By UCHENNA ELETUO
When Nigeria closed its land borders in August 2019 to curb smuggling, particularly that of rice, many citizens were skeptical that the Federal Government’s decision would be favourable to the masses.
However, barely six months after the border closure, many have begun to see huge positive impacts of the `radical’ decision.
Many rice farms have either be opened or revived, rice plants hitherto working below installed capacities are now working in full capacities.
The volume of poultry products have highly increased, with farmers taking control of the huge market hitherto dominated by sellers imported poultry products.
Indeed, many enterprises have taken advantage of the closure to boost revenues.
Agriculture business operators now rely mainly on local variants to grow their produce: rice, poultry produce, tomatoes, vegetable oil, etc.
All these are expected to return Nigeria to its position as a big employer of labour and a major exporter of agricultural produce as well as a huge forex earner as in the 1960s and 1970s.
Mrs Janet Edge, Co-coordinator of the Leventis Foundation’s Agribusiness, is excited at the developments.
Edge advises Nigerians to take more advantage of the border closure to step out of poverty by going into farming to supply rice, poultry products and other goods which smuggling was checked by the border closure.
“From poultry products, rice, fruits and confectionaries to condiments, there is an increased demand that can change the lives of those that explore their production.
“The evolution going on in the rice market is commendable and should be supported by all for optimal profit for the people,’’ she urges.
According to her, the agriculture value addition sector can gainfully absorb 30 per cent of unemployed Nigerians.
Edge, however, observes that agriculture is faced with different constraints which still hinder full productivity and growth.
According to her, there have been challenges in the areas of planting, harvesting, storage, value chain addition, consumption and commercialisation.
A farmer, Mr Fidelis Onuoha, also identifies lack of adequate application of technology, modern methods, ideas and farming equipment a hindrance.
He believes that usage of modern tools in farming will make agriculture easier and increase productivity.
“Proper utilisation of modern farm tools will improve the current state of agriculture in Nigeria.
“Ministries of agriculture can provide farmers with cooling devices for transportation to enable food products to remain fresh until delivery,’’ he says.
He advises farmers to use weather tracking websites or applications to take precautions against adverse weather conditions.
Mr Ahawaye Abdulazeez, a rice farmer and Principal Partner, Future Venture Organic Farms Ltd., is of the opinion that yields are affected by the challenges in all stages of the farming business.
“Absence of mechanisation limits the progress of farming activities and stifles development.
“Lack of irrigation tools in rainy season, lack of modern planting and harvesting tools have led to an overload on human labour, and lack of modern storage tools have led to food wastage,” he argues.
A former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe had said in 2018 that about 30 per cent of foods produced in Nigeria was wasted due to poor storage.
According to Ogbe, lack of storage facilities still stands in the way of successful distribution of goods, especially perishable ones.
He believes that the traditional method of storage, considered simple and effective, is not entirely adequate as it may expose agricultural produce to rodents.
“The inability of farmers to predict weather conditions can take a toll on productivity.
“High weather temperature or low weather temperature can have an adverse effect on farming,” he adds.
Mr Femi Alabi, also a farmer, calls for emphasis on innovation- driven farming.
Alabi, the Proprietor of Alpha Farms, Lagos State, is convinced that there is more to farming than just digging soil and planting crops.
“ Farmers need to know how to select the right seed varieties to get optimum yield.
“They need to know the best time for planting, best on-farm practices to reduce crop loss and how to partner with the right off-takers to get the best prices for their products.
“Absence of proper information can lead to agricultural pollution. For instance, some fertilisers and manure used for the purpose of enhancing plant growth may be made of harmful chemicals.
“This can lead to destruction of the environment, thereby causing negative effect on the plants,’’ he argues.
For Mr Basil Akanwa, an Agric Produce Marketer, marketing agricultural produce can be challenging when adequate techniques are not used.
“Farmers rely on traditional marketing procedures which may not lead to profitable outcomes,’’ he says.
He adds that presence of many middlemen in the agriculture business may have a negative effect on agric-marketing, which he describes as the activities in the conveyance of agricultural produce to their ultimate users.
“In cases where the goods pass through middlemen such as wholesalers and retailers, the prices paid by the consumer may have to pass through these intermediaries before getting to the farmer.
“As a result, the farmer will not make much profit, and some of the middlemen take advantage of farmers who do not understand how the farm market works.’’
He also argues that presence of middlemen in loan processing hinder agric-business.
He, however, expresses delight that the advent of online farming and crowd-funding has made it easier for farmers to obtain funds for farming.
“Platforms such as farmcrowdy now exist where a sponsor and a farmer can meet without unnecessary intermediaries,’’ he notes.
According to him, agric-marketing also suffers due to poor food packaging and competition.
Akanwa adds that agric-marketing is affected by unstable market prices which, he says, can lead to poor estimation of produce cost.
Analyst are convinced that tackling the challenges will enable local farmers to take more advantage of the border closure to boost businesses and improve the economy.