Mechanizing Nigerian Agriculture: Efforts and challenges, by Prof M.K Othman

Professor M. K. Othman.
Professor M.K. Othman.

Resourcefully, Nigeria is one of the few endowed countries. The country has over 200 million population, 91 million vast land and seven distinct favourable climate zones capable of producing rainfall between 700 and 4,000 millimetres rainfall annually.

Yet, the country cannot produce enough food to feed the population. For over two decades (1987 to 2018), Nigeria spent about N5 billion Naira daily to import varieties of food into the country. The simple reason for the nation massive importation of food to complement the local production is that more than 70% of the farmers in Nigeria use hand tools for their various farm operations.

Use of hand tools like hoe and cutlass is laborious, tiring, time-consuming, drudgery and highly inefficient method of food production. Example, it will take a 5man-day for a highly experienced, hardworking, healthy and energetic man to weed one hectare of farmland while it takes only one man-day to perform the same task with an animal-drawn implement.

When using a tractor (60-75 horsepower), it takes one hour twenty minutes to perform the same task. Again, with hand tools, on the average, a man can produce food to meet dieting requirements for a maximum of five people in a year. Under the same condition, with farm machinery, a man can produce enough food for more than 300 people in a year.

This is why mechanization is absolutely necessary for a nation to achieve self-sufficiency in food production. Therefore, mechanizing agriculture is a sine qua non for achieving food security, import substitution and economic diversification for an agriculturally resourced country like Nigeria. What is farm mechanization?

Farm mechanization is simply the replacement of hoe, other hand tools, and draught animals with tractors and other mechanically or electrically powered machinery and implements. Mechanization allows previously unutilized land to be brought under cultivation. Mechanization results in timelier field operations with increased productivity.

Timeliness is essential for multiple cropping systems as is the case in Nigeria. Thus, there is a need for timely land preparation between sequential crops, especially in irrigated agriculture.

Similarly, tractors and animal traction are not only useful for land preparation but can also be used to power implements and equipment for other farm operations and maintenance of rural infrastructure. The same equipment also can be used for transporting produce to the market, as well as driving pumps and grain milling equipment.

Another important benefit of Mechanization is the reduction of the drudgery especially for power-intensive operations such as tilling the land with a hand hoe. This is particularly difficult in many rural areas of Nigeria where high temperatures and humidity render farm work using human muscle power to be ergonomically difficult and arduous.

Our low level of mechanization is the reason for making youths to shy away from the farm business and prefer to look for white colour jobs in urban areas. As a result, the youths who should be the next generation of farmers perceive farming as a world of drudgery for losers and thus, avoid it.

Generally, a farmer in Nigeria is seen as “a man with the hoe” in spite of decades of huge investments made in the agricultural sector by the government and international agencies.

Recent statistics show that Nigeria is one of the least mechanized farming countries in the world, the average farm power input in Nigeria is 0.27 horsepower per hectare which is far below the recommendation of 1.5 horsepower per hectare by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation.

To clearly see the picture, one should refer to the World Bank report of 2012. In the report, Nigeria had an average of 7 tractors for every 100 square km of arable land compared to 100, 1,900 and 64,000 tractors in Algeria, Ghana and South Africa for the same square km. Today, most developed countries have moved from total reliance on human power to using tractors and implements.

No doubt, over the years, governments at state and federal levels have invested billions of Naira in the importation of tractors and implements with little success in mechanizing Nigerian agriculture.

Professor Isaac N. Itodo, in one of his numerous papers, stated “Tractors have been bought year after year yet the mechanization of our smallholder farms has remained dominated by the hoe-cutlass technology.

Why is this so? The reason is that these smallholder farmers have not found it profitable to increase the size of their holdings using these tractors. What sense does it make to increase the size of area ploughed when there are no planters, boom sprayers and harvesters for the subsequent operations to guarantee the timeliness of operation in a dominated rain-fed agriculture?

Increasing the size of ploughed fields without the capacity to hire the required workers to plant, weed and harvest on time has resulted in unforgivable losses to the farmers. The mechanization of our smallholder farms will thrive if the government provides a mix of farm machinery to farmers.

The farm size will increase with a commensurate increase in output”. This is partly responsible for farmers inability to increase the percentage of the cultivated land area beyond the current 50% of 91 million hectares of arable land in the country.

Additionally, inadequate or absence of rural infrastructure makes land accessibility difficult, if not impossible in some parts of the country. So, what is the way forward? The way forward is the development, promotion and adoption of improved indigenous technologies that are suitable to our farming system.

The technologies have to be efficient for peasantry farming and affordable to the generality of farmers. What are these technologies and where are they? To be continued next week.


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