It is indeed a unique day for all of us as Nigerian farmers, as we gather here today to demonstrate the readiness of the President and Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic, Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR), to deepen and widen the efforts required to support Nigerian farmers to be engaged in agriculture, and thereby earn a very decent livelihood. No country can practise agriculture sustainably without agricultural mechanisation.
Agriculture remains the bedrock of our economy, historically and culturally. Nigeria is blessed with total agricultural land which is 79 per cent of the total land mass of approximately 92 sq kilometres. It shows how richly endowed we are as a country.
Permit me to commend the revolutionary stride of my predecessor, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina,(CON), now President of the African Development Bank AfDB), in all he has done to reposition agriculture in Nigeria to the level we have attained. He has laid a good foundation for reforming the sector. However, much is still left to be achieved, as the agricultural sector has suffered neglect for over 30 years of oil discovery.
Broken chains persist within the sector. The tenure system fragments the available land into negligible portions, unsuitable for commercial farming, Young Nigerians desirous to practise agriculture have inadequate access to land and mechanised equipment. Although over 50 million hectares of arable land are presently not in use, the 40 million hectares in use are poorly developed and not very tractorable.
Agriculture in general and farming in particular has, regrettably been seen to be synonymous with poverty as it is dominantly practised at the rural areas. To bring the needed change, we must focus our energy more on developing and creating enabling environment for the rural areas to grow. We must make sure that the nature of the new growth in Nigeria is one that is inclusive and opens up the rural economy.
It would therefore be unthinkable and counterproductive, to think of developing agriculture in Nigeria by continuing to distribute hoes, machetes, axes and ordinary and low yielding seeds to farmers. Capitalism puts wealth in the hands of the drivers but the time to democratise capitalism, especially in the Nigerian agricultural sector is now. This government is committed to achieving an all-inclusive growth.
FAO estimates that in Sub-Saharan Africa, only one per cent of farm power is provided by mechanical means, less than 10 per cent from draught animals and 89 per cent from human labour. Nigeria is not an exemption. The current level of mechanisation in Nigeria is estimated to be 0.03hp/ha, as against the 1.5hp/ha recommended by FAO. The total number of tractors in the country is estimated at about 35,000, over 50 percent of which have broken down due to the nature of our farm lands, lack of sustainable products’ sales, service and poor maintenance culture.
The low level of mechanisation limits the ability of our farmers to expand cultivated areas, perform timely farm operations and achieve economies of scale in increasing food production. Europe today is over-mechanised, USA is completely mechanised. The numbers of tractors per 1,000 hectares are as follows: Japan has 461; Italy, 211.1; France, 68.5. In India, a small state called Punjab which is the “Granary of India” (India’s bread-basket), has over 1,000,000 tractors, Egypt 31 tractors/1,000ha and in other African countries, including Nigeria, only five per cent of farm labour is done using tractor.
Although Nigeria, for a very long time, has not conducted a valid inventory of our tractor density, this may be less than five tractors to 1,000 hectares. While the larger portion of the arable land for agricultural production lies here in Africa, farming is still done with rudimentary equipment, thus limiting land and labour productivity, discouraging our young people.
This administration will endeavour to end unbridled importation of all kinds of food items, which has led to the growing youth unemployment, impoverishing our farmers and neglect of the existing potential in the agricultural sector. With our natural resource assets, we can ensure food self-sufficiency. This renewed commitment informs the decision of this administration to sustain, deepen and widen the Private Sector-driven Agricultural Mechanisation Framework (PSDAMF) strategies in partnership with local fabricators and manufacturer representatives.
This will make available mobile mini AEHE, comprising of only single axe power-tillers, mini combine harvesters, threshers and bagging machines. The ministry, in partnership with commercial banks, donor agencies and developing partners, will strive to make the mini AEHE available to youth and women farmers nationwide under the Framework of PSDAMF at discounted cost to assist our smallholders to mechanise themselves.
The big picture here is the official flag-off of this high powered 110hp to 200hp precision farming tractors and other 295 tractors, various harvest and post-harvest equipment required to set up additional 60 AEHE centres. Through these 60 AEHE centres, we will have:
· 2,000 direct jobs created for the unemployed youths
· 100,000 hectares of land mechanised
· 500,000 metric tons of food added to national production
This flag-off serves as the commencement of the Buhari Administration’s vision to aggressively commercialise and mechanise Nigeria’s agriculture by introducing about 2,000 units of tractors and various kinds of harvesting and processing equipment to mechanise our farming annually, while also building Nigerian local content and capacity to sustain and advance mechanisation to suit best practices worldwide.
Nigeria’s local farm technologies will be given attention, the efforts of our local fabricators will be encouraged. The first-ever local farm technology fabricators fair will be held in February/March 2016 to enable us identify local farm technology and companies that need to be promoted and commercialised. We shall be open to institutional partnership with ready foreign equipment manufacturers to develop our farm technology.
We are concerned with the standard of farm equipment that gets into this country. We must build our local capacity as a country to truly get mechanised. This Government will develop more commercial farm land in partnership with the private sector to give our unemployed youths more access to land and pave way to more commercially-driven agriculture. We shall continue to give adequate attention to the existing smallholder farmers who have been the pillar of food security in our country.
Our research institutions and universities/ College of Agriculture/Technology must be supported and challenged to perform their mandate. They will be encouraged to partner with private sector fund providers to fund large scale production of research product while government will guarantee off-take by setting standard and marketing/ business development units within such institutions.
Let me challenge the Service Provider Operators (SPOs) to reciprocate our efforts in setting up the Agricultural Equipment Hiring Centres by rendering affordable services to Nigerian farmers. We are presently working out the modalities for a Performance Incentive of between five to 10 per cent for the best performing SPOs in service provision and loan repayment as amortised. Hard work and diligence must be rewarded.
Let me also seize this opportunity to thank the Dangote Group, a very strong supporter and investor in agriculture, for its numerous investments in the key areas of agriculture. This is the latest and an off-taker of the mega AEHE Centre, established with higher horse power tractors coming from John Deere Tractors, one of the world giants in farm machinery.
Finally, I appreciate the Acting Executive Director and the entire management of National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM) for your efforts in organising this event and your contribution towards local production of farm equipment. My ministry will support you to do better.
To all my staff, especially the Mechanisation Team Leader, I commend your efforts in arranging the flag-off ceremony and the mechanisation programme. Agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria in the past. In agriculture lies the future of Nigeria’s economy.