Stakeholders set agenda for government on agriculture

Yam vendors wheel away to the market…yesterday PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI


• Should Do More On Extension Service Delivery-OXFAM
• Invite Critical Stakeholders, Fight Food Insecurity Insurgency-PAN
• Formulate Policies That’ll Encourage Farmers-Adekoya
• More Funding For Research Institutes To Aid Productivity-COMAFAS
• We Need Waivers For Feed Importation, Passage Of Fisheries Laws- Ashagye

For nearly four years, this administration has saddled itself with the task of diversifying the economy away from sole dependence on oil via agriculture.Several policies and programmes were conceptualised on ways to boost food production and increase external trade volume with agro exports. There is still a long way to go.

For instance, the much-hyped self-sufficiency in rice production, attributed to the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), is a far cry from reality. Fact is that by last December, as Nigerians were ‘forced’ to buy foreign brands at exorbitant prices, the local rice disappeared from markets.

With the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari for another term of four years, expectations of farmers and other stakeholders in the sector are very high, as anything less might pose a serious setback to the dream of food self-sufficience. Project Coordinator for GROW, an advocacy project that centers on improving food security in Nigeria, at Oxfam, Dr. Saratu Abiola; Director-General, Poultry Association of Nigeria, Onallo Akpa; former Chairman, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI)’s agriculture sector, Prince Wale Adekoya; National President, Community Allied Farmers Association of Nigeria (COMAFAS), Dr. Austin Maduka and National Chairman, Fisheries Cooperative Federation of Nigeria, Evang. Anthony A. Ashagye have set targets for the government in the sector, to improve the standard of living of the average citizen.

To the Project Coordinator of GROW, Abiola: “What I expect is more protectionism in the agricultural sector. We see signs of this already with the plans presented by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on textile, but even during the election the President also made comments in an engagement with National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), pointing to tighter restrictions on importation and clamping down on smuggling of rice. For better or worse, I expect to see more of that.

“However, protectionist measures are not enough. If you’re not doing work to improve access to inputs like fertilizer and other things, as well as high quality of seedlings, you’re just using bans and tariffs as a blunt instrument that is largely performative, not meant to actually make impact.”She noted that government needs to do more work in the area of extension work for farmers, “because it has been a major source of complaint that is setting our farmers back in terms of providing knowledge they can use to farm optimally, given changes in climate, different kinds of seeds for the changing soil and so on.

“Farmers do not often have access to the information they need to improve their yield, as a result of lack of access to extension services, which are chronically under-budgeted for. Currently, there is one extension worker for every 10,000 farmers, and in many places that is a more conservative estimate. To address this, the government put in place N-Power for extension workers, but that does not solve the problem because many of these graduates often do not know enough to give advice.”

She said farmers are complaining about the N-Power extension workers all the time, because they’re often not trained well enough, “so it is not a long-term measure. When you consider that 70 per cent of Nigerians find employment in agriculture and that 80 per cent of the agricultural labour force is smallholder farmers, you can see how important it is for our food security that those who produce our food can do so optimally. I hope the government also considers partnerships with private enterprise and other tested models of improving extension service in Nigeria.”

Abiola called for a push for the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, urging government to look once more at the model for the scheme to ensure transparency in the way farmers are engaged. “I think as a general matter, we need to do better about encouraging our farmers to work together in groups.

“Lastly, I expect government to pass the National Budget, but historically our agricultural budgets have been far too small to support the government’s big dreams–we’re talking never more than 2.2 per cent of the total budget for a sector that employs most of its people, meanwhile, Nigeria has signed on to the Malabo Declaration, which calls for 10 per cent allocated to agriculture in national budgets.

“Improving extension, improved access to technology, improved access to irrigation where it’s needed, need to be part of the plan that bumps up the quantity and quality of the agricultural budget if our government is indeed willing to put their money where their mouth is,” she said.

On his part, the PAN DG, Akpa tasks government to embark on priority setting by inviting the critical stakeholders in the sector to brainstorm. “You cannot barb someone’s hair when he’s not at the barber’s shop, for instance, invite the stakeholders in the poultry industry, ask them, in the next four years what do you people want to achieve? What will it take you to achieve those things?

“Let them do it like a White Paper, let everybody in the sub-sectors submit their papers on what they want to achieve, to see if it’s do-able. Then the industry will say this is how we want it to be, and this is what it will take us to be there, what does it take us to be there in terms of finance? What does it take us to be there in terms of policy? Where do we have policy summersault? Where do we have policy clashes?

“Fortunately, the government is just coming in, by May they will be inaugurated, why can’t they use the one and a half months left to invite the critical stakeholders in the various sub-sectors of the economy to prepare a four-year developmental plan on agriculture. They should be able to tell the stakeholders that ‘we are in government, we are not on the field, help us plan, we want to achieve these level of goals-five per cent, six per cent, or 10 per cent at a certain period. We’ll now say this is what we want in terms of policy, consistency, ease of doing business, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of advocacy and others.”

Akpa said if the various stakeholders are able to table their requests and government is ready, “four years is enough for us to achieve a lot of meaningful results in the sector. Thank God we are just commencing the raining and planting season. We should go beyond people sitting in the comfort of their offices and just plan, after planning you don’t know what it takes to achieve those goals. We should go beyond grammar, without any seriousness attached to it. We don’t eat English, what we eat is results. Then, they should look for experts, not from political party line or affiliation, but people, who have the energy and passion, then give them appointment, give them projects and let them deliver.

“The poultry industry is a major sub-sector of agriculture, but a lot of people are forgetting that it contributes a lot to the sector’s GDP. We see a lot of poultry products being smuggled into the country, so what are the police doing? What are the customs’ doing? Regulations and enforcements need to be implemented. If we are able to do this, we should be able to export poultry products to Niger, Mali, Bukinafo and other neighboring countries. This issue of allowing other countries to mop up our crops like maize and others should be stopped. If we are fighting insurgency, we should look at fighting food insecurity. Poultry alone is used to achieve the 17 SDGs, which shows how important the industry is.”

According to Oyekoya, government should be more prepared to place priorities on matter arising from the economic sector dealing with immediate needs-food, clothing and shelter.He said: “Having known that the agric sector is a key to enhance the overall development of a nation through food sufficiency, shelter provision and adding to the country’s Gross National Product (GDP), the Federal Government should formulate and implement policies that would encourage the farmers, and as well bring more people to venture into agriculture.

“Some of the areas that need immediate government intervention in order to boost the agricultural sector include: provision of credit facilities to support farmers-repayable loans with zero interest through agricultural banks set up by the government; provision of government owned extension services, which will be saddled with the introduction of new farming techniques and new or hybrid farm inputs to the farmers; rehabilitation of feeders roads; and provision of land, to solve the problem of land availability, a major constraint to subsistence agriculture.”He added the need to support farmers to appropriately store their farm produce through the provision of modern storage facilities, which will help to reduce losses due to spoilage of farm produce and wastages during harvesting.

“There is need for the establishment of marketing boards to control the price of farm produce, standardisation of farm input prices; and establishment of training and research scheme. Government should ban importation of crops it has comparative advantage on, and should place embargo on the importation of some finished farm produce and the encouragement of farmers into value-chain through granting of loans to buy subsidised machines and equipment.

“Government should provide modern irrigation techniques that support all-year-round production through the river basin and rural technology development authority.” Oyekoya, who identified poor implementation of the policies as the major challenge of the current administration said, government only prepared policies and increased national agricultural budget but have failed to put up monitoring committees to ensure the implementation for the expected result.

“Also, government has failed to put right measures to ensure our finished products and some certain farm produce meet the country’s demand and in line with international standard before placing embargo on some imported products. Government should therefore ensure it provides facilities to support the value- chain.”

COMAFAS President, Maduka said: “To be frank, Nigeria is not yet there in terms of agriculture, we are just paying lip service to all we are doing. Government needs to be proactive in whatever direction they are heading. Government needs to put people to run agriculture, people who have ideas and passion for agric. The minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh has tried in his own capacity, but that ministry is beyond him. We need somebody like Dr. Akinwumi Adesina who is young and has international connections that can transform the sector, to bring in more innovations. As far as I am concerned, the southern part of Nigeria has not been benefitting from government in the area of agriculture. It’s been centered in the North, this need to be amended in the next four years.

“There have been a lot of challenges facing us, if you look at the ABP, it is limited to some areas, farmers don’t have access to mechanisation; no access to training; government has not really done well. In the area of assisting smallholder farmers, if government really wants to assist farmers, they should allocate land, clear the farms, it may not be free, it may be on loan; let them provide access to finance, people are suffering in the hands of banks, there should be more windows to finance; there is still problem of marketing, more private investors should come in; they should implement insurance policies for farmers, when they are killed or injured; there is needed for good rural roads, which is the responsibility of the ministry of rural development. This will make it easy for farmers to transport their produce to market, likewise potable water and storage facilities to store perishable goods. Research institutes across the country should be well funded to fabricate machineries to aid farmers.”

National Chairman, Fisheries Cooperative Federation of Nigeria, Ashagye, who noted that the fishery sub-sector has competitive and comparative advantage more than other agro sub-sectors, said all its proposals and efforts to get things right have always been frustrated by the ministry of agriculture.He said: “We have been doing our best to support the agric ministry, but we are worried that all our efforts have been abortive. Because the fishery sub-sector is not safe, we want government to pass the Fisheries Laws and Regulations. It was drafted sometime ago, but was just kept by the last administration without any attention since 2014. We drew the attention of the current minister, Ogbeh to it but the law is still in their archive, and practitioners are not safe.

“Government needs to assist us on the issue of feeds. 60 per cent of farmers have retired prematurely because of high cost of feeds, we applied for waiver sometime ago but it was not granted, we need them to do it now for the sub-sector to thrive.”

Continuing, he said: “government needs to address the issue of data urgently. We are in the computer age, any data released by the agric ministry on fish production is just an assumption, they just sit in their offices and just cook figures because there is no data. To succeed, government should focus on data generation in the next four years.“Government should also establish fisheries commission to address challenges affecting the industry. If that is done, it can solve problems facing the industry, but because of lack of will power it has not been done, we want government to look into this.”

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