Interview: Osazuwa Osayi

Where do you identify the remaining gaps in Nigeria’s agricultural value chain, and how can domestic players address them?

OSAZUWA OSAYI: Nigeria’s agricultural space is nascent because the oil and gas sector has been at the forefront of economic development programmes for decades. Today, however, there is greater emphasis on diversification, and the improvement of agrarian activities is paramount to achieve this goal. However, a number of constraints must be overcome, such as lack of integration in the value chain, insufficient funding, inconsistent commodity pricing, infrastructure deficits and high development costs. These broken links undermine efforts to support the system.

More than 75% of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa still rely on hand tools instead of machinery, and as such, infrastructure remains the greatest impediment to growth. Beyond financing and the regulations, local players must also address the critical infrastructure weaknesses in transport, electricity, digital transformation and data management. We must make an effort to invest in high-quality logistical and energy infrastructure to improve the speed of bringing produce to markets and reduce losses, especially for businesses selling perishable items.

What can be done to support small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises?

OSAYI: There have been several trends among farmers that have changed the sector significantly. During the Covid-19 pandemic farmers reduced market-oriented vegetable production, produced more vegetables for their own consumption, increased home processing and storage, explored new markets and accepted lower sales prices. Socio-economic factors such as age, household size and marital status, as well as difficulty accessing inputs and perceptions of the effects of the pandemic, influenced farmers’ decisions to adopt particular coping strategies.

With this in mind, in order to sustain vegetable supplies, policymakers should consider investing more in market-oriented strategies such as vegetable processing and storage, which individual farmers may not be able to afford due to high costs, as well as a lack of information and knowledge on good agronomic practices, post-harvest handling facilities, storage and market access. Public extension services can help farmers to adapt better. The continent’s agriculture sector is relatively resilient, but it is still at risk of serious disruption as continuing restrictions affect input and output. In labour-intensive segments such as fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy, the availability of workers is increasingly becoming a problem. Moreover, limited access to farming inputs is expected to reduce what farmers can use. This may result in lower production levels and higher prices, which could have devastating effects on food security and nutritional standards.

To address this, the Agricultural Small and Medium Enterprises Investment Scheme – an initiative of the Bankers’ Committee managed by the Central Bank of Nigeria – was created. The programme supports and complements the federal government’s efforts to promote small and medium-sized agri-businesses as a vehicle for sustainable economic development and employment generation.

To what extent will the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) bolster agriculture?

OSAYI: Agriculture has a massive social and economic footprint on the continent. More than 60% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is smallholder farmers, and about 23% of the region’s GDP comes from agriculture. With the launch of the AfCFTA, there is enormous potential for greater intra-African agricultural trade in the coming years. Especially in terms of agriculture, this presents a unique opportunity to embody the motto “For Africa, by Africa”.