Exploring opportunities in agricultural technology

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Sulaiman Adenekan

Population growth, as well as peoples‘ desire to avoid waste, can generate business opportunities in the manufacturing of machinery needed for the production of processed food, which could be stored for long periods, industry insiders say.

The Chief Executive Officer, Hicmann Engineering Company, an agricultural technology design and fabricating company, Mr. Ishola Adekunle, says machines for automation are needed even by small players involved in the mass production of food.

For instance, he says agricultural technology can be used in processing rice, from harvesting to the threshing machine used after harvesting, to the winnower that removes the shaft and the apparatus that parboils the finished product. Other foods that can be processed include beans, cassava flour, cassava starch, garri, fufu and tapioca.

”The business is profitable, if only the government can give us the necessary support, as obtained in other countries,” he said.

Acquiring the knowledge to establish and run a manufacturing business is the first step, he says. This wisdom can be gained either formally or informally, according to him.

A welding machine, grinder, drilling machine, milling machine, chipping machine are needed, as well as a specialist who can operate the gear.

He says the capital required to start at a small scale level is N100, 000 and about five staffs are needed to run the company. At a medium-scale level, he says about N10m will be required to start the business, adding that about N1bn will be required to operate at a large scale level.

About 10 by 20 ft of land space is required to start at a cottage level, he says, adding that as the business expands, the space can be increased to one or two plots of land to operate at a small scale level.

He says the business is profitable, but that the manager of the business must be creative and keeps thinking of how to sustain the business, because it is a contract-related business, so as not to be stranded when there will be no contract at hand.

He says the prices of the fabricated agricultural machines are determined by the capacity of the machine, which is a function of the quantity of the final product to be produced by the machine.

He says, ”For instance a garri processing plant of 500 kg for the complete processing machine which will involve about seven machines will cost about N700, 000. While a rice processing machine that will destone the rice will cost N300, 000.”

He says the public perceives locally fabricated machines as inferior to the imported ones’ because of the finishes. But he says those fabricated in Nigeria are high-quality items designed to stand the test of time.

He says local operators are facing a lot of challenges that makes them less competitive. Poor power supply, multiple taxation, space and and a lack skilled labour hinder Nigerian companies against their foreign counterparts, many of which operate under a conducive environment and enjoy subsidy from their government, according to Adekunle.

On the life span of the locally manufactured machine; he says for example, a garri fryer can last up to 20 years or more, as it is fabricated with stainless steel material which does not rust.

He says the locally produced machines are exported out of the country, citing the example of a Multi Drum Dryer machine, a multi-purpose drying system that can be used to produce cassava flour, fufu, starch, garri and some other granular products that is being exported to Ghana and Ivory Coast.

He says the price of the small multi-purpose dryer is N250, 000, while the medium size costs N420, 000 and the large size costs N650, 000.

On the sourcing of the raw material, he says they normally source their raw materials form Owode Onirin, Orile area of Lagos State.

He says the umbrella association for the local operators is called the Agricultural Machinery and Equipment Fabricators of Nigeria, while the government agency that regulates the activities of the operators is called the National Center for Agricultural Mechanisation in Ilorin, Kwara State.

Speaking in the same vein, the Chief Engineer, Edo State Agricultural Development Programme, Mr. Babatunde Abdulkareem, says indigenous technology is the best for the agricultural development of any nation.

He says about N100m capital with an average of 30 to 50 staff is required to establish a medium-scale agricultural technology fabricating company, adding that one acre of land will be enough to for such business.

He says that the business is profitable and has a huge potential, as Nigeria is blessed with population which automatically translates into market opportunities for potential investors.

According to Abdulkareem, the challenges facing the business include lack of deliberate policy by the government, lack of bank support and availability of raw material for the development of the sector.

He says most of machine fabricators use scraps, as the cost of raw materials are expensive, which makes finished machines unaffordable to most farmers. The equipment fabricators only produce on the request of the buyers because they cannot tie the capital down to fabricate the machines on a mass scale.

He urged the government to give the necessary support to the sector to engender the development of agriculture in the country.


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