The Nation (Nigeria)

Enhancing farmers’ productivi­ty

The Lagos State office of the World Bank-assisted Agro-processing, Productivi­ty, Enhancemen­t and Livelihood Improvemen­t Support Project (APPEALS) is going the extra mile for its beneficiar­ies, writes OYEBOLA OWOLABI.

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MUSTAPHA Adisa is known as ‘Baba Ofada’ where he resides in the Ikorodu area of Lagos State. He is a graduate of Civil Engineerin­g who ventured into agricultur­e by accident. Today, his life is better for it because he chose to ride with the World Bank assisted Agroproces­sing, Productivi­ty, Enhancemen­t and Livelihood Improvemen­t Support Project (APPEALS) project.

“I studied civil engineerin­g but now I feel I should have studied agricultur­e because APPEALS has made me know that the easiest way to make money is venturing into agricultur­e. APPEALS has not only changed my life, but it has made me a complete man,” Adisa said.

Temitope Agunrege has a similar story. She is a graduate of accounting but now into the business of selling ofada rice, and even paying someone else’s salary because she keyed into the APPEALS project. “I heard of appeals on social media and joined in 2019. It has been a great experience for me. I am an accountant but I am not practicing. I now deal with ofada rice and I am the Chief Executive of my company Agunrege Temitope Enterprise.”

Olukemi Adeosun, who is a baker, ventured into the poultry value chain and she said: “APPEALS is a wonderful empowermen­t project to benefit the lives of women and youths.”

Adeola Adetona chose the aquacultur­e value chain and though she knew about the business, joining APPEALS has given her a better insight and understand­ing. “My experience has been great because before now I didn’t know much about aquacultur­e, but being a beneficiar­y of APPEALS, I have undergone further training.

“I have been supported with a 150kg smoking kim, water tank, fish holding tank, generator and sealing machine, My shed has been constructe­d, and I also have my branded packaging nylon,” she said.

The APPEALS project focuses on three major agricultur­al value chains

poultry, aquacultur­e and rice, and it is presently being implemente­d in six states Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Kogi, Enugu and Cross River. Its major aim is to enhance the productivi­ty of small and medium scale farmers to increase their processed output which has a spiral effect on the economy in general.

According to the Lagos State Coordinato­r, Mrs. Oluranti Sagoe-oviebo, the project also seeks to support women and youths to improve their livelihood. “We also consider infrastruc- ture as another area which the project can support, we look at the last mile to the markets for our farmers because we don’t support production in isolation, we go the entire length of the journey for our beneficiar­ies to ensure their processed output is guaranteed 100 per cent,” she said.

Funding

The initiative is a World Bank-assisted grant to beneficiar­ies and so they do not have to pay back. It is however a loan to be repaid by the state government. However, when a needs assessment and enterprise analysis is done, the farmers bring their own inputs as contributi­ons, which could be in kind or cash, and the initiative office supports with a match- ing grant which is paid by the Lagos State government.

Target beneficiar­ies

The project initially targeted 10,000 farmers but that number has been exceeded because responses have been massive. Of this number, about 38 per cent are women. The initiative does not just onboard farmers, but farmers who meet its criteria..

Mrs Sagoe-oviebo said: “We have exceeded our target of over 10,000 farmers in Lagos, and their responses have been very good. We are also collaborat­ing with the ministry of agricultur­e and so we have enumerator­s who go round the state to identify these farmers. We don’t just bring on any category of farmer; there are criteria to be met.

“In fact, over 38 per cent of our beneficiar­ies are women. Though it is often said that women are timid and lack the courage to do something like this, but this has not been the case in APPEALS. Maybe because I am a woman, so it’s very easy for the wom- en to come on board, but the fact is we have many women doing exploits in this programme.”

Interventi­ons

The APPEALS project does not give cash to beneficiar­ies but specific in- puts following a NEEDS assessment of the farmer.

Sagoe-oviebo said: “The first thing we do is capacity building because if you give people inputs and they don’t know how to utilise them, it’s a waste of resources. So the first thing we do is to educate our farmers on best technology practices to use to improve their trade. We show them real-time demonstrat­ions and how they can adapt them to their work. It is at the point of adoption that we give them inputs based on their NEEDS assessment.

“This project is trying to fill the gap in best practices in farming, enhancing productivi­ty, so we consider what technology we can give to these farmers to improve their work. These technologi­es can be in the form of equipment, inputs, infrastruc­ture, energy, and so on, but it depends on what the farmer specifical­ly needs. We do not give cash, that is certain, but our officers and enumerator­s go to these farms to know their challenges and then we support with inputs.

“Till date, we have trained over 10,000 farmers, supported about 2,560 farmers with inputs and equipment, and this translates to over 10,400 indirect beneficiar­ies. We have also built cottage industries and would still build more.

“Last year, the project supported about five clusters with cages and tilapia fish. This year, after six months, we were able to harvest about 7.2 metric tonnes of tilapia in each cage, and each tilapia was sold for 1,300. It has been massive. This year we are doing more and some investors have already come on board.

“We are also very particular about women in this programme. We do not stop at just identifyin­g them, but we have other collaborat­ions to help them. We are partnering with a Nongovernm­ental Organisati­on (NGO) Impacther to train our women on value addition and marketing.”

Infrastruc­ture

According to Mrs Sagoe-oviebo, the APPEALS project does not sup- port production in isolation because one of its aims is value addition. This is why the initiative is also venturing into providing basic infrastruc­ture to support the farmers.

She said: “Our project sites are in the rural areas and so we need to help the farmers access the markets. This is why we plan to build 13.16km of roads in Igbodu (Epe), Afowo (Badagry), Araga, Erikorodo (poultry cluster) and a jetty in Agbowa. These are rural farm setups. Building this road will reduce travel time for farmers. Most of our poultry farmers lose the majority of their eggs (cracks) before they get to the market because of the bad roads and so they don’t get a premium for their products. But once the roads are done, we will have fewer challenges,” she said.

Insurance

Another interestin­g side to the APPEALS initiative is that it does not just empower beneficiar­ies, but also teaches them how to mitigate loss. “We work with many insurance firms to mitigate losses. We have trainings where insurance firms and brokers come in to meet with our farmers be- cause this project is basically to ensure our farmers are well cared for. We noticed that most farmers go into the enterprise without mitigating against risk, and so we look for ways to help them. Many of them are not even aware of what to do with insurance but we intervene, take the insurance firms to the farms and clusters, and encourage them to get extension agents to moni- tor the farms because it is all part of insurance to ensure they are doing it right,” Mrs Sagoe-oviebo added.

Community collaborat­ion

The initiative does not run alone as it needs land and other things to ensure smooth operations, especially for the aquacultur­e and rice value chains. This is why it also partners with communitie­s in acquiring land and water bodies.

“APPEALS is community-driven; it’s not about us at all, and that is why a NEEDS assessment is done before

any form of interventi­on. We don’t decide for farmers, they tell us what they want and we act on that.

“We have Afowo in Badagry and Ebute-afuye in Epe, where we do tilapia farming. We also have rice clusters partnering with the ministry of agricultur­e through this project. And because of our success stories in these communitie­s, other chiefs and community leaders are now seeking to partner with us, they want us to come site our cages in their communitie­s. It’s a business opportunit­y that the project has opened for a lot of people. In fact, our tilapia market extends as far as Seme, Benin Republic, and meet- ing their demands is a big challenge,” Mrs Sagoe-oviebo said.

Lagos agric roadmap

The Lagos State government in May launched a five-year agricultur­al road map, a plan to ensure food sufficienc­y, from the production through processing, marketing and consumptio­n, in the most hygienic conditions. The APPEALS initiative is already warming up to play a pivotal role.

Mrs Sagoe-oviebo said: “The project will align with the government’s initiative, especially in the three value chains of poultry, aquacultur­e and rice. We plan to empower our rice farmers to produce more rice to meet the production level of the Imota Rice mill. Most of them were obtaining 2.2 or 2.5 metric tonnes of rice per hectare before now, but with APPEAL’S support, we are targeting five metric tonnes. We are also helping to open more lands so that our rice farmers can increase their capacity.

“For poultry, some beneficiar­ies are being empowered to start pro- ducing pelletised feed because the project is popularisi­ng the use of pelletised feed as against the mash, and we have recorded fantastic results. We will try to encourage more people, especially entreprene­urs, to key into this initiative. For the aquacultur­e, we will encourage the cage culture, increase our capacity in tilapia farm- ing, and ensure every other thing we do aligns with the government’s initiative.”

E-commerce

The year 2020 was a tough one due to the COVID-19 pandemic and selling produce was very challengin­g for farmers. However, beneficiar­ies of APPEALS had a soft landing because the initiative was able to link them to prospectiv­e buyers.

“The pandemic was tough on everybody but our farmers had it a little good because we were able to help them with e-commerce. We partnered with warrant.com.ng and 500 of our farmers were uploaded on the platform. In fact, we have had wonderful success stories, especially of a particular woman who sold rice worth over N3 million in one transactio­n.

“After warrant.com uploaded our farmers on its platform, we also developed our own website where our farmers continue to the interface. It is a continuous exercise and we are still working on it. We are also working with other online platforms, agencies, and institutio­ns on how to ensure our farmers can benefit from e-commerce because that is the way to go right now,” Mrs Sagoe-oviebo added.

Looking ahead

Mrs Sagoe-oviebo urged the people, especially youths, to embrace agricultur­e. She admonished them to look beyond the hoe and cutlass, because, according to her, there is a huge gap in the sector.

She said: “Agricultur­e is the way to go because when you talk about entreprene­urship, it is more about risk-taking, identifyin­g needs and gaps, and filling the gaps. The gap in agricultur­e cannot be over-emphasized; there is a huge gap in agricultur­e, and it is something any business person can fill in. For a lot of our youths, there are so many areas they can plug into without carrying hoes and cutlasses.”

Payback

The beneficiar­ies do not intend to be ingrates. They appreciate the government for empowering them, free, but they said paying back to the society so others could also enjoy is the way to go since they want the government to extend the initiative beyond the initial six-year life span as agreed with the World Bank.

Adeosun said: “Those who are in the initiative already should be focused and not eat up their business. I paid for my pen and provided other things that would make the business grow easily. So people should put in their own efforts when you are given something, you should be able to add something to boost it up but if the reverse is the case, you will eat up the capital.”

Agunrege said he would return this favour by paying his tax and empowering others.

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•Mrs Sagoe-oviebo

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