From Sola Ojo, Kaduna
Food security and agriculture as captured in the amended Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) now Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations – goals 1 and 2 which are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2030, smallholder farmers have critical role to play if these goals are to be realised by the set target. This then means farmers need to be empowered through greater knowledge sharing, delivering accessible, quality extension in farm management and ready-rewarding marketing networks.
Food and animal production for the use of Nigerians require supportive frameworks for investment in infrastructure and inclusive markets which are still unknown to many peasant farmers – from Zaria (zone 1) to Kaduna (zone 2) and then to Kafanchan (zone 3) in Kaduna, a Nigerian Northwestern state with comparative soil and climatic condition advantages to grow variety of crops including ginger, rice, millet, maize, sorghum, soya beans among others.
In all Nigerian states, farming is an occupation that is passed from one generation to another. So, behavioural change, that is, the teaching and acceptance of a new way of doing old things will take a while. For example, to ask farmers to drop hoes and cutlasses and embrace precision machinery, or ask them to let go of old seeds and embrace improved seeds require a lot of convincing education and practical demonstrations.
It is against this background that Nestlé Nigeria embarked on deliberate sustainable action plan along its production chain for mutual benefits to its stakeholders including indigenous farmers some of whom are found in some local government areas of Kaduna State including Soba, Ikara, Makarfi, Kauru, Kubau, Igabi and Lere.
Like Corporate Communication and Public Affairs Manager, Nestlé Nigeria, Victoria Uwadoka puts it, “at Nestlé, we recognize that good food respects our planet and protects resources for future generations, we therefore focus our energy and resources where unlocking the power of food can make the greatest difference to the lives of people, protect and enhance the environment, and generate significant value for our shareholders and other stakeholders including the smallholder farmers who supply the grains and legumes we use in our production”.
“Over the last seven years, Nestlé has worked with smallholder farmers, aggregators and other stakeholders in Kaduna State, not only to bring local sourcing to over 80% but to also improve grain quality, significantly reducing rejection rates from over 30% to less than 4%. The impact of this project extends beyond ensuring supplies to Nestlé but also improves the quality of grains for consumption in homes”, Victoria said.
According to the Chief Executive Officer, Nestlé Central and West Africa Ltd. Mauricio Alarcon, Nestlé Nigeria signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH is a Dutch-based international development foundation with the mandate to promote inclusive sustainability into the supply chains of companies in selected value chains) as a part of the Grown Sustainability in Africa programme, aimed at supporting 25,000 farmers and 50 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to help Nestlé meet its goal of boosting its responsibly and regionally produced, high quality raw materials used in the production of Maggi, Milo, and Cerelac from 60% to more than 70% by 2022.
To make that happen, TechnoServer Nigeria is implementing the project on behalf of Nestlé Nigeria and IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative by way of engaging selected SMEs who will then provide all the necessary supports to local farmers to produce high quality grains and legumes for Nestlé and local markets, Agricultural Services Manager, Nestlé Nigeria, Alidu Amadu has said.
This partnership according to him, is going on very well, delivering on its objectives which are (1) building capacities, (2) input and credit support to farmers, (3) improving productivity, (4) providing access to market (5) improving livelihood of the smallholder farmers etc, “the SMEs/suppliers have also been supported to strengthen traceability and transparency in their grains value chains, improve on grains quality and meet quality specifications of multi-nationals’ food processing companies. Nestlé is sourcing 100% of its grains (maize, soybean and sorghum) requirements in Nigeria through the local farmer/SME (local sourcing)”.
Corroborating Alidu, Quality Control and Assurance Specialist, TechnoServe Inc Nigeria, Augustine Ninyio said, “as Quality Control and Assurance Specialist, my responsibilities are to ensure that farmers are trained appropriately and ensure the grains that reach Nestlé are of best quality. Under this project, we have 22,115 farmers up to Bauchi state. We work with SMEs/aggregators who are to supply Nestlé with quality grains which include soya beans, maize and sorghum.
“So, each SMEs has a group of farmers that are loyal to him in terms of making grains available when needed. They are ‘markets’ to the farmers. They help the farmers solve the problem of how to sell after harvest. For example, a farmer that follows best practice will sell at premium price because he will produce high quality grains”, Augustine explained.
A staff of one of the SMEs, Chef Operating Officer, Adefunke Desh Nigeria Limited, Zaria, Kaduna State, Ugochukwu Oguike remarked that “our project with IDHL and Nestlé began in 2021. Before then, our company was one of the major suppliers of grains to Nestlé but because of the market forces, we sometimes couldn’t meet our obligations. So, one of the things this project did was to support us with technical know-how including funding opportunities and as a result, we have been able to do what we call backward integration where we are able to support local farmers to produce maize specifically for us.
“This means we are a ready market for them and we buy at a premium. It may interest you to know that we have had zero rejection from Nestlé this year. I mean, coming from 30 percent rejection to zero percent means a lot to us. So far, we have about 8,500 farmers who have benefited directly on this project. But since inception, we have worked with over 30,000 smallholder farmers in seven local governments which are Soba, Ikara, Makarfi, Kauru, Kubau, Igabi, Lere”, he added.
Zaria-based Dabol Nigeria Limited is another SME working on this project. Project Manager, Dabol, Samuel Adeniyi Odukoya noted that “when you talk about climate change and climate smart agricultural practices, the coming of Nestlé, IDH and TecnoServe has really helped because without them we would not have achieved what we have achieved.
“For example, before now, farmers were known for setting farmland on fire as a pre-planting season activity which contributed emission to climate change. We have been able to train these farmers on how to go about it which has been very tough though. But by and large, we have been able to overcome that.
“When it comes to empowering women, before the coming of this programme, we used to have 200 women sorting maize. But when we look at the Nestlé Nigeria standard having the same quality whether in Nigeria, Switzerland, US and what have you, we saw the need to increase the number of women from that 200 to 500. Nestlé pays a premium so that it gets the best. So, if they are paying, you have to go that extra mile to meet up with the required standard. So, it has empowered women in-house. Aside from that, the programme has given us the opportunity to employ more on a permanent and temporary basis. They are in thousands compared to the previous years. I must give kudos to the organisers of this programme and we hope this will be one of many of such programmes in years to come” he said.
There is a saying, ‘there is nothing for us without us’ which was why this correspondent spoke with some of the smallholders in different communities in one of the local government areas of Kaduna State, Soba, on how this partnership changed their ways of farming and livelihood.
35-year-old Yahaya Isah Soba who is the Chairman of Self-Help Farmer Group at Tashan Ke Maigana community, Soba town in Soba local government area of the state, said “the project has improved my livelihood and that of my three wives and eight children. I farm maize and beans and with the coming of these people, I do more, harvest more and make more money which is helping me to take care of my three wives and all my children are in school”.
Secretary of the group, Samshudeen Adam, 28, said, “due to the knowledge of modern farming, I now sponsor myself in Zamfara State School of Science and Technology, Guasau, Zamfara state with the money I’m making from sales of soya beans, maize and guinea corn. This is possible because of what these people taught us about modern farming. For example, with 1.5 kg improved seed, we get between 4-6 100 kg bags of grains on the same piece of land where we used to get just a bag and a half when we plant the old seed we inherited from our parents”.
Another farmer at Kasuwa Anyi Mallam Garba, Soba, Shehu Aliyu said, “they have taught us how to do land clearing, planting, weeding and the rest up to the post-harvest handling. For example, we learnt how to have 25 centimeters between plants and proper fertiliser application. We were taught how to protect our crops by applying pesticides. I grow soya beans, maize and sorghum. We don’t have security issues in our area because our farms are not far from the community’.
To Baja Shehu, who farms and trades at Kasuwa Anyi Mallam Garba, Soba, “due to the modern system of farming we have been exposed to in my community, I used to have just enough to feed. We feed now and have extra to sell. That was because we now use improved seedlings and follow the weather forecast before we plant and that is a game changer for us”.
As far as Shuabu Khalid, Soba, is concerned “with the availability of precision farm implement, machinery and improved seedlings, I now do once tedious work with ease and more results. If the training is well applied, we now get up to 40 bags (100 kg) per hectare where we used to have between 10 and 25 bags (100 kg) before”.
Also, Adamu Abdul Soba said, “To some of us who attend the training, we can only ask for more because we are doing well afterwards. For example, I used to farm one hectare of land before. but now, I have grown to cultivating five hectares of land and you know what that means in terms of my productivity and earning. That is also touching other lives because I have been engaging services of others within the community to get the job done”.
Farmer Labaran Abdulsalam went spiritual when he said, “we pray that God will bless the people that have been coming to train us in this modern farming which has improved our standard of living. We have been spreading the message and we shall continue until we see desired changes in our farming behaviour here in Soba local government area of Kaduna state so others can come and learn from us”.
Female farmers are not left behind in this agaric evolution in Soba. Amina S Hassan, 30, who resides at GRA, Soba said, “we have been farming but we have a new way of doing it now. We have a new way of planting and harvesting now. I now have the knowledge of modern farming, the soil, the seed, how to get it and how to apply fertiliser. Now, we have a solar drier instead of the ‘buka’ way of doing it. Simultaneously, we are going to extend this awareness to others”.
Another female farmer, Hassana Abdullahi said, “when I farm maize, I sell directly to the up taking company. With a solar drier, I gain more because no harm will come near the produce. Unlike the old way when rain will fall on it and thieves will steal part of it. After we dry it, we can go and sell or keep it without fear. I’m happy about the training because I now support my family with foodstuff and money”.
Confirming what the farmers said, an Extension Agent with Dabol, Yusuf Shuaibu agreed that, “there is a huge difference between how we dry our grains before and how we do it now. Before, when we harvest, at best, we sundry by the road side. Animals will come, eat and defecate on it, rain will fall on it and reduce the quality which we then take to the local market and just sell anyhow. But now, with solar silos close to our houses, your grains will dry without changing quality”.
On challenges and prospects of the partnership, Nestlé Nigeria man, Alidu, listed security as key challenge facing the project just as he highlighted good opportunity to integrate regenerative agriculture into the scope of the current project, “Nestlé has made a commitment to attain Net Zero GreenHouse Gases by 2050 (50% of 2030 and 20% by 2025). To attain this, we will use regenerative agriculture as a vehicle to attain our climate commitment, build soils of farmers and support farmers to be more resilient. We are currently discussing with other stakeholders to hit the ground on this approach”.
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