Paltry agric budget: working against 2016 farming season
The days of belt-tightening for millions of Nigerians are here.
The trio of lean financial resources, owing to lower government revenue; overhanging debt owed input suppliers in the Growth Enhancement Support (GES); and poor supply of fertilizer have conspired to work against the 2016 farming season.
Hamstrung by over N40b debt to be paid suppliers of fertilizer and a paltry N47b (1.25 per cent) capital allocation for agriculture, the Federal Government’s touted agriculture-based diversification seems flattened.
In the 2016 budget, Nigeria is spending more on bullets, with Defence (N134b) almost tripling Agriculture’s N47b. Food production budget also falls 400 per cent below Ministry of Transportation allocation of N202b.
The very low allocation to agriculture in this year’s budget, which is just too austere, even in light of the 10 per cent recommended by the AU years ago, in Maputo, and no input subsidy to farmers as well as the huge debt owed input manufacturers, gives pointer that food production would be worse this year.
Aside the little budget allocation, the delay in signing the budget has impacted negatively on farm and other agricultural activities resulting in lateness of supplies, even if fund were available.
The Agriculture Minister, Chief Audu Ogbe alluded as much, when he met with fertilizer blenders recently in Abuja, that the budget delays has taken its toll on operations, though things were picking up.
If the speed of bureaucracy in Nigeria is anything to go by, then farmers may yet wait longer on the queue for the inputs promised. The consequences, experts project, would be food shortages and higher prices at the end of the farming season.
Although in defending the 2016 budget, Ogbeh stressed the government commitment to diversification, agricultural mechanisation, import substitution, labour-intensive family enterprises (life) programmes and the like. He projected the plan to increase the national food supply by 20 million metric tonnes annually, but the reality on ground do not leave much hope that the nation would stave fears of an impending food scarcity.
This year, according to Paul Gbededo, Group Managing Director, Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc (FMN), the Federal Government is not involved, as far as fertilizer is concerned, with GES for farmers.
“ I do not think it is in the budget this year and there are outstanding payments from the previous year for those who supplied inputs.” However, he said FMN has been going on with its own sales in different parts of the federation as much as urea-dependent fertilizers permit.
Giving insight, Gbededo said it would be difficult for farmers to get enough fertilizer nationwide, once there is restriction on urea.
The Guardian reported that the item drawing most attention among compounds used in blending fertilizers is Urea. That farmer-friendly ingredient is now of greater interest to insurgents. The reason is that urea yields ammonium compound, a component for making Improvised Explosive Devices of (IED) largely used on targets by insurgents.
Gbededo said there are challenges, but the solution and what is being done should be the focus.Urea is a key component of fertilizer, and Notore and Indorama are the two companies that produce urea for the Nigerian market, but it is not enough yet. So, there is need for importation of the product, He said.
Gbededo added that due to the challenge of insurgency in the country, and criminals, the federal Government and Security agencies are watching carefully how urea is being moved, he revealed.
However, agriculture Minister’s Special Assistant on Media and Strategy, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, said this arrangement may appear cumbersome at the onset, but the various stakeholders will get used to it with time. “ It would move us from the present situation entailing guesswork, wherein the government is shortchanged in revenue, to that condition, which would be done away with in due course.”
He added that with the keen interest in fertilizer movement, the propensity of operation that gives a leeway to miscreants, who convert some of the products to high security risk materials, should disappear.
“Moreover, the unblended products like urea, which is most susceptible to abuse and with the understanding that the product would be subjected to thorough scrutiny; operators are expected to plan their production, grading and distribution ahead of demand. There is no fear of disturbing our food security,” he said.
Security experts agree the up side of the checks on the movement of fertiliser is that it helps in documentation and traceability. In doing this, they argued it also helps in boosting supply chain integrity, especially when the security and quality implications are considered.
Ogbeh revealed that fertilizers are already being moved, but unlike in the past, it is now more soil and crop specific.
As has been done in several parts of the country, there is a soil map that specifies the type of fertilizer different soils needed in various parts of the country.
With respect to that, the Minister said the mode of dealing with wholesale fertilizer like before would no longer be tenable as different states may require the types suitable for their soil and crops.
Managing Director, Superphosphate Fertilizer and Chemical Industries Ltd., Danjuma Abdul-Kadiri told The Guardian, what is facing agriculture is much more fundamental than is being addressed.
Danjuma said the FG is indebted to the input suppliers to about N40b in the past 18 months, and even this planting season, it is not giving the farmers the benefits of the GES, now apparently suspended.
Of the agricultural produce situation, he said the food insecurity coming ahead this year would be more terrible than in the past. Nigerians have to make a choice between insecurity from insurgency and that from food shortage to determine which is more dangerous, Danjuma told The Guardian.
“Even now, the prices of staple foods have skyrocketed and the rains have not fully come. We are at the closing of the month of May, and the Federal Government has not said anything about fertilizer,” he said.
The Climatic factor
THE greater challenge to Nigeria’s impending food shortage in an environment, where water for crop production is not guaranteed is the unreliability of rain fed agriculture.
The prediction of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) leaves a bigger chance of ‘less than normal, delayed and early cessation of rainfall than previous years across most parts of the country.’
Director General, NIMET, Mr. Anthony Anuforom, said the Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP), part of its meteorological early warning system for rainfall and temperature is critical to the nation’s economic growth and development.
“Dry spells during the rainy season,” he said, “may be more frequent and severe in many parts of the North, while the ‘little dry season’ or August break in parts of the South are expected to be pronounced.”
It is worrisome the Agency’s forecast of a dry spell that may set in from May to June/July of this year, when farmers will likely be tending to their crops. This, it noted, could lead to crop failure.
The chief weatherman warned that at this point, when the nation is anchoring economic diversification on agriculture, these risk factors need to be scientifically managed. How prepared the nation is to deal with the situation is yet to be seen.
With the Water Resources Ministry being allocated only N37b capital expenditure to manage a largely low functioning irrigation dams spread mostly in the north, the grain belt is under threat.
As for the southern part of the country, where irrigation facilities are not normal, dry spells and low rains will leave farmers to seek the intervention of the Divine. Truly, the nation faces a challenging time and imminent food shortages, government rhetoric notwithstanding.