‘Insecurity, many other challenges working against agric sector’

Mr Ezekiel Ibrahim Mam is the current President of the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN). He is a main distributor for feed millers and poultry farmer. He spoke with Head of Agro-Economy Desk, FEMI IBIROGBA on various challenges in the poultry and allied industries, pointing out that power supply, cost of feed ingredients and insecurity constitute a burden that prevents the country from achieving the goals of food security, agro-industrial development and job creation. Excerpts: 
Many farmers and other stakeholders in the poultry industry have been complaining of many challenges. What are the challenges?
We have very enormous challenges. Some have been there while some are just emerging. We have been having a relatively stable price of feeds for about one year now because we were able to have good production of maize a couple of years back, and hence stable price.

But honestly, as we move towards 2020, the price of feeds has gone up because we have a shortfall in supplies of soya beans, which are key in feeds formulation. This is a serious threat to the industry. I wish the government would quickly intervene by allowing importation of soya beans even though temporarily.

Insurgencies have greatly affected crop production and this is not limited to soya beans. Our policies at times are inconsistent. First, most agricultural inputs should have zero tariff, but the Custom imposes up to 20 per cent at times. That adds to the cost of production.

The other factors are multiple taxations from both state and local agencies. Everybody knocks at your door, threatening to close down your operations if you fail to pay. Instead of being rewarded, you are threatened. Anybody coming into production in agriculture is trying to create employment. It is only in agriculture that you have vacancies for all times of people. In poultry, you need a veterinary doctor, an animal scientist, an attendant to feed your birds, and another one to clean the farm and all that.

So, instead of being even rewarded for that effort to create jobs, the local and state government officials would run after you for revenue. And other federal agencies will run after you too. At the end, you cannot even break even.

And as a country, we must realise that we cannot have comparative advantages in every area. We should protect what we should and allow what we can temporarily. Only some states can produce soya beans in Nigeria, but almost all states can produce maize. The government should allow for limited importation of soya beans and specifically keyed into the sectors that need them (the poultry and baby food industries).

Already, there has been a government policy that, I think, gives about 50 per cent rebate and lower tariffs for agriculture manufacturers. That has been more on paper than in reality. That is why we are asking that most of these policies are gazetted immediately, and once this is done, we would be protected.

Apart from that, there is no electric power supply. Out of 24 hours, you hardly get four hours. How can you run a farm if you have a hatchery that needs power 24 hours but you are getting only four hours? When you supplement with diesel, it adds to your cost, and it will not correspond with the disposable income of those buying your chicks. Today, the day-old chick price in Nigeria is one of the most expensive in the world because of power and feeds. In fact, power is key to any revolution in the economy.

You said in the last one year, the price of feeds had been stable because of abundant maize production… (cuts in). In 2016, the crises of insurgencies actually intensified and there was scarcity of maize because most people in the north could not go to the farm. The improvement of security in the northeast and the programmes of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in agriculture by supplying inputs to farmers encouraged production.

But I am scared because the north generally suffers and if the situation does not improve, by 2020, we will be in trouble because most farmers in the north cannot go to the farm for they are afraid of kidnapping. In the northeast, most farmers cannot go to the farm because of Boko Haram. In the north-central, farmers are afraid because of the herder-farmer crises. So, the majority of the people are not going to the farm now, and that portends dangers ahead.

If you want to enjoy commercial poultry, it should be located in the outskirts. Now, most farmers have closed farms because they are scared they would be kidnapped or their workers killed. So, generally, we are going to have challenges getting poultry protein sources from the north. For you to fundamentally revive any economy, you have to boost the poultry industry. Historically in any economy, the poultry sector has played significant roles.

In Israel, America, Brazil and around the world, the return on investment in the poultry production is about six weeks. You have protein products in six weeks. By 22 weeks, you have pullets laying eggs. So, the return on investment is quicker. It is the quickest source of nutrition. Unfortunately, of all the sectors of agriculture, poultry is the least supported.

Nigerian indigenous investors have put a lot of money in the sector, and at times we do not get interventions. Most investors coming from outside the countries have tax holidays for three years and they get cheapest interest rate from their countries.

What can the government do?
The government can intervene by doing the following. One, if you are increasing your stock as an indigenous investor, the government should give you incentives because you are creating jobs and by so doing, you are expanding the tax net of the government. This will bring added revenue to the government. So, you should be rewarded for this. It will motivate people. In fact, most Nigerians outside would be encouraged to bring their resources home for investments.

What other things can the government do on security so that farmers can go back to their farms?
We can only overcome our security challenges when we go back to the basics. One, generally as Africans, we have our traditional systems of administration. I am talking of the traditional rulers. You know we have the village head, the district head, the emirs, and in Yorubaland, we have baale and obas. What is the essence of that system? It is that anyone coming to the community is identified. And these people have the mandate to report to higher authorities.

Once you are appointed as a traditional ruler, you are one until you die. The highest any politician can stay is eight years, but now they are saying the ruler of a lifetime should report to a local government chairman. And it is likely that an Oba is ruling over four local government areas. Does that sound reasonable? Two, we need to imbibe the culture of respecting one another for who we are. If you do not respect one another, you cannot believe one another. And that is the basis of progress. There must be trust.

Thirdly, education is key to our survival for it gives knowledge, tolerance and you can see things from the perspectives of others. Once you are not educated, you become myopic. You are likely to see things from your own point of view. And you see other persons as inferior that cannot add value to you. We need to seriously invest in education.

What is the estimated number of people engaged in the poultry industry, by your estimation as an association?
Actually, as of today, we have over 7 million to 10 million people directly or indirectly engaged in poultry in Nigeria. There is no state of the federation that does not engage in poultry production and the most important thing is that 90 per cent of poultry activities are private sector-driven.

And it is the most capitalised of all the agricultural sectors because poultry is capital intensive, having vacancies for all levels of manpower. We have small-holder farmers who have from 50 to 250 birds. Some have between 250 and 10,000 birds, whereas some have 10,000 to 100,000 or more birds.

Some of your members have been calling on the government to facilitate the establishment of or enable the association to establish egg powder production facilities. What do you think about this?
It is a welcome development, and I believe that the government can give a favourable policy. Egg powder is good. It will avoid wastage, but this is not a government affair. The government should create an enabling environment so that the private sector, on their, own can do so. Then, the government can facilitate that the companies using egg powder use the locally made one. That is what the government can do.

What exactly do you mean by the government creating an enabling environment?
When we were chanced to meet with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo about the smuggling of poultry products into to the country, he appointed a committee of ministries concerned and some agencies like the Consumer Protection Council, and saddled them with getting all the eateries to consume locally produced poultry so as to protect the industry. With that persuasion, all the industry players such as eateries and hotels held a meeting with us and they buy the locally produced ones now.

So, how can the government create an enabling environment for egg powder production in Nigeria?
There was a government which gave a concession of zero per cent tariff on agricultural machines. Two, if you are ordering machines for agricultural purposes, you should be given a tax holiday for three years. Three, we can organise trade fairs. Knowledge should be promoted, because some people do not know how to use egg powder. We should enlighten people on importance of egg powder. When you create awareness and media campaign, we will create the market first.

What do you want the current government to do to assist the industry?
If the government wants to improve the economy of this country, we must do everything to support the poultry industry. Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports poultry production for poverty eradication in Liberia. If you give 50 broiler birds to somebody and they grow well, if he sells each for N1,500, he will make N75,000 in six weeks. Will you compare that to N18,000 or N30,000 minimum wage?

Again, the farmer will generate manure from the poultry and will not need much fertiliser for crop production. Eggs are critical in human nutrition because almost everything that the body requires is in eggs. If you are talking about protein sources, broiler gives you that in about six weeks, faster than any other source of protein. If we improve on the productivity of maize and soya beans, the poultry meat and eggs will become cheaper.

What about smuggling of poultry products and other foods through the borders?
Even if you pool the armed forces and the police together with the Nigerian Custom Service, they cannot secure our borders because they are too wide and porous. The most important way to control smuggling is to make our products competitive by making them cheaper. If you want cheaper poultry, you must have cheaper soya beans, maize and other inputs.

Today, Brazil produces almost 10 tonnes of maize per hectare. In Nigeria, we produce two to three tonnes of maize per hectare. If we increase our yield per hectare, the cost of production will reduce. Less than 10 per cent of Nigerians eat chickens per day. So, if we can increase its consumption to 20 or 30 per cent, you will be surprised that the impact will be great.


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