Most farm produce like tomato, cucumber, watermelon, cashew, mango and orange are cultivated in the far northern part of the country and the middle belt. These farm produce are consumed largely in states like Lagos, which has arguably over 18 million population, Port Harcourt, Anambra and other states in the south.
The farmers who cultivate these crops do not reap the gains fully because they are sold cheaply to the middlemen who buy from them and then transport them by road to the markets in the southern part of Nigeria where they are consumed.
It is very laborious moving these produce by road to the south. Sometimes,it takes the overloaded trucks that convey them up to one week to get to their destinations owing to the poor state of the roads.
It is projected that 40 percent of the farm produce that leave the farms in the northern Nigeria never made it to the southern markets due to road failure.
Stakeholdershave suggested that the quickest and safest way to move these produce is by air. According to them, there should be local cargo companies that specialise in moving farm produce from far off farms to the ready markets inat most one hour, compared to four to seven days it takes to move them by road. Besides, it is cost efficient, safer, quicker and stress free.
Government in conjunction with the private sector can build cold rooms at designated airports where the produce can be stored and moved to beckoning markets in various parts of the country. Industry operatives said the gains of moving farm produce by air are enormous. Farmers will earn more from their produce, the industry will attract farmers that will be willing to invest more andthe farm produce will get to their destinations fresh. Over all and farming will become a very lucrative business.
Besides, it will boost air cargo business in Nigeria, attract more people into the business and reduce unemployment and many airports presently idling away in the northern Nigeria will become viable. This enterprise may also give fillip to international movement of farm produce directly from those airports. For example, it was gathered that Morocco imports onions from Kebbi state, so cargo flights can just take off from Kebbi airport to Morocco.
In Bauchi, THISDAY learnt that there is a huge meat factory that could slaughter and dress up to 5,000 cows daily. That factory is today moribund. If activated, it could generate enormous revenue for the state government. But more important is that instead of bringing cattle to slaughter in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri and other cities, the cattle could be slaughtered and dressed in the Bauchi factory and flown to Lagos. This just requires synergy and a good business will to blossom.
If revived, the factory will at least employ about 2000 people, the hazardous movement of cattle from the north to the south will be stopped and instead the meat will be processed and flown down to the demanding markets. By 8:00 am every morning, the cargo planes are already at the airports discharging the meat to the vehicles that would take them to the markets.
The question is why is it that government has not thought of this lofty idea of growing the economy and getting more people employed?
Few years ago, the federal government started the building of cargo airports but the effort was later lampooned by critics who saw it as elephant projects. Industry observers said the critics were however looking at the export market alone without considering the enormous gains of moving farm produce from areas of source to the huge markets all over the country.
At a recent stakeholders’ meeting, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator HadiSirika spoke about government’s plan to revive and build cargo airports for the movement of perishable farm produce.
In an interview with THISDAY recently, the Director of Consumer Protection at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Adam Abdullahi, highlighted the gains of airlifting farm produce.
He said: “If the farmer in Katsina gets his tomatoes, onions and pepper out of Katsina on a daily basis and put on your table in Lagos that afternoon or that night it will be much better than to transport everything by road at a loss.
“I pity most of the farmers that transport tomatoes by road; I pity them because when they go on the road and there is a breakdown the whole thing is gone. It deteriorates and before you know it the whole thing turns to water and it is dripping on the floor. These are things that if you have good cargo system and some good cargo airlines that can ship these things, it is a matter of one hour from Katsina to Port Harcourt, Lagos or Enugu. And the things that are needed up north you just take them back.
“All these cows that you see being transported by road, this is archaic, these are things that don’t happen anywhere in the world. You don’t see live cows being transported on the road. You take care of the cows there. In Bauchi we had a meat factory a long time ago, which if it were operational would have the capacity of dressing 5000 cows per day. If you can dress 5000 cows per day you can get a refrigerator cargo aircraft, you can do one leap drop in Kano, drop in Abuja, drop in Lagos, Port Harcourt, go back to Bauchi sleep there the next day you take another 5000 this is good business. And people are not thinking in that direction. And if you have the meat and you have the refrigerator cargo aircraft; cargo doesn’t complain, it will not say you have delayed me, it will not say that your terminal is not well lighted, it will not say your toilet is dirty, so cargo is much easier to handle than human beings.”
Given the numerous benefits that will emanate from it, domestic air cargo is a huge business that is waiting to be fully tapped in Nigeria.