Global agricultural production is far from monolithic and encompasses many different production methods ranging from the advanced technology and the high yield model to low yield subsistence farming, with many variations in between. While primary production in Nigeria is not very advanced, the sheer size of the sector ensures that there is always sufficient production. But the country’s agricultural processing sector also reflects this shortcoming.
I believe that primary production must necessarily be improved in order to make a profit in the processing and marketing of commodities. In terms of the agricultural economy, we need to understand that transportation and processing infrastructure will only become ubiquitous if there are viable markets for our raw materials. Goods will be transported by rail, truck or sea, and transport networks will only be concentrated in the agricultural regions if the agricultural commodities are in the right quantity and quality specifications from a real market.
In his famous Gates Notes, Bill Gates wrote about how technology is changing agriculture and the fight against poverty. He argued that: “The rails and roads that would take crops from the farm to the market don’t exist, because the market doesn’t want the crops the farmers grow the way and in the volumes they grow them. So farmers are isolated, stuck with no money and no voice for the market to hear.” The same can be said of the shortage of agricultural processing infrastructure in Nigeria, where local, regional and global markets are not interested in Nigerian finished products and as such there are no adequate investments to develop the critical infrastructure for global standard processing.
Here is an overview of some agricultural commodity industries and how they are thriving in terms of processing infrastructure and markets:
Cereals and grains
Cereals such as wheat, sorghum, rice, maize and millet are raw materials for flour mills, breweries, bread, biscuits and confectionery. An amazing opportunity has been seized and it can be said to have brought huge benefits to many in the rice value chain, with hundreds of rice mills gone in many parts of Nigeria. However, much work remains to be done to perfect the destoning, polishing and packaging technologies for Nigerian rice to compete internationally. Meanwhile, the flour mills, the biscuit and confectionery industries have seen little growth in recent years and one could even say that, with a few exceptions, they had really stagnated.
Roots and tubers
Cassava and yam are the main crops in this category. Well-processed cassava chips have the potential for export. For example, Thailand is the second largest producer of cassava after Nigeria, but today it is the largest exporter of starch. It also exports other cassava products, such as alcohol and monosodium glutamate. Cassava is also a good raw material for feed formulation for large ruminants and pigs.
Nigeria is a major producer of palm oil, groundnuts, soybeans, sesame and cotton. These are good sources of vegetable oil. We have all heard the legend that Malaysia got its first palm seedlings from Nigeria in the 1960s. In 2003, their total planted area was 3.70 million hectares. Today, Malaysia is the largest palm oil exporter with 6.5 million tons, accounting for 60.2 percent of the world’s total palm oil exports. Nigeria imports bleached palm oil from Malaysia as vegetable oil. Nigeria’s share of world palm oil trade has fallen from 60.2 percent in 1961 to 1.5 percent in 1999. Since then, the situation has not improved as we are a net importer of vegetable oil. The other oils from peanut, cotton and soybeans are processed locally. The capacity of the oil mills is insufficient as the country is largely dependent on imported vegetable oil.
Fruit and vegetables
It is common to see heaps of rotten oranges, mangoes, papayas, tomatoes, bananas, plantain, pineapple and other vegetables during their periods of abundance at peak harvest time. In some periods, these fruits or their products become very scarce and expensive. It shows that our industrial capacity to process these fruits is inadequate or lacking. A lot of investment is needed in fruit processing to absorb the seasonal losses due to excessive production. It’s pretty clear that our throughput in this industry is below average and needs improvement.
Drinks, tea and coffee
Cocoa based beverage industries are well supplied with products such as Bournvita, Milo, Ovaltine, Choco etc. They are largely set up by multinational companies. The tea and coffee industries in the country compete favorably in the international markets. However, there is a need for investment in various stages of the production and processing of these raw materials. The country is awash with products from Asia despite a huge obsession with local herbal medicines.
The meat industry has not yet been developed or standardized. The butcher’s practices of 50 years ago are still in practice. The standards, ranging from hygiene to storage at slaughter and transport, are below par, making competition in international markets almost impossible. Smaller and less fortunate countries such as Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and Ethiopia export meat to European Union (EU) countries as they provide sanitation and modernization in the meat industry.
Nigeria is blessed with both fresh and marine fish and other animals. Unfortunately, we are still a net importer of fish. There is a need for substantial investments in this sector in order to participate in the international fish market. Most consumers in Nigeria today depend on imported frozen fish.