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Nigerian agricultural processing or lack of it

Global agricultural production is far from monolithic, and involves many different production methods ranging from the advanced technology and high-yield model to low-yield subsistence farming,…

Global agricultural production is far from monolithic, and involves many different production methods ranging from the advanced technology and high-yield model to low-yield subsistence farming, with many variations in between. Whereas Nigeria’s primary production is not advanced, the sheer size of the sector means that there is always ample production. However, the country’s agricultural processing sector also mirrors this inadequacy.

I am of the opinion that primary production necessarily needs to be improved in order to see any gains in processing and marketing of commodities. As far as agricultural economics is concerned, we must understand that the transportation and processing infrastructure will only become pervasive when there are viable markets for our commodities. Goods will move by rail, truck, or sea, and transportation networks will become concentrated within the agricultural regions only when the agricultural commodities are in the right quantity and quality specifications of a real market.

In his famous Gates Notes, Bill Gates wrote about how technology is transforming agriculture and the fight against poverty. He argued that, “The rails and roads that would take crops from the farm gate to the market don’t exist, because the market doesn’t want the crops the farmers are growing in the ways and volumes they’re growing them. So farmers are isolated, stuck with no money and no voice that the marketplace can hear.” The same can be said of Nigeria’s agricultural processing infrastructure deficit, where local, regional and global markets are not interested in Nigerian finished products and as such there is no adequate investment to develop the critical infrastructure for global standard processing.

Here is a round-up of some agricultural commodity industries and how they are thriving in terms of processing infrastructure and markets:

Cereals and Grains

Cereal crops such as wheat, sorghum, rice, maize, and millet constitute raw materials for flour mills, brewery, bread, biscuits, and confectionery industries. A great opportunity has been seized and can be said to have created immense benefits for many in the rice value chain, with hundreds of rice mills cropping out in many parts of Nigeria. However, there is still a lot of work to do in perfecting the technologies for de-stoning, polishing and packaging for Nigerian rice to compete internationally. Meanwhile, the flour mills, biscuits and confectionery industries had very little growth in recent years and could even be said to have stagnated really, with the exception of a few.

Roots and Tubers

Cassava and yam are the main crops in this category. Well processed cassava chips have the potential for export. Thailand for example is the second largest producer of cassava after Nigeria but today it is the leading exporter of starch. It also exports other products from cassava such as alcohol and monosodium glutamate. Cassava is also a good raw material for feed formulation for large ruminants and pigs.

Vegetable Oil

Nigeria is a major producer of oil palm, groundnut, soya beans, sesame, and cotton. These are good sources of vegetable oil. We have all heard the legend that Malaysia obtained her 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 tonnes accounting for 60.2 per cent of the world’s total palm oil exports. Nigeria imports bleached palm oil from Malaysia as vegetable oil. Nigeria’s share in the world trade of palm oil decreased from 60.2 per cent in 1961 to 1.5 per cent in 1999. The situation has not yet improved since then as we are a net importer of vegetable oil. The other oils from groundnut, cotton and soya beans are processed locally. The capacity of the oil mills is inadequate as the country relies largely on imported vegetable oil.

Fruits and Vegetables

It is common to see heaps of rotten oranges, mangoes, pawpaw, tomatoes, bananas, plantain, pineapples and other vegetables during their periods of glut 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 overcome the seasonal losses due to glut in their production. It is quite obvious that our processing capacity in this sector is below average and must be improved.

Beverages, Tea and Coffee

Beverage industries based on cocoa products are in good supply with products such as Bournvita, Milo, Ovaltine, Choco etc. they are largely established by multinational companies. Tea and coffee industries in the country compete favourably in the international markets. However, there is a need for investment in various stages of the production and processing of these commodities. The country is flooded with products from Asia despite a huge obsession on local herbal medicines.

Meat Industry

The meat industry is not yet developed or standardised. The butchers’ practices of 50 years ago are still in practice today. The standards ranging from hygiene to storage at the slaughter and transportation is below standard, making competition at the international markets almost impossible. Smaller and less endowed countries like Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, and Ethiopia export meat to European Union (EU) countries because they ensure sanitation and modernisation in the meat industry.

Fish 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 heavy investment in this sector in order to participate in the international fish market. Most consumers in Nigeria today rely on imported frozen fish.