By Babajide Komolafe
If you are a sceptic about what agriculture can do to Nigeria, what Nigerians are doing in agriculture or what governments in Nigeria are doing about agriculture, you will no doubt leave the 19th Nigeria Economic Summit convinced, that very soon the country may regain its eminent place among the top players in the global agriculture business.
This edition of the summit, yearly organised by the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) and the Ministry of National Planning, was a trial. It was the first time it would focus on one sector of the Economy-Agriculture, and hence the theme, “Growing Agriculture as a Business to Diversify Nigeria’s Economy.” The trial paid off.
Though a summit, it was at some point a confrontation, a confession, a revelation, a realisation and an encouragement to the farmers, bankers, business executive and most importantly government officials that attended the summit. But to the organisers, it must have been a triumph.
If you want to know what Nigerians are doing in Agriculture, the testimony of people like Frances Okpani of Otua Brown Rice, who motivated 15 villages to return to brown rice farming, will convince you. But the story of Mosun Umoru, of Abira Agribusiness Support initiatives, and 24 years old Adenuga Adeniyi will not only convince you, they will move you. Immediately after their university education, they went into agriculture.
Mosun took to cassava farming, Adeniyi took to Fish farming. And they are making it big. How can the nation attract young graduates like them into farming was the focus of the session on “Nurturing the successor generation of Nigerian farmers and agricultural enterprise.
According to the six participants, the nation should celebrate successful people in agriculture; project agriculture positively to young people as a money making venture; create well designed micro insurance, and micro credit targeted at young farmers; as well as create centers to provide information and assistance to youths interested in farming.
But don’t be carried away. There are challenges and when you listen to Mrs Irawoye of Saltry Farms, Paul Gbedebo of Flour Mills, Calvin Burgess of Dominion Farms, and Deji Akinyanju of Food Concepts, you will realise that going into agriculture business in Nigeria is like going to war. While the testimonies of Mrs Irawoye and that of Paul Gbedebo of Flour Mills reveal the well known challenges of infrastructure, that of Calvin Burgess of Dominion Farms, and Deji Akinyanju of Food Concepts reveal much more.
According to Calvin, if you want to do agriculture business in Nigeria, you must be ready to fight corruption. He narrated how civil servants demanded for bribe, and tried to frustrate access to incentives granted to his company by the federal government.
According to him, you can do business in Nigeria without paying bribe but you must be ready to experience delay. According to Akinyanju, you must, for example, be ready to wait for nine months just to clear your goods at the ports. “There are great and lots of opportunities for agriculture business in Nigeria. But I tell you the truth it is the most difficult project I have ever done”, summarised Calvin.
To survive and thrive as a business in Nigeria, agriculture and farmers need incentives, and lots of them. This was commonly agreed and vigorously canvassed by various speakers at the summit. For example, Dr. Donal Keberuka, President, of Africa Development Bank (ADB), and Jacques Diof, former Director-General of food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) argued that African countries need to support their famers with incentives the same way developed countries support their farmers. “Developed countries provide $1 billion incentive per day to their farmers. It is by supporting agric that we can make it competitive on the world stage”, Diouf argued.
Keberuka on his part averred, “I am a firm believer in free markets but when it comes to agriculture, as long as we have an exit structure, it is a correct thing to provide state support to farmers; provided it is targeted, it is transitory, it has an exit plan. And that includes having institutions that are well run, not politically run, but well run to support the farmers. And if that is done, institutions like African Development Bank will rally behind it.”
But Governor Aregbesola of Osun state made the strongest case for state support and incentives. He said, “If Nigeria must graduate to the level of producing enough food for our citizens, then there must be intervention in the area of credit and deepening the market. And a sure way to do this is credit without interest, guarantee them minimum price for commodities. If those two things are there, of course, we will not even beg anybody; every Nigerian will be a farmer.”
Reinforcing Aregbesola’s position, Governor Dankingari of Kebbi cited the example of the supply harvest of onions and rice in the state. He said, “On onions, we had so much that there was even problem of market. There was so much onions that I have to visit the office of the Minister of Agriculture, not once, not twice, so that we can have guaranteed minimum price for onions.