AT midterm, things are looking up in the agricultural sector with a promise that Nigerians are secured, food wise, writes CHARLES KUMOLU.
FIRST, it was the flood which ravaged most parts of Nigeria in 2012, leaving in its trail fears of food crisis. Then came reports that the country was poised to face challenges following decades of wasteful spending on food importation and uncoordinated agricultural development policies.
For a nation with a fast growing population that outpaces food production, the situation was enough to unsettle the populace and concerned authorities.
Indeed, apprehension was the word then, even as relevant agencies allayed fears of a food crisis, with a promise of quick intervention.
“From our efforts this year alone, from maize, rice, cassava, sorghum, we have added a total of 8.1 million MT of food to our domestic food supply. That is 70 percent higher than the target of five million MT we set for 2013; and 41 percent of the total target that we set for 2015,’’ Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said last year in Minna.
Despite this, doubts still trail the country’s current efforts at providing food for all, through the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, ATA.
Not even the assurance that ATA would raise food production and secure supply, could convince critics, who argued that the latest attempt might go the way of previous policies that were unproductive.
Agricultural Transformation Agenda
‘’Agricultural Transformation Agenda as far as I am concerned is not new from the past failed policies introduced to make us believe they had something good for the sector. You don’t revive a long neglected sector without addressing the rudiments,’’ Managing Director, Ugbonta Foods and Farms, Dr. Fabian Oligbo told Vanguard Features, VF.
Nonetheless, findings into the activities of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development since May 29, 2011, showed the existence of policies aimed at developing the sector through private sector growth strategy in order to diversify the economy.
In achieving this, the Federal Government, FG, is reportedly focusing on food security, reduction of expenditure on food imports, generation of foreign exchange, job creation, among others.
Thus, to avoid repeating past mistakes, the FG decided to treat ATA as a business venture rather than a development programme.
For instance, the recent injection of over N60bn (US$ 380 million) into the economy through the substitution of 20% of bread wheat flour with cassava flour, has generally been described as a pointer to the government’s efforts in the sector.
Similarly, the plans to distribute mobile phones to 10 million to farmers within the period under review, was also gathered to be in line with the ATA. But that has been criticized by the potential beneficiaries who described it as a misplaced priority. Rather than provide them with phones, they say access to funds is what is needed.
Another move which many have agreed would relaunch the country into the committee of agriculturally-developed nations, is the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with small scale farmers associations in 2012 on oil palm plantation to ensure increase in Nigeria’s oil palm production.
Stoppage of rice importation
The aim of this, checks indicated, is to support the production of about 240000 hectares of oil palm in the next three years by small local farmers.
It is believed that this would provide a balance that would assuage the hunger of the rich and find respite for the affluent.
Restating government’s determination at ensuring food security recently in Kebbi State, Dr. Adesina said the Federal Government found it imperative to primarily target food security, reduce expenditure of foreign exchange on food imports, diversify the economy, generate foreign exchange and create jobs.
“Mr President approved the Agricultural Transformation Agenda. The goal of that agenda is to add 20 million metric tonnes of food to our domestic food supply by 2015. We have picked rice and by the grace of God, we will be self-sufficient in rice by 2015. To drive that, the Federal Government is working very closely with the state governments,” he stated.
Investigations, however, indicated that the collaboration with state governments to actualise the stoppage of rice importation is being implemented particularly by Niger State.
The State has reportedly acquired over 100,000 hectares of land, engaged over 50,000 rice farmers across the 25 local government areas aimed at achieving not only rice-sufficiency for local consumption, but to to feed the sub-region.
The State would also access substantial part of the additional N200 billion Federal Government agriculture enhancement loans for farmers across the nation.
Commenting further on efforts at boosting rice production, Adesina said the three-pronged approach to addressing the defect in rice production include increased yield through land and fertiliser supplies, milling and incentives for exportation.
‘’When I say we, it is not government. Government will get funds at a very low interest rate, guarantee moratorium of 10 years repayment. We are working closely with all the states’ government across all political lines so that we will have all these mills. We are facilitating rice mills and we are also facilitating low interest financing to acquire large scale integrated cassava processing plant. We want everybody to see that there is more than enough of rice in the country,’’ he added.
He further said, at the moment, Nigeria spends N1bn yearly on rice importation from India and Thailand. Nigeria is the largest rice importer on the African continent, with imports amounting to over 2.5 million tons in 2011-12.
Further checks showed that though imports are growing at an unsustainable rate of 11% per annum, the current administration has increased the import tariff for rice by about nine per cent in the second quarter of 2012. This, experts argued, would be a boost to the nation’s quest to increase local production.
Corroborating this during the Good Governance Tour in Ebonyi State in January 2013, Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, said: ‘’If 157 million people can patronize milled Nigeria rice, we are going to create millions of jobs. That is the programme the President is doing at the moment. In the last one and a half years, we have created over two million jobs. In Kano, we are doing tomato canning.”
Blueprint on agriculture
Nonetheless, findings showed that the latest efforts at resuscitating the sector, is in line with the government’s official blueprint on agriculture.
It is envisaged that the agricultural transformation agenda will add 20 million metric tons to domestic food supply by 2015, 2 million metric tonnes of rice, 17 million metric tonnes of cassava and 1 million metric tonnes of Sorghum.
Policies with good
intentions: Notwithstanding, a member of All Farmers Association in Kogi State, Chief Enenche Obekpa, acknowledged that the FG’s latest approach to the sector appears promising, but was worried that implementation might constitute a challenge.
Obekpa told VF that: ‘’We will not disagree that policies are not being formulated. There are policies with good intentions, but will they be implemented? We have been on this road before, that is why we are not carried away.’’
However, within the period under review, the International Fund for Agricultural Development ,IFAD, said it had committed about $88.5 million intio the ATA so far.
Also, the International Food Policy Research Institute said the value of agriculture in Nigeria is projected to grow to 256 billion dollars by 2030.