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The founder of Hastom Nigeria, an agricultural firm, Debo Thomas, is one promising young farmer in Ogbomosho, Oyo State.  Unlike young Nigerians who abandon farming and rural communities, choosing to migrate to urban centres in search of white-collar jobs, Thomas chose to remain and make a difference. Today, he  is a successful crop and cattle farmer.

He noticed that people interested in agriculture were mostly from the city and their major problem was farmland, while in Ogbomosho, they have abundant land. He started helping people to purchase farmlands.

Similarly, he has achieved success in cashew farming. He has cultivated cashew trees on more than 550 acres. According to him, ensuring access to nutritious and affordable food is essential to achieving inclusive and sustainable development in Nigeria.

Those who make this happen, he noted, live in rural areas. He has seen first-hand the powerful role agro entrepreneurs can play in transforming communities, but lamented that farmers were facing unique challenges.

Most of them, according to him,  struggle to earn enough income He urged the Federal Government to enact economic policies that will drive growth and development while calling for the provision of vital infrastructure to enable young entrepreneurs to succeed in agriculture.

He said there should be enough government support to ignite activities across the food and agriculture value chain, provide reliable, consistent credit and financial services, empower communities and strengthen agriculture development in states throughout the country.

Speaking with The Nation, a professor of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, Federal University Oye-Ekiti, Ikole Campus, Ekiti State, Akinwumi Moses Omotayo, said Nigeria‘s rural  agricultural transformation could help the  ongoing fight against poverty, urging for collaboration to strengthen  the vital sector of the economy.

The sector, he further noted, has the potential to reduce poverty and continue driving economic growth, but that emphasis ought to be placed on increasing productivity and competitiveness in the rural areas.

The campaign, Omotayo added, should involve putting  high yielding seed varieties in the hands of farmers, accompanied by investment in rural roads, irrigation, and agricultural extension.  He that boosting productivity in rural areas could lead to more jobs.

His words: “The means of becoming a millionaire in the next decade is by becoming a farmer.”

Omotayo said Nigeria’s agriculture has a strong, diversified base yet it still lags behind other developing nations, largely due to technology gap. He said there should be facilities for rural farmers to get all the information they need to thrive.

According to him, the internet is a great tool for learning and will help farmers seeking ways to increase production. He said there should be loans and grants to help farmers expand economic opportunities.

The Group Managing Director, Gerar International Limited,   Prince Ojiefoh Enahoro, is an agro exporter. He is a supplier of grains and oil seeds to big companies such as Flourmill, Rom Oil, Apple and Pears and Olam Nigeria and Osun Commodity Limited. His biggest achievement was that he first tried everything, gained experience and then advised others. He now offers consultancy services to people involved in rural farming, and has continued to make a difference.

Speaking with The Nation, Enahoro said rural farmers were not having the best of times.  “We face a lot of problems as rural farmers and exporters. The government has not been intentional about developing rural agriculture.”

According to him, farmers are worried about the unsustainable development of the economy and high inflation, adding that policies for agricultural production and consumption have not been paid enough attention.

He said what Nigeria needed was a pragmatic development plan to stimulate growth in  rural areas, including  expanding agriculture, the success of which would be seen in the emergence of exports as  the highest source of foreign currency for the nation.

The wide variety of agricultural produce, according to him, is one of the nation’s major strengths, a result of the country’s different climatic and geographical zones.

His words: “Oyo State can generate over N200 billion annually from cashew nuts. Same thing for Edo and Kogi states. “In Taraba, they have more than 23 flowing rivers across 11 local government areas. The water is not being well utilised. No irrigation, nothing. If we are bringing produce from rural areas to the capital, we have to cross rivers. We have water, we have good soil, and we have population. Things are not working. Rural farmers are suffering. We spend millions purchasing herbicides and seedlings for the farmers.”

High transport costs, according to him, are a big issue that should be addressed as they are undermining competitiveness.

According to him, rural agriculture has continued to lag significantly behind, hindered by logistic challenges. In the longer term, he said there should be programmes to ensure smaller producers are integrated into the attractive export industry.

The Programme Director, Development Dynamics, Dr Jude Ohanele, said rural farmers needed to be empowered to bring productivity back to the agricultural landscape.

In Imo State where he operates, Ohanele has been part of efforts to midwife small agricultural businesses to revive the economy. He has been explicit about his increasing efficiency and food production to replace imports that cost Nigeria hundreds of millions of dollars yearly.

The fact that his   biofortification campaign has produced a number of small agro businesses is a clear sign of how much lack of extension support has held down the progress of rural businesses not exposed to such services.

Ohanele said by most measures rural farmers were not doing well because of waste, poor management, policy constraints, transportation limits, and other problems.

According to him, most farm produce are  wasting because of lack of transportation to bring them to processing centres.

He  was  also worried that the bureaucrats responsible for managing the complex mix of state-run and private agriculture lack the knowledge needed to make the system work.

For a lecturer at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ibadan, Dr  Kehinde Adesina Thomas, Nigeria  presents a unique case study of a developing country that  has not successfully invested in its agricultural sector and boosted its economy.

Thomas said empowering and investing in rural  farmers was a  pre-requisite to fulfilling the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals that aim to end poverty and hunger.

He was, however, concerned  that rural agriculture has not  shown any  record of tremendous growth. He  attributed this to under  investments in the sector.

With limited non-farm employment in rural areas, he noted that  a vast majority of rural labour force relies on agricultural work for income.

Farmers, Thomas noted, want to see significant improvements in livelihood and rural economy.

The knowledge gap is one of the issues, Head, Operations, Anastasia Marie Nigeria Limited, Sunday Etimensi, wants addressed as rural farmers require training on how to restore productivity using better farm management methods.

Etimensi said operators needed to know the productive protocols and  land management techniques to use, how to scale, and even what crops and animals to farm.

For Nigeria to reduce extreme poverty by 2030, stakeholders called for increased efforts to secure a better standard of living for the people. They believe agribusiness has the potential to boost the livelihoods of ruralites.

According to the Executive Partner, Alfam Insurance Brokers, Gbolahan Adu, prosperity will come from an accelerated transformation of the agriculture sector in the rural areas.

In his interaction with farmers, Adu saw record post-harvest losses and this has a negative impact on their income.

While the provision of reliable storage facilities  could  help reduce  perennial post-harvest losses, improve food security and alleviate poverty, Adu  said implementing agricultural insurance was vital to reduce community vulnerabilities to crises and disasters and to better prepare farmers for future shocks.

He said agriculture insurance has a role to play in easing access to finance and credit by farmers, and cushioning them against losses induced by disasters or diseases that affect their crops and livestock.

He urged the government to encourage rural farmers to adopt insurance policies for crops and livestock.

A crop and social scientist, Ige Oluwaseun, said there was the need to support rural farmers to sustain their businesses. He said there should be programmes to support rural households to improve their food and nutrition security and reduce rural poverty by combining agriculture and social protection.

The Chief Executive, A.K&F Agro Tech and Agro S-ervice, Osuwa Abdullahi, urged the authorities to scale up investments  in rural areas as part of efforts to eradicate poverty.

He implored the government to prioritise the development of agriculture and rural areas and advance a batch of major projects to facilitate production and consumption.

These, according to him, will help to reduce rural poverty, improve food security, boost export revenue, and deepen marketing and distribution chains throughout the economy

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