We can create markets for smallholder farmers – Expert
What is the main focus of MARKETS II?
When you say MARKETS there is a misconception about it by the people. Actually, MARKETS is an agribusiness development programme funded by USAID to ensure that Nigerian farmers have access to markets. It is a programme that is implemented all through the agricultural value chain. The main focus is to ensure that farmers produce what they can sell.
We are working on rice, maize, cassava, sorghum, cocoa and aquaculture. The programme provides technical assistance to the farmers so that they can produce according to the required standards. We facilitate access to good quality seeds and fertilizer.
We don’t give the farmers money but only link them to where they can buy certified seeds and fertilizers. We also train the farmers and work with them from land clearing stage to harvesting to ensure that they use good agronomic practices and produce crops that the off-takers can buy from them. Once the offtakers get standard produce, they pay a premium price to the farmers, not just what obtains in the market. The essence of this is that because of the training, the produce coming from our farmers are better and up to standard.
The average Nigerian farmer is hardly able to sell his produce or get commensurate returns for months of labour. Why is this so?
Of course, the average Nigerian farmer always finds it difficult to sell his produce because most of the farmers are farming as they grew up to meet people in the community doing. They don’t even have guarantee that they can sell their produce. And that is the beauty of this project. Before we train farmers to farm, we are already sure of the market. So, Nigerian farmers will always face difficulty if they don’t have guarantee of where to sell and they just go ahead to produce. I give you an example, during Obasanjo’s regime, simply because of the policy of 10% inclusion of cassava in flour, people went ahead to produce cassava and many could not sell. Dr. Farouk Kurawa is the Director, Agricultural Finance, Nigeria MARKETS II, a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded programme implemented by Chemonics International. He worked with MARKETS I and the Bridge programme in leading capacities before the emergence of MARKETS II. In this interview with he disclosed how the programme links farmers across the country with off-takers in order to ensure readily available market at premium prices for their produce. Excerpts:
There was a glut because there was no guaranteed market for the cassava produced. It was just a policy statement and nothing was on ground to protect the farmers. Many farmers suffered and lost a lot of money.
What can the government do to improve market opportunities for smallholder farmers?
Average Nigerian farmer doesn’t produce because he has guaranteed market and that’s why we are urging the government to encourage the farmers to produce along the value chain to attract market. The government should make sure that whatever the farmers are producing, they should have comparative advantage. In doing so, there will be guaranteed market and premium price.
What investment opportunities are there for the private sector in creating markets for farmers’ produce?
There are a lot of opportunities. There are opportunities in seeds and fertilizer. Seed is a major input the farmers need. It is a great determinant of farmers output. Some of them plant the grains they harvested from their farms instead of planting certified seeds. The private sector can produce good, quality seeds for the farmers to plant and harvest good quality produce that can attract market.
Once it is demonstrated to the farmer that there is a difference between seed and grain, the farmer will be ready to stake his or her money to buy the seeds to get good yield. Good quality fertilizers can be produced for the farmers to apply on their crops and get higher yield.
Notore as a private organisation is already involved in seeds and fertilizer production. There are opportunities in agro-processing as well. You can micro-process or semi-process and sell to bigger buyers. For example, farmers produce and at the time of harvest, the price will be so low and they need to transport the produce to the market. Some of the produce gets wasted and the farmers lose a lot.
The private sector can invest in processing and also in haulage to get the produce to the destination in good time. Farmers will be willing to pay for such services to avoid post-harvest losses. There are also opportunities in mechanization. For example, a farmer who cultivates 1ha and is getting 1ton/ha, if you introduce him to improved seeds and he or she is getting 5tons/ha, that farmer can no longer use hands to cultivate but mechanised method. He needs small mechanised equipment to carry out the farming activities.
So, opportunities are there to provide mechanisation so that farmers can pay for the services to avoid drudgery.
Also, there are opportunities in market linkages. If a farmer is linked to the value chain and he or she knows where he can get inputs and where he can sell his produce at premium price, nothing stops him or her from producing more.
The private sector can invest at any level of the agricultural value chain to create markets for the farmers, while enjoying returns on their investment.
Dr. Farouk Kurawa