Agriculture as a Business: From Poverty to Power
By Ndukuba Chika, vegetable partnership facilitator.
Notwithstanding the oil sector, which has driven the Nigerian economy over the past 50 years, the agriculture sector appears to be the most promising sector of the country’s economy. It is feeding the nation’s rising population, supporting its GDP, increasing export revenue incomes, and providing sustainable employment, especially for youth and other vulnerable groups, both in rural and urbans areas.
The City of Oyo in Oyo State is an agrarian society. It has four local government areas: Atiba, Oyo East, Oyo West and a host of countless villages and hamlets. Oyo is home for more than 2 million inhabitants, the majority of which are local farmers. These farmers produce cassava, maize, yam, leafy vegetables, and local varieties of tomato, hot pepper, watermelon, and more. For these household farmers, feeding cities in southwest Nigeria like Ibadan, which is the largest city in West Africa, and Lagos, which has a population of over 20 million, represents a tremendous market opportunity. However, most of these local vegetable farmers live below the poverty line (less than $1 a day).
These farmers are faced with many challenges, which mar their yields and result in meager income. Constraints include the use and re-use of local seed varieties, lack of knowledge of good agronomic practices (GAPs) and modern best practices in global vegetable production, lack of access to modern inputs (e.g., fertilizer, agrochemicals) and knowledge of their appropriate use, weakness of farmers’ organization and collective action, low or no access to agriculture loans, and most importantly, lack of access to major markets.
To reverse this situation, 2SCALE developed a vegetable partnership, which is connecting vegetable farmers and their organizations with tropicalized seed producers, processing firms, nucleus farms, and wholesale traders. This vegetable partnership aims to strengthen and further diversify the vegetable sector by improving farmers’ access to quality inputs and by strengthening marketing and distribution channels to consumer markets, including base of the pyramid (BoP) markets. Field activities began through seed variety demonstrations with East-West Seed International (EWIT) in 2012, following the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between EWIT and IFDC in 2011. In 2015, 2SCALE facilitated official recognition of EWIT seeds by the National Seeds Council of Nigeria.
In 2013, 2SCALE was introduced to local vegetable farmers in a village under Oyo West Local Government called Iya Ibeji and its neighboring villages. A demonstration farm was staged to showcase the importance of the use of modern inputs in vegetable production. This demonstration showcased 12 varieties of high-yielding and disease-resistant seeds, fertilizers, mulching film, trellising, and other methods. The result was fantastic, and, as expected, gradual adoption by the farmers has followed.
The Iya Ibeji tomato cluster, which started in one local village with barely 50 farmers, now has almost 2,000 active members in all four local governments of Oyo, of which 30 percent are female. Many farmers from interior villages who have never heard of improved seeds or how to access/cultivate them are now equipped with the knowledge. Average tomato farmers that are members of the cluster now produce a minimum of 5 tons per acre compared to 0.9 tons using their local methods and seeds. This translates to an over 300 percent income increase after the introduction of the project. The vegetable farmers have all seen the benefits and adopted the use of better practices and inputs, including improved seeds, trellising, integrated soil fertility management (ISFM), integrated pest management (IPM), and correct usage of agrochemicals and fertilizers. In addition, vegetable farmers now operate synchronized farming activities albeit at a village level. By linking farmers with traders through local business workshops, challenges associated with marketing and market access have almost fizzled out. Many of the farmers both at cluster levels and individual levels now relate with market dealers directly, which hasten the sales of their produce in major cities at good prices. Access to inputs, such as agrochemicals and seeds, has greatly improved through the project’s activities, which have facilitated linkages with input dealers both at local levels and in cities. 2SCALE also linked the farmers with microfinance institutions in order to give them access to loans at the cluster level. Some of the cluster members have accessed loans as much as 3 million Naira (U.S. $9,500) since the vegetable partnership’s inception. Presently, over 150 cluster members are at the final stage of securing 100,000 Naira ($316) each to improve their farming businesses.
We collected several personal stories, illustrating this transition from poverty to power. You can find them below. Through the 2SCALE-supported vegetable partnership, I’m profoundly grateful and proud to be part of this change.