Of en­tre­pre­neur­ial skills among peas­ant farm­ers

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - OPINION - By Tunde Ogun­laiye

THE re­cent live broad­cast of the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Agri­cul­ture and the Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture was very in­ter­est­ing. The op­ti­mism of the min­is­ter of the pos­si­bil­ity of an agrar­ian miracle in our time was al­most con­ta­gious but for his ex­pressed con­cern over dis­cour­ag­ing views from cer­tain quar­ters of agri­cul­ture as an un­vi­able business in this coun­try. And be­cause I share in the min­is­ter’s op­ti­mism, I would like to use this plat­form to en­cour­age him and mem­bers of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Agri­cul­ture that agribusi­ness is the fastest way to put pros­per­ity in the lives of our ci­ti­zens through build­ing the econ­omy from the ground up. This can be achieved for ex­am­ple by in­cul­cat­ing an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit into farm­ers and mak­ing ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties the ful­crum of new wealth cre­ation in Nige­ria. Yes, the nar­row minded, the short sighted and es­pe­cially the un­pa­tri­otic will thumb the nose at this! The truth is, the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties have fed us up till now, and I rec­og­nize there is need through eco­nomic in­clu­sion to work with them and build ca­pac­ity in the sec­tor for the com­mon good.

The de­sired de­vel­op­ment of the agri­cul­tural sec­tor of our econ­omy re­quires holis­tic gov­ern­ment pol­icy with con­sis­tent im­ple­men­ta­tion over a pe­riod of 10 to 15 years, but we must start from some­where par­tic­u­larly now and in a man­ner that will im­pact di­rectly the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and pro­vide life-chang­ing oc­cu­pa­tions for the teem­ing youth­ful pop­u­la­tion. As a food deficit coun­try, con­tin­u­ous re­liance al­most com­pletely (in spite of the few big farms) on sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture is in­ad­e­quate and un­ac­cept­able. A con­certed af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion to­wards in­creased agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion makes com­mon sense in view of gov­ern­ment’s ef­fort to di­ver­sify the econ­omy away from fa­tal­is­tic de­pen­dence on oil and over-re­liance on im­port that grat­i­fies ex­ces­sive con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion.

What we de­sire to achieve in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor is pos­si­ble for we have ex­am­ple of other coun­tries like Brazil as men­tioned by one of the par­tic­i­pants in the live broad­cast. An­other coun­try we can use as case study is Afghanistan which has some sim­i­lar­i­ties with North Eastern Nige­ria both in terms of ex­treme weather con­di­tions and the ur­gent need to re­set­tle the rav­aged com­mu­ni­ties which are also part of the im­por­tant grain pro­duc­ing ar­eas of Nige­ria. Af­ter decades of war and in­sur­gency that dev­as­tated the econ­omy, Afghanistan be­gan to en­joy a rel­a­tive time of peace. And with a then grow­ing pop­u­la­tion there was need to fore­stall se­ri­ous food crises. There­fore, the rav­aged farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties needed en­cour­age­ment to shift at­ten­tion from the lu­cra­tive cul­ti­va­tion of poppy plant to the cul­ti­va­tion of the much needed food crops. The gov­ern­ment did not have petro dol­lar to sim­ply throw at the prob­lem. But it looked at the best pos­si­ble means to stim­u­late lo­cal food pro­duc­tion in a sus­tain­able man­ner. This was achieved through con­certed ef- forts in­clud­ing the par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ven­tion by the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) of the United Na­tions work­ing with the Afghanistan Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Ir­ri­ga­tion and Live­stock un­der the spon­sor­ship of the Euro­pean Union. This in­ter­ven­tion re­sulted in the Seed Mul­ti­pli­ca­tion Project un­der the ti­tle, ‘Strength­en­ing Na­tional Seed Pro­duc­tion Ca­pac­ity in Afghanistan.’ This was ex­e­cuted through the seed depart­ment of the FAO with which I was priv­i­leged to work as mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sul­tant un­der the Tech­ni­cal Con­sul­tancy for De­vel­op­ing Coun­tries (TCDC). The strat­egy was to stim­u­late food crops pro­duc­tion by mak­ing lo­cally pro­duced and af­ford­able high qual­ity seed eas­ily avail­able to farm­ers. With ex­pe­ri­ence gained through in­ter­ac­tion with farm­ers in the eight prov­inces of the coun­try FAO was able to group them into eight Pi­lot Seed En­ter­prises and worked with them through ef­fec­tive train­ing-sup­port to cre­ate vi­able busi­nesses, and mul­ti­ply higher qual­ity seeds. For na­tion­wide use, train­ing man­u­als were trans­lated from English into Dari and Pashto the ma­jor lan­guages of the coun­try. The first pub­li­ca­tion fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing en­tre­pre­neur­ial skills and at­ti­tudes among farmer groups who were in­ter­ested in pri­vate seed busi­nesses. The sec­ond pub­li­ca­tion looked at seed pro­cess­ing and sow­ing as guide­lines for seed pro­duc­ers in Afghanistan. Th­ese and the over­all ini­tia­tive con­trib­uted to in­creased crop pro­duc­tiv­ity, farm in­comes, food se- cu­rity and free­dom from hunger.

The im­me­di­ate stake­holder farm­ers were the first to ben­e­fit from the pros­per­ity so gen­er­ated. But there is the mul­ti­ply­ing ef­fect where oth­ers out­side of the ini­tial pi­lot en­ter­prises were able to key-in sin­gle-hand­edly. I met such a farmer-en­trepreneur at the out­skirt of a province called Chadara just be­fore the Chadara River. Af­ter mak­ing money from seed pro­duc­tion, he de­cided to di­ver­sify his in­vest­ments into other ar­eas of the econ­omy in­clud­ing land ac­qui­si­tions. This farmer who would by Nige­rian stan­dard be an il­lit­er­ate, had an eye for business, was quick to rec­og­nize an in­vest­ment op­por­tu­nity and tap into it. This was pos­si­ble be­cause of the qual­ity and in­ten­sity of ex­ten­sion work that had ef­fec­tively reached out to the com­mu­ni­ties. He struck me as the quin­tes­sen­tial seed business en­trepreneur. Though he was not part of the pi­lot seed mul­ti­pli­ca­tion project. How­ever, about five years be­fore then, when FAO in­tro­duced a bet­ter wheat va­ri­ety than the pre­vail­ing one, he had been quick to seize the op­por­tu­nity and as di­rected, stepped up his own seed pro­duc­tion through a num­ber of strate­gic moves. Though he started with 20 met­ric tonnes of wheat seed pro­duc­tion, he was at the time of our meet­ing pro­duc­ing about 150 met­ric tonnes for his cus­tomers in the district. His farmer-cus­tomers had come to pre­fer the new va­ri­ety and were introducing it to the re­mote vil­lages. Ogun­laiyeisafoodanda­gri­cul­ture­or­gan­i­sa­tion(fao),tcd­c­consul­tant

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