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Exploiting Agribusiness Opportunities in Africa: Food Security, Employment, and Economic growth

Photo credit: esoko.com

In various continents of the world, Agribusiness has been known to be a driver of economic growth. In Africa, it has a positive impact as it accounts for 30% of national income as well as a bulk of export revenues and employment. Kenya for example, is a key producer of tea, accounting for 59.6% of total production in Africa. The country is a leading tea exporter and one of the largest black tea producers in the world. With an estimate of 33 million small holder farms in Africa, a vibrant agriculture driven economy can cause increase in yields, increase in income generation, reduce in post- harvest losses and thereby put an end to food wastage. Agribusiness is capable of initiating the agricultural growth that will positively improve the livelihood of Africa’s increasing population. It can fasten Africa’s progress towards development.

In Nigeria for example, over 78.4 million people are willing, able and actively looking for job, development in agribusiness can have a direct impact on this people because an efficient and effective agribusiness will lead to increased employment in agro industrial activities.

Agribusiness does not only cover farmers it covers input suppliers, agro processors, traders, exporters and retailers. It is a term which indicates farming and all other industries, and services, that constitute the supply chain. The business of agriculture is not to be neglected in development priorities, the focus should not only be on urban industrialization, government need to get their role right on building necessary industrial capability and capacity, strengthening managerial capacity and promoting institutional services.

To successfully achieve desired result in agribusiness, understanding and comprehension of the nature of the business and its untapped opportunities is important. Food importation in African countries has to reduce and promotion of local agricultural products has to be carried out adequately. Although there are challenges as regards climate, policies, governance, laws, infrastructure and basic services, the goals to end poverty, hunger, have improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture should be a focus that will ensure motivation. To reduce the incidence of extreme poverty and unemployment, increase in importation, massive migration of rural peasants into the cities, agribusiness needs to be promoted and financially supported efficiently and effectively.

Africa’s projected population by 2050 is 2 billion; the continent has an estimate of more than one- fourth of the total un-fed people in the world. To guide against starvation, rapid rise in food prices, severe malnutrition, food riots, extreme poverty, higher rate of social vices and diseases; there is indeed a crucial need, to exploit the opportunities in agribusiness and make the business of agriculture more productive and profitable like never before so as to achieve improved social outcomes and solve the problem of poverty and food insecurity.

For a better result, Africa needs to take important decisions concerning agribusiness opportunities and act in a better way.

Written by Idowu T.Owoeye

 

Growing In Confidence: Understanding Latest Farming Technologies, Creating Opportunities

Planting of rice using the DPS machine

Planting of rice using the DPS machine

Tolu while growing up loved Agriculture but wasn’t interested in taking up a profession in the sector, she was latter convinced by a close friend to study Medicine to become a medical doctor. After writing JAMB twice to study Medicine (but not offered admission), Tolu decided to take up soil science and land resources management offered to her at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-ife, Osun state hoping to eventually change course to Faculty of health. She however, fell in love with the course and made up her mind to continue.

Today she leverages on her work at the International Fertilizer and Development Centre (IFDC) to facilitate farmers on using latest modern farming technology (UDP) aimed at increasing N fertilizer use efficiency in rice production among other crops, her interaction with farmers has enabled her to understand basic challenges farmers face and help proffer solutions and advice.

Tolu shares her excitement about future possibilities for Agriculture in Nigeria, if competent individuals with proven track record for getting things done are brought in and put in charge of farming centres established in each state of the Federation. She also advised continuation but review of the process and approach used for the Growth Enhancement Support scheme (GES) of the last administration for optimal result.

Q1. Can you briefly introduce yourself? How was growing up like for you?

Ans: I am Tolulope Ayeyemi, I hail from Itaogbolu in Akure North LGA, Ondo state. I attended Christ the King Nursery and Primary school Akure and proceeded to Saint Louis Grammar School, Akure for my secondary school education after which I got admission to Study Soil science and Land resources Management at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun state, Nigeria.

Q2. Can you please tell us how you came into farming/agribiz? Do you have a background in Agric? If No, Tell us why you considered agriculture?

Ans: Let me start this way, I had always loved agriculture, probably because my dad is a passionate agricultural science teacher and was my agric teacher at some point in secondary school, in fact I was a member of young farmers club in my secondary school however I wasn’t interested in taking up a profession in the agricultural sector. I had always wanted to be in the health sector, at first, I desired to be a Nurse but a very close friend convinced me to go in to Study Medicine and become a medical doctor, however things turned around when I was offered Agricultural economics and Extension at University of Ibadan at my first JAMB attempt. I didn’t take up the offer because I wasn’t interested in Agriculture as a profession. I took the next Jamb, this time, I was offered Soil Science and Land resources management at Obafemi Awolowo University, I didn’t have so many choices anymore and I had to take it with the hope that I will cross over to Faculty of Health sciences the next session or better still put in for another Jamb. I did put in for the Next Jamb, however I already made up my mind to continue with studying Soil science. During the university days as well, I was opportune to travel to Songhai farms for a training on integrated and sustainable agriculture, this further ignited my passion for agriculture and today am so happy to be a Soil scientist/Agronomist.

Q3. What aspect or nature of work in Agriculture do you practise in your work? Tell us about your interactions and experiences with farmers in your work?

Ans: Right from my university days, I have been involved in capacity building of smallholder farmers in different aspects. As an Harambe Nigeria fellow, myself and eight other young agri fellas worked with farmers in a particular commodity in Osun state and trained them on safe handling of pesticides, processing of their cassava into garri and storage/preservation of their vegetable products and fruits. It was quite an interesting experience. And for some years now, I have been involved in training farmers on improved/modern farming technologies through the establishment of demonstration plots which is thereafter used as a practical platform to train farmers. I have also been involved in training of youth spray service providers (YSSP) on safe and responsible handling of agrochemicals which includes both classroom facilitation as well as field demonstration. Moreso, I am also involved in the training of Agro input dealers for effective service delivery of agro inputs to farmers. Generally speaking, my activity centers around capacity building of major stakeholders in the farming community- smallholder farmers, agro dealers, spray service providers also called spray gangs.

Training of agro input dealers

 

 

Q4. What societal problems are you solving with your work and what solutions are you using in technology and practises? What are the hurdles currently being faced?

Ans: My activities have been solving problems that relate to environmental pollution from incessant application of agrochemicals, as well as helping farmers increase their yield through the use of improved technologies they have received training on. The challenges being faced is that farmers are somehow difficult to convince about the use of a new/improved technology and this is why the concept of demonstration plot is used when training farmers.

Q5. What do you think about youth participation in Agriculture?

Ans: In recent times, there seems to be an improvement in that regard probably because of the issues surrounding the oil and gas sector at the present moment. In addition, there are a number of similar activities just like Agropreneur Naija who are also involved in sensitizing youth in agriculture. By and large, I think youth participation in agriculture is on the increase. I have a number of young friends who are also involved in agriculture in one way or the other- production, processing, capacity building, marketing and lots more, however, it will be very interesting to see more youth venture into agriculture, the older generation are gradually fading off and the baton has to be taken by the young people.

Q6. What do you think are challenges of youth participation in agriculture, how has this affected Agricultural productivity in Nigeria?

Ans: One critical challenge about youth participation in agriculture is the drudgery. Ask youth about agriculture and the excuse they give is that it could be stressful, truth be told, yes, infact sometimes at the peak of the season, I get stressed up as well but tell me, which job doesn’t have its own kind of stress? Secondly, funding is also a major challenge, there’s no business that can run without some capital. Furthermore, the generation of youth we have these days are somewhat impatient, no matter the crops/animal you raise, it will take some time to get to maturity for sale and get some profit, and however youth are not interested in that kind of waiting, and they just want quick money.

Checking maize seedlings for pest attack

Checking maize seedlings for pest attack

 

Q7. Where do you see yourself in the next 5- 10 years from now?

Ans: In the next 5-10 years, I desire to own my personal commercial farm that will have both plant and animal section. I will also continue building the capacity of farmers most especially women farmers and I desire to be a mentor to female Agropreneurs.

Q8. What advice do you have for young people engaged in agriculture?

Ans: Agriculture is a very broad sector, my advice is they should be focused and get the best out of the aspect they are focused on, ask questions and get more knowledge.

Q9. What do you think government should put in place to improve the agric sector in Nigeria?

Ans: I am of the opinion that through a sort of public private partnership, the government of each state should establish modern farming centres with the kind of capacity and infrastructures that the popular Obasanjo farms has and employ people both skilled and unskilled labour to work there. I am assured that if this is done, aside providing employment for a good number of people, food production and distribution will also be increased. Aside this, government should put forward policies that will favour the small holder farmers and help him be able to sell his farm produce at the best market price. In the northern part of the country, more irrigation schemes should be constructed to enable farmer’s crop during the dry season. Furthermore, the growth enhancement support scheme (GES) of the last administration in which agro inputs were distributed to farmers at subsidized should continue and be made sustainable, however the process and approach should be reviewed in order to achieve optimal result.

Roadside Vegetables: Are they safe for consumption?

A vegetable farm

On the outskirt of every major West African city I have been to – from Lagos to Cotonou, Lome to Accra – I have observed the growing tendency of concentrated, medium to large size, vegetable farms that produce varieties of vegetables to meet the demands of the city dwellers to dot the landscape.

I recall the good impression I had the first time I came across this type of vegetable farms along the Iyana Ipaja-Obadore-Ojo Expressway on the outskirt of Lagos Nigeria, in early 2008. Then, as recently graduated agriculturist, with focus on soil science, I thought it was great form of land use management, considering the land pressures – little land availability, competition for development purpose and infrastructures etc – and the massive, ever-growing population of Lagos which aggravates the land pressures.

But in recent times, with the benefit of more advanced education – mainly in the field of environmental biology/toxicology – I have come to realize the other, mainly negative, side of this kind of vegetable production that counterbalances the advantage of the good management of available land resources and raises the issue of public health concerns.

The issue is, these peri-urban farms are usually located along busy highways, with high-to-heavy vehicular movements, and the emissions from the exhaust of the vehicles passing by can lead to the deposition of harmful chemicals and toxic metals, chief among which is lead, on plants along the highways including those vegetables produced for human consumption.

The accumulation of lead in roadside soils and plants growing along highways varies with the traffic along such ways, research reports indicate that up to 50% of lead released from vehicle exhaust is deposited within 30meters of the road and the others scattered over a larger area of land.

Lead, a systemic poison, may accumulate to large amounts in plants beyond levels permissible for human consumption and thus have the tendency to build-up in these vegetables. Worse still, many plants, including popular Nigeria/West-African vegetables e.g. Celosia and Amaranthus, have the ability to accumulate large amounts of this toxic element without having any visible deleterious effect on their appearance or yield.

Lead poisoning can cause serious health effects in the human body, and ingesting it – in this case through vegetables – beyond level found to be permissible can result in health issues like nausea, anorexia and severe abdominal cramp, renal tubular dysfunction, muscle aches and joint pains, anaemia and weight loss. It can also pass through the placental barriers to cause miscarriages, abortions and stillbirths in pregnant women.

This contamination of roadside vegetables, with lead, is possible because of tetra ethyl lead (TEL) – a petrol/gasoline additive – often used as an anti-knock agent in petrol (or gasoline) used in vehicles which as a result makes the exhaust from automobiles rich in lead.  Although, the use of lead additives in petrol/gasoline has been completely banned by law or significantly reduced in many developed countries, a lot of developing countries, Nigeria inclusive, still rely on leaded petrol to power vehicles on their roads.

On solution to this issue, therefore, is to avoid the use of petrol/gasoline with lead additives in Nigeria – and other West African countries where this form of vegetable production is practiced – but taking into consideration the history of petrol production/use in Nigeria and the cost involved in switching to new technologies, plus the time required to achieve all that, then that may not happen anytime soon.

So, for now, ensuring that leafy vegetable farms are moved away and far enough, from roads with heavy vehicular movements seems the better and ready available alternative. In their place, other crops or fruity vegetables – whose leaves or roots are not consumed (e.g. maize or okra) or crops not grown for human/animal consumption (e.g. cotton or kenaf) can be planted on the roadside plots to maximize the use of land.

That way, we can prevent negative public health situations and the breeding of chronic diseases among cities’ populace while still getting as much as we can out of available land.

Photo: Agfax