By Promise Etim
According to Investopedia, Agribusiness encompasses all steps required to send an agricultural produce to the market. These processes include: production, processing and storage as well as distribution to the end users.
Agribusiness profitable and demanding. The viability of Agribusiness is a function of some basic factors which ranges from availability of inputs, production, post harvest processing and storage, to the market.
For small and medium scale farmers in Akwa Ibom, active engagement in Agribusiness has been regarded as non profitable, especially by peasant farmers, based on the fact that most of them lack capacity to adopt a value-chain approach for production.
With little or no capital, majority of farmers in the state over that past decades have resorted to selling off their produce to off-takers at relatively very low and discouraging prices, for fear of recording huge post harvest losses.
The trend has constantly discouraged many from actively being involved the production process, as they are totally at the mercy of the off-takers, who literally determine the price at which these products are sold to consumers in the market.
Studies have revealed that more than 90℅ of the off-takers are based in neighbouring states, and they take absolute advantage of the fact that the state over the years has not encouraged post harvest processing of agricultural products from a perspective that will ensure small holder farmers play a key role, thus not limiting their function to planting and harvesting alone, in the production value-chain.
Some of the products mostly affected are: vegetables, palm fruit, plantain, cassava and a few others. Most farmers technically opt out or reduce the rate of production in successive planting season. This adversely results in high cost of affected products in the market.
In a bid to resolve this, stakeholders in the agricultural sector has been brainstorming on possible steps that could be taken to address these shortcomings and restore hope to small and medium scale farmers and create enabling environment for them to determine what happens in the market, in terms of pricing.
The Dakkada Multipurpose Cooperative Society (DMCS) has in the past one year of its existence, provided amazing answers to the very many begging question as regards promoting value-chain for small holder farmers in the state and helping them become active participants in the Agricultural sector.
The DMCS which came on board August 2016, was coined out of the desire of the State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel to encourage more Akwa Ibom people to venture into Agriculture and Entrepreneurship. It has its tentacles spread across the 31 Local Government Areas of the state.
Activities of the DMCS is coordinated by the Directorate of Branding and Marketing of the State Government, under the watchful eyes of a proven and tested entrepreneur, Mr Ime Uwah. The DMCS has a long term plan of improving the income base of no fewer than 50,000 farmers by the year 2023.
By the end of 2018, the DMCS hopes to meet its target of acquiring 20 hectares of land in respective Local Government Areas of the State, which will be serviced by over 300 Multipurpose Cooperative Societies.
No fewer than 8225 members comprising of small scale holder farmers, petty traders and small scale entrepreneurs are currently registered with the 329 primary societies which pilots procurement, storage and distribution. Each primary society is made of averagely 25 members.
The four key focus areas of the DMCS are: Financial Service; Agricultural Input Services; Training and Development; and Marketing.
In the area of Financing, the DMCS is working audaciously to ensure small holder farmers in the state are financially independent and guaranteed autonomy through provision of opportunities for accessing credit facilities and development of a sustainable financial plan for its members and beyond.
There is an intensive drive in the direction of foreign direct investment, as the DMCS is solely focused on sourcing for local and international collaboration from donor agencies to increase the financial capacity of small holder farmers in the state.
Provision of Agricultural Inputs is an integral part of the production value-chain. The DMCS has ensured the following: provision of oil palm seedlings; supply of improved varieties of cassava; provision of fertilizers and pesticides; promotion of agricultural extension services and enabling small holder farmers have unlimited access to farm machineries and processing equipment.
Agricultural production can only be complemented with a viable market, for distribution and sales of harvested produce. The DMCS has a unique marketing structure which helps bridge the gap between small holder farmers and the market.
This is evident in its drive to ensure what is locally produced are directly distributed to factories, hospitals, hotels, clubs, social functions and processing centers at relatively very low cost, as against the previous trend, which off-takers, mostly from neighbouring states determines what happens in the local market.
Already, there are plans to set up procurement centers with facilities to accept, weigh and grade agricultural produce in all 329 wards of the State. This will closely be followed by provision of a central cold and dry storage facilities, to see to the sustainability of agricultural produce, prolong shelf life and reduce effect of drought in off season, promote exportation and yield revenue for the state.
Similarly, the DMCS has provided for its members: palm oil, garri, poultry and other processing facilities, to encourage accelerated production. These centers have been modelled to serve as outlets for direct sales of agricultural produce across the state. This with time will ensure maximum control of market forces and peg the prices of commodities to the barest minimum.
About 40-60% for what is harvested is lost annually in Nigeria, due to poor post harvest operations. An efficient post harvest system must accommodate farm transportation. Inadequate farm transportation constitute significant percentage of food losses. This can mostly be felt in rural communities, where there is little or no means or access road to transport produce from the farm to processing centers.
Against this backdrop, the DMCS has opted to provide solution to rural farmers in this regard, by setting up and encouraging on-site processing of agricultural produce, to ensure minimal losses and size reduction of products before they are transported off the farm. They are also plans to develop an efficient transportation model for transporting farm produce off the farm to processing centers and off-taking points across the state.
In terms of achievements, the DMCS has: registered 31 primary societies and a single union; trained 124 of its officers in various agricultural value-chain programs; facilitated training of 24 of its members on palm oil production; and trained no fewer than a hundred on improved maize cultivation.
Within a year of its existence, the DMCS has secured two hectares land in each of the 31 Local Government Areas, to serve as a platform for aggregation center for agricultural produce harvested by small holder farmers of the society; to plant improved seedlings of maize, cassava and melon, harvest and distribute same to other members and rural farmers by extension from 2018.
In addition to the above, the DMCS has facilitated the assessment of N31m interest free loan from collaborative effort of the State Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria. The loan secured has been distributed to all the primary societies to embark on model projects and build capacity of its members.
The DMCS recently held its first Annual General Meeting (AGM) to review its activities and corresponding impact on the local economy. The AGM provided opportunity for the farmers to interface directly with stakeholders to access the level of progress made, analyse the core challenges and suggest measures to be taken to address them, to ensure the scheme meets its desired objectives.
The State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel who was special guest of honour at the event, reiterated his administration’s commitment towards encouraging innovations in the field of Agriculture as well as wealth creation strategies to help build an economically self reliant state before 2023.
He urged the cooperators to reciprocate the gesture by making good use of funds disbursed already and take advantage of other subsidies that will be put in place by his administration to promote mechanized farming and food processing in the state.
The AGM also featured ratification of registration of the association, replacement of dormant members by their respective executives and confirmation of Governor Emmanuel as grand patron of the organization.
It is imperative to state that the Dakkada Multipurpose Cooperative Society is on the path of restoring hope to small and medium scale farmers and can unarguable be modeled as ‘a panacea for strengthening Agribuiness in Akwa Ibom’.