By BLAISE UDUNZE
‘The man with the hoe’ still remains an apt description of the average Nigerian farmer today. Despite decades of huge investments in the agricultural sector, as well as input by the states and Federal Government agencies, coupled with support from governments in Europe and America, the average Nigerian farmer remains indigent, regarded by today’s youths as anathema.
Alluding to this, the Managing Director of Dizengoff (West Africa) Nigeria Limited, Mr. Richard Hargrave, asserted that Nigeria is one of the least mechanized farming countries in the world, with less than three tractors per thousand hectares, which is why Nigeria imports much food. With the huge food importation in Nigeria, Dizengoff has an investment plan to excess of $2 million.
Its partner, AGCO, has put aside $80 million investment in sub-Saharan Africa, and Nigeria is No 1 priority, which is part of support to help the country achieve food sufficiency. However, having lived in the country since 1978, Hargrave, with vast experience in Nigerian agricultural sector, said to turn around the situation, it has now become imperative to adopt an appropriate level of engine-power agricultural mechanization technology necessary and sufficient to modernize, energize and revitalize the industry.
The Dizengoff boss explained that the most viable option to achieve the objective is a mechanization strategy, which can create the conducive environment for the emergence of small-to-medium-scale market-oriented youthful farmers, who will voluntarily choose to go into agriculture as a respectable and profitable venture. Excerpts:
Dizengoff was established in Nigeria in 1958 as part of Balton CP Ltd., a UK registered multi-national conglomerate operating across sub-Saharan Africa. We are proud of our reputation for integrity, professionalism, reliability and innovation and our ability to offer decades of global expertise twinned with unsurpassed knowledge of the Nigerian market. The company is focused on two fundamental areas: the public and private sectors, such as telecommunications and radio communications sectors, which is the public sector, while the other sector is the oil and gas sector.
Then the other half of the company is the Agricultural sector, which focuses on integrated solutions, mechanizations, tractor implementations, agro-chemical, irrigation products, green housing and a lot of other solutions, which are focused to achieve one mission, how to help farmers on sustainable basis to mark the increase yields of food sufficiency, and this is our fundamental mission in Nigeria. That is highly compatible with the transformation agenda initiative and policy of the government of Nigeria. There is a lot of importation of food in Nigeria, which is why we see it necessary to help the country to achieve its aim.
It is an incredibly important sector, and Nigeria needs to be serious about it. In terms of how she is blessed. In terms of land, climate and many other things, Nigeria should be a leader in agriculture. I think the Federal Government is correct, because she needs to get back to the business of agriculture. Government needs to be focused on assisting in building infrastructure to help the private sector to build a successful agricultural sector. One of the frustrations of government, and it is a very difficult challenge, is having its plans and initiatives for farmers being abused by speculators and all kinds of dubious characters. For example, non-agricultural sector can go on with 20 to 25 per cent interest rate, but it is impossible to achieve agriculture with it.
The government has to provide loan of low interest rate for farmers so that they can invest in lands, crops and equipment. With bureaucracy involved, it becomes more cumbersome reaching and it is a very difficult challenge for the government. However, they have to get the right scheme in place without getting it abused. The world is running out of arable land and water to make sufficient food but what we have here is sufficient arable land, labour, and water to make food. So, there is huge opportunity in Nigeria.
Importation of fake tractors
It became a pain to us that the said tractors are bearing the trademark of Massey Ferguson. Massey Ferguson is a trademark designed by AGCO, the world largest manufacturers of tractors. We are the sole appointed importers, distributors and provider of services for the Massey Ferguson’s tractors in Nigeria. It is our responsibility to bring the right tractors into this country, the right sets to buy, to give the spare parts support and the autos and services support.
Tractors are like the cars we use, you think of a tractor the way you think about a car, if you don’t service it properly, if you don’t protect it in the field the way you are supposed to with the right parts and properly service it, the tractor will break down. So, we are holding the structure designed to make sure that the right tractors are brought to Nigeria. The right tractor depends on the country you want to use it for, the soil, area and topography you are trying to use it for. So, there is a special range of tractors specifically designed for each market in the world that meets the need of that market. These tractors that were imported were produced in Pakistan under a licence granted by Massey Ferguson.
It was produced by an independent company in Pakistan, they were specifically manufactured to be used in Pakistan. No parts within that tractor are Massey Ferguson parts. Massey Ferguson has no control or involvement in the production of that tractor. Those tractors are not suitable in the market outside Pakistan. The tractors are solely for Pakistan and indigenous manufacturers must produce such tractors sold in Pakistan. There is a limit for such tractors because they are produced and used in Pakistan, they are not to be exported out of Pakistan. These are the kinds of tractor that we have seen in a couple of states here in Nigeria, those tractors cannot work properly and they cannot find their spare parts. Those tractors will fail and we do not want to see farmers in Nigeria with failed tractors.
Nigeria is one of the least mechanized agriculture sector markets in the world. You will not achieve your aim to increase your market without the proper tools and equipment in your country. You need to have the right tractors, right range of implements, chemicals, technics and technologies, skills and the right solution. If Nigeria is to achieve its aim of managing its food security in all sectors of farming, be it small, middle and large scale farming, it is absolutely imperative to reduce the importation of basic foods. If you look at the whole of history, you will never see any country that does not supply its own basic foods. Before America went distressed, it was built on cotton and wheat with its entire wealth, industrial infrastructure. Its military framework was built with highly productive wheat and cotton.
During the Second World War, Britain had the master plan and they formed the European community and they fundamentally focused on providing food for the people. That formed the basis of Agricultural Policy of the European Union. It was only after they did that that they could build factories, provide employment and they built their economic system. You cannot build a nation without building food.
To checkmate the influx of sub-standard farming equipment, it is not left for Dizengoff to be managing the importation of such equipment because we do not control what comes across the borders of this country, like sub-standard equipment and dumping of long produced goods. It is not our duty, government agencies should do that. What we can do is educate the farmers, buyers and market according to their needs the type of tractors they will be using. What we can do is to make sure that we provide those tractors, to make sure that the tractor is properly working before we give it to a farmer. We do not release a tractor if we are not sure that the tractor is work-ready for the farmer. In Dizengoff, we provide agricultural services, we train technicians; we provide the service and support taking care of tractors for the farmers.
Food sufficiency via mechanized farming
If you import tractors that are not suitable for the land here, first, the farmers will produce at a very high mechanization cost because he is going to have breakdowns, buy spare parts and have downtime. He is going to incur a lot of expenses beyond his budget, and therefore he will fail. Second, most of those tractors cannot really be used by farmers because the hiring agency that will give the tractors to the farmers might not have them because of breakdown and they will not be available for small and medium scale farmers. And this in itself is pulling down agricultural mechanization, which should actually be improving for us to have sufficient food production. In Nigeria, you have a lot more rain, the soil is going to be heavier and you need a tractor that has light tyres, light gears if not, the tractor will not work, rather it will break down. If this happens, there will be no technical tool available for the farmer. I can take you round and I can point out 2000 of these tractors imported into this country. They come from China, India, Pakistan and they do not work. They are not made for the conditions here.
We have in Dizengoff approved tractor models by AGCO, the manufacturers of Massey Ferguson contractors. In fact, one common thing about the approved version is that they now have the word “Xtra” attached to them. MF 240 Xtra (2WD)- 46Hp, MF 275 Xtra (2WD)- 75Hp, MF 435 Xtra (2WD)- 72Hp, MF 440 Xtra (4WD)- 82Hp, MF 455 Xtra (4WD)- 100Hp, MF 470 Xtra (4WD)- 120Hp. Once you see the word Xtra attached to the figures in the MF, then you will know that the tractor is the approved model and these are only available through Dizengoff. The tractors are made for the Nigerian conditions, which is why they have Xtras on them.
They are meant for heavy land conditions which are meant for very heavy soil types. Some of the tractors that exist here cannot be found in other countries. There are tractors for rice, maize, and tomatoes. So, the first thing we do is to talk to our farmers and ask them the type of crops they want to produce. We then go and look at their fields. We cannot sell the wrong tractor because we just want to sell a tractor. If you sell a wrong tractor, you have messed up the farmers’ business and you have messed up our common goal of increasing yield in this country on sustainable basis. We take the need of the farmers very seriously and we cannot afford to mess them up. We are not interested in getting money out of their pockets. We are not that kind of company. There are other tractor suppliers and other competitors around us, they are equally doing good jobs here in Nigeria. They are good people and companies, I admire them all.
AGCO manufactures for Massey Ferguson and it is the world’s largest tractor manufacturer. The number one market today that AGCO is focused on is Nigeria. They are actively talking to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture long time ago on how they can help Nigeria increase mechanization. They are talking about how to help in line with the federal and state government policies on how to remold tractors so that they will be fitting for Nigeria. They help us increase the number and qualities of agricultural support and service centers. We are about to build a new agric center in Abuja and the fundamentals will focus on tractors. Few years ahead we are going to have another one in East and Lagos.
When we started we had an investment plan in excess of $2million. I can’t quote AGCO specifically because I know that companies come with their individual businesses. But I know that AGCO puts aside $80 million investment in sub-Saharan Africa where I know that Nigeria is the number one priority. We hope that the first lap of investment is expanding the number and quality of agric service centers, and this is in line with the Federal Government policy having more farm mechanization centers. In the second stage, we hope that one day we will bring the presence of AGCO to you here because we hope one day, we will be assembling tractors in Nigeria. I know that it will be a long journey but that can happen, we have to do a critical maths on the number of tractors the market will absorb. Nigeria is one of the least mechanized farming countries in the world, measured in about thousands of arable land less than Chad. Nigeria is one of the least in the world, with less then three tractors per thousand hectares, which is why Nigeria imports much food. You can’t think of agriculture without combining various technological know-how, equipment and tools.
If you talk about agriculture, it is not just about the equipment you work on, you think of the right know-how and technology. Today, tomato, which is one of the most important items in Nigeria, we produce five to seven tonnes per hectare of tomatoes. We are bringing this system into Nigeria and it is already here. We have as much as minimum of 200 tons per hectare; these are the kinds of crop equipment that Nigeria must have. Not just to produce the level of crop that we eat but to make it sustainable and bring farmers of middle class to this level.
I am becoming a major player in argic sector in Nigeria, in terms of bounty businesses because we are committed to building the world’s largest tomato producer. We are probably the best tractor suppliers in the world. We are not into the business of selling low quality and insufficient tractors that can do the job. We need to buy the right tractors for the farmer, we are doing the right thing and the business is good.
Raising the bar
It is not all about trade and trade. You must keep enhancing the skills of our local people here and try to improve them. We are also looking at the value chain, from land preparation up to processing. At every point, we want to see value added in the production process. In this way, it gives us an integrated approach in solving the agricultural problems and this is our trend.
A good example is the irrigation. We are installing center for irrigation. Another example is setting up the work. We are providing the equipment and training. We got a lot of mini-projects that will provide irrigation process and many other things. We have a lot of public and private fund initiatives. Talking about how agriculture impacts on the economy, I will give you the example of Kenya. Kenya has become the world’s third largest suppliers of flour in the whole world. We supplied to them 80per cent of what we had. Twenty years ago, this business did not exist in Kenya but they have become the third largest, now bigger than Holland, which was the second largest supplier of flour. That is what I want to do in Nigeria. I want Nigeria to become the largest supplier of tomatoes in the whole world. I don’t just want Nigeria to provide tomatoes for its own people; I want them to export tomatoes.
The federal and state governments are our customers as well as the private sector. I think the government not being positive in getting its hands out of the business of agriculture is definitely incorrect. For instance, look at the business of telecommunication, I came back to Nigeria in 1997 and there was about 50,000 NITEL lines. But today, there is about 110 to 120 million lines accessible and all of them are working which are all private communication companies. Why? Government is not involved. There is no business that government places its hand that does work. The same will happen in agriculture, the same will happen in power. The government knows this and they understand it. The change is difficult and it takes time because of different conflicting forces and priorities. The more wealth creation gets into the hands of people and leaves the hands of bureaucrats, the better. It has happened time after time in one country after another. This is what Nigeria is trying to do. But it must surely happen.
Of course, it affects every business, from business man to business man, industrialist to industrialist, government needs to do something about the cost of money in this country. You cannot build an economy in any private sector with 25per cent interest rate. It is not possible. I understand the challenges of government and Central Bank. The policy is the best they can achieve for now and it makes sense. But that policy which is working in the country is creating unemployment. We have four million graduates a year who go into the market place but can’t find a job. That is 40 million graduates in 10 years. They don’t find a way of placing employment in the hands of the people.
Achieving industrialization through agricultural sector
They have to improve their power supply. They have talked about the power issue; they have to continue providing local content initiatives. They have to put in place the infrastructure, law and order, protect the investor, consumer, employee and employer. All these things need to be put in place. There is a lot of work to be done. The fundamental responsibility of the government is to put the structures in place, such as financial, legal, institutions and physical infrastructure. These are the things the government needs to focus on and they will create employment through agricultural and attain food sufficiency, which are the major goals of the Vision been pursued by the government.
Current agricultural revolution
I think it is the transformation agenda pattern. If we concentrate on crops, we can get tangible advantage. I think in reality, he (Minister of Agriculture) has huge challenges with bureaucracy and that won’t change overnight. It needs radical change. The challenges here are enormous, there are huge infrastructural challenges and all these are happening on top of inadequate infrastructure, not just physical infrastructure, but the infrastructure of democracy itself.