Exclusive interview with Nuradin Osman, Director of Operations, AGCO Africa & Middle East. AGCO is the diamond sponsor for AgriTech Expo, taking place in Chisamba from 28-29 April and Mr Nuradin is a featured speaker and panellist on the conference programme.
1) What products, services and projects of AGCO are you most excited about at the moment?
In Africa, AGCO is focusing on increasing the scope of its product offering, localisation, capacity building, improving distribution, and providing training to local farmers.
AGCO plans to introduce up to 15 new products for African farmers including planters, harvesters and storage units. This will be a mix of new products designed for African conditions, such as Air Seeders, Heavy Disc Implements, and Poultry / Protein products; and currently existing products being made more widely available across African markets.
Also, AGCO does not only have commercial ventures in Africa, it is also on the forefront in initiatives aimed at developing agriculture beyond the pure mechanization.
Agriculture holds the key to transforming the prosperity of many African countries, where agriculture and farming drives the local economy. In some cases, agriculture currently accounts for up to 50% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for up to 60% of employment.
But African agriculture is badly under-performing and failing to take full advantage of the available natural resources of land, water, and labour. There is also a serious lack of investment in modern seed and fertiliser, while few farms employ the latest agronomic advice or mechanisation. Together this is causing productivity to lag far behind advances being made in other developing countries.
AGCO in Africa, recognizing the low agricultural productivity rate, is taking the initiative by promoting debate and action through its annual Africa Summit, which raises awareness about the needs of the continent, and discusses the challenges facing African agriculture.
For example, AGCO is supporting the World Economic Forum in achieving the goals in the New Vision for Agriculture, which aims to feed 9 billion people in 2050, and asserting the pivotal role of the agricultural sector in assuring economic growth, environmental sustainability and food security. The initiative includes the G8 and G20, and 28 major global enterprises, including AGCO, and represents companies covering the whole value chain from seeds, chemical inputs, production, processing, transport and trade, to supermarkets.
2) What makes your company competitive in this market?
As a world-leading farm machinery manufacturer, AGCO has unparalleled expertise and local knowledge of African Agriculture, which it has amassed over many generations.
For more than half a century African farmers have come to rely on the quality, reliability and back-up provided by Massey Ferguson, AGCO’s global brand, which started the power farming revolution, mechanising and increasing farming efficiency across the continent.
Today Massey Ferguson remains the market leader and is complemented by AGCO’s other leading brands – Challenger tracked tractors, sprayers and application equipment, Valtra tractors for specialist applications as well as GSI post-harvest technology for grain handling and storage.
Together these offer a comprehensive and diverse range of equipment developed and built specifically for African conditions. AGCO brands offer the widest range of machines suitable for every farming business – from smallholders through the emerging sector, as well as co-operatives and the largest agribusinesses.
3) Any specific projects or success stories you would like to share?
Since 2012 AGCO has taken strategic steps to support agriculture in Africa:
· Built a new Parts Distribution Centre in Johannesburg to better serve customers in Sub-Saharan Africa and opened a regional office in Cape Town.
· Acquired a Farm close to Lusaka, Zambia, to establish a Learning Centre and Future Farm that will allow local farmers and dealers to be trained on modern farming technology and learn about the latest farming practices. Farmers will benefit from a wide range of training classes and get access to professional farming equipment.
· Established a joint venture operation with local partners in Algeria to manufacture tractors for the African market.
The Future Farms concept derives directly from asking ourselves some searching questions regarding mechanization:
o Can a mechanization of agriculture act as a driving force for growing prosperity in Africa?
o How can we best achieve agriculture that is not only economically and ecologically sustainable, but is also sustainable for employment?
o Which models benefit the sought-after growth for everyone?
AGCO’s 150 hectares Model Farm near Lusaka, Zambia, is the first example of such a Future Farm concept. Farmers, especially of small to medium sized holdings, with limited access to modern farming techniques will in future be able to benefit from training courses ranging from basic agronomy through to general mechanisation, and will get training on the use and maintenance of tractors and harvesting equipment, including grain handling and storage techniques from AGCO’s GSI product range. Improving storage and the ability to condition crops not only prevents losses, but also allows farmers to hold produce and improve returns by responding to market demands.
4) What in your view are the main challenges for the agricultural sector in Zambia?
It is clear that investing in agriculture, investment in mechanisation accompanied, importantly, by education will provide the catalyst for rural development. With access to inputs, mechanisation, and improved connections to markets, small-holder farmers can generate more income, and contribute to raising their families out of poverty. But first, what, then, needs to be done to boost production and productivity? On the key matters there is broad agreement:
o There needs to be government policies and a favourable environment for investment – this is now largely in place.
o Access to finance and credit for acquiring seed inputs, fertilizers, and mechanisation.
o Increased adoption and utilisation of technology and mechanization
o Ensure access to agricultural training and basic education
o There is need for synergy of the all players involved in attracting investors into the country like the Zambia Development Agency and Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industries to adequately deal with investor issues and queries
- Poor or lack of infrastructure like roads, post-harvest storage facilities
5) What advice would you give someone who is interested in investing in the Zambian agri-sector?
Any international company looking to invest and work in Africa need look no further than Zambia. Zambia provides economic dynamism, with an average of 7% economic growth over the last few years, even in the middle of a turbulent world economic recession.
There are opportunities for the willing entrepreneur across the whole food value chain, and there will be no lack of support and encouragement. Agriculture remains the main source of income and employment for the majority of Zambians; and Zambia has not realized its maximum Agriculture potential due to limited investments not only in the production stage, but also in high value agro-processing.
For an entrepreneur, Zambia offers:
o Political stability
o Improving infrastructure – continuing connectivity and reliability of transport systems, roads, trains, and fairly reliable power and water supplies.
o Local talent with appropriate experience and language skills.
o Government’s attention and focus – Government has earmarked agriculture as one of the priority sectors
o Land availability, favourable weather conditions and access to vast water resources make the agriculture sector in Zambia a key driver for accelerated economic growth.
6) What is your vision for the sector, also in terms of the region?
Amongst the world’s poorest people are many smallholder farmers, who get their food and income by farming small plots of land of less than 2Hectare. Most of them barely get by—struggling with unproductive soil, plant diseases, pests, and drought, nor do they have reliable markets for their products, or good information about crop commodity.
First, helping these smallholder farmers and their families increase production, in a sustainable manner, through increasing yields and selling more crops is the most effective way to reduce hunger and poverty, and achieve a nation’s food security.
Second, when these farmers improve their food production, and income, they are better able to feed their families and provide for their children’s education and invest in developing and expanding their farms. This has the effect of economically developing their communities, making these stronger and more viable.
Third, helping farmers improve their yields requires a comprehensive approach that includes education, the use of modern seeds that are resistant to disease, mechanization, and the incorporation of more productive farming techniques and technologies. Governments also need to be part of the solution, by enacting government policies that serve the interests of farming families, and by facilitating greater access to markets.
7) What surprises you about this sector?
The speed at which things change; markets develop; or products innovate.
8 ) Why did you decide to partner with AgriTech Expo?
The Agritech Expo is a well-known agricultural conference, and is the place where all kinds of agricultural technologies and supplies gather and interact with customers, bringing new products, new services, and new practises to the customer’s attention, enabling them to become better, smarter farmers. Also, it provides the potential opportunity for networking, and a forum to contribute our views on how to support the development of the agricultural sector, not only in Zambia, nut across Africa.
9) What will be your main message at AgriTech Expo?
AGCO is aware of the important role young people and job creation play in agriculture. Government and the Private Sector need to come together to make agriculture more attractive to young people. Mechanizing agriculture combined with training is a great way to increase agricultural productivity and incomes and will engage more young people in the industry as they can move away from the physical labour to technological thinking and can increase their productivity.
10) Anything you would like to add?
AGCO intends to package and transfer the knowledge and infrastructure being developed at the Zambian Model Farm across Africa. Exporting the core knowledge and expertise from Zambia, and successfully reproducing it, will establish the ‘Future Farm’ approach to providing agricultural education and development across the continent.
Meanwhile in support of AGCO’s mechanization solutions continuous investment has been made in developing its footprint in the region through building and opening our new Parts Distribution Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, a state-of-the-art warehouse bringing to Africa the service and parts support available in developed markets. With up to 40,000 stocked parts, response times are significantly improved with corresponding reduction in machine downtime.
With these initiatives AGCO, is not only strengthening its position in the region, but also delivering on its mission: ‘To provide high-tech solutions to farmers feeding the world.’