Agricultural transformation agenda: A case for agri-hubs

on   /   in Viewpoint 12:19 am   /   Comments

THE current government is making very concerted efforts to transform the Nigerian agricultural sector in a bid to make the nation self-sufficient in food production, as well as to earn foreign exchange from the exportation of agricultural products.

This, indeed, is a very commendable policy approach given the vast arable land, great agricultural potentials and abundant manpower the country is blessed with. Agriculture hitherto used to be a major contributor to the nation’s GDP, and a foreign-exchange earner, but the situation was reversed suddenly with the discovery of crude oil within the shores of Nigeria in the late fifties.

The consequence was that Nigeria became a net importer of food commodities that could have been produced locally. Any nation that is not able to produce enough food to feed her population may, in real sense, be courting calamity.

The Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda anchored by the Ministry of Agriculture is indeed an acknowledgment of this fact. However, to make the nation self-sufficient in food production will be no easy task given the fact that the nature of most of our agricultural activities are still at the subsistence level.

The need would be on how to move from subsistence production to commercial production… How to improve the value chain, reduce wastage, increase productivity, and how to attract the necessary investments and entrepreneurial skills to the sector. The key will be to approach farming as a business that is viable and profitable beyond subsistence.

Agriculture is believed by many to hold great economic potentials for the nation but the right approach and the correct road map to this destination has remained difficult to fully conceptualise in policy terms. Successive governments have tried different approaches: incentives for farmers, inputs distribution, favourable land tenure system, strategic grain reserves etc. but with limited success.

In line with the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda, the AGRI-HUBS approach is being proposed for consideration by the Ministry of Agriculture.

This is a brain-child of a UK based consultancy company, A Plus Resources Ltd and Initiative or Diaspora Knowledge Transfer, IDKT, an Abuja-based development think-tank and policy advocacy organisation.

The premise of the concept is that public sector participation rather than sympathy is what is needed to set off a booming agricultural sector in Nigeria. The Agri-hubs concept presents the agricultural industry as a purely business process capable of attracting profit-oriented investments on its merit.

How it works is thus: The Agri-hubs will be independent institutions that will create meeting points for all major players and stakeholders within the agricultural sector while setting up structures to address the following areas of operations:  (a) farming services and farmers organisations; (b) sustainable production and food security; (c) access to finance and market information (d) policy engagement and gender in agriculture.

The Agri-hubs will be an aggregation of capital, skills and services in the form of growth corridors and agricultural clusters which address both the distance factor and the scarcity of skills and services in a mixed commercial/medium-scale model of production.

The ‘core’ of such a hub would be commercial agricultural production and agro-processing (value addition and agribusiness entrepreneurial capability) that could yield financial returns to ‘pull’ private sector investments. If people eat food and use agricultural bye-products every day, then investing in the sector will by no means be a waste of time.

The seemingly inadequate investments in the sector could be attributed to lack of attraction for investors. The Agri-hubs job will be to create such interests by organising relevant stake-holder meetings and workshops, providing information on access to supports, incentives, and finance to young farmers/entrepreneurs, creating extensive linkages between all players in the industry and giving feedback to government and research institutions.

Nigeria needs a roadmap to sustainable food production and security. Farming and agri-businesses must be made attractive for young entrepreneurs; investors must be interested in investing in the sector; creditors and lenders must be ready to lend to agricultural ventures; inputs suppliers and retailers within the industry must be ready to work according to global best practices.

Nigerian agricultural products must meet international standards in order to harness the export potentials there-in.  To achieve all these, a well-coordinated platform/ programme must be in place brought about by a well thought-through concept – and that is the Agri-hubs.

This will be a central ‘marketplace’ where organisations, professionals, resources and knowledge come together to create an attractive space for stakeholders to meet, exchange information and connections, and find the answers to specific questions. This will be achieved through innovation, learning, mentoring, coaching, coordination and harmonisation of existing efforts.

The Agri-hubs will be operating at different levels: federal, regional or state, as the case may be. It will be convened by NGOs with support from relevant agencies in order to put the agricultural sector in a more positive perspective, raise communiques, short term and long term goals and the roles of every player within the agricultural sector.

BEN NKEMACHOR & JUDE  NNADOZIE wrote from  the UK.

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