·BobTrack CEO says farm method of 1960 that fed 36m cannot feed 220m in 2022
By Ignatius Chukwu
State governments ignoring agricultural mechanization especially full tractorization have been told how they could create over 50,000 direct and indirect jobs by investing a mere N5Bn per year in the modern farming system.
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO) of BobTrack Nigeria Limited, Rivers-born Ibifiri Bobmanuel, disclosed this in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay where he gave step by step action needed by the federal and state governments to move Nigeria’s agriculture to the 21st century levels.
Bobmanuel said step one is tractorisation where he said an average state can spend between N3Bn and N5Bn annually on tractorization, provide land, seeding (as part of the tractorisation). “That amount would provide a minimum of 50,000 jobs directly and indirectly.”
He said the beauty of these jobs is that these are serviceable or sustainable jobs, not the jobs government has to deepen hands in the pocket to sustain. “These agric jobs are viable and will service the source of the funds.’
Speaking at BobTrack headquarters in Iriebe, Port Harcourt, the CEO said the state would expect minimum of N6bn as returns, saying the investment creates primary and secondary wealth, raw material for industry, product development, export, foreign exchange, etc. “The benefits are many. I just wonder why government cannot see this opportunity. It beats my imagination.”
Giving an update on what the company can do, the CEO said BonTrack is an indigenous tractor manufacturing and assembly plant. “In all of this, BobTrack facilities can produce between 30 and 60 tractors each month, according to demand.
“The amount of knowledge in BobTrack can drive agric revolution in Nigeria. Port Harcourt has what it takes in BobTrack to cause a revolution but the FG and state governments have not seen that.
“For now, we are busy with the market in the West and Central Africa. Few months ago, we played host to the Rwandan Ambassador here and we have been invited to Rwanda next month for partnership discussion. We have such interests from Kenya and Ghana.’
He said as a wholly Nigerian company, it would be sad that Nigeria does not see what other African countries see. “Let the Nigerian government smell the coffee and cash into the potentials, beyond oil. The wealth is buried in the farms and entrepreneurship.’
He insisted that not until Nigeria begins to look into that sector, our currency will continue to suffer. We must go back to the farm and produce. We should go further and process what we get from the farms and export the final products and earn the much needed foreign exchange.
Bobmanuel, president of the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF), who has interests in construction, trade, oil/gas, and now manufacturing, made it clear the present monetary policies of the FG may not be the solution Nigeria years for.
He also wondered how the FG and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) talk about giving loans and grants for agriculture when those in the value chain in the south have seen the impact.
“Look at the FG and its policies such as pronouncing priority sectors, and they talk about the amount of money the CBN has given as loans to different states. You begin to ask yourself how they assess those loans. One wonders the parameters the CBN uses, since it is a grant. It bothers many as to what parameters they use to know the proper investment and grants.
“We in the industry are interested in knowing the parameters because going by the CBN public expenditures, we see that state governments have been given between N5Bn and N10Bn. So, many want to know what those grants are used for. Private investors who do the real investments do not see such grants, though we do not crave for it much. The problem is that we do not see the benefits of the said grants.’
He said if the state governments were not snapping up tractors and other implements and were not processing products, one wonders what the grants were used for. “It is tempting to wonder if the CBN is not encouraging them to mechanize. One would then want to know what the CBN is asking them to do with the money.
“Yes, we see some efforts in Bayelsa, and some big efforts in the north where every government that comes in takes agric serious knowing agric for what it is. That is why they call themselves the food baskets of the nation.’
He said even at that, “we want the FG to think through that process with state governments and see how they can improve upon the practices. You find a situation where a man farms much and makes bumper harvests, but the products end up around him and get bad. Issues of processing, warehousing, etc, are virtually cut off.
“We need to encourage them to help more people to go into that space. Else, it becomes a challenge for the government. Production will become elusive.”
He poured lamentations over the inability of Nigeria to move from farming methods of 1960 that he said fed 36 million people to tractorization that could help to feed 220 million in the 21st century.
He wondered how a serious country can dwell on negotiations for a $2Bn tractor loan package from Brazil since the Goodluck Jonathan years to the expiring Muhammadu Buhari era into another era.
He said; “It does not portend well for Nigeria as a people. I never knew you still remember. It does not show seriousness; from Jonathan to now is over 16 years, discussing one loan. If anyone offers you $2Bn and for 16 years you have not drawn it down to see the benefit, it simply means you are not serious.
“Agric is taking the back seat in the scheme of things in Nigeria. It is saddening when you look at the prospects of Nigeria’s food security and the fact that we have not been able to get it right. Every nation needs to get her food sufficiency programme right, but at the moment, we seem to be playing with this sensitive matter.”
Bobmanuel said it flies in the face of facts and figures each time the government says Nigeria is food sufficient. “The assertion does not get support from facts and realities on ground. As players in the agro-sector, we have invested so much in this space that we expect our efforts to be trickling into the real sector but this has not been so. It is not lack of funds because we have invested as much as was needed.
“The problem is that the Government does not seem to be in same boat with us. If we invest so much in mechanization but the government is not coming in with partnerships and patronage, it is not going to match. Very few of the states are taking advantage of this, but most of the states do not care.”