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Brazil’s Embrapa success can help Nigerian Agriculture

Nigeria’s agriculture sector is estimated to be currently worth N15 trillion in income per annum with a potential of N40 trillion; suggesting that the sector is currently performing at 37.5% capacity.  Therefore, it is arguable that it is possible  to double the current performance of the agricultural sector in terms of output, export, and level of employment in the sector by adopting a more pragmatic approach to interventions in the sector.

If this happens, the Nigerian economy can conveniently grow at double digits in the next 10 years considering the current contribution of the sector to national output and growth. At that rate of growth, efficient structural substitution in favour of manufacturing and industrialisation would follow; enough food could be produced for food sustainability while all-season availability of agriculture products would support stable price levels. This process must however be supported with infrastructural development, agricultural research and implementation of findings and favourable access to finance for agricultural development.  A good model to adopt is the Brazilian Embrapa.

Embrapa’s focus is to facilitate solutions for research, development and innovation for sustainable agriculture for the Brazilians

Embrapa is the acronym for Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária, which translates to the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. It is a public company set up in 1973, a time when the sharp surge in oil prices was making it difficult for Brazil to sustain its high agricultural subsidies. It was therefore set up to divert the subsidies removed from gas to agriculture with the aim of empowering rural farmers through productivity growth. Prior to Embrapa, Brazil was characterised by low agricultural production and yield, and experienced food crises amidst very high rural poverty. The country also lacked specific knowledge of tropical agriculture in addition to huge institutional vacuums across agricultural research, education, markets, media and intergovernmental agencies.

Embrapa pursued innovative strategies to broaden and diversify the scope of agricultural research in Brazil. Over the years, Embrapa evolved with the dynamics of its achievement, and the needs of the target population. It started with the concentrated research model, implemented during the organisation´s early phase and was based on the creation of its network of national research and development (R&D) centres, specialised in products (maize and sorghum, soybean, etc.), resources (Cerrado, Semi-arid, etc.), and themes (Environment, Satellite Monitoring, etc.).

The Agricultural transformation agenda is gaining speed, but a number of lessons could be learnt from Brazil

Nigeria has commenced the Growth Enhancement Supports (GES), a farmers’ support programme, in which the  voucher system of input supports to farmers; especially fertiliser is included among others. This is in addition to NIRSAL being implemented in conjunction with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and domestic banks. The framework for the evolution of private sector led agricultural marketing institutions is also at a secondary stage of development to provide off-takers for agricultural products in a competitive market environment. There has also been a surge in funding flows into the development of some of the focus crops, especially rice and cassava. This is expected to be supported by the revised import tariff structure which favours local production of the crops.

While these developments are positive for the transformation of the agriculture sector as desired, there are a number of lessons that could be learnt from what could be described as an agricultural miracle in Brazil. Brazil has become the first tropical agricultural giant and the first to challenge the dominance of the “big five” global food exporters (America, Canada, Australia, Argentina, and the European Union). And in less than 30 years, Brazil turned itself from a food importer to one of the world’s great food baskets. Between 1996 and 2006 the total value of the country’s crops rose from 23 billion reals (US$12.5 billion) to 108 billion reals (US$54 billion), a 365% increase.

Outside India, Brazil has the world’s largest cattle herd and is also the world’s largest exporter of poultry, sugar cane and ethanol. Since 1990 the country’s annual soyabean output has risen from barely 15m tonnes to over 60m tonnes. Brazil accounts for about a third of world soyabean exports, second only to America. In 1994, Brazil’s soyabean exports were one-seventh of America’s; this has risen to six-sevenths. In terms of agricultural productivity, Brazil has also become a trailblazer as it supplies 25% of the world’s soyabean trade on just 6% of the country’s arable land.

Surprisingly, Brazil achieved all this without a substantial government subsidy to the farmers or on farming activities generally. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), state support accounted for only 5.7% of total farm income in Brazil in 2005-2007 which compares favourably with 12% in America, 29% in the European Union and 26% for the OECD average. In addition, Brazil has achieved this result without deforesting the Amazon (Brazil’s Rain Forest), although for other reasons. The great expansion of farmland has reportedly taken place 1,000km away from the jungle; most is cerrado (Brazil’s Tropical Savannah).

Like the Brazil’s Embrapa the success of Nigerian Agricultural Transformation agenda may rest on putting agricultural research and extension as the core of the programme

It is plausible that the current generic use of fertiliser by farmers across the country is not efficient due to the diversity of soil characteristics. In addition, Nigeria’s farmers may not really need government hand outs and the yield target set within the ATA may be suboptimal. What will bring out all these issues is well-funded and efficient research and extension services that ensure farmers have access to quality land year round, seedlings and breeders under a controlled environment.

Embrapa’s successes are through the adoption of a large portfolio of technologies: soil improvement, new crop and pasture varieties and improved productivity of farm animals. Brazil’s agricultural miracle did not happen through a simple technological fix nor does a magic bullet account for it. Rather, Embrapa was a “system approach”, driven predominantly by research and implementation of findings. This experience can be replicated in Nigeria and the current transformation approach may need to be reengineered to accommodate agricultural research as the core of the agenda.

  • Written by The Analyst
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