By John Ogunlela
Let’s have a word on agriculture, again. There are two ways in which you can run national agricultural production:
- You can have a large number of people tilling the soil, each working a few acres their energy and financial resources can afford. This model limits the size of farms at about 2- 2.5 acres; you can take that as roughly the size of two football fields.
- You can call those hordes out of the farms so they can go work at other things like medicine, carpentry, iron mongering, law, engineering and so forth. To preserve output, those left on the farm will have to acquire machinery. They will also have to incorporate the lands vacated by those who left. Under this model, each farmer, for the same manhours of labour or somewhat less, but definitely for less physical strength, will be able to farm anywhere from 50 acres to thousands. But they will need specialised training and have means of hedging against risks in a collective way.
- They must also regulate production or risk gluts – which they cannot afford. They need some form of insurance since their risks are a lot bigger. They need to push all their resources to the maximum. In short, they need a lot more ORGANIZATION. The key word in this second type of agriculture is, ORGANIZATION, and it is a forgone conclusion among agricultural experts that this exceptionally productive agricultural structure is realisable only in societies that are well ORGANIZED.
- If poorly organised societies attempt it, they will usually fall short, get into debts and revert to the first type where sweat is equity.
The leaders of the world who try to address these issues have long recognised all the debates we are having on our agriculture today. Let me cut to the chase and quietly inform you that when you take together the programmes of global agricultural policy advisers like the FAO, World Bank and Co, the conclusion among these people is that most of Africa is incapable of the level of organization and discipline needed for the Type 2 agriculture I have described above.
Accordingly, the promote to us the small scale way of doing things, according to Type 1. And as you may have observed, it works for the perceptions of many of our leaders about how agriculture should be structured which informs their policy of doing minor things in a major way with respect to agric policy. You hear about graduates being urged to farm five hectares of land or ten if you want to blow his mind.
He might also be heard boasting of a flock of a thousand chickens or a herd of 50 goats. Don’t get me wrong, such small holders exist in advanced countries but they do not constitute the artillery of those nations food security efforts. The farms that do are so vast that rail lines are passed through them to gobble up the grains and head straight to the ports. Many of the farms have their own landing strips from where they operate their own airplanes for transport and farming operations.
The sum of this treatise is this: we need to find a way of removing most of our current generation of farmers from the farm and replace them with machines and with superior farming knowledge. The second arm of this thought, which is apparent from the first, is that we need to collect the lands of the farmers being relieved in a fair manner so we can aggregate those lands for greater productivity. This will take ample ORGANIZATION and put to test all of our ideas of fairness, discipline, planning and hard work.
This is where the rubber meets the road and the thing we have been running away from as a society. We run under government subsidy to food importers, we run under outsourcing food production to foreigners, we run under hunger and politics of hunger. We run under endless speeches but the fact is, this is the way to go and this is the cat to bell. On land aggregation, we must plan around a strategy like this:
a. Have a census of the farmers
b. Deduce their annual income.
c. Negotiate paying them a salary that is not less than their annual income.
d. Remove them from enterprise farming while you give their lands to industrial farmers after due survey.
e. Give them a first right of refusal of jobs on the new, bigger farm as managed by the new owners who pay a considered rent to the government.
Note that there may still be a subsidy in this arrangement, but the money will remain in the economy and won’t be going to support foreign farmers. You will also be able to tax all farmers in the country – even if only as a matter of principle. More importantly, you will be able to regulate agriculture with almost 100% precision. This is the way you can successfully manage agricultural credit, easily introduce improved crop varieties and animal breeds, disseminate information and coordinate more accurately.
It is not entirely the fault of policymakers, I assure you. Our farmers also have problems. They don’t tell all the truth at all the times and they can be clever with government’s largesse. If they manage to form themselves into cooperatives, you know that the time to collect loans is near and after the disbursement of that loan, the cooperatives will begin to tend towards disintegration and the loans will turn into second wives and thirteenth and fourteenth children if not a new car. These issues are there – with some exception with farmers in the north. The politicians observed it with the clever eyes of insiders and saw the potential for politics and so decided to bend it in that direction. As such, cooperative loans will come not too far from the election season and you can connect the dots. The result is funds constantly being sunk with farmers going nowhere and food production remaining stagnant.
–Ogunlela wrote from Osun State