Food security efforts of the country are suffering roadblocks as mechanisation of farm operations with tractors and other equipment urgently requires at least 63,000 additional functional tractors to close the demand and supply gap.
A tractor-deficiency assessment reveals that Nigeria needs 70,000 tractors and other mechanical equipment to meet up farm mechanisation services required to significantly increase food production, as pandemic coronavirus outbreaks interrupt international food and crop supply chains.
However, Nigeria boasts of only a few tractors estimated to be in the region of 7,000.
Painting the ugly picture, the Agricultural Equipment Hiring Operators Association disclosed to The Guardian that its members have about 200 functional tractors out of 400 acquired.
Its national secretary, Mr Biodun Olugbami, said the estimate of the total number of tractors available in the country is between 7,000 and 10,000, including the government-facilitated and privately owned ones.
However, for the country to get agriculture moderately mechanised, no fewer than 70,000 functional tractors are required, Olugbami said.
Meanwhile, farm mechanisation, according to the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM), Ilorin, Kwara State, holds the key to food security, farmers’ prosperity and food affordability because it enables farmers to multiply the cultivable hectares of land. It also reduces the cost of production if farmers form themselves into clusters, and this leads to higher profit margins and sustainability.
Solution to poor agric mechanisation
Professionals in agricultural technologies and land preparation have, however, pin-pointed ways Nigerian farmers could up-scale their production, increase productivity and maximise profitability with technologies, mechanisation services and innovations despite the gross shortage of tractors and other equipment.
Going forward, Professor Adebayo Kolawole of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, suggested that “Nigeria should approach the challenge in three sequential and overlapping stages.”
In the first stage, Prof. Kolawole said the government needs to collaborate with suitable private partners to import tractors and design an access arrangement that allows farmers opportunities to use the tractors, saying, “This may also include subsidy arrangements that need to be handled carefully.”
The second stage, he posited, should be more private-sector focused, but the subsidy component needs to be restructured to capture the emergence of new more commercial-oriented farmers.
“This second stage is a critical stage for devolution of the entire farm mechanisation systems into private hands and allowing market forces to play the role of internal moderation and price determination. Both stages require strong and focused extension services to make it deliver expected outcomes,” he added.
The farm extension researcher also suggested that the third stage needs to start within months of the first stage, adding, “It is long-term capacity development for building, distributing and commercialising locally made tractors and other mechanised equipment for farm use.
“In this is a key role for the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAM), other agricultural research institutes, universities and colleges of agriculture as well as private entrepreneurs who are playing key roles in the second stage highlighted above.
“In the final analysis, it is the successful implementation of stage three that will ensure the sustainability of the adoption of mechanised agriculture in Nigeria,” he said.
Aslo, while suggesting how farmers could utilise mechanisation devices for their operations for higher yields, Prof. Moruf Adebisi advised that farmers should avoid land areas with big trees which roots and stumps could damage the tractor’s ploughing, harrowing and ridging discs during operations. He added that before ploughing, trees should be cut off and packed away from the farmland surfaces.
He added that after ploughing, stumping should be carried out to remove stumps, roots, logs of trees and big stones before harrowing, as this would allow deep and good harrowing.
“Land areas with thick bush should be avoided or be allowed to be cleared before using tractors to work on the land. Furthermore, stony land areas should be avoided as stones can damage the tractor’s blades, thereby reducing its effectiveness,” he explained.
Financial institutions, researchers, specialists and farm mechanisation service providers have also repeatedly advised farmers to form cooperatives to take advantage of collective bargaining while buying farm inputs such as seeds, fertiliser, agro-chemicals and tools. Several farmers’ cooperatives have negotiated contract productions, input facilitation and price benchmark of crops.
Lenders and insurance service providers also want a structured association which could coordinate farmers seeking credit facilities and insurance policies. Off-takers are equally interested in a collection of farmers who could be helped with farm mechanisation, inputs and purchase of harvests.
Based on the foregoing, Prof. Adebisi said, “Farmer cooperatives should be encouraged and made to provide inputs and tractor hiring services to members. Secondly, the government should establish agro service centres, at least one or two in each local government area, with at least four to five strong and durable tractors at a subsidised rate of hiring.
“Thirdly, the government should encourage individuals to own tractors at subsidized rate and pre-payment period should be long enough to encourage the farmers to come forward for expression of interest.”
Adebisi added that granting farmer loans at a single-digit interest rate to purchase strong and highly durable tractors with long repayment periods would help them to reduce cost, empower them to produce more foods and enhance the capacity of the country to become food-secure.
The Federal Department of Agriculture of Nigeria, he continued, should develop a tractor servicing scheme in each local government of Nigeria to complement the effort of the state governments and individuals on farm mechanisation.
“Another point is that the River Basin Development centres should be encouraged to be more proactive in providing tractor hiring services and many of the serviceable tractors in their centres should be repaired and hired to farmers in the community,” he added.
Apart from forming a cooperative, farmers can also form a cluster by cultivating contagious hectares where farm operations could be jointly negotiated and carried out. This way, the cost of farm mechanisation is drastically reduced when service providers have hundreds of hectares to plough, harrow and ridge in the same neighbourhood and at a stretch.
Hence, mechanical planting, spraying, weeding, harvesting and other operations become cheaper and faster when farmers form a cluster and operate on an expanse of land.
Prof Kolawole opined that the prerequisite for making farmland tractorable differ by ecology.
He said, “For instance, in the rainforest which is dominant in southern Nigeria, heavy earth-moving equipment is usually required to remove the forest vegetation along with stumps, taking care not to totally destroy the topsoil that is essential for farming.
“In the swamps that are also common along the Atlantic coasts, drainage equipment that enables appropriate drains to be made are the essentials for making the land tractorable.”