by Tola Sunmonu
If you are going to try and tackle the issue of finance, create the necessary systems that allow farmers to make decisions about how they want to use a loan, how much they need to access to avoid ending up in debt and moreover a system that is sustainable.
While doing my weekly scroll through the latest topics in the field of agriculture-no pun intended-my eyes skimmed over the usual headlines: Development agency pledges x exorbitant amount of dollars for this, state government buys a few hundred of this and that to lift their farmers out of poverty, organization holds event on encouraging youth to enter the agricultural sector… you know, the usual agricultural headlines. And then it dawned on me, is it possible that I am maybe just a tad jaded? Announcement after announcement after announcement of all the support being given to the sector and yet The Economist still delivers the great news that I will either be starving or paying an exorbitant amount for food in the near future because Nigeria’s agricultural sector is not performing. I conduct countless interviews with farmers and I still hear the same complaints time and time again with no visible proof that all these announcements and programs and launches have actually impacted the lives of this segment of the population. So yes, I am in fact jaded.
Perhaps that explains why I was not exactly bouncing of my seat when I read that the Jigawa state government has disbursed loans amounting to N675m to a combination of small holder and large farmers in the state. Perhaps my immediate reaction should have been to praise the ‘oga at the top’ for all he is doing to improve the agricultural sector. However, being the Stanford Economics graduate that I am, my mind instead went immediately to the numbers and the actual effect of this loan.
So let’s break it down; exactly N400m has been distributed to 3,800 farmers in the 27 LGA’s of the state. So that’s N105,000 ($660) per farmer. Okay, not bad for one season, would be a stretch for two seasons though. The article also stated that the loan will finance assets, typically an ox, bull carts, ploughs and I assume other assets to increase productivity. So that tells me the government is attempting to make the farmers labour more efficient by giving him access to farm implements and tools. Given that labour is one of the farmer’s biggest costs, I can give the government some kudos for that. Although I can’t resist pointing out that these tools would only make the labour for land clearing and planting more effective. Meanwhile, farmers spend a lot of money on weeding and other processes at harvest such as manual threshing but hey, the government can’t be expected to solve all of farmers’ problems right?
Anyway, I assume the final success of the loan scheme (assuming that the success is actually tracked) will be measured by a lot more than just my mild praise. Let’s look at the actual potential impact of the loan. So, a farmer takes on this N100,000 loan facility, marginally reduces his labour costs, he has a typical season and before he knows it, it is time to harvest. Shock horror, his yields are still abysmal. How can this be when N400m was shelled out by the almighty government? Well, lets see, the farmer’s seed is still poor quality, he still cannot access the optimal amount of fertilizer and if he does, let’s say using the funds he saved from labour, it is very likely that this fertilizer is adulterated and thus bad quality. Furthermore he has access to no extension services so when his maize took on that purplish tinge a few days after flowering, he had no idea what to do. So now, he has produced about 15 bags of produce (lets say maize), let’s throw in an extra 5 assuming that his new implements allowed him to make neater ridges and optimize the inter and intra-spacing of his rows so as to maximize the space of his plot. So now he has 20 bags. He keeps 5 for his family’s consumption and attempts to sell 15 bags on the open market at N5,300/bag. Never mind the fact that later in the year he could sell at N8,000 a bag if he had access to storage. So, he sells his maize and makes N79,000. He now has revenue of N80,000, is in debt for N100,000 and spent at least N40,000 on his inputs and harvesting services. You don’t have to have gone to Stanford University to see that the farmer is in a less than admirable situation here.
What do I propose? Well, first I think praise is due for the Jigawa State government making an effort to revitalize their state’s agricultural sector. It is more than can be said for some governments who are simply hoping and praying for an oil well to spring up in their state. However, an A-plus for effort is simply not good enough. Governments need to start thinking about the agricultural sector comprehensively. If you are going to try and tackle the issue of finance, create the necessary systems that allow farmers to make decisions about how they want to use a loan, how much they need to access to avoid ending up in debt and moreover a system that is sustainable.
Secondly, the farmers’ entire ecosystem has to be considered; giving someone a loan to improve productivity without the necessary extension and inputs is a tad pointless. As a nation we need to move past well meaning efforts and move into creating strategic, well thought out comprehensive solutions. In fact, I would love to not read about one more launch, scheme or proposal unless the story is discussing the impact and lessons learned.
Tola Sunmonu is a graduate of Stanford University. Tola has a rich background in the agricultural sector where she started an NGO called Harambe Nigeria, which focused on training young people to enter the sector. Today Tola works for an Agricultural Impact investment firm called Doreo Partners where she leads business development and provides advisory services to various high profile clients. She tweets from @omotolas
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.