Agriculture in Nigeria has been facing two major challenges over the years, which are; enhancing food production and promoting a sustainable environment. Therefore, for investors to make a profit or living through agriculture, they must devise ways to solve either or both problems through their product or services.
Over the last 10 years, Agriculture in Nigeria has been seen or presented as an industry capable of employing millions of unemployed graduates. Agriculture has been considered very lucrative.
Is this claim true?
If you type titles like, ‘how I made my first million from maize production’, ‘how to be your own boss through Cassava production’, Become a millionaire through poultry farming’, and so on. You will agree with me that Google will give you more than 1000 results.
But before I proceed, let me ask some questions?
- Is farming really lucrative?
- Is farming in Nigeria lucrative?
- Is Agriculture lucrative in Nigeria?
Don’t confuse farming with Agriculture. Farming is the growing of crops or keeping animals by people for food and raw materials. Farming is a part of agriculture.
Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock.
NOTE: Agriculture does not only gives riches to a nation but the only riches she can call her own.
But, before the riches can be achieved certain factors need to be considered or put in place. If such factors are considered, then Agriculture and Farming will be very lucrative, else, the reverse will be the case.
Enhancing food production to achieve food security will continue to be a challenge if care is not taken.
As an Agribusiness consultant, Agronomist, and Soil Scientist, in the last 5 years, I have identified some challenges affecting farming in Nigeria, and if neglected, it may scare investors, fresh graduates, or unemployed youth from investing in the sector.
Below are the current problem affecting farming in Nigeria:
- Human resources management
- Availability of Labour
- Herdsmen-Farmers conflict
- Incessant bush burning
- Climate Change
Those problems were identified using data, visual observation, and experience gathered in the last five years from clients’ farm, Company’s farm, and Farm visitation across Nigeria.
If you will agree with me, the listed problem is different from the basic problem of agriculture we were taught in the classroom (lack of capital, government policy, lack of social amenities, bad road, lack of collateral, and poor storage facilities). If you attend a secondary school in Nigeria, those problems will not be new to you. They are always TEN problems and Ten Solutions. Few changes were made at the higher institution. Instead of LACK, we were told to replace it with INADEQUATE. (#smiling)
However, as those problems continue to exist, the following problems join the list; Human resources management, Availability of Labour, Herdsmen-Farmers conflict, incessant bush burning, and Climate Change.
And if proper attention is not giving to these challenges, I see existing farmers/investors leaving the sector soon, thereby posing more threat in attaining food security.
Human resources management: Human resources management in farming is extremely difficult because the labour used for major farming operations (planting, weeding, fertilizer application, and so on) are mostly illiterates. In organizations such as the banks, manufacturing companies, or schools, managing the staff is easy because the staffs are educated even to the least worker (security men or messengers). It becomes very easy for the workers to follow the company’s rules and regulations. Also, all appointments made by these organizations follow the normal and usual recruitment process. It is a different case in Nigeria farming because most of the labour cannot read or write. So, they find it difficult to abide by rules and regulations. They smoke while on duty because they consider cigarettes or hemp as a source of inspiration or energy to work during sunny weather. There mode and style of reasoning is always different from their educated peer. Also, all labour used for farming operation are been gotten from remote areas of Benue states, Plateau, Northern states, Kogi, and Cross River, so there is always conflicts of interest between the farm manager/investors and the labour.
You get the best when they are motivated and when they are not happy they can also frustrate the effort of the farm manager or investor. So, a balance must be created between the two parties else, NOTHING will be achieved on the farm. Managing the labour requires a high level of monitoring, as they hardly work under no supervision, even when the manager gives a target or assign daily task for them.
Availability of Labour; In Nigeria today, if you place an advert requesting for 10 graduates, you will agree with me that more than 100 graduates will apply within 24 hrs of publishing the job advert?. This is different in farming, if you need 10 labours, to get just 2 is very difficult.
How does labour acquisition works in farming or the procedure?
There are several methods involved in sourcing for labour, it is either the farm owner travel to those states earlier mentioned to source for labour, agree on pricing, and transport them back to the farm. This method is risk-free because all terms and conditions would have been sort out before bringing them back to the farm. Also, farm owners will have the opportunity to select the strongest and agile men who he believes could be used in achieving his mission.
However, this method is only feasible when you have an insider or someone who will accommodate you during the trip to the village. Most times, farm owners usually travel along with their outgoing loyal and most trusted workers after the festive period to get new workers ahead of the New Year. This method is costly because the farm owner will have to cater for his own feeding, and other expenses during the trip. The trip usually spans between 1-2 weeks.
Another option often used by farm owners or investors is to transfer transportation money to an insider (most times, outgoing loyal worker). The worker will help his former master to arrange new workers and transport them to his master. This method often safe farm owners from the risk of traveling, and expenses incurred if he had traveled. Wages is been discuss over the phone, but not all terms and conditions could be discussed on the phone. Therefore, conflicts of interest often arise whenever new workers resume work. This method is also risky because there are chances of transporting underage boys (less than 18 years old) who have no prior farming experience, thereby affecting the pace of other workers. Another disadvantage of this method is that most of the outgoing workers are becoming greedy in the sense that when there former master transfer transportation money to them. They often abscond with the money. For instance, to transport a worker from Markudi to Ibadan, it usually costs a sum of five thousand naira. Imagine if a farm owner needs 10 workers, that makes it fifty thousand naira (50,000 loss).
Furthermore, I have also discovered that the outgoing worker has turned the labour acquisition into a business. For instance, a farm owner may decide to pay a sum of One Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira as an annual wage to a worker at the end of the year. But the outgoing worker will decide to serve as a middle man, thereby promising the labour between One hundred to One Twenty Thousand Naira (100,000-120000). You can imagine if there are ten workers involved, saving 30,000 naira on each worker is a huge profit, making it a total of 300,000naira without working, while the labour that works endlessly throughout the year will only receive 120,000. This often affects the performance of the labour whenever they find out.
No matter your level of expertise or skills you have in farming, without LABOUR, it is ZERO.
This problem will continue to get worst every year because of the RURAL-URBAN migration and the desire of those guys to get security jobs in the city, thereby leading to a decrease in available human resources in farming.
Do you even know that most of this labour often have a hidden agenda or plan before traveling from there village to the owner’s farm? Some of this labour only need transport money that will transport them from their village. So, after getting to the farm, within a week, they will disappear from the farm (sneak out without the manager’s consent).
Herdsmen-Farmers conflict: without writing many episodes on this challenge, if you are a Nigerian reading this article, I believe you are aware of the Herdsmen crisis. To be sincere, the herdsmen-farmers conflict has been in existence for a long time, but the rate is becoming alarming in recent years. I will not like to write extensively on the causes and the role politics has played in the conflict.
So, back to the main discussion.
Can you imagine, having put all your effort to solve the previous problems, Human resources management, and Availability of Labour, and all agronomic practices were done as at when due. But on getting to your farm in the morning, you realize that all your crops have been destroyed by cattle.
How will you feel when you borrow a loan of 2 million naira for maize, cassava, or yam production, and everything was eaten by cattle or uprooted by herdsmen to feel their cattle.
Incessant bush burning: This challenge is common during the dry season. The cash crop farmers often suffer it most. Farm operation usually stops or reduces during the dry season for Arable farmers because most production relies heavily on a rainfed production system.
Causes of bush burning
There are three major causes of bush burning in Nigeria
- Bushmeat Hunter
- A mistake from other farms
Reasons for burning bush
The hunter put fire inside the hole of a giant rabbit in their quest to kill the animal, while the animal tries to escape, the hunter run after it without quenching the fire. And in some cases, they may carelessly dispose of their cigarette on the ground.
In the case of herdsmen, they intentionally burn the field to have a clear and clean land ahead of the first rain for fresh vegetation to emerge for grazing purposes. Incessant bush burning could result in TOTAL loss of investment as well.
Slight mistakes from other farms may also cause bush burning on your farm. During land preparation, most farmers prefer bush burning because it is cheap, easy and fast. Some people will run away when they realize the fire is getting out of hand and there won’t be a water source to quench the fire because most streams, well, or river would have dry.
To solve the problem of labour, there is a need to think about mechanized farming. This will reduce the number of workers required in the field.
However, if mechanized farming is expensive, farm owners or investors are advised to consider tribe mixture on the field. Farmers or investors should not employ only one tribe on the farm. Although, it has some merits and demerits. Having the same workers from the same tribe may enhance their productivity and boost their morale to work. But when they are angry, they tend to influence one another, which means when one stop working, others will also stop working until their demand is met.
Having many tribes on the field may reduce their ability to influence one another whenever a labour decided not to work. So, dealing with such labour becomes easy for farm owner. The only disadvantage is that there is always a conflict of interest among the workers.
Another option for getting labour that will not abscond from the farm is acquiring labour from neighboring countries like Benin Republic and Togo. They can work and more committed to their daily task. Give less problem compare to Nigerians, but their service are more expensive than Nigeria labour.
Nigerian labour often gets between 100,000 – 170,000 annually depends on their ability to work, while Togolese or Beninese charges between 200,000-250,000 per annum.
An investor or farm owner really needs to be careful when agreeing on this remuneration. Because there are cases whereby the ROI from the farm is not sufficient to pay labours salary at the end of the year.
NOTE: Farm owners will feed the labours throughout the year aside from their salary.
Honestly, if the problem of LABOUR can be solved in FARMING, the farming problem is more than half solved.
In my next article, I shall be writing on a topic titled, ‘Annual or Daily labour? The cost implications and making the right decision ’
But before then, feel free to drop your comments or questions.