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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

How middlemen undermine Nigeria’s food security programme

Some stakeholders have decried activities of middlemen in the agricultural production, saying they are undermining the efforts of the Federal Government in the food value chain aimed at achieving food security.

Chief Audu Ogbeh
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) National Survey on “the Excesses of Middlemen in the Food Value Chain in Nigeria’’ showed that stakeholders in the agricultural sector in the South West zone condemned the activities of middlemen in the country.

They particularly noted the exploitation of the farmers by off-takers or middlemen in the agricultural value chain in the country.

Some of the stakeholders called for appropriate policies to protect farmers from the exploitation of middlemen and others suggested the reintroduction of Marketing Commodity Board to ensure storage facilities to checkmate the excesses of the middlemen.

In some South West states including Kwara, they told NAN that government must intervene in the sector to protect small farmers from exploitation by the middlemen also known as off-takers.

The Secretary of All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Abeokuta, in Ogun, Mr Abiodun Ogunjimi, who described the middlemen as “bridge builders” between farmers and final consumers in the agricultural value chain, stressed the importance of their roles in the agricultural business.

He, however, expressed concern over the “unfair contract terms” that had continued to guide the business relationship between the farmers and the middlemen.

Ogunjimi noted that the middlemen were responsible for the wide gap that existed between primary production prices and the prices that the final consumers pay for the food products.

He however called on the government to bring back the various Marketing Commodity Boards which existed in the past.

But the International Fund for Agricultural Development Assisted Value Chain Development Programme (IFAD-VCDP) in Ogun attributed the excesses of the middlemen to the inability of farmers to organise themselves into “effective processing and marketing units”.

Mr Adekunle Oyesanwen, the Business and Marketing Development officer for IFAD-VCDP in Ogun, told NAN that this would cut off the middlemen.

Oyesanwen called on the Federal Government to offer community-based infrastructure, scientific techniques of storage and easily accessible loan facilities to the farmers as part of efforts to strengthen the farmers and check the excesses of the middlemen.

Mr Akin Oyedele, a financial analyst, described middlemen as “necessary evil” whose roles could not be dispensed with in the agricultural value chain.

He said that the distribution and marketing of agricultural products should be left with them to enable farmers concentrate on production for maximum yield.

Oyedele suggested that a tripartite collaboration among the government, farmers and middlemen through formation of associations should be established, while standards be set and agreements reached on issues of common interest.

Mr Emmanuel Moyinjesu, Acting Provost of Federal College of Agriculture, Akure, also believed that the best way to phase out middlemen in the agricultural value chain was for farmers to form cluster groups and have good storage facilities.

Moyinjesu said that middlemen had been in existence for long and had helped farmers to sell their products, however, insisted that “farmers are the worst for it because 90 per cent of the profit goes to middlemen.”

“If farmers are well organised by registering with the Corporate Affair Commission and have good storage facility, there would be no pressure from the middlemen.’’

Mr Emmanuel Giwa, a former Chairman of AFAN in Ondo State also called for the eradication of middlemen.

Giwa said that middlemen constitute a menace to farmers, while a direct link with the final consumers would be very beneficial to farmers.

“There must also be a direct link for items such as subsidised chemicals, seeds or fertilisers.

“Let the products get to the farmers from the government directly because such arrangements with middlemen benefit the middlemen more than farmers as they enrich themselves,” he said.

In Ado-Ekiti, an agriculturist, Chief Gbenga Ibiyemi, also called for the re-establishment of marketing boards.

He said that to achieve food security in the country, farmers must be encouraged and protected as a matter of social responsibility.

Ibiyemi noted that peasant farmers in the country for instance, had for long been subsidising a substantial part of feeding of Nigerians.

“I am a farmer, I know how much it takes a farmer to produce a bag of maize and how much he in turn sells the produce as a result of activities of middlemen.

“I can tell you that what a farmer gets from a bag of maize, for instance, can hardly cover even his labour because you find that a farmer is selling three bags of maize to buy just a bag of fertiliser,” he said.

Another farmer, Mrs Olufisayo Durodola said one of the areas where farmers were being cheated was in the area of product pricing.

“Ever since time immemorial, the relationship between the farmer and middleman, many believe without doubt has always been strained.

“This, you will agree accounted for why the average farmer views the middleman as an opportunist whose integrity should be questioned,” she said.

But an agriculturist, Dr Olusola Abegunde argued that middlemen and farmers would continue to be dependent on one another as the relationship between them had always been symbiotic.

“Can farmers without marketing knowledge sell their produce for an optimum price?

“The farmer would have to have study the markets efficiently over time because the market for agricultural produce is always unstable, whereas you need the middleman who is vast in the rudiments to be in charge

“What sells at a high price today might not be so tomorrow. In the same circumstance, the buyers of a particular produce might not need the produce tomorrow and the prices of the goods could drop.

“The farmer without the marketing expertise who tries to sell off his produce risks making a loss due to ignorance and there is also the time-cost factor to consider,” he said.

Mr Moses Oladipupo the Vice President of AFAN in Osun, agrees with the common belief that middle men had always been cheating farmers  from time in memorial.

Oladipupo, however, said it would not be easy for farmers to cultivate, plant,  harvest and also sell their farm produce  without the middlemen.

He said the chain of agricultural business, just like any business structure, demands that there would be a middleman between the producers and consumers.

Also speaking, Dr Ayodeji Ogunleye, a lecturer at the Department  of Agricultural Economy,  Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), called on the Federal Government to assist farmers in providing storage facilities for farmers for  preservation of their farm produce.

Ogunleye said that the reason farmers usually sell their farm produce to middlemen at a cheaper rate was because of  lack of storage facilities.

Dr Idris Badiru, his counterpart in the Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, University of Ibadan, argued that farmers were victims in the food chain because government failed to provide an enabling environment for them to maximise their profit.

Badiru said farmers were compelled to venture into relationship with the middlemen because of the poor state of infrastructure, lack of information about prevailing market prices, poverty and the bandwagon effect of accepted norm.

According to him, it is impossible in the current circumstance to eliminate off takers in the food distribution chain.

Badiru, an agriculturalist, said the most feasible way of checking middlemen’s excesses was to make farmers more informed about the opportunities that existed in other markets around them so that comparison of prices could be made.

He equally underscored the need to improve the existing infrastructure to aid storage, preservation, processing and transportation of goods.

“On the lesson that can be learnt by relevant authorities, I don’t see the relationship as a master-servant one but a customer-client one.

“Services are rendered, paid for in full, to suggest that a partner is cheated is conjectural and sentimental,” he said.

Alhaji lsiaku Aliyu-Adam, the Chairman of Kwara House of Assembly, Committee on Agriculture, however, canvasses the abolition of middlemen in the distribution and sale of farm produce.

He attributed the high cost of food stuff in several parts of Nigeria to what he described as fraudulent acts of middlemen who usually buy farm produce from farmers at cheaper rate and sell at exorbitant prices to consumers.

“The middlemen or off takers are always cheating farmers who utilise their energy and resources to produce food and sell to them at cheaper rate,” he said.

Aliyu-Adam called on the Federal Government to set up a committee that would buy farm produce from farmers directly to reduce high cost of food items.

The lawmaker expressed disappointment over lack of storage facilities for agricultural produce in the country.

This he said, was responsible for the high rate of post-harvest loses normally recorded in various parts of the country.

The lawmaker noted that the two Federal Government owned storage facilities in Ilorin and Lafiagi in Kwara were under-utilised.

“I wonder why the nation’s policy makers who have been traveling abroad and see the advantage of storage facilities fail to implement same at home,” Aliyu-Adam said. 

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