Food production sector when the battle is won and lost

Sia KAMBOU / AFP

As the country will decide who becomes the president for the next four years between President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakir of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Saturday, the question farmers and every Nigerian should ask is what becomes of allocation of resources to the agricultural sector, food sufficiency and economic diversification through the sector?

Despite the claims of commitment to economic diversification of the country through the agricultural sector, budgetary allocations to the sector have been grossly inadequate, even in this administration.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers Limited, an economic and financial consulting firm, said in an analysis that the overall policy thrust of the 2019 Budget is to ensure economic diversification, inclusive growth and sustainable development.

The economic diversification plan of the current government revolves around agro-allied industries as spelt out in its Green Alternative policy,
Surprisingly, the government proposed the sum of N138 billion as the 2019 budget for the sector, representing 1.56 per cent of the national budget. This was against the content and spirit of the Maputo Declaration of 2003, which recommends a minimum 10 percent of the annual budget, and it is a move in the opposite direction of the diversification plan.

Buhari on agriculture
However, the Buhari-led government brandishes giving inputs and jobs to 1million farmers via the Anchor Borrowers scheme; creating 1.5 million jobs through livestock, beef, crop programmes; and creating 5 million jobs through mechanised agriculture.

The Anchor Borrowers scheme is a tripartite system of agricultural production involving the farmers, off-takers (processors) and financial institutions anchored by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). It revolves mainly around grain and rice paddy production, and over 60 percent of such disbursement was said to be in the North.

(Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The livestock production includes cattle breeding and poultry production, as these are the more organized animal production categories in the sector.

The Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), as voiced by its president, Mr Ibrahim Mam, has said the sector is stressed because the government has not been forthcoming in rendering assistance to the sector. Cost of feeds and other inputs are not effective, and smuggling is sustained because production at home is neither profitable nor competitive.

The cattle colony and ranch proposals are faced with unresolved legal, acceptability and rationality hurdles in the last four years, while the associated farmer-herder crises have negatively impacted on the quantity of domestically produced food as a result of displaced farming households and communities.

Commercial banks are reluctant to advance loans to farmers, and when they are convinced to do so, the interest rate applicable in the other more vibrant or short-term investments is used. Bank of Agriculture is grossly under-capitalised, and the restructuring or re-capitalisation efforts on the bank by the current government have not yielded visible results, making financing a very difficult task for real farmers.

Atiku on agriculture
Meanwhile, Atiku, who was a part of this administration but now a leading opposition candidate, has disclosed in his political programmes that strengthening the markets for agricultural commodities through the establishment of private sector-led commodities exchanges around the major crop production regions of Nigeria; encourage investment in agro-processing clusters by offering concessional financing, tax breaks and seed funds for upgrades or construction of access roads, embedded power plants and water/waste management systems and supporting women engaged in agricultural activities would be his priorities.

The terse agricultural manifestoes from the stable of Atiku, without the political willpower and budgetary commitments, would neither put food on the table of Nigerians nor facilitate the development of the agro-allied industries through which the economy could be grown and developed.

Transforming the cacophonies of manifestoes to the melodies of food increase, sufficiency, associated employment opportunities and industrial development is what differentiates the wheat from the chaff. Can Buhari do better than in his first term in office? If given the opportunity, can the Atuki-led government make a difference in agriculture and surpass the current government? Time will tell.

Whoever wins the presidential race in Nigeria definitely has a difficult task of growing and developing the economy, which invariably is diversifying through the various sectors, of which agriculture (which employs over 60 percent of the world population) is very important.

The voice of Nigerians
Professor Kolawole Adebayo, Regional Director of Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA), said, “I do not expect a drastic difference with either of them. None have shown any major pathway to influence food production so far in the campaign.

President of the Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN), Mr Rotimi Oloye, said production of food is basically the job of farmers.

“However, in Nigeria, we are highly endowed with whatever is needed except [inability to reduce] the cost of production and logistics to support the agricultural sector, where the government needs to play their vital roles which are absent in Nigeria,” Oloye said.

The government, he added, is supposed to play roles that would bear some of the cost either by subsidy and a buy-back programme whenever the buyers or industrial users of products are incapacitated by purchasing power and other factors.

He added that if the potential of youth engagement is to be achieved, the government should address the issues of market development through the value chain, storage and marketing.

An agribusiness consultant, Mr John-Bede Anthonio, was of the opinion that Buhari-led government had started a process of expanding the agricultural sector, saying, “Atiku will dismantle all this and start again. However, we have a challenge with the herdsmen and farmers.”

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar / AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

Mr Ayo Fatona, National Coordinator, Leadway Assurance, was of the view that under either of the candidates, food production would be a priority, “as both leaders understand the importance of guaranteeing the food security of the nation. Furthermore, over the years, attention to agriculture has featured prominently on the manifestos of both parties.”

He said both parties agreed that agriculture remains the most veritable tool to the diversification of the Nigerian economy, generation of employment for the Nigerian youths and increment in foreign exchange earnings.

“At various times during their regimes, both parties have initiated, conceptualised and deployed various programmes to promote agriculture. During the last PDP regime, it was the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), while in the current APC regime, it is mostly about the rice transformation agenda through the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) that has completely transformed the face of rice cultivation in the country,” he added.

In a nutshell, he concluded, both candidates fully understand the importance of food production and its economic significance to the country and would do everything to ensure it remains so to meet the expectations of the Nigerians and guarantee food security.

A former provost of the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure, Dr (Mrs) Mary Ogunkoya, said “the present regime kept telling or promising the electorate of an increase in food production, etc.  Have we really been enjoying the so-called increase? Well we hope the smarter of the two of them should please be proactive and stop being political   about our welfare. Food is very paramount.”

Meanwhile, a regional manager in one of the oldest banks, who demands anonymity, said agricultural policies in the past centred on promotion of self-sufficiency in food and raw materials for industries, improvement of the welfare of people and diversification of sources of Forex through increase in agricultural export.

“To give insight on how Nigeria will fare under Atiku’s regime, the ways to assess it is to run through his policy document.
“On page 16 of the document, the ‘Let’s get Nigeria Working Again’ document gives a general overview of its plan on agriculture and agribusiness. The document espouses the rhetoric of general framework. It is, however, difficult to deduce how specific the regime will tackle Nigeria myriad agricultural problems to address post-harvest losses and make our produce exportable.

“There are yet a lot of loose ends to be tightened if the government will guarantee self-sufficiency and ensures agricultural produce as the bedrock of industrialization,” he said.

The agro-finance expert also explained that while Atiku was the vice president from 1999-2007, a critical look at the government policy of that era could give insight into the mindset of the presidential candidate.

“The government launched the ‘National Food Security Programme’s anchored on national food security with strategic approach as well as action plans by identifying major stakeholders and assigning responsibility to them along the agricultural value chains.

“The policy introduced private sector participation with emphasis on commercial farming. A funding mechanism was designed with responsibilities of stakeholders clearly defined,” he added.

The other way to assess Atiku’s direction, the banker said, is to look at the PDP programme on agriculture, the latest being the past administration’s efforts on the Agricultural Transformation Agenda.

The thrust of the programme was to treat agriculture as a business and the highlights included moving from subsistence to commercial system using the Growth Enhancement Support (GES), improving investment framework for agriculture, strengthening market through corporations and introduction of NIRSAL to de-risk agriculture.

“With the aforementioned, it could be deduced that the PDP/Atiku agricultural policy will tend towards large scale farming with its attendant advantages and disadvantages. The Buhari agricultural policy thrust dwells more on primary production. The ABP was introduced to enhance the participation of small holder farmers who constitute about 80% of the farming population in a structured scheme,” he said.

When the presidential battle is won and lost, will the food production sector be at the receiving end or in an advantageous position?

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