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Developing a Grain Economy: A future for Taraba.

 By Zanau Hassan Maikasuwa.

As we continue to wonder how on earth, agriculture can replace crude oil, as Oil Revenue and State income continues to dwindle, and as we continue to experience increase in unemployment, it is time to strategise as a people.

As future leaders, how can we manage an increasing population without a major source of income. Petrol has brought us thus far, but I don’t see it taking us further. This talk is not about making you take to farming, but to see agriculture with a new eye.

The biggest source of energy foods, that form more than 40% of our daily meals are grains, which are generally cereals. For the purpose of this write-up, I shall include oil seeds, such as groundnuts, soyabeans, sesame seed, as well as maize, rice, sorghum and millet.

Grains are the major sources of table eggs, milk and meat as an important part of animal feed. They are the major ingredient in infant food formula like Cerelac and others.

Grains are mainly consumed by humans and animals, with animals as the biggest consumers. 2000 layers of birds consume more than 10 bags of maize per week. The largest consumers of maize in Nigeria are not the 180 million Nigerians, but poultry birds for layers and broilers.

The biggest company in Nigeria that uses maize is poultry feed company.
That company is solely responsible for price hike or rise in maize price in Nigeria.

When the Federal Government wants to control price of maize in the market, what Government does is to allow the company to import maize and by so doing, maize prices will either crash or stabilize.

Another important grain in Nigeria is rice which is a major staple with no other industrial uses like maize does. Parboiled rice is the product from paddy rice which we consume daily, the other is non parboiled rice or shinkafan tuwo.

Now, how can we develop a grain economy.
At the base of the pyramid of this economic revolution are the farmers.
If you live to see every day, you need to thank a farmer.
“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher, but every date—three times a day, you need a farmer !” – Brenda Schoepp  …

It is also said “it is better to pay the cook (farmer) than to pay the doctor”
The farmer is at the base of our daily existence. Here in Nigeria, the farmer is that person who never had the opportunity to go to school. That man who is finding it difficult to build a fine house, take his family to good hospitals, his kids to good schools, or even find a beautiful wife to even marry.

But at the same time, these are the people helping to sustain life daily for the World’s over 7 billion people. Therefore, it is of great importance that we look at the farmer again. If we must replace crude oil with agriculture, then it means that the farmer must be at the center of attention.

Can you imagine the billions of dollars that crude oil brings to this Country, if we must replace Crude Oil with farming then, it is not the same farmer that we see today living in rural areas, with no access to banking, electricity, good road, good schools, good hospitals that harvests less than 20 bags of maize per hectare when his colleagues in U.S and China are harvesting 100 bags and above per hectare.

If agriculture must take the center stage of our economic revolution, we must replace the hoe forever and only see them in museums, the hoe cannot take us there.The hoe represent anything that is of the ages past, that has refused to change and has let our farmers become stagnant for over 60 years of University education in Nigeria. The truth is, the hoe cannot replace Crude Oil.

Secondly, our farmers need new techniques. Farmers in Taraba are the worst in terms of adopting new techniques. The Taraba farmer has not been trained in the last 26 years.

Farmers in Taraba, use the less fertilizer and majority of them do not use new seeds.They do not know how to plant maize profitably, neither do they know how to apply fertilizer.If we must run a grain economy in the future, these set of farmers need to be enhanced.

Thirdly, we need new and improved technologies. The tractors we are currently using is already obsolete and those who manufactured them only did  it for Africans. There are newer technology in seeds, fertilizer, pesticides etc.

When a rice farmer in India makes 22 tons per hectare while his counterpart in Taraba is making 2 tons, then you will understand what I am saying.

When a tractor in Nigeria can only plough 5 hectares in a day and another one can plough one hectare in 30 minutes, then you will understand that we need to sit up, therefore, we must engage all our researchers, students to explore new technologies.

Fourthly, make agriculture a sustainable business, make it possible for farmers to access funds, to buy tractors, fertilizers, pesticide and pay back profitably. As it is today, our farmers are out of the banking system, majority of them do not have BVN, they do not know how to source for funds, the banks consider them as the riskiest of people to loan money to.

Up till now, our agricultural economist, financial experts have not been able to fashion out a way to make farmers bankable, and profitable business partners.
With a population of 180 million people that need food daily, 3 times a day, and we cannot finance them, then something is wrong somewhere.

The calculations is: 180,000,000 x N300 meal per day = 54 billion naira
If you multiply that by 365 days a year, that’s 19.710 trillion naira, which makes it, $54 billion in dollars.

The market capitalization of the Nigerian stock exchange is 13 trillion, and the FG budget is 7 trillion. If we cannot find a way to finance such a huge market, then something is wrong somewhere.

Our farmers must not be seen as those in need of subsidies every now and then. Anybody interested in farming, should be able to access funds and start with adequate support.

The fifth point is to create a vibrant commodities market. Without a vibrant commodities market, we cannot track what we produce. It is only a vibrant commodities market that can make grains taxable.

Sixth, introduce reforms in grains handling such as weight and measures, warehousing, grading and standardization. World over grains are traded in standard weight, Kilogram and Tons. We are still left with ‘mudu and buhu’ that is in the ‘hoe generation’.

The seventh point is, Grain must be taxed. If grains are not taxed, then State Government cannot profit in her investment in agriculture. This tax will have to be in higher volumes beyond 30 tons, and must be taxed based on weight and not buhu (bags).

Finally, develop a vibrant grain value chain with processing at the end of the chain. Without a vibrant value chain from production, to storage to marketing to processing to retailing, then we cannot run a grain economy.

Today, the biggest company in Nigeria outside Oil and Cement is a grain company. It is called Flour Mills of Nigeria, then the Breweries, Nestlé and so on. These are companies that turn around billions using grains as raw materials.

Looking into the future, Taraba must develop her farmers, grow her grains process it and export it.

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