Diversifying The Nigerian Economy Through Agribusiness
Agriculture is the oldest occupation on earth, so it is ironic that as Nigeria’s economy shifts from dependence on black gold, the focus is on agribusiness. I think this period heralds the beginning of Nigeria’s new era of prosperity, if the right fiscal and monetary policies are executed by government. The road to agriculture for Nigeria started during the last administration with some printed successes like delivering fertilizers directly to farmers and abolishing the middleman arrangement.
I am a part of the drive to diversify from crude oil. I found myself in the sector three years ago by divine providence. When we started this venture we were determined not to partner with or reach out to government as it was a private business that boasted several local and international investors.
Our goal was commercial vegetable farming with tomato as our primary product. We chose tomato because Dangote Group was opening a tomato paste processing plant. The plant would mop up most of the tomato supply creating scarcity. Moreover, our technical partner was a leading global agribusiness firm. As money poured in, we determined to change the farming landscape just as MTN changed telecoms in Nigeria.
However, within six months we hit challenges such as:
- Wrong professional and technical partnerships, which went sour.
- Lack of credible information.
- Inadequate extension services.
- Non availability of relevant equipment.
- Difficulty in hiring reliable labour.
- Absence of a sound management plan.
- Large scale beginning unsupported by economies of scale.
These challenges created opportunities for learning although it did not feel that way at the time, and they exposed other issues as we solved immediate ones. The mental pressure was intense—I had no farming experience, our consultant had deserted us, and we had expended N40m at startup and another N25m shortly after with no major success to speak of. Nevertheless, as a Christian, I relied on my faith to solve the problems we faced. Some of the solutions we created include:
- Collaborating with people who have the same vision, mindset, and passion to succeed. I was fortunate to meet such a person. I didn’t select him, I believe providence did that. His vision was impressive.
- Forming a cooperative.
- Having a sound plan and beginning small. We returned to the drawing board to start small.
- Employing the management team carefully without haste. Our manager, though qualified in Crop Management at MSc level, was not a lateral thinker and did not have the requisite experience. However he is teachable, loyal, honest, and has connections in numerous sectors.
- Researching and sharing information. We applied what we found useful.
- Implementing new methods of planting.
- Moving forward despite being knocked down often. We persevered in farming in spite of setbacks.
Currently, we have grown to nine workers having downsized from an initial fifty to five. We are cultivating less than five hectares of the 120 we leased, but we are seeing growth. We source input and equipment locally instead of from Kenya as we had previously done. The cooperative we formed is positioned to receive assistance from government and we are now offering extension services to other farmers and potential farmers. We are also registered for export and have sent samples to Europe and the Middle East. We continue to forge new partnerships.
The Future holds great potential for growth in agribusiness. I am now of the view that effective commercial farming requires government intervention in the form of subsidies. Our previous position was short sighted. The USA and Europe still employ this method.
Developing multiple streams of income rather than relying solely on crops is a necessity. Multiple streams of income can also be created by growing domestic and export markets.
Other catalysts for growth are forming strategic partnerships and transiting to 100% mechanical farming while leveraging technology for production, sales, and logistics. Technology has contributed to eradicating the presumption that agriculture is a primitive career and does not lead to wealth. Those who still have that view should be aware that Howard Buffet, son of the famous Warren Buffet is one of the richest farmers in the world.
Nigeria was 200 years behind the west in agribusiness. The west also went through this teething phase. How long Nigeria spends in this phase is entirely up to us.
Tunde Songonuga has a background in the retail and I.T. sectors. He moved back to Nigeria around 2010, having lived in the United Kingdom for twenty years with his wife and two daughters. He is the director of Fresh Growers Limited.