By Jimoh Babatunde

THE National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) has told the Federal Government to ensure that small-scale farmers benefited from the N300 billion, earmarked for agriculture under the Agricultural Transformation Action Plan (ATAP).

The association’s appeal was contained in a letter to the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, and signed by its president, Mr Ken Ukaoha, a copy of which was made available to the media.

NANTS stressed the need to make sure that only genuine farmers and not those it described as “portfolio farmers’’ without farmlands benefited from the fund.

It said the portfolio farmers were “agricultural contractors without farmlands’’ and had for long sabotaged agriculture schemes in the country.

“We, therefore, call on government to carry out careful investigations on the beneficiaries of previous schemes so as to ensure that real farmers benefit from the programme,’’ it said.

It urged the government’s Economic Management Team (EMT) to formulate the content of the ATAP, using multi-stakeholders approach as well as release the frame for the programme.

NANTS said that this would enable stakeholders, especially the private sector to prepare actions and programmes that would complement government in kick-starting the overall economy.

It noted that apart from the 3.5 million jobs expected to be created by ATAP within four years of implementation, it had the potential of becoming the most successful of all existing government initiatives aimed at combating unemployment and hunger.

The association commended the economic team’s vision for crops like rice, cassava, sorghum, cocoa and cotton it selected for intervention by the action plan, saying they had proven to have potential for wealth creation and revenue generation.

`NANTS wants to believe that with the advent of ATAP, Nigeria seems set to retrace it steps to job creation.

`As a trade and agriculture organisation, NANTS expects that the new programme will take agriculture as a serious business beyond what we see today as survival vocation,’’ it said.

It also called on government to look into the crisis in food processing, noting that the country spent as much as N1.8 trillion on importation of food recently, due to the dearth of the process industry for agriculture produce.

`We are convinced that more than 70 per cent of these imports are processed food which could have been carried out locally without requiring rocket science technology.

`We totally condemn the status of Nigeria remaining at the level of mere production without value addition, the same unfortunate condition that has trailed the nation even in the oil sector,’’ it said. NANTS, therefore, pledged its commitment to the success of the Agriculture Transformation Action Plan.

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