Prince Wale Oyekoya, the Chairman, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI)’s agriculture sector and also the MD/CEO of Bama farms. The farm is an integrated farms of poultry , piggery, fishery , and oil palms .
In this chat with JIMOH BABATUNDE, he argues that the country’s environment is not conducive for agriculture to grow and concluding that much of the talk about growth in the sector is more of rhetoric than reality. Here is an excerpt.
On Nigerian youth taking into agriculture
If agriculture is done as a business, I see the Nigerian youths coming in but right now, the way the environment is , I don’t see them coming in.Number one,the agriculture sector in the country has been more of media thing for so long. There are lots of laudable policies that have not been implemented or budgeted for .
The youth of today are of jet age and you don’t expect them to go to the farm with cutlass and hoes , they need mechanized farming and once this is in place most of these youths will take agriculture as fun and will come into it.
The way agriculture is practise now will deter many of them, even the way it is carried out now those into it are crying as the environment is not conducive
Name them,the infrastructure is not there, talk about funds, it is not there. So there are many things wrong with the sector today.
Asked about the transformation agenda in all this
The transformation agenda launched about two years ago by the President has not been encouraging. For two years this agenda has not picked up as the Agricultural transformation Agenda has not been funded.
Take the budget for agriculture for example. The budget for 2013 is even better than that of this year. At least in 2013 they were able to budget about N 85b for the sector, but this year is even bad for them to be allocating 1.52% which is about N73b to the sector. It is decreasing as against what the African Union 10% budget allocation recommendation.
So, if you budget about 1.52% to agriculture that shows they are not serious. You need to know that out of the N73b some will go for recurrent expenditure and when when you talk of capital expenditure , in this budget it is about 27%.With this budget allocation, there might be food shortage in the country this year.
On his position as contradicting government position on agric growth
To me, agriculture growth is more of propaganda and publicity stunt and you don’t handle agriculture in the media, it is a reality . you can confirm what i am saying. Go to the markets, anywhere you go, you can see that the foodstuffs prices are going up.
If we have enough food , if farmers are producing definitely the prices should be going down, but that is not the case here.
Like i said, the agriculture transformation agenda is a laudable project that has not been well funded, i just gave an example of the budget for the sector and you are saying the transformation agenda is working.
How do you expect it to work when the minister is already limited by the budget. You need to fund the sector efficiently as you have set the minds of Nigerians to it.
Government has been deceiving the people for so long and i am closer to the farmers than those in Abuja. Take for example the N14b given to farmers for dry season farming. Is it only in the north that you have draught ? yes, we have dry season in the south also. why are they not extending such to the south .
How much is N14b we are talking about here ? By the time they break this amount down , some of the money will go to recurrent expenditure, and at the end they will give a token to the farmers, because there is no transparency in what they are doing.
If you ask the ministry to give you the break down of how the money will be spent, trust me there will no response. So, we still have a lot to do if we want to move agriculture forward. And with the way things are going, we are inviting famine and once there is famine , lot of people will go hungry.
We need to do something beyond the present propaganda we are engaged in.
On what we should be doing now
I think what we should be doing is that we have to be involved directly, to be pro-active and make sure that all these funds that are being released, we need to follow up to know how they are spent.
We have tried getting across to the chairmen on agriculture committees of the national assembly, but has not been able , but ours is advocacy and we will need the media too in this regards.
The same thing in the states, but Lagos state has done better this time around by increasing their budgetary allocation to agriculture this year. The state assembly did well and we expect the national assembly to tow same line for Nigeria to meet 10% allocation to agriculture.
Even the Niger Delta Ministry has more money allocated to it than agriculture in this year’s budget of Nigeria. And with the growing population of the country, i think our government needs to be serious.
I have always been saying it that about 85% of the food we eat in this country is imported and if the agriculture transformation agenda is working there is no reason we have to import this much.
Go to most of these big supermarkets, 90% of the food they sell are imported. Ordinary fruit or vegetable that could be cultivated in Nigeria are all imported and we say we have a government and we allow this people to turn Nigeria into dumping ground.
As a farmer, you cant go to the bank to access loan with low interest for your farms, the NIRSAL they are talking about is not there. If you try to access it, you will be discouraged by the bureaucracy . How are you going to give a farmer 26% loan, how is he going to start or manage it?
We have a lot to do at the states and federal level as there is need for a good synergy between the federal and states governments, as the local governments today are crippled.
The farmers are closer to the local governments than the states and the federal, but the local governments have not been forthcoming. So, a lot needs to be done if we want to get out of the food scarcity in Nigeria.
On cash crops like cocoa, palm oil and others
Well with the way it is now, i believe that there should be some subsidy to the agric sector the way they are giving to the oil sector. Like all the economy crops you are talking about , like the cocoa, rubber, oil palm they are not giving out the seedlings free.
I can remember those I planted in my oil palm plantation, we went to NIFOR in Benin to buy at the rate of N250, but in Malaysia or Brazil they give out these things to farmers free as a form of subsidy. They don’t give cash but the seedlings as there is nothing they will do with it but to plant.
But if you keep on selling, not all farmers can afford it. If you really want us to go into large scale farming like mechanized farming you need to pick some farmers in each state , maybe two or so, give them vast land, tractors,and funds then you will see the transformation.
In the 60s , Nigeria was a proud exporter of oil palm, cocoa and ground nuts, but that is not the case again. Look at Malaysia that is alleged to have picked there seedlings here are the best exporter of oil palm in the world.
On farmer’s cost of living
It is very hard to make money in farming, I am a farmer and know many farmers. Most farms are folding up in the sense that they are not breaking even with all the stringent conditions that I talked about like not having access to loan, the government not giving you title to your land, you are not getting grants that you are supposed to get , even when the grants come they don’t get to the real farmers.