By Godswill Aguiyi
In many African countries, over 80 per cent of their populations are involved in the farming, yet, they remain food insecure and poor. Why? My opinion is that the leaders lack the ideology of nation- building and the people are not cooperating effectively.
The purpose of this article is to maintain my position that agricultural production is not in numbers of farmers, but in the scale of production. What I mean by that is that the current campaign by the Nigerian Government for youths to go back to agriculture is misdirected because we already have enough farmers, we only need models to make the already existing farmers more productive and efficient.
I spent some weeks in Israel and got amazed at their sophistication and ingenuity; Israel is a country that can confidently say they are really practising agriculture with very few of their population. In Israel, only 2.5 per cent of the population is engaged in farming in a 20 per cent arable land and 60 per cent desert land of approximately 20,000sq.km which Israel covers. This 2.5 per cent of farmers produce enough food for the populace and surplus for export in many commodities. In Nigeria, over 70 per cent of the population are farmers and small-scale by the way and the government is still telling the youth to go into farming. I think the direction to go is to look for a way to make the already existing farmers more productive rather than creating an army of small-scale farmers all over the country.
One success factor for the Israeli agricultural accomplishment is that farming communities are organised cooperatives of either the Kibbutz or the Moshavs. In the Kibbutz, they produce together, sell together and share equally while in the Moshavs, they produce differently and sell together. Therefore, the Kibbutz can be defined as a producer cooperative and the Moshav can be defined as the marketing cooperative. Both Kibbutzim and Moshavim started off very poor and were assisted by national funds and now close to 80 per cent of the agricultural output of Israel is produced on cooperative farms of majorly these two organisations, although there might be others. The Nigerian agricultural communities cannot become Kibbutz or Moshavs now; however, the idea is for farmers to adopt the concept of Collective Bargain and Unionism which is the characteristic of these two organisations.
Different models of cooperative farming can be practised in Nigeria but that will be discussed in subsequent editions. However, the important thing is that cooperative farming helps both the rich and poor farmer to pull resources together. For instance, they can purchase various agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilisers, insecticides, services of machinery etc. on cooperative basis. They can sell the crops jointly. A good cooperative farming society may also arrange for financial assistance for carrying on these activities.
The second lesson is that government must assist the farming communities with support mechanisms for production. For example, the Israeli irrigation infrastructure is unrivaled; water is recycled by the state and channeled to farms for agricultural activities. This way, farmers are guaranteed all-year-round production. The reason why the state must invest in this infrastructure is because the cost is enormous and individual farmers and even private sector may not have the capacity to do that. In Nigeria, one major agricultural infrastructure that has to develop is the irrigation system for farming communities. The Nigerian Government must stop paying lip service to developing white elephant strategies (Value Chain, PPP and SCPZ) and get into action if they really want to develop the agricultural sector.
The third lesson is that everything about farming is business; what gives you higher return on investment. While we encourage value addition to our agricultural commodities, I have come to realise that it is not essentially about value added most times, it is business, what gives you the best prices. I visited a vineyard that only package and sell fresh vines and have closed down their wine press, because selling the fresh vines gives more returns on investment.
In summary, the Nigerian Government should encourage farmers to do cooperative farming, provide the farming communities with support mechanisms and reduce the wasting of funds on the development of strategy document, policy document and implementation plan, it is totally unnecessary. In many of these sophisticated countries, the strategies are not in any bogus agricultural document. Also, Development Partners, if you want to help our agriculture, please help us with farm infrastructure before training. Trainings are totally unnecessary when it cannot be put to use, SIMPLE!