Let us go forward with Agriculture

In Nigeria, ‘oil money’ has been at the centre of national discourse in the last four decades. It has captured the imagination of Nigerians across divides for one singular reason: Oil has been the symbol of power, wealth, opulence, growth, and development.

Arguably, everything that is lovable about Nigeria today is a direct consequence of oil wealth. So our preoccupation with oil is apparently justified.

However, like most love interests, there comes a time when things start to go sour; when the fireworks begin to sizzle. Crude oil appears not to be as alluring to the west as it once was, and the result is, our beloved oil money is not as buoyant as it once was.

And what do we do in times like this? Do we look for new love interests, or we go back to neglected or abandoned ones?

Before oil was discovered, agriculture was the mainstay of our economy. At one time it accounted for almost 70 percent of our Gross Domestic Product, and provided the basis for some of our major infrastructural accomplishments. In other words, we were as dependent on agriculture back then as we are on oil today.

Agriculture provided for Nigeria: jobs were available, social infrastructure and amenities were built. The economy was vibrant. As the world’s largest producer of groundnut and palm oil in the 1960s, the second largest exporter of cocoa, and the supplier of 65 percent of tomatoes consumed in West Africa, agriculture had a great future laid out for us all. Sadly, this is no more the case. The power of oil and our fixation on it have made us forget how important agriculture was to us at the beginning.

Oil is not what it used to be again! A slump in crude prices, Nigeria’s mainstay, has seriously impacted public and private finances, the naira currency, inflation rates and general welfare of Nigerians all across the various social classes. Presently, crude oil sales account for more than 70 percent of government revenue, and with any sneeze in price, governments at both local and federal levels across Nigeria catch a cold!

Compounding the impact of low oil prices, attacks by militants on oil and gas installations in Delta, Bayelsa, and Akwa Ibom have cut crude production by over one million barrels per day (bpd) to slightly above 1.1 million barrels per day. The government’s 2016 budget assumed 2.2 million barrels per day production level.

With oil disappointing us presently, we have been left wondering what could have been if we never took our foot completely off the agriculture pedal. Fortunately, all is not lost! So we can go back. Over the years Nigeria has made numerous commendable efforts in that respect.

Sunti Farm is one of the many ways that FMN is contributing to this development. Sunti Farm is a 16,000-hectare sugar and rice plantation close to the town of Mokwa in Niger state. It is operated by Golden Sugar Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of FMN with the purpose of producing milled sugar for local consumption and export. Aside from cultivating sugar cane and rice, the estate also includes mills and a refinery for processing harvested crops.

With sugar being an indispensable part of the Nigerian diet, this is an important investment. The climate, soil, drainage, access to irrigation and availability of labour all work together to impact favourably on crop production and yield.

As an Agro-Allied practitioner, when you discover a right fit such as Sunti is, you make the most of it. The first phase of our sugar operation comprised 3, 000 hectares of sugar cane, and 250 hectares of rice. The second phase comprised a further 3,000 hectares and effectively serves in the expansion of our sugar production. Since we established Sunti farms, it has grown in scale to cover a whopping 30,000 hectares with the cultivation of thousands of hectares and has attracted technology which was hitherto none existent in the region where it is located.

This carefully conceptualised and executed operation ensures that in a region that provides an average yield of 60 to 80 metric tonnes of cane per hectare, we succeed in producing yields more than 100 metric tonnes per hectare. Moreover, with brand new state of the art sugar mill, we will maximize sugar recovery and minimize downtime, getting more sucrose per 100 metric tonnes of sugar cane.

In terms of numbers, we have spent well over N40 billion on the investment and in terms of social impact, the Sunti sugar plantation is expected to provide jobs for over 10,000 people once fully developed. It is spreading development to communities in the region where it is located through various social and economic intervention programmes.

We understand that restoring the glory of agriculture will not be an easy feat. As a nation, we have a lot of catching up to do, a lot of skills and specializations to master and a lot of policy challenges to sort and smoothen out. However, with commendable efforts like FMN’s Sunti Farms, we are well on our way there.

Today, as oil revenue comes in trickles, other opportunities beckon on us.