TRACTOR maker John Deere and India’s biggest conglomerate, Tata Group, have agreed a groundbreaking initiative to provide machinery to as many as 100,000 smallholder farmers in Nigeria’s troubled Niger Delta region.
The deal is the culmination of a seven-year project by Nigerian collective farming business, Alluvial Agriculture, to address the systemic problems that leave most African smallholder farmers in poverty and threaten food security across the developing world. Alluvial’s solution focuses on aggregating smallholders to create a nucleus of minimum efficient scale and the necessary education, mechanisation, inputs and market access.
Under their agreement, Tata John Deere, the joint venture with distribution rights for Nigeria, will deploy up to 300 tractors over the next two years to farms spanning 120,000 hectares, or 463 square miles, in the Niger Delta and adjoining states. With ploughing times ranging from 20 minutes to half a day on each of the thousands of adjacent smallholdings, the tractors will save farmers several days to weeks of toiling by hand. Individual farmers will undertake self-financing lease agreements for the use of both the tractor and a driver as part of an overall package that includes collective agreements to reduce the cost of seeds and fertilisers and increase the sale price of their crops.
‘Tata is proud to support one of the most innovative solutions to food security that we have seen in the developing world,’ said Chijioke Okoli, Tata’s Country Head in Nigeria. ‘We believe we will see this sustainable, fair and ecologically sound approach replicated in many more places as its success becomes apparent over the coming harvests. This model is very much consistent with the founding ideals and historical contributions of our company in supporting sustainable livelihoods and improved standards of living for millions of people around the world.’
The largest collective of smallholder farmers globally – reaching 2,500 at present – Alluvial Agriculture is the brainchild of Dimieari Von Kemedi. As a student leader during the 1990s struggles in the Niger Delta, Von extended Ken Saro-Wiwa’s struggle across the Delta region by creating ‘Our Niger Delta,’ campaigning for open negotiation between the oil industry and communities to end the typically shady deals with a few strong men in the past. Having played a leading role in the Niger Delta peace accords a decade ago, Von turned his focus to creating a more sustainable peace by training ex-militants in agricultural production and created Alluvial in 2011.
‘With support from our friends at Tata and John Deere, we are building a framework for sustainable and profitable smallholder farming that we believe can be applied across the African continent and beyond as a solution to increase food security,’ said Von.
With no formal land tenure rights or central registry for titles of deed, most of Nigeria’s smallholder farmers are unable to use their property to secure the capital needed for seeds, fertilizer and tractors. Those that do receive funding for seeds, typically access financing through various out-grower programs provided by government, but these programs rarely include help in creating more productive processes. The result is that, after paying back their debt, too often the smallholder has little or no revenue. Many simply sell the fertiliser and seeds in the black market for a quick profit.
‘The problem lies in the tendency to focus solely on increasing primary production, rather than yield,’ comments Von. ‘This perpetuates an oversupply of labor to agriculture, at around 60 percent of African populations. By increasing both cultivation area and yields, the economic impact will encourage diversity into non-primary industries or light manufacturing, while increasing incomes of the remaining farmers.’
Alluvial’s first project, in 2013, took disused agricultural land held by the Cross River state government and created a co-operative farming model. The community was given technical training, help in site clearance and lease of tractors and other machinery to maximize yield, and off-take agreements to secure sale at a sustainable price.
Having created a highly scalable and sustainable agriculture business model, Alluvial expanded into other Niger Delta states from 2015 and is now working to strengthen its market access.
With the help of the agreement with Tata and John Deere, farmers will pay just over $100 for the use of a tractor to plough, harrow and harvest one hectare of land. The community block farming approach means that all of the produce is collected directly by Alluvial to repay investors and provide a fair income for farmers. Alluvial by its scale is able to secure more competitive financing terms for the smallholders.