By Bennett Oghifo
The use of venture capital alone in financing agriculture in Nigeria and most of Africa is being augmented by crowd-funding and this is attracting mechanisation with support from traditional human labour.
This is seen as a good thing, because it makes investment in agriculture more interesting, if practiced correctly.
The crucial shot in the arm that spurs modern farmers to be dedicated is crowd funding, a financial arrangement with great appeal for those who desire to invest in farming through trusted parties.
“We are employing venture capital and crowd funding in our farm. I was pleasantly surprised at the speed with which it was accepted by those we approached with the idea,” said the Managing Director of Skapomah Global Limited (SGL) Farms, Mr. Seun Adegoke.
The SGL Farms is spread across 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) of flat ploughable land located about 40 minutes’ drive towards the Owode border town, specifically at Anigbado, Abeokuta–Imeko Road, Yewa North Local Government Area, Ogun State.
The target is to cultivate rice in over 70 per cent of the land, leaving the remaining stretch with a sprinkling of maize, cassava, tomatoes, cucumber, water melon, and yams.
The variety of rice cultivated is Faro 44, recommended by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and they are almost ready for harvest. Through irrigation, the farm intends cultivating rice at least twice a year.
The farm plans year round cultivation through channeling water for irrigation and effective soil management.
The farm, according to Adegoke, is lucky there are no challenges with pest birds. There are, however, challenges from herdsmen who encroach on the farms with their animals.
There are more contentious obstacles, such as land preparation which is a major challenge in farming, said Adegoke, who called for the government’s direct involvement or support in land clearing and preparation.
Although this activity is crucial to effective and efficient agriculture, but it is frustrated by absence of farm machinery, particularly for hire (it is not often cost-effective to purchase some), and the disappointing services provided by private sector farm equipment hiring firms.
A tour of the farm revealed thousands of hectares already cultivated with rice and other crops, Farm machinery and accessories such as John Deere tractors with air controlled cabins and accessories like ploughs, harrows, planters, and boom sprayers are stationed strategically on the farm where they can come into use within seconds. There are also fertilizers heaped in two barns.
However, mechanised farming shill has its challenges and Adegoke believes the government can come into play and make them go away for serious farmers to produce the food that the nation needs. “The government should make access to machinery for mechanised agriculture readily available.
“Government should invest in the purchase of farm machinery that we can hire. They can even get the original equipment manufacturers to set up their factories here to build the machines and these will be cheaper for farmers in the country to hire and to purchase by those that can afford to.”
He said this would embolden the nation’s farmers to grow more types of food, stating “Even in Nigeria now, you see people growing Apples and other seedless Grapes, which in the past looked impossible.
“Someone did research on the possibility of growing Strawberries in all the 36 states of the country and it worked. One just needs to know how to do it, regardless of the fact that it could be more stressful, but the good thing is that it is achievable.”
Adegoke said they have also been able to innovate in their operations, “from repairing burst tractor tyres with special sealants that have proven to be very effective, as the sealant casts the tyre from within.”
They deal with other stress-inducing additives like machinery fluids, diesel, engine oil, brake oil, which prices increase without notice.
“We also pay heavily for transportation to bring in the machines/tractors and others. The last time we hired three cranes to offload a machine from a low bed truck. We transported a bulldozer from Ekiti to this place with N750,000. A vendor brought a tractor here and couldn’t get it to start because of a fake spare they bought for even N1.5 million. But if we have an assembly plant in the country, we wouldn’t suffer to get parts for the machines. In fact, it would come with warranty.”
Adegoke also wants the government to engage in research on behalf of the nation’s farmers for sustainability.
“There is need for more investment in agricultural research. For instance, in some nations, it is possible to attain 12 to 14 tonnes of rice per hectare. Here we attain about four tonnes on research fields.
“Unfortunately, most of us, as farmers, cannot invest in research. It has to be the government coming in to help. It is important that government shoulders research because of the long term goal of benefitting the people.
“There also has to be some sort of subsidies available for farmers. For us, the subsidy can come in the form of machinery. It is important to have installmental payment packages available. It would make farm financing easier if the schedule of payment is convenient,” he added.
On the government’s recent closure of the nation’s borders to protect local rice farmers from unfair competition from foreign rice, which has since been re-opened, Adegoke said, “Actually, I don’t personally believe in border closure. I believe that market forces should dictate.
“If we produce more at less cost, we will counter the low cost of foreign rice. The problem is that cost of production is very high in this country. If local rice is affordable and are good in quality, foreign rice will disappear to oblivion. If we have eyes on a philosophy of stimulating increased local production through less stress in production, we would be better for it.”