Architect Kabiru Ibrahim is the chairman of the board of trustees of the National Agricultural Foundation of Nigeria (NFAN), the organiser of the National Agricultural Show. He is also the president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN). In this interview, he discusses the 2023 edition of the show, which begins today, giving reasons why President Tinubu should personally grace the farmers’ festival.
The National Agricultural Show is one of the largest events for farmers and other key players in Nigeria›s agricultural sector. For this 2023 show, how would you sum it up?
This is the 15th edition, and it’s the only one taking place outside of October. Now, over the years, we’ve had complaints from farmers who say that the month of October is really in the middle of harvest for so many of them. So, many of them find it difficult to leave their produce on the farms to attend the show. So we have now extended it into November, when everybody has finished most of the harvest that they have been engaged in. Of course, there are many crops that are not yet ready for harvest. This period is very good for everybody.
This year’s edition is unique in the sense that Mr President declared a state of emergency on food security, and then when we declared it, you recall, we had interviews where we encouraged farmers to do their best in spite of all the threats of insecurity, the purchasing power of the naira, a lack of mechanisation, a lack of easy access to inputs, like fertilisers, and things like that. We told them to still go to the farm and produce assiduously, and they have done a lot of work.
So, the event is supposed to be an avenue for farmers to show what they have done over the past year to the public, and then for businessmen to really key into it. You’ll know the areas where certain things are prevalent; you will also know the potential that is there and what the people require to optimise their promotion and that kind of thing. It is a meeting point; you can do B2B business meetings with so many people.
So that’s what makes it very unique. And now agriculture, as you know, is being considered a business by most farmers who, until now, were doing subsistence farming. Now most of them are into agribusiness. So this is the crux of this year’s edition.
We intended to make this year very unique because we extended an invitation to Mr President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It is in his greater interest to spend time with the farmers. In fact, over the years, we have forgotten that there is a president in this country when we do agricultural shows.
Since former President Obasanjo left office, nobody has attended. It is important that, as he has declared a state of emergency on food security, he attend; if he can’t, then his vice president, whom we understand is also the person in charge of agriculture, should be there. We want him to witness the agricultural show, and we have told all our farmers to come with whatever they have, even if it is a poor yield or poor crop, let them show it; at least it will show the reality of what is on the ground.
Since this is one of the biggest gatherings that brings together the entire sector, have you been able to reach out to research institutes, companies and other stakeholders?
We have invited them. We have always been talking about agriculture and telling people what to do, and when we are interfacing with so many of the research institutes and so many of the researchers themselves, Recently, we were members of the organising committee of the Africa Extension Week, which began on the 5th and finished on the 11th. We were there and even got an award, and you know that extension is sine qua non to agricultural production. So we embraced it and played our role there.
We have told our farmers that they cannot plant anything without knowing what to do about it. And all those research institutes, whatever they come up with, will have to be accompanied by extension work. We have told the seed companies that in their best interest, they should always attach extension people with their seeds because you can have a good seed, but if you don’t know how to plant it or don’t know the dos and don’ts about it, you will not get the best yield.
So we are in touch with all the research people. Many of them have been coming, and they will keep coming. I know because they cannot do anything without farmers. So all these people are coming and we are sensitising them that this is where you meet the farmers.
Why do you think those who are genuinely involved in agriculture and other allied industries should attend this particular show?
Well, you see, agribusiness, simply put, is for anybody who deals in agriculture produce—in produce that is produced by agricultural means. And if you say you’re in agribusiness, then you need farmers; you need people who will produce what you do business in. To that extent, I will tell you that I’m the chairman of the administrative board of the Nigeria agribusiness group, and the Nigeria Business Group is also going to make a contribution to this year’s agric show. They have already made a pledge, and we believe they will redeem it soon.
So everybody, I don’t want to call people who are middlemen, they are the people who are really making money from agriculture. The farm gate price of everything we produce is still very low. The farmers are still complaining. It is the middlemen who transport things to Abuja that make things very costly, and the farmers are being blamed. If you carry anything from Faskari, my village, to Lagos and you sell it at an exorbitant price, that doesn›t mean that you bought it at an exorbitant price in Faskari. So the people really involved in agribusiness should come; this is the place for them to come. This is the hub of agribusiness.
Transportation costs and other related expenses are a problem for many people. Have you considered the possibility that this could have an impact on the attendance at the event?
No, as far as transportation is concerned, the costs arising from that are global in Nigeria. So anybody who wants to promote their business and is doing agriculture, as we always tell them, should look at agriculture beyond subsistence farming; they should look at it as a business. If they are coming to do business, they will come there.
In your opinion, what role should the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security play in this agricultural exhibition?
I can tell you that if you look at this banner, you will see that it is a collaboration of the National Agricultural Foundation, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, and AFAN. They are equal partners in this. So they should do no less than what AFAN is doing or what the foundation is doing. We are working together to make this a success. So for all I know, they ought to be here, and they ought to do more. But they are trying.
The current Minister of Agriculture is serious about this, and we know that even the minister of state is a product of agriculture himself, so it will be different this year. We believe that the government has a role to play by coming; it is encouraging people to do more. By participating, it is incentivizing people to do more. That is why we asked Mr. President to come. When the president comes, he is not going to put on a T-shirt and cultivate anything. His coming, his presence will incentivize our farmers to do more—that he has attached importance to it, and therefore they will work towards making Nigeria food sufficient, and it is those small farmers that will do it because we have abysmal mechanization. It is the smallholder farmer in Nigeria that will be the engine room of food security, and it is he who requires incentivization.
So the president should come here; the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security is part of this show. If they don’t come, it is a big blow to them. AFAN is coming. I’m the president of AFAN, and I’m the chairman of the BOT of this foundation and I’m here till the end of this show.
In order to completely remodel the architecture of food production, the federal government has declared a state of emergency in the field of agriculture. What will the participants in this agricultural fair make of their absence?
It will be a big shame for the government and not for anybody else. Okay, a state of emergency on food security for us means many things. One of which is actually stemming insecurity in the nation; it is actually bringing in mechanisation; it is ensuring that we deploy sufficient science, technology and innovation. We should also do climate-smart agriculture; we should even embrace biotechnology to make food sufficient in Nigeria.
So everything that the president mentioned for us, you cannot attain food security when you have insecurity; you cannot have food security when you have very little mechanisation; if you don’t have good seeds, if you don’t have inputs, readily affordable inputs. So when the president mentioned the state of emergency on food security, for us practitioners, we understand it to mean doing all these things that I mentioned sustainably. This is what happens in other worlds where they boast of food security.
What steps have you taken to encourage your international partners to take part in this national celebration?
Funny enough, you see, the French Embassy just invited me yesterday. They brought in some business people who wanted to work generally in meteorology, and I told them that we have an agricultural show and that they should come there and display their wares to farmers. and commercial farmers can keep their own, groups or cluster farmers can keep their own. Weather forecast is very crucial to us because we’ve had flooding almost every year since 2021 or so.
NiMet gives us information and weather forecasts, and we tell our farmers to avoid flood-prone areas and planting out of time. So when you come with all this equipment to sell to us, you meet the farmers themselves. If you send it to me, for instance, it might take a long time for me to understand what it is all about, but when you come there and explain it to people, they will understand better and be willing to buy, and many people are coming here.
You see, what is interesting about Nigeria is: why do you have an influx of foreigners coming into the country to do business and in agribusiness? Why are we not taking advantage of the potential that we have—irrigable and cultivable land, almost 80 million hectares of it? We have a large population, and we even have oil. Why is our agriculture at this point and in this shape? It can be a lot better with people enthusiastic about agriculture. There is a lot of wealth in agriculture and all these people walking in the streets without jobs can get jobs from agriculture.
What more should the government be doing in the agriculture sector, in your opinion?
Nigeria is the melting pot of agriculture in Africa, but we need to harness that potential. We need to have all hands on deck. Everybody has to work towards it. We are not going to blame anybody; we are not going to blame the government because agriculture is a private business. The government does not have a farm. The federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security is supposed to provide the enabling environment; they are not to spoon-feed us.
But you see, in agriculture everywhere in the world, there is what is called subsidy, and that subsidy must reach the farmer. If you send it through these middlemen, the actual farmer would not get it. So if the federal government wants to do anything, the best opportunity is, at the agric show, address the farmers directly. Give them the opportunity to also say what they lack. This is what happens in the free world.
What would you say to the President and Vice President about this show if you were speaking with them face-to-face?
They need to really interface with the farmers. You need to go around or send people to talk to the farmers, get the views of the farmers before you even do anything. I’ll give you this for instance, if you say you’re doing food security for Nigeria, Nigeria is divided into six geopolitical zones. If you promote wheat in the North, for instance, what is wheat going to do to impact people in the South-South of this country? What you should do is identify the staples in these regions and emphasise their production; this way, you give the regions food security.