Managing Director of Dizengoff Nigeria, Richard Hargrave, shared with Crusoe Osagie on how to move agriculture ahead and make the country a global leader in tomato production. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the Nigerian agricultural sector?
Nigeria is blessed with land, people, climate and water but these can all be more organised. We need to get the means to the people, economically sustainable enterprises and employment. Then we need to find ways that the government can improve the infrastructure, the finance because no farmer can build farms at 25 per cent interest rates, neither can poor farmers build infrastructure that can result in higher agricultural productivity.
What do you think are Nigeria’s agricultural setbacks?
I think with the policy of the government today, if it wants to get out of the business of agriculture, it should be able to empower the agricultural sector to make it an economically sustainable activity. I think they need to get rid of a lot of the bureaucratic impediments, infrastructural environment in which the farmers can operate, the need to cut out the middle man, adopting policies today that is encouraging to us and to the farmers.
Do you think Nigeria is food-secure?
Currently Nigeria is not, the country imports about 90 per cent of the food we eat, Nigeria is one of the highest net importers of rice in the world, we should be able to grow our own rice, but to be fair to the government both at the state level and federal level, they are making some moves to encourage that.
The world is running out of arable land, running out of water and the population continues to grow, we have to find more productive ways of growing our food worldwide and in Nigeria. First of all, the government should provide the right incentive, get infrastructure to make farming attractive to young people. We should get our young unemployed back to farming.
With the ongoing transformation agenda, how are you supporting the agricultural sector?
Obviously we bring in technology like the Amiran Farmers Kit; this is technology that is going to increase yield per hectare of up to 377 tonnes per hectare, we're bringing more tractors and implements and we're working with the Lagos state government closely to make sure the farmer mechanises farming.
Nigeria is the least mechanised country in terms of agriculture and that needs to change, if you are going to grow more food on a commercially viable scale. Dizengoff is determined to bring this extraordinary transformation to Nigeria. We didn’t just talk!
Over 15 months ago we installed test kits and trials across the country to adapt this same integrated model invented by Amiran to prove it can and does work despite the more challenging conditions found here in Nigeria. We did so for the same reasons. Our mission is identical to that of Amiran – to provide a holistic approach to empower farmers to grow more from less.
Our mission is to liberate the small-scale subsistence farmer by providing a proven approach to become an agro-preneur, with a middle class income on a permanent sustainable basis, as well as to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to the surrounding communities at affordable prices.
Our mission is to get the hungry, jobless disaffected youth off the city streets and back into productive farming. Our mission is to bring every day, all year round, a steady supply of bigger, better and less costly fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and other vegetables into every food market of every city, town and village of Nigeria.
We have actually increased crop yields, on a per hectare basis, by up to 75 times in gross weight harvested. Our mission is also to eliminate the current scandalous 60 waste of the meagre quantities historically grown the old fashioned ways, turned rotten by poor packing and long arduous transportation from the Northern Fields to the urban cities in the South.
Our dream is to bring locally grown quality produce at stable affordable prices to men and women, young and old, rich or poor, everywhere across Nigeria. Our certainty is that we are going to ensure at last the opportunity for small-scale subsistence farmers to enjoy prosperous middle class incomes year round, bringing more food from less space without charging exorbitant prices to ordinary Nigerians. This is not just a business; this is a transformation that is needed and we are determined to make it happen for all.
Tell us more about you product the Amiran Farmers kit...
First of all we started this kit in Kenya. In Kenya we have irrigation technology, greenhouse technology.
Following decades of installing over 80 per cent of all irrigated integrated horticultural greenhouses in Kenya, our sister company, Amiran Kenya, like Dizengoff Nigeria, a subsidiary of the UK Balton Group, revolutionised the growing, distribution and exportation of flowers from Kenya.
This transformation brought Kenya from nowhere to now becoming the third largest exporter of cut flowers in the world. This new sustainable export revenue earner for the nation has also contributed directly in the creation of at least 300,000 new jobs.
It happened due to the vision, and action, of the few to create true prosperity for the many. A prime example of how commerce, in the real sense of the word, functions as much a community issue, as it is wealth creation for all stakeholders.
With this in mind, our highly-talented expert team at Amiran embarked upon a new mission: applying the same successful model to provide commercially sustainable production of vegetable cash crops for the small-scale farmer, compatible towards achieving critical Millennium Development Goals, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the empowerment of young people and women in society, improved education in schools, using less water and less land while growing more food, and, finally, to contribute towards a more affordable yet a much better balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, in particular for special needs groups within the population.
Like many across Africa, our company really wanted to change the curse of poverty and hunger that has pervaded the continent. We frankly believe the old model of “Western aid/no trade” fuels the cycle of food poverty. All around Amiran could see communities longing for access to the right tools, knowledge and support to sustainably grow their own food, even surplus, in an economically viable manner.
It was certain that Africa could never address the looming food security issues stemming from growing populations, less and less arable land and an impending water shortage, unless a model of sustainable local food production for small-scale farmers could be successfully established.
So in 2009 Amiran integrated the technology, knowledge and effective transfer of know-how by designing not just a “product”, but a forever sustainable integrated agro food production business system for the small-scale farmer – the ‘Amiran Farmers Kit’.
For the past 15 months Dizengoff has carefully adapted the Amiran Farmers Kit to work here, in the far more challenging climates and conditions prevailing across the tropical Southern, Western and Eastern States of Nigeria.
Dizengoff Nigeria has developed, tested and measurably proven that this innovative integrated solution can and does dramatically increase crop yields, even in the harsh climate of the coastal region, where it has never before been achieved at such dramatic levels.”
So today we bring to Nigeria the Amiran Farmers Kit from Dizengoff. We have combined the various elements into one fully integrated solution where we have increased yields on a per hectare basis by 75 fold, even here in Lagos, within the heart of the humid tropical belt. We have done it and so can anyone with our help.
We know it can be done, not only already 4,000 times in Kenya, but now, at last, here in Nigeria. We know it, because we have done it, and we know, with our help, any diligent fully committed Nigerian farmer can do so as well!
The Farmers Kit addresses so many of the issues that plague Agriculture in Nigeria today. It gets government out of the farming business and puts it back into the hands of our youth. The future of Nigeria’s food security must rest with this next generation of new young farmers.
Why did you venture into tomato rather than other crops?
It is not exclusively tomato, but we believe that tomato is such an important part of your culture and your diet; every Nigerian that I know eats tomato at least in once a day in their meal. Most tomatoes gotten are either from the Northern states in seasonal shortages or they're getting it out of cans imported from places like China.
You know that the government and the leadership in agriculture will want Nigerians growing their own food and not import, but to ensure that, we're giving the farmers the opportunity to enroll, we have to give them the technology and the tools; also in relation to the kit.
The least mechanised farming country in nations around is Nigeria on per square kilometre of the land than in any other country in the world. Making it mechanised would it make it much more attractive in Nigeria.
One day we hope to be assembling tractors in Nigeria, it's a project we've been working on now and to the small subsistence farmer we're trying to give him the things he needs to grow tomatoes, pepper, melon cucumber on scales we eat every day, every month and earn between N90,000 to N100,000. Here the average farmer earns N15,000, N10,000; it's not enough to build an enterprise.
What does the kit comprise of?
It comprises of greenhouse itself especially designed, it comprises of the irrigation system with exactly the right amount of water delivered to each plant, all the fertilisers. The other thing we provide is the know-how, this is absolutely critical to the success of the farm, and the farmers wouldn't just need the influence and the tools to get it right.
We've got to impact in them the knowledge, the mentoring and the training. Our farmers will be visiting these kits every 2-3 weeks and hold the hands of the farmers as they go through the growing seeds and each physical phase of the seeds.
So sir, what do you get out of this innovation as a company?
Well, obviously it's a profitable enterprise, but it’s more than that; it means we can contribute to the poverty providence in this country. We need to get the young people back to work and in particular terms of back to work, back to farming and not the old style farming where you bend your back and use the hoe, we need to get them into modern farming, in Kenya we call them facebook farmers. In Kenya they think farming is cool.
What income group are you targeting?
It is not specifically targeted to any income group, like in Kenya it’s all of them, the poor subsistent farmer, middle class and the rich we're buying the kit. We're not specifically targeting one income group, more than that is bringing in high yields fresh vegetables at stable prices and closer to the market 60 per cent tomato grown in Nigeria are wasted before they ever get to the market, they are lost in trucks coming down from the Northern states.
What do you think can be done for the youths that want to purchase this kit?
As it’s done in Kenya, a lot of NGOs and big corporate enterprises support this young people by guaranteeing bank loans for them so they could acquire the kit itself and that is critical. What we've also found is that it is very important to get this kit into schools.
In Kenya, we've got it in 600 schools, 250 polytechnics, what we're going to do is not just give them the knowledge and education of how to grow their own food but give them the joy of growing their own food. Most of the successful kits we have in Kenya are actually in the schools.
Do you think Nigeria can be exporters of tomatoes in the future?
Yes, in fact all the states that we have tested have passed all the European standards; in Kenya now they are exporting tomatoes to Europe and Nigeria can do the same.
Do you think that the greenhouse and the entire kit have the power to reform the agricultural sector?
Yes, and this is just a start, they've done it in the poorer countries, Kenya is now the 3rd largest producers of cut flowers in the world, with our help sub-Sahara can be the world leaders in production and providers of cash crop vegetables in the world. They have the land, people etc.
Basically, there is no farmer in the world that can produce profitable enterprises on high interest rate; it’s not possible. Government has tried to bring various schemes to make it possible for young farmers to get access and guarantee loans at low interest rates.
How are you going to make sure that this information reaches the offices of the parties involved and in addition why must you restrict the Kit to the West, East and South and not the North?
It think it’s a misnomer, we deliberately focused all of our efforts on the coastal states, this is where most of the population are, second because it’s the hardest place to do it because of humidity and the presence of bacteria, we deliberately said we've got to make it work here. If we make it work down here, we can make it work anywhere.
We've got kits in the desert in Ethiopia, in Sudan, we will have kits in Ghana, encroaching the sub-Saharan region, but the hardest place to do it is the tropical coastline and that is why we concentrated much effort here to prove we can do it here.
How much does the kit cost?
Everything cost N990,000 for one kit. What we have found out in Kenya is that getting the four kits is better because in one kit you have tomato, the other pepper, cucumber, melon then after some time you crop rotate.
What do you want to tell those who are interested, encouraging them that there is a future in Amiran farmers Kit?
I think what we want to do is tell them the truth you need commitment. Physical farming is not like an office job that you do 5 days a week, it is a 7day a week enterprise, it’s not an 8-5 or 9-5 job, you have to love the soil, love the plants, nurture it, diligence is absolutely key.
Do you think there is enough training for those in the agricultural sector?
There is actually some training going on in agricultural colleges today; we've been involved in an agricultural project with Lagos state government in bringing technology and training, we have about 300 students for the training. There are needs for more training in the private sector, the educational sector by the government and the know-how on a constant basis, day in day out.