The Federal Government’s $1.1bn tractor deal with Brazil is said to have fallen through, leading to excitement in Nigeria’s agric sector. This has however poured mixed feelings within Nigeria’s local manufacturing enclave which insists on a piece of the action. They told BusinessDay that dumping the expected high number of tractors in Nigeria would snuff out local technological efforts that have been upbeat in recent years.
The president of the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF), Ibifir Bobmanuel, who is the CEO of a Port Harcourt-based tractor manufacturing company, BobTrack Nigeria Limited, in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay, disclosed that the FG has finally approved the much-talked about $1.1Bn loan from a Brazilian backed consortium to finance an aspect of agriculture.
Bobmanuel said: “For $1.1Bn loan deal to be a success, we must have to look out for any likely benefits that would accrue to our home-grown technological base. There are local tractor manufacturers trying to play in the space that have invested hugely to give Nigeria a tractor manufacturing sub-sector.
“It will interest people to know that BobTrack Limited is the first indigenous tractor manufacture outfit in West Africa. BobTrack invested so much and so today, we produce tractors head and shoulders over of any tractor you have in the market. So, you cannot jettison all of that achievement by going outside to buy tractors and dump in Nigerians.”
The top investor disclosed that tractor manufacturers were opening talks with the FG through the federal Ministry of Agriculture, hoping that in the course of implementation, the government would respect the local content laws by giving the local investors space to participate in the scheme.
He said: “The amount of arable land we have in Nigeria and Africa is the highest in the world and this has not been translated to amount of farm produce in proportion and we cannot still feed ourselves. We are still importing all sorts of food items and we have not made that curve. This is because you cannot run on borrowed technology and hope to run better than the lender of that technology. We must look inward.
“That is why we invested hugely in BobTrack. Now, today, the tractors we manufacture the implements and plough and all gamut are made in Nigeria. The amount of jobs we create in the county is huge. You get people calling from many remote parts of the country asking for dealership. Now, you sit back and ask yourself, why is it that our government has not been able to invest confident in and go the whole hog with the indigenous manufacturers.”
Asked this is so, he said: “Look, without backward integration, there is no way this country would be able to make any headway in any policy around the agric space because technologies are localised anywhere in the world.
“If you get any equipment made for one clime it will never work well in another environment. If an automobile is made for the American region (American spec), if there is a defect, you can activate the warranty. You cannot do that in another region. This is same with tractors. A tractor manufactured to work in Europe or so cannot run well in Africa. That is why we keep going round in circles. I could remember when the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) once bought tractors in thousands and distributed. Where are those tractors today? Every year, the FG and its agencies buy tractors and share out, where are they today? They are not meant for this region. Our temperature is very high. Our soil is very strong because we have not tilled the soil till it gets to soft levels.
“In the US, one man can farm on very large size of land but in Nigeria, you can’t till large sizes. We are in the tropics and we have a kind of soil; very strong and highly untamed and untapped. You don’t expect those tractors to perform same way they do in their continents.”
According to him, “I have a handful of tractors in the market claiming 80, 100, 120 horsepower but if you open the engines, you see they are running on three-stroke engines. This is equivalent to a Keke Napep. If you use such power to pull a tractor, you can never get satisfaction. These are the issues on hand.
“That is why we built BobTrack from the scratch. Every pin is developed from Africa. That is why all our customers have certified tractors on yearly basis. We have done this for three years and none has failed. Even if that happens, we have backup arrangement.
“Another story: when we finished manufacturing our first set of tractors, we were satisfied so much that we were ready to test them in other climes. We shipped them to America and China. The ones in China went to a trade fair and same day, six of them were snapped up. You could only imagine the crowd that came around the tractor. This is because there ware features they were not used to, but because we have taken out our time to visit different agric fairs, we found out what African farmers need in tractors and we introduced those things. The next day, they mobbed us to come to other places, but a notice came from the Chinese government asking us to come and apply and go through some processes before would carry out trade activities. That takes us to the question; how many times have our governments asked exhibitors in Nigeria to come and go through tests to be compatible. They just dump on us and we are now a dumping ground.”
“That is why we keep buying tractors year in year out. They would spoil and government would buy another one. Even when we had the likes of Styr, we do not have them anymore. Even if we decide now to bring in those tractors from Brazil, etc, we are only going to rescue those crashing economies. Brazil is another developing country like Nigeria. I do not know what we are going to gain from that economy, other than helping their economy and help create more jobs there at the expense of our own industries that are already strong.
“All of the funding and initiatives put into BobTrack all came from private sector initiative. What we need from the government is only to protect and motivate the local manufacturers. I am going to Abuja to hold next round of meetings with the authorities on where the matter is. After that, we see what happens.”