As stakeholders in the Nigeria project continue to make case for agriculture as a major sector that could help navigate the country out of the current economic entanglement, some farmers are already extending their frontiers to help the country achieve her food sufficiency, Kunle Aderinokun and Raheem Akingbolu report
Since the sudden slide in oil prices at the global market started ruffling the Nigeria economy, experts within and outside the country have consistently recommended diversification to save the economy. Looking through the historical development of Nigeria, it is easy to identify agriculture as one of the major areas that could be explored to bounce back.
In the last few months, many revelations have emerged on how over-dependence on imported foods contributed to the nation’s economic mess. At a media tour organised by the management of natnudO Foods on its process and farms in Awe, Afijio Local Government, Oyo State, the Managing Director of the company, Dr. Ayoola Oduntan, urged government and other stakeholders to first find a way to boost local food production. Before then, the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, while expressing worry over the over-dependence of Nigerians on foreign foods, said the country spent $20 billion on food importation yearly. In a related development, the Kwara State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, was reported to have said in another forum that Nigeria annually spent $11 billion on importation of wheat, rice, sugar and fish alone.
However, at the Awe tour where reporters were taken round facilities at Amo Byng Nigeria Limited and Amo Farm Sieberer Hatchery Limited, the natnudO Foods boss explained that if properly harnessed, the poultry value chain has the capacity to absorb millions of people and make them economically productive.
Oduntan, a veterinary doctor, who is also the President of the Poultry Association of Nigeria, (PAN), said the local poultry sector has the capacity to produce and meet the poultry demands that will arise from the new government policy of home-grown school feeding programme.
“We advocated for the inclusion of eggs and poultry foods in the meals to be given the school children and I can assure you that, if given the needed support in terms of fund and materials we will meet the demands
“Meeting local consumption demand is achievable in two years at the rate we are growing; we only need patience and support, but if we are denied such, it might take up to another four years before we can attain that level”
According to him, the amount of money spent by entrepreneurs in providing infrastructure and facilities to keep business running is huge and diversionary.
“We are here because as producers of natnudO chicken, we want to show Nigeria and Nigerians that with a little bit of support and patience, Nigeria can be sufficient in the production of poultry produce.
“We are a Nigerian company and we can lead the way for other poultry farmers to produce enough that will be sufficient for Nigerians and save our people from the hazards of smuggled poultry products into the country. Our target as a company is to make at least 10 per cent of total poultry production for the Nigerian market in the next five years”
Speaking on what motivates him and his team despite the harsh infrastructural environment, he stated that their motivation had been to create jobs for the people and bring something out from nothing, adding that farmers needed the banks to believe in them more and support them with funds to run the sector.
“We are here because we want to show that with a little bit of patience and support, Nigeria can be self-sufficient in the production of chicken. And natnudO is willing and able to spearhead this drive. We are a Nigerian company, we have all our investment here, and we are totally committed to the industry. I have done poultry for 25 years and we have nowhere else to run to. We are willing to help Nigeria on its part to self-sufficiently in agriculture. We have everything to gain by supporting local production by a Nigerian company.
“Brazil is a ready example. And if you look at the map of the world, you would see that South America and Africa must have been joined together at one point or the other. So you can replicate the kind of weather we have here to what they have. If Brazil in the space of 20 years could become the largest exporter of chicken in the world; generating billions of dollars for the country in revenue, why can’t we at least satisfy our local demand? We are committed to make this happen, but we need stakeholders’ support. natnudO Foods is a division of Amo Foods Sieberer Hatchery.”
If Nigerians are able to increase their consumption of local chicken, Oduntan believed that poultry farmers would be able to increase their businesses three or four folds. He made a stunning revelation of how about 1.2 million tonnes of chicken were smuggled into this country every year. He pointed out that Nigeria total local production is about a quarter of that; that is, about three hundred thousand.
“So imagine what would happen if we increase our output to five hundred thousand. That means we would all have to double our current production. So there’s still a lot of room for growth in this business,” he said.
However, if there is any challenge militating against the growth of the agricultural sector, it is infrastructural problem, which has in many ways, made the cost of production of farmers unimaginable. Dr. Oduntan admitted that the country is a difficult one to run business. He claimed to have travelled wide around the world but yet to see what happen in Nigeria in any country.
“Agriculture is not easy in Nigeria. It requires consistency and commitment. For instance, our company was moribund when we took over and we are Nigerians in Nigeria. We saw the potential. I was a young man then. I didn’t dwell more on the negatives; I focused more on the positives. In the end, the reason why I went to study veterinary medicine still prevailed. In this country we can generate jobs and bring prosperity from nothing. That was how we started. We started very small.
“It amazes me now when I receive phone calls from bankers. I have shed tears in a bank before. It was so bad that a banker called me and said “you have a proposal in Agric, it would not fly because the very day you brought that proposal, somebody put it in the bottom of the drawer.”
“So we had the challenges of the banks and infrastructure. In our farms in Awe and its environs, a lot of the power lines you see were built by our company. Also, all the roads here were built by us,”
The fact that Agricultural is a low margin business notwithstanding, the management of natnundO Foods is not deterred. To Oduntan, Nigerian farmers are yet to scratch the surface, because they are not competing against Nigerians. For the chicken business, he explained that players in Nigeria are competing against influx, which he described as ‘smuggled poison’ from different parts of the world.
The company was said to have been re-established following the bankruptcy of a French Group call Amo Sanders. By 2002, promoters of Amo Sanders, which was then owned by a French multinational, were tired of Nigeria and they decided to sell these companies. Oduntan had the opportunity to be there at the time and he bought what was left of it.
Today, as part of the measures put in place to encourage new prospects in poultry, the natnundO management is making effort to create a scenario where different categories of people will get involved in the poultry business. To this end, the company has instituted what is called natnuPreneur Scheme, through which it intends to provide inputs, trainings and market for poultry farmers the campaign, which is currently being taken to major cities is meant to awake farmers and revive moribund poultry farms.
According to Ayoola, farmers who participate in the scheme will be empowered by natnundO, from the production end to the selling point. “It will help them grow their businesses faster. We have a pilot programme of 250 farmers now and about to expand to 1,500 farmers nationwide. The other part on seller end, we want to empower young and new entrepreneurs into selling poultry products. What they need is basic investment of about three to five thousand naira. The major idea is to bring the moribund farms back to functioning,” he said.