Here’s a fun fact to start this article with; Nigeria has one of the largest available arable land areas worldwide, second, only to India. Nigeria has over 34 million hectares of arable land of which, only 44% are appropriately used for agriculture. This fact dramatically affects the productivity of the agricultural sector in Nigeria and the gross domestic product of the country at large. It is a cascade of issues as due to the low farm productivity among smallholder farmers, Nigerian farms are not able to produce enough crops for local use within the country and still have enough to turn a profit on exports. This was particularly evident in the first half of this year when Nigeria recorded a negative agricultural trade balance of 564.4 billion Naira.
For more context, Nigeria exported agricultural products worth N343.4 billion in the first six months of this year, a 17.3% rise from the N292.8 billion shipped in the same period of 2021. This would have been an exciting increase if we recorded an improved trade balance due to the increase, but in the first six months of this year, Nigeria imported agricultural products worth 907.8 billion Naira which represented a 90 billion naira increase when compared to the N817.52 billion recorded in the same period of 2021.
Improving the productivity of Nigerian farmers may not be the magic solution to offset this trade balance but it can go a long way in making sure we are able to profit from agriculture as a country; mechanization is a great approach to doing this. Mechanization is an essential component for the development of the agricultural sector but has historically been disregarded in the context of developing countries, with Nigeria having one of the lowest levels of mechanization globally, with farmers having less than 1% access to mechanization services/equipment. Today's definition of agricultural mechanization is fairly broad and this comprehensive definition covers the development of agricultural land, planting, harvesting, and initial processing, as well as the distribution and use of a variety of tools, machinery, and equipment in these processes.
Mechanization can be said to have a direct impact on agricultural productivity because more than helping to cut the cost of labor and increase the land area that can be cultivated, mechanization helps makes activities like land preparation, planting, and fertilizing incredibly efficient. Its effects also extend to postharvest, processing, and production operations and functions; where it makes them more efficient, effective, and low on wastefulness, which in turn has a substantial impact on the growth of value chains and food systems. This growth of value chains and food systems has been a big problem in the agricultural sector in Nigeria and despite being a great way to help curb this problem the agricultural mechanization rate is still low in Nigeria.
It may sometimes feel like trying to solve a puzzle when analyzing what may be the cause/causes for these low adoption rates of agricultural mechanization in Nigeria but there are several factors that have been identified to contribute to Nigeria's low agricultural mechanization rate. Some of these include:
Land tenure structure
Lack of equipment/infrastructure
Shortage of maintenance personnel
The cost of purchasing the types of equipment needed.
Contrary to popular opinion, growing mechanization rates may not always need significant expenditures on tractors and other equipment. Depending on the task at hand and the person conducting it, farmers can be able to select the most suitable power source for the operation of their farm and adjust accordingly. This approach of determining farm needs by assessment can be viewed as rigorous but it allows the farm requirements to be successfully and efficiently met by the amount of mechanization required. This approach enables the farmer to know if a huge capital investment in equipment is necessary and if the operating cost when compared to profit will be good for the health of his/her farming business.
Mechanization as a service helps meet the needs of farmers like this, whose production capabilities may fall behind the capital investment required to acquire necessary farming equipment and who may not be able to bear the financial burden of the consequent operating cost. It is a model that allows farmers to rent mechanization equipment from providers or stakeholders who have the capital base to purchase the equipment and can rent it out for a fee. This saves the farmers on maintenance costs while increasing farm productivity. The added benefit is also that this model goes a long way in maintaining the health and quality of labor firstly because the work of farm clearing and preparation strains farm labor and often causes serious injury and poses health risks in many regions.
Offering mechanization as a service is also very important in increasing the gender balance in agricultural productivity as in many farming-based societies, women play a significant role. In certain nations, women account for up to 80% of all farm labor, and offering mechanization as a service can help increase the productivity of these women’s farms and empower them economically while reducing the health burden hard farm labor brings. There is never a one size fits all solution to many issues and solving this problem of low mechanization rates is not a one-day journey. It would require a multilayered approach to farmer education, encouraging favorable government policies and key agricultural players offering mechanization as a service.
Building a profitable future for farmers is possible and it starts with understanding the problems they may face, the context they exist in, and the ways in which we can effectively get the solutions to them. Farmers deserve to benefit from the great work they do and finding a way to increase their productivity through mechanization is a very good start.
At Crop2Cash we have created a marketplace that gives farmers an opportunity to have access to mechanization as a service. This allows them to rent mechanization, from tractors to harvesters all from the comfort of their phone, and by just dialing a code. you can learn more about that here and also get access to our free marketplace guide here