Stakeholders among agric-entrepreneurs have lamented the underutilisation of the potentials of the agric sector, saying many of the white-collar jobs seeking unemployed graduates are not aware of its prospects.
Brought together by the Pan-African University's Agro-Ignite Seminar at the Shehu Musa 'Yar'adua Centre, Abuja, workers in agric finance, farmers and people interested in farming took a look at the challenges bedevilling the sector with a view to tackling them.
One of them, Innocent Okuku, head of agriculture of Notore Chemicals Industries, said the there are untapped opportunities in the agric sector which can turn around the fortunes of several unemployed graduates.
"And they have a lot of opportunities in the value chain. More than 50 percent of Nigerian fruits and vegetable outputs are lost before they are consumed. They are lost because of post harvest damages. And then just being able to do simple processing that can preserve these products for later consumption can actually be a good source of income," said Innocent Okuku.
Mr Okuku, who narrated to the agric entrepreneurs how his firm made money from turning around the fortunes of cabbage farmers in Plateau State by transporting their surplus produce to Rivers State, said Nigeria has more than 50 percent of arable lands in West Africa.
He said lack of awareness is the reason why youths are not interested in farming, adding that, "with development in improved seeds and farming practices, with as little as five hectares of land one is able to make a net income of N2 million which is attractive enough. And I do know that the entry wage for many of the organisations where young people go to seek employment is not that high. So, there are a lot of opportunities along that line."
Vice Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Professor Sidi Osho, said entrepreneurs need to have practical knowledge of the farming activities they want to engage in for them to succeed.
According to her, students in the Afe Babalola University are being groomed with practical farming skills so that they will be ready for it by the time they graduate.
Professor Garba Sharubutu of Usman Danfodio University said the livestock sub-sector of agriculture has a lot of latent potentials that will advertise themselves with time.
He lamented that a lot of vaccines are being wrongly administered to chickens due to invasion of the veterinary profession by quacks and the fact that the National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom, cannot meet the needs of the poultry farmers in terms of vaccines, hence the smuggling in of some vaccines that may not be good for the Nigerian poultry.
A fish farmer, Augustine Agorua, called on those wishing to go into farming to do it not to belittle what they have, saying one can start a poultry farm with as little as 200 birds.
He also stressed the need for proper management of the farm as, he said, poor management cost him his first palm oil processing business.
Earlier, Aliyu Hameed, Central Bank of Nigeria's Incentive Based Risk Sharing For Agricultural Lending had told the agric entrepreneurs that they would stand better chance of getting loans if they specialize and form cooperative societies.
Responding to questions of inaccessibility of loans from the banks by the participants, Hameed asked the farmers to contact CBN when such happens, warning however that "without a business case in their ideas, the banks cannot listen to them. We have to see the file.
"When you have your project and you are submitting your request with a business case, go to the CBN branch in your state capital. You will meet what we call development finance officer there. Tell him that this is the copy of my submission. I have submitted my project and business case to the Stanbic IBTC and this is the account officer. So, there CBN is fully engaged. We will follow it through," he said.
The Managing Director of Bank of Agriculture, Dr Muhammad Santuraki, said the bank uses mobile banks and give wholesale loans to community banks that will be able to reach its customers because branches are costly to maintain, adding that the best way to make banks to lend to farmers is moral suasion.