In recent times, Nigerian governments at both states and federal levels have invested in agriculture and encouraged people to go into farming. There has been more focus on crop cultivation and animal farming, and results have started coming in. According to a news report on a study by the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) in collaboration with the Federal and states Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, between 2016 and 2017, maize production increased by 11.96 per cent, Rice production by 14.7 per cent, sorghum by 4.4 per cent, cowpea by 6.1 per cent, Soybean by 11.4 per cent and 7.7 per cent increase for cassava.
These increases are predicted to continue as more resources are put into farming and if there are no proper additional input into these farm produce from the point of harvest, they may lose some or all of their values. Farm produces are made to pass through a wide range of alteration or modification processes. These are done in order to maintain the values of the produces or at best improve the values.
As agricultural production increases, it opens more opportunities in the post-production subsector, especially in basic processes that include simple activities like cleaning, separation, sorting, size reduction, drying, mixing, packaging, etc. for the purpose of storage, easy transport or sales/export.
However, as basic as these processes are, they require the use of appropriate machines, equipment or technologies which are developed to save energy, time and reduce drudgery. There is also the need for manpower with the required skills and knowledge of the procedures and the processes involved in the agro-processing and to have the capacity to effectively use and maintain the machines and equipment. Those engaged in this sector should also have the capacity to minimize waste, ensure safe storage of farm harvest, and feed agro-based industries with raw materials.
Nigeria falls short in all these, whether it be in technology or skills. Several Agricultural exports from Nigeria have severally been rejected at point of entry in foreign countries even those that need the least and easiest level of processing like raw yam have also been rejected.
For instance, within the country farm animals are moved across the country from farm to market close to the final consumers, alive and whole before they are butchered, They are sold most times completely fresh without going through any form of preservation or storage such as meat or fish.
At present, agro-processing in Nigeria is still crude and far inefficient. This means there is a huge opportunity for value addition, especially in agro-processing for export. Entrepreneurs can build small businesses around agro-processing for local market and export, using efficient processes and technologies to process farm produce for supermarkets shelves, export or other agro-processors for further processing. This kind of business includes abattoirs, mills, drying plants, cleaning, sorting and packaging, cold storage, Cold trucking, Silos and stores, etc.
These types of business which are great employers of labour, especially youths and women and developing the sector can boost the economy and improve life the contrary. The first investment that is need is human capacity building. The government and NGOs must equip women and the youth with the necessary industrial skills and startup capital through skill acquisition and funding programs.
The government can use youth programs like National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) to train young graduate and after which give them access to capital to set up small plants in the rural area close to the farms. This is a more effective way to make agriculture attractive to young people as most young people who don’t want to be farmers, would love to go into processing, and as such would tend to develop their business up the value chain. This would empower the youths, women, create jobs and boost the nation’s economy.