By MUSTAPHA ABDULLAHI
IT is an old story in Nigeria-the story of ‘political farmers’ who routinely hijacked every incentive or initiative introduced by the government for Nigerians in the agriculture sector. From fertilisers to soft loans; from the east to the west and the north to the south, the real farmers were always schemed out of projects or programmes meant to encourage agriculture activities. That was the order of the day for well over four decades until the Jonathan administration came on board; or so, the Federal Government says.
Without doubt, everybody is aware that something is happening in Nigeria’s agriculture sector. But what exactly is happening? If the Federal Government is to be believed, there are unprecedented changes taking place in the sector. However, it is expected that the government will blow its own trumpet; and, so to determine the true nature of things, one should look to objective third parties who have nothing to gain from the government.
For this reason, it is noteworthy that late last year, the well-regarded international magazine, Forbes, named Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Africa Person of the Year 2013. It was reported that Dr. Adesina defeated four other nominees from across the African continent to win the prestigious prize.
It is even more noteworthy that Dr. Adesina was nominated because of the many achievements in Nigeria’s agriculture sector, including encouraging more than six million farmers across the country to practise agriculture as a business, and not as a development initiative without any incentive for growth.
As a cabinet minister, who serves at the pleasure of President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Adesina has been at the forefront of implementing the president’s Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA). Among its many achievements, the ATA is responsible for upturning the sad and despicable practice where real farmers were deprived of agriculture inputs such as seeds and fertilisers year in, year out, for over 40 years.
Clearly, things are no longer what they used to be in the agriculture sector. The reasonable question for watchers of agriculture to ask is: who are those benefitting from the changes that are being carried out?
Lest the facts be lost to history or mischievous myopia, Nigerians should recall that the Jonathan administration took only 60 days to bring about a total revolution in Nigeria’s fertiliser distribution system. Before then, for well over four decades, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development procured and purportedly distributed fertilisers to farmers.
It is on record that under that system, only 11 percent of Nigerian farmers received fertilisers. The ‘political farmers’ got the greater bulk of the fertilisers, leaving the real farmers to wring their hands in despair. Today, fertilisers are sold straight to the farmers-not to any government ministry and not to middlemen.
As President Jonathan said in his New Year message to Nigerians, “We are witnessing a revolution in the agricultural sector and the results are evident. We have tackled corruption in the input distribution system as many farmers now obtain their fertilizers and seeds directly through an e-wallet system. In 2013, 4.2 million farmers received subsidised inputs via this programme. This scheme has restored dignity to our farmers.” Indeed, farmers not only have restored dignity, they also are winners in the agric revolution.
Due to the tendency of some people to belittle even major achievements of the Jonathan administration, it is pertinent to place the facts of the agriculture revolution on record. Moreover, this will allow Nigerians to judge the President on his performance and not the vituperations of those who never see anything good in relation to the government.
That Nigeria produced over 8 million metric tonnes of additional food, and inflation dropped to its lowest mark since 2008 are noteworthy facts. According to the data contained in the President’s New Year broadcast, “Our food import bill has also reduced from N1.1 trillion in 2011, to N648 billion in 2012, placing Nigeria firmly on the path to food self-sufficiency.”
Also worth placing on record is that in 2013, thousands of new jobs were created in the agriculture sector. Still speaking on agriculture, President Jonathan said, “Last year, we produced 1.1 million metric tonnes of dry season rice across 10 Northern states; and over 250,000 farmers and youths in these States are now profitably engaged in farming even during the dry season.”
An area that is closely related to the agriculture sector is water resources management. The Federal Government has made impressive strides in this direction. President Jonathan said, “In 2013, we completed the construction of nine dams which increased the volume of our water reservoirs by 422 million cubic metres. Through our irrigation and drainage programme, we have increased the total irrigated area by over 31,000 hectares creating jobs for over 75,000 farming families while increasing production of over 400,000 metric tons of assorted irrigated food products.”
Taking into cognisance the facts captured above, it bears repeating that Nigerian farmers across the country, irrespective of tribe or region, are indeed the real winners of Jonathan’s agriculture revolution.