread the information and awareness.

Nigerian made tractors now in Dubai

On the courage of the company to embark on expansion projects in the face of low tractorisation rate in Nigeria, Bobmanuel said the company is looking at all of Africa market and beyond. “We produce 120 tractors a month at high tide (high demand) and 60 at low tide. As a business, you must think of your up-tide. Going by the market swing and trajectories, you will find that Agric is going to play a major role in Nigeria’s development.

“Next year, we are going to set up in places like Ghana, Benin Republic, Dubai, etc. In Dubai, we have already signed a partnership deal and its one of the biggest firms. They are going to be our sole distributors in Dubai. Yes, they do not do much farming there because of the terrain but today Dubai is a melting point, a go-through point in the world. We have identified the market for what it is. They have about 26 outlets in Dubai and it will afford us much opportunity.”

He said the company will not serve only Africa but Indian and Russian markets. “It gives us the visibility and market we need. We can’t afford to rest on the comfort of 120 tractors per month. We need to scale up and get into the third phase as soon as possible. Even if we hit 1000 tractors per month capacity, we will not be satisfied because the attention will be more in the Agric sector.

“Most people know now that oil is just not sustainable. Only Agric will save this country. Nigeria has the largest land mass in Africa and Africa has the largest land mass in the world. It shows that Nigeria should not be punching where we are punching right now. We ought to punch higher.”