‘Stable power will reduce food prices, foster agro-industrial growth’

One of the challenges in the poultry industry now is high price of major inputs like day-old chicks. How can stakeholders tackle the problem revolving around availability and price?
I will like to appreciate the enabling environment that the government has created for the poultry industry through the border closure. It’s a kind of assessment by the government to know where we are, to really realise the gap, our capabilities and abilities, which to me, is a great opportunity for the poultry industry.

For long, people were operating below capacity because of the harsh environment when farmers didn’t even have to go to farm because they could not sell their products. Now, the opportunity has been created to enable farmers scale up their production. So, there’s a decision that one could take as fast as possible what is available. Then there’s a decision like, “Let me be so strategic. Let me increase my price, or maintain my full operational capacity and have higher turnovers.” So, as a person, I will choose the second option. It is better to be strategic. First, as an operator, you don’t have that power to close or open a border; such power belongs to the administrative authority, in this case, the government.

So, if the government decides to approve setting up of more hatcheries, you are facing more competitors, which is a challenge. Likely you have invested so much and extending the time of return on your investment if that happens. So actually, for now, there’s no justification for the operators to hike prices of day-old chicks because the business of poultry starts from a day-old chick. Everything revolves around the chick.

And I have continuously been saying this in the last one year (since January 2018), because I have forecast this issue and have been appealing to my colleagues in the hatchery industry to let us have a price mechanism like a template. The first step is to close the seasonal nature of the business in Nigeria because, normally, price comes up weeks before Christmas and Sallah. For Christmas, right from August to November, prices begin to rise because of different activities going on in the country.

Poultry meat is a basic requirement to every human being and in most climes, it’s a common diet. In Europe and America, poultry is the cheapest meat. Why do we make it the most expensive meat that the common man cannot afford?

Breeders and hatchery operators also lament shortage of electricity and high cost of parent stocks as factors adding to their cost. Do you see these as a factor?
We had been operating in the worst situation before the new policy. Now, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Do we now foreclose the future because we are remembering the past? This industry has never operated smoothly. We have been having a challenge of power right from inception. We have been having a challenge of weather conditions right from the inception of this industry. We are now having challenge with smuggling despite the official ban. Now, we have a government that has agreed to close the borders up to three to four months and not yet said they are opening it tomorrow. We studied both situations. Now, we need to tell that government that they have taken the right decision, that we are really in a position to provide the average need of a man.

I’m not speaking for the government, but as an outsider, I am being realistic. If today we have good means of transportation and power, more than 70 per cent of our losses will be reduced.

If there’s power, it’s going to be cheaper and healthier. If we are using electricity, you can harvest your broilers at six weeks old when there’s no market, you can freeze them, keep them in the fridge and wait for buyers later. What I am saying is that, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and we should always be vigilant and positively overcome the hurdles. Greatness of a man is the ability to overcome the hurdles and win the race. So, what I am saying in essence is, if the price is N300, we may bring it to N250. We would have more people buying the chicks. If you aggregate the turnovers, you are going to get, likely N20 would be more than N50 over chicks and this can increase your production.

Now, hatcheries and farms are operating on 30-40 per cent capacity, but we can upscale to 100 per cent if prices of day-old chicks are cheap.

For us to increase demand in our economy, we must talk and work on the cost of production because we always relate expenditure to disposable income.

It is not going to be easy to lift our economy. Now, we should take advantage of our population, from which labour comes, and increase production. when you increase production, more people consume and that means more revenue.

Are you suggesting the government continue to close the borders to stabilise economy?
The closure of boarders should not be more than 12 months. If it exceeds 12 months, the negative results will outweigh the benefits.

What are those likely negative effects?
When people are in desperation, they can do all manners of things. People will move into this country and start to commit atrocities, breaking into houses, and doing street robberies, because at times, people are pushed either to die or survive.

So, most of the countries, we know, are depending on our economy and all combined, are not up to 50 per cent. As I always say, let us develop a policy that carries their local production, help them to be transparent in relating with us and not involving a third party. So, those that are importing should be from their local sources, not from the third party country. And we can do that by involving the border communities as monitoring agents. The community association and evaluation, which involves the customs, immigration and all other relevant agencies in the community like the poultry association, the rice farmers’ association, maize farmers and the border communities.

Again, do you think the poultry sector and rice sector would have been fully stabilised in 12 months that you recommend?
It is not even 12 months. In Nigeria, we grow rice twice a year. We have verse land. In poultry, we are talking of six weeks to seven weeks.

But the smuggled products are produced in countries where they have best of the agricultural technologies and the cost of production is very low. So, will local producers find it easy to compete?
I don’t believe that. At times, we solve some issues by sensitisation, and by educating a people to see the dangers and risks of depending on imported foods. The recent trade dispute between China and America is an eye opener. The gas issue between Europe and
Russia should be an eye opener as well. Any country that cannot feed its own is the worst.

For a long time, we are brainwashed into believing in the superiority of anything imported and that it is a wrong orientation.

Do you believe it can be changed?
Yes. Just yesterday, I had a meeting, and the people were asking where was ofada rice, which is in high demand now? If we had not closed the borders, no one would identify that and then the nutritional value.


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