St. James Tijjani, an Adamawa State born commercial agricultural expert, is the group head, Commercial Services at Notore Chemical Industries Plc. He speaks exclusively to AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE on the agricultural revolution being championed by the federal government and Notore, and especially on the success of its fertilizer strategy.
What do you make of the new federal government Agricultural Policy (2016 – 2020) with the theme: ‘Agriculture Promotion Policy’, which includes import, substitution, job creation and economic diversification?
I think this current government deserves high praises for the visionary policy they have articulated and launched towards enhancing agricultural productivity as a means of expanding the economic base from the hitherto over 90% dependence on crude oil. One of the 2016 – 2020 Agricultural Policy dimensions is the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) which seeks to ensure that farmers access fertilizer inputs, especially NPK, at affordable prices through the bilateral agreement reached between Nigeria & the Moroccan government in December 2016 for subsidized phosphate importation. We have already seen the immediate impact of the PFI in this wet season farming cycle with the drop in 50kg NPK bags from an average N10,000 to between N6000 – N6500. This has increased small holder farmer utilization of NPK this season, and it’s one of the key reasons for the anticipated bumper harvests from the farms this term.
Talk of impact on small holder farmers, the federal government is directly involved in the production of fertilizer. How does this affect private investors like Notore?
Let me make a correction here; the federal government is not directly involved in fertilizer production. What the government has done, which is what responsible and visionary governments do, is that it has created an environment that helps the private sector thrive. Private companies like Notore are now able to buy Potassium easier and at cheaper prices to blend NPK and make it more available and affordable to farmers. Forex access difficulties, high shipment costs, bottlenecks in the importation process of this product among others, made this key constituent of NPK hitherto very expensive. However, like I said earlier, government’s intervention with the OCP Morocco deal facilitated access to over 6million bags of the foundation fertilizer (NPK) by farmers this wet farming season
With the drop in Fertilizer price to about N5, 500 per 50kg and with the cost of doing business in Nigeria, how is Notore surviving the market?
Notore will support government’s efforts to ensure farmers access the NPK fertilizer at prices lower than N5500 if possible because our mission is to enhance the quality of life, leveraging all available avenues to ensure our customers and consumers get our fertilizer products at the most affordable prices and superior quality states. We have been in the forefront of not just producing superior quality fertilizers for Nigerian farmers, but we have tirelessly blazed the Agricultural Green Revolution trail since 2010 when our group chief executive officer (GCEO), Onajite Okoloko, set this all this up. In this vein, Notore will continue to improve internal efficiencies and device more creative distribution and marketing approaches to improve profitability whilst delivering superior quality Urea, NPK and agricultural extension services Nigerian farmers.
How much of education has your company taken to rural Nigeria, bearing in mind the low literacy level in the country?
Our GCEO, Onajite Okoloko, saw it at the onset that to be successful in the fertilizer industry, Notore must assume the onerous leadership of driving fertilizer utilization and adoption awareness. Because, as he has explained copiously, at the heart of the success of fertilizer production and agricultural expansion in this country is a significant appreciation in the adoption of fertilizer by farmers. To this effect, Onajite brought together young and vibrant experts in Agricultural Extension Services in 2009 to form the Notore Agricultural Services Departments which has partnered with international NGOs like IFDC, IITA, AECF, GiZ among others to reach farmers with best practice and contemporary farming know-how in the past 8 years. So beside a robust sales team, Notore has a team of extension services professionals that has developed developed over 6,000 Village Promoters across farming communities in Nigeria. The Village Promoters are trained agricultural extension workers that support Notore to drive awareness and farmer engagements through various means like on farm demonstrations, video viewings in village squares and one-on-one engagements with farmers to disseminate farming best practices that improve yields per hectare.
How much of impact has that innovation made on agricultural production in those areas?
I am not sure there is any local government area in this country today that does not have at least 5 agricultural Village Promoters that Notore has trained and equipped. The primary impact of this effort is evidenced by the increase in the adoption of fertilizer utilisation by farmers across the major farming areas. The adoption has led to what we are seeing today- farmers clamouring for fertilizers; average fertilizer used per hectare has grown from less than 0.25kg per hectare in 2006 to about 8kg per hectare today. Apart from the use of village promoters to up fertilizer adoption, Notore also went to the extent of packaging fertilizers in small packs of 10kg, 5kg and 1kg just to stimulate trial in spite of the higher packaging costs it bears from these smaller packs.
It is no longer news that farmers cry out of not getting fertilizer when they need it. How can this be tackled to ensure better agricultural yield?
First, we need to increase the production of fertilizers. That is, blenders and manufacturers have to make fertilizers available. Notore has assiduously worked to make Urea available to farmers over the past 8years. Because of the work we have done over the years, the sector has become attractive and has seen new entrants who will be supporting Notore to increase Urea availability. Government’s support is also key to ensuring fertilizer availability and affordability. We have seen this at play already with the impact that the PFI has made thus far. Manufacturers and blenders of fertilizers need to step up efforts in production and distribution as well as farmer engagement and education. I spoke earlier about the Village Promoters, over 6,000 that Notore has across farming hubs to support small holder farmers increase crop yields. Other players in the sector need to also offer complementary support so that we can reach more farmers to improve adoption. Against the background of heightened interests in agriculture by the government and potential farmers, Notore has rejigged its strategy to ensure a more extensive distribution footprint and significant increase in stand-alone communication and distribution outlets.
Are you implying that with investors like Notore, people who try to hijack fertilizers distribution will be eliminated?
Notore’s strategy is to participate aggressively in the private sector by developing its distribution partners and building distribution footprints that ensures farmers get our products within close vicinities, at the time they need them, at competitive prices and of course at the highest quality standards. But of course we also support government’s programmes that align with our strategy. For example, Notore is one of the foremost companies partnering with the Bank of Agriculture, the Federal Fertilizer Department, State ministries of agriculture, etc. We are currently working with the Central Bank to foster NIRSAL’s efforts with the Farmers’ Mart and Anchor Borrowers Programme.
After over 50 years of experimenting with various agricultural programmes in Nigeria, hunger and malnutrition still loom among the populace. How can Notore help tackle this challenge?
This challenge is not something that Notore alone will tackle. It is a challenge that is on the shoulders of all of us, the government, private sectors and the farmers themselves. Government has come with this beautiful Presidential Fertilizer Initiative which has helped farmers access NPK at affordable prices, but beyond that, I think that another area government can support is by improving infrastructures to reduce product distribution costs and by providing facilities that help the fertilizer companies scale down on Urea production costs. Today, it costs us about 12% to ship to individual distribution partner locations, and it impacts price/bag of our products.
Do you think Nigeria can be self-sufficient in food production?
We have everything that we need to be self-sufficient in agricultural output and food production. First, arable land; Nigeria has over 34 million hectares of arable land that only needs to be more efficiently cultivated. We also need to engage more people in farming. Notore is currently working out partnership modalities with Golden Acres in Kaduna to develop 1000 graduate farmers annually beginning from 2018. These coupled with improved level of farmer education and provision of high quality farm inputs can lead to self-sufficiency in food production and even have plenty for export.
Tell us what Nigerians should expect from NOTORE in the next one year in their agricultural value chain?
We are increasing the quantity of fertilizer shipped to farmers by 30% in the coming year. Our distribution footprints are also expanding through our new distributorship model. More farming communities will have access to our extension services and communication points. In summary, we are stepping up on our customer service and working much closer with the government to bring its agricultural policy to life.