Nigerians, like many other Africans, believe that certain fruits like orange only grow in particular seasons. This cannot be any further from the truth. In developed countries, most if not all the fruits are available for consumption all year-round. The secret behind this availability of fruits is not so far-fetched. This write-up is focused on year-round orange production in rural Nigeria. Growing oranges demands the maintenance of certain climatic conditions like temperature and wind intensity although there are other issues less related to the climate such as pest control, irrigation and fertilizer application. These conditions control the growth of orange. In other words, if they can be maintained at a certain level, production can be done year-round. The Communication and Information Management Technology branches of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) have a crucial role to play here as they make it easy to reach majority of the rural farmers. Emphasis is placed on radio as a result of the fact that it is readily available to most of them. Information on the basics of cultivating the fruit throughout the year is handed down to the farmers through radio. The postulation here is that as the farmers get enough of this information, their orientation begins to change and whatever funding or support they get from external sources can be put to good use. This raises the question of funding for this orange production, and this is where the benefits of year-round production such as job creation and increased revenue serve as incentive to potential supporters and lenders, like the government and microfinance banks.
One of the most widely grown crops in the country today is orange. Its strong nutritional value and by-products such as orange juice are part of the reason for its popularity. Firstly, it is imperative to explain that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) may be subdivided into three main branches namely Computer Technology, Communication Technology and Information Management Technology. While Computer Technology is a vital component of ICT, Communication and Information Management Technologies are equally as important (Wikipedia, 2010). In fact, as far as agriculture goes in the rural areas of Nigeria, Computer Technology will play a less crucial role than any of the other two and the reason is not far-fetched. Although most of the farmers understand the conditions required for the crops to grow in practice, only a handful of them know this in theory. This theoretical knowledge is important if a farmer is going to maximize production.
An advantage to the team is that the father of one of our team members is a large scale farmer. Thus a number of our questions were directed to him. Also, another team member made calls to his friend at the bank, a means by which we obtained information about loans and a few other financing questions. Some information was also obtained from books. Most of our sources though are from the internet, like articles and journals.
One important aspect of year-round production is the culture of the orange tree. Recently, it has been discovered that close-spacing the plants in an orange grove might cause reduction in productivity, and there is also the argument that in close-planted groves, it is quite expensive to prune. On the contrary, the ease with which pruning, fertilizing and harvesting can be done influences farmers’ decision to engage in close-planting. Many groves in rural Nigeria have an average spacing of 20 X 15 ft (7.5×6 m), which in comparison to the former standard 25 x 25 ft (7.5×7.5 m) can be considered to be really close-spaced. Conversely, it has been discovered that by budding ‘Pineapple’ orange onto the rootstock of rough lemon, close-planting can otherwise increase the total yield. A chart is given below to illustrate the behavior of this new type of orange in relation to spacing.
This brings to light two new points of interest – varieties of orange and budding. These two points are very crucial to year-round orange farming. The first secret in growing orange year-round is in its varieties. Different types of oranges react differently to different climatic conditions. For example, while Hamlin and Queen thrive well under extreme cold temperature, Valencia, on the other hand, does not do as well. In developing countries where orange is available to customers year-round, they simply grow the particular type of orange that will flourish in each season. It will not come as a surprise that many if not all of the varieties of orange can grow in many parts of Nigeria. In fact, Benue state in north central Nigeria alone accounts for the production of over ten varieties of orange. The implication of this is that with proper knowledge of these varieties and how they thrive under different conditions, oranges can be produced year-round in the country.
Budding is another important tool that can ensure the production of the fruit during particularly harsh seasons of the year. Although there are many varieties of the fruit that survive in different seasons, there are some seasons that are uniquely harsh to plants. For these seasons, budding is a practice that can ensure the development of more vigorous and productive trees. The process ensures the quality of oranges produced. Budding involves grafting a part of a plant (called the scion) on another plant (called the rootstock) with an already active root system, thus enabling them to grow as one plant. Rootstocks are mostly used for fruiting trees and depending on the rootstock used, even with the same scion, properties such as large fruit size, vigor, and resistance to diseases, drought and root pests can be induced in the resulting tree (Wikipedia, 2010). For example, when certain orange trees are budded onto the rootstock of trifoliate orange, the result is a tree that can survive in extreme cold and even low wet soils.
Irrigation plays a very important role in crop yield, especially during the dry season when wilting is an imminent problem. Many of the farmers in the rural areas know this, but there are still some limitations. One of them is the lack of water; another is the fact that many of the farmers do not know how much water is required for irrigation. To determine how much water is needed, information on the depth of the soil is vital. As with most trees, the depth of the soil affects the reach of the root system. Deep soils allow for better root systems, and consequently better resistance to drought. Furthermore, the deeper the soil, the more the amount of water that can be used in irrigation. For the problem of lack of water, it would be a good idea if farmers are encouraged to work together as the distribution of water is usually uneven in this period. That is, while some farmers’ wells have abundant water, others become dry. Cooperation between them would not only aid in irrigation but in many other useful areas as well. Also because of the benefits to be reaped from this year-round orange production (as explained further down), the government should also help with the supply of new irrigation technology and supply of water.
Another hindrance to the year-round production of orange in the country is the problem of pests and diseases. Oranges, like many other fruits, are affected by a huge amount of pests. Some of the pests particular to orange include citrus rust mites, numerous scale insects, mealy bugs, aphids (plant lice) and fruit flies. These various pests affect different parts of the tree including the leaves, stem, root, and even the oranges. Additionally, diseases are also a big threat to the production of oranges. Some of the common diseases include blight, citrus canker, and some viral and fungal diseases. In some other cases, incompatibility between the scion and rootstock can also be a cause of reduced production. Scientists have come up with some effective treatments for many of these diseases, but without ICT, it is impossible to pass this information to farmers in rural areas. However, occasionally farmers mistake things like abnormal coloration of leaves caused by mineral deficiencies such as copper and zinc for diseases.
Oranges can be preserved for as long as 5 months at relatively low temperatures (between 2.22oC and 3.89oC). This is another advantage of oranges that can be taken to ensure that it is available for year-round consumption. Farmers in rural Nigeria do not take advantage of this property because they do not have the required storage facility, which should be large enough to hold a substantial amount of oranges and keep the temperature low enough to ensure preservation. Most of them have no idea that the fruits can even be preserved that long.
The Role of ICT
The most powerful tool that can be handed down to these farmers is information empowerment; hence the earlier laid foundation on Communication and Information Management Technology. There is no point in purchasing technical equipment for farmers when they do not even know how the things work. The first step is to open their eyes to the details of the fruits they are producing. With proper understanding, the farmers will begin to ask for the right tools. Without instigation from any external factors, they will begin to ask for loans and additional infrastructure to facilitate year-round production. In other words, they need to be informed that it is possible and with today’s technology, there are numerous ways to hand down this information. Radio would be an effective tool since most of these farmers have one. Agricultural programs should air on the radio stations available to them, and in their dialect. These programs, aimed at the farmers, would help them better understand irrigation, soil depth, and many other factors related to their crops. With time, they will start to ask questions, and then extension agents can be introduced to help answer them.
Consistency is a key point in the use of radio. It takes time to change a person’s beliefs. The idea is that the farmers hear the information well enough that it begins to transform their ideas about the growth of their fruit. In other words, unless these programs are kept on air long enough, making these rural farmers adopt the modern techniques introduced here would be an almost impossible task. Therefore, ICT forms the foundation for this revolutionary project in the nation’s agricultural sector. It is the most effective method for passing information to the farmers.
Agriculture gets it funds from federal and state government, private sectors, and international development partners. Some of the financial institutions like banks believe that lending to small scale farmers is not as risky as lending to big time farmers. This is as a result of the fact, as a number of banks have pointed out, that small scale farmers unlike their large scale counterparts tend to pay back their loans (Mommoh, 2008). However, some other financial institutions believe in funding large scale farmers rather than small scale farmers. Basically, funding agriculture is classified as macro or micro finance, depending on the source of the funds.
One of the major problems facing agricultural financing, especially in rural areas, is poor handling of loans. The targeted farmers barely have access to loans due to barriers or conditions attached. Even when they have access to the loans, they are often given lower than what they applied for, because of insufficient funds. The very unfortunate thing is that the fake influential people who pose to be farmers meet up with the conditions thereby having access to the loans. Another problem is the fact that farmers do not really channel the funds to what it was originally intended for (agricultural production); instead they use it for personal purposes. For this, some blame can be placed on the policy that empowers them with money without the information what the money can and should be used for. Many farmers are already used to their old ways of doing things, and they can continue without the extra money. Thus, they need to be taught new agricultural techniques that will help them understand where to channel the funds they receive, and this is where ICT comes into play.
There are different ways to address problems of agricultural financing. First of all, government should encourage long term loans at low interest rates. Agricultural production involves long gestation period. With such policy (long term loans at lower interest rate) in place, there is tendency for an increase in agricultural production. Financial institutions should also relax their lending criteria in order to allow farmers to have easy access to loans. Small scale farmers do not have acceptable collateral (houses, moveable properties, stocks, shares and so on) required by these institutions. Thus the criteria should be user friendly for easy accessibility of loan. Government can also make land available to farmers for farming.
Alongside the information on how to grow their fruit, the farmers should also be encouraged to utilize funds for the purpose for which they are meant and abide by the terms and conditions of the scheme. They should also make their project and records accessible to the lenders for inspection and verification. The lending body should ensure intermittent monitoring of the funded agricultural project under the scheme. On the part of the government, there should not only be provision of sufficient funds for agriculture, but also follow-up to ensure the proper disbursement of these funds.
Marketing (especially the Off-Season Oranges) [Bitrus]
With year-round production or orange comes the problem of acceptance. This is where marketing comes into play. Being Africans and Nigerians, especially fond of superstitious beliefs, we have made up our minds that the orange is greenish-yellow and any other thing is probably genetically manufactured and hence posing risks of cancer, toxins, poisons, and food allergies. As a result, any company that plans to market oranges of the highest quality all through the year in Nigeria and Africa as a whole must have a way to convince the general public that the oranges are perfectly normal.
How do you assure the potential buyers that the oranges are not genetically altered since the company will be providing quality oranges all year round? The finished orange, although grown in the rural area but using state-of-the art technology should be made available all through the year, orange in color, juicy and large enough to meet international standards if it is to be exported. Since what most of us take in the country does not meet any of the above, then there’s every possibility that potential customers will be skeptical about buying because they might feel it is not natural. The marketing campaign will have to convince the general public that the oranges are naturally grown all year round under the right conditions; stating that the fruits grow under proper irrigation all year round, that different varieties of orange are grown depending on the season; and pesticides and herbicides are used to regulate and control the pests and weeds respectively.
The marketers should have radio talk shows and TV personalities educate the general public that people need to take their minds off the stereotypical way of thinking that fruits can be grown only in their seasons. By educating the general public that under the right conditions, a fruit can be grown year-round, the producer will be able to convince the buyer that there is nothing wrong with the fruit. After all, in developed countries fruits and vegetables are gotten all year round. Take note though that there are the genetically manufactured ones which are usually labeled GM and there are the naturally grown ones. The naturally grown ones are simply grown under monitored conditions and this is the same kind of thing that will be replicated by the rural farmers.
Getting endorsements from NGO’s and other prominent organizations such as the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) and the National Agency for Food and Administration and Control (NAFDAC) will convince people that the fruits are safe for consumption. Internet ads, billboards and commercials too will be instrumental in publicizing the naturally-grown oranges.
The typical orange in Nigeria is not packaged. Proper packaging will attract customers to buy the produced orange. A decent price will further interest the customers and keep them, but this will be after the packaging must have served its purpose.
Another important factor to be considered is the transportation of the oranges from the rural areas to the customers. The producer/supplier must consider how to transport the oranges from the grove in the rural area to the consumers. In theory the fruits will be transported in trucks with properly cleaned, disinfected and ventilated containers that contain temperature-controlled atmosphere for specifically prolonging the shelve life of the oranges and keeping them in their best shape. The trucks will be painted with the ad of the oranges showing the brand name and a colorful painting of the oranges which is a very good marketing strategy. The temperature-controlled trucks should preserve them until they are given to the buyers.
Benefits of Year-round Production 
1. Export: After a few years of production, there would be a need to start exporting the oranges since production is going to be done year-round. This will increase the country’s revenue and consequently, the Gross Domestic Product of the country. This would help the farmers to make the most profit by exploring opportunities in foreign countries that are not present in the domestic market (Tekle, 2007). By doing this, the farmers would eventually turn their small scale farm into international companies which will participate in today’s fast growing global market and gain more knowledge from the highly diverse international market place. This could also go on to help strengthen the value of the Nigerian Naira which translates to an improvement in the Nigerian economy.
2. Job Creation: According to INDEX MUNDI, the rate of unemployment in Nigeria has reduced by 21.3% within the space of 2003 and 2010 as shown in the chart below (Barrientos, 2010). In this time, a huge reduction in crime rate has also been observed and this goes to show that people who are not among the labor force are the ones responsible for the crimes being committed. If farmers are successfully granted the opportunity to go into larger scale production of these oranges they would need to employee more workers to help with the cultivation and harvesting of the oranges. This would go a long way in abetting the decline in crime, unemployment rates, and poverty in the rural areas of Nigeria. Since these oranges are going to be the produced year-round, then the jobs would be full-time jobs instead of seasonal.
3. Joint Production: Farmers can also join their businesses together. This could become an additional source of capital and resources for all the parties involved. This would help facilitate and increase the growth of the business because they have more funds to facilitate the operation involved in the production your oranges which would result to an increase in their profit margin and revenue potential. It also helps this farmer because they have someone to share the responsibility with them which would also reduce the risk and effect of losing plenty money.
4. Environmental Benefits: In order to produce oranges, we need to plant trees. These trees protect the environmental biomes of organisms, giving way to the reduction of Enhanced Green House Effects also known as global warming by remove surplus amount of carbon dioxide and atmospheric air pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, ozone and nitrogen oxide (iloveindia.com, 2010). They also provide us with more oxygen required for living life. These trees would also improve the quality of air and reduce its pollution. It would also improve the visual effect of landscapes in rural area which could also increase revenue gotten from tourism. Since most rural areas appear to be in Northern part of Nigeria it would help control the climate by moderating the effects of sun and can also act as windbreakers. It would also reduce erosion and flooding in these areas since they have no effective drainage system.
5. It will accelerate the growth of the agricultural sector: Since the discovery of crude oil in the country, Nigerians have neglected the agricultural sector. Producing these oranges would also encourage the year-round production of other agricultural goods and also transform it to industrial agriculture and these would ease of the stress that has been put on the oil and gas sector. It will generate more Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Gross National Product (GNP) and per capita income for Nigeria.
6. Investments: This will bring a large influx of foreign companies who deal in food production and pharmaceuticals. It would also increase the flow of cash into the country and encourage economic activity in Nigeria. It would also curb the problems of low job opportunities and reduced GDP. The remaining farmers and producers will have to develop their labor to keep up with the much improved competition therefore bringing about an increment in general efficiency level. And the Nigerian Government will be taken much more seriously in the worldwide conferences because the number of investors in the country has improved.
7. Infrastructural development: This will bring in new equipment’s for industries who patronize in agricultural products and the agricultural sector will have to provide modern equipments to produce more yields.
8. Globalization: It would generally breach the gap between countries through trade. It would also reduce the cultural barriers which would increase the global village effect.
9. World Trade Organization (WTO): With agricultural investments, there will be economic growth which will make Nigeria a valuable participant in the World Trade Organization.
10. Skill development: Over time, the rural areas will see an evolution of skilled workers, both in the agricultural and industrial sectors.
11. Population Distribution: Like many other countries, the urban regions in Nigeria are densely populated while the rural areas are sparsely populated, but with the new jobs created in rural areas, there would be a redistribution of population. Places like Lagos and Abuja would not be so densely populated. And this would help in the development of the rural areas in Nigeria.
Although there might be set-backs or even disadvantages to the year round production of orange in the country, the advantages far outweigh these disadvantages. With this many advantages, the government and many other sponsors should be more than willing to support the idea. Implementation of this would be revolutionary to food production in the country as it would open the door for year-round production of many other fruits. The implication is that these fruits will become much cheaper than when they can be purchased only in their season. There would be benefits to every sector in the country, but it is imperative that the government does not try to force these rural farmers into production as it might just result in another waste of limited resources. The farmers must properly understand the process and the necessary techniques so that when they get the resources they will use them judiciously. For proper understanding, the ICT tools must also be used efficiently, that is, the farmers must constantly be getting this information and it should be consistent. They should be encouraged to work together and implement these new methods of farming as many of them will be initially resistant to them.