What can Nigeria learn from the Netherlands? (2)
In 1986, Flevoland became the newest province in the Netherlands. Covering an area of 1,419 square kilometres, it is described as the largest land reclamation project in the world. To put this in context, Lagos state is 3,577 square kilometres, which makes Flevoland approximately 40 percent of Lagos’ size. Yet, Flevoland was reclaimed from the ocean, in what was an astonishing effort.
Flevoland has become an important agricultural zone in the Netherlands, a stark contrast to what would have happened in Nigeria for instance, where such reclaimed land more likely would have served ‘highly sought after residential purposes’.
The lesson here for Nigeria is the determination by the Dutch to make agricultural land available ‘regardless of the cost’. In Nigeria, where land is available in abundance, like most parts of Africa, land fragmentation remains a challenge. Worse still, laws on land usage remain a source of challenge for those requiring substantial acreage of land for cultivation.
Another attribute, which has contributed in no small measure to the Dutch success story, is the power of farmers’ cooperatives, which has been underutilized in Nigeria. Farmers’ groups in the Netherlands have mobilized themselves to get industries established (for processing and value addition). Research and training centres have also been set up, with mandates of solving problems for farmers.
The importance of agricultural cooperatives simply cannot be ignored. FrieslandCampina, which is one of the world’s largest dairy companies has a cooperative tradition stretching back more than 140 years. Via Zuivelcoöperatie FrieslandCampina U.A. the member dairy farmers in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium own 100 percent of Royal FrieslandCampina N.V. All member dairy farmers are independent entrepreneurs. Their expertise and professionalism helps FrieslandCampina guarantee quality, safety and sustainability. On behalf of its member dairy farmers, FrieslandCampina strives for sustainable growth and value creation.
Jos Bijman, in a paper on Agricultural Cooperatives in the Netherlands: Key Success Factors, noted that while the number of farmers has gradually declined over the last 50 years, agricultural production has remained stable. In 2015 only 60,000 farmers remained, while the total added value generated by agriculture, food processing and distribution continues to be 50 billion euro. Cooperatives take responsibility for a major share of this added value.
In Nigeria however, with millions of farmers, the power in these numbers is yet to be harnessed to drive agricultural growth to meet the country’s food security and economic empowerment needs.
Furthermore, the Wageningen University & Research, reputed as perhaps the best agriculture university in the world, has achieved this feat essentially on account of its active collaboration with farmers and agribusinesses in the Netherlands. The University has become a willing partner in developing solutions to advance agriculture in the country. More importantly, its research outputs have not ended as mere academic exercises. They have been applied for agricultural growth and industrial processes in value addition and processing; contributing to make the country’s agricultural output, what it is now known to be.
Nigeria’s agricultural research institutes and universities have however continued to lag. Most of the output from these centres, even when they could have been useful, have so far remained more of academic exercises with no visible practical applications.
In summary, access to agricultural land needs to be made a lot easier, with government creating the enabling environment for private sector to invest and thrive. Also, the several agricultural research institutes, universities of agriculture, and others with capacity to innovate solutions to Nigeria’s agricultural problems. They need to start working with farmers to achieve real, practical solutions that will not end as theoretical, academic expeditions. Lastly, agricultural cooperatives need to take the lead in becoming a force to drive growth; relying less on government and, collectively harnessing the power of these farmers to drive productivity, and industrial processing.