By Leke Adeseri
Nigeria is receiving more positive global attention. Beginning from the immediate past regime, one sector stood out in global reckoning about Nigeria: that is agriculture. In the June 20, 2015 edition of the Economist magazine, an article on Nigeria was titled ‘After Oil’. The article stated amongst other things that falling oil prices have left a deep hole in the government’s finances, but the economy is beginning to diversify.
Furthermore, the magazine argues that investment in agriculture carries more promise compared to other sectors. It is no news that Nigeria’s agriculture is on the rise and the average Nigerian sees the sector as one that is working and a bright spot of former President Jonathan’s government.
Even the prestigious Economist in the aforementioned article recognized that ‘although the Naira has fallen sharply against the dollar, food inflation has not speeded up as it usually does when the currency weakens because Nigeria has vastly expanded its own food production over the past few years.’
To further quote the Economist ‘to be fair to Mr Jonathan’s government, his agriculture minister, Akinwumi Adesina, one of the few stars in a generally lacklustre cabinet… pulled the government out of the corruption-ridden business of distributing fertilizer and seeds to poor farmers, introducing smart cards and electronic vouchers distributed through mobile phones.
Almost overnight he (Dr Adesina) eliminated a major source of corruption and created booming private markets that attracted investment by big agricultural suppliers’. There is no gainsaying that Nigerian agriculture found a champion in Dr Adesina, who has moved on to become President of the African Development Bank, whose legacy has to be sustained.
Under Dr Adesina’s watch, national food production grew by 21million MT between 2011 and 2014. As a consequence, there was a sharp reduction in food imports. According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s food import bill fell from an all-time high of N3.19 trillion in 2011 to N635billion in 2013; a 403% reduction. Direct farm jobs rose by 3.56 million in the period 2012 to 2014 due to interventions in Agriculture.
For the first time in the country’s history, a farmer database of over 14.5million farmers was amassed and used to efficient deliver inputs and services to farmers. Total number of verifiable farmers – complete with address, phone number, crop grown, etc, that redeemed farm inputs from 2012-2014 was 14.3million farmers.
The north-western region of the country accounted for the highest redemption, 30% of the total, followed by the north-east (22%), north central (17%), south-south (12%), south-west (11%), and south east (9%). The efficient delivery of inputs to farmers combined with other interventions in commodity value chains has led to a sharp growth in productivity, primary production, processing capacity, and net value going to farmers.
An estimated additional N778billion has gone to rural farmers as a result of increased productivity from the use of improved seeds and fertilizer. Seed companies have grown in number from 11 in 2010 to 134 to 2014, while $5billion new investment has gone into the fertilizer sector. The seed and fertilizer sector leveraged loans worth N40billion from banks in 2014 alone who now see the agricultural sector as an area of worthy investment.
With the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), the country’s agriculture began an unmistakable path to greatness that has to be sustained at all costs. Input distribution under ATA rose from 1.5million farmers in 2012 to nearly 7 million farmers in 2014 and reached 14.5million farmers in three years; Nigeria can easily reach another 32 million farming households by 2019, at a rate of 8 million farming household per year.
Besides, the input delivery programme, the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme, is transitioning from cell phones to smart card technology (Near Field Technology) that enables farmers combine access to inputs with bank cards and linkage – for financial inclusion and delivery of inputs, micro credit and loans to farmers, and identity management.
Farm inputs, credit, and markets will greatly expand food and nutrition security of Nigerian farming households with the concomitant effect on improved livelihoods of farmers nationwide. But perhaps the most spectacular story of ATA that needs to continue has been in the production of seeds of improved varieties; seeds of high yielding varieties that have been described as the engine of modern agriculture.
Nigeria, a country with a farmer population exceeding 50 million farmers, produced and sold a pittance 14,788MT of seeds in 2011. By 2014, this had risen to 170,692MT, a 1,054% increase, emanating from 134 seed companies, including the returniing two largest seed companies in the world, Monsanto and Syngenta.
ATA has set commodity value added chains of key staples in Nigeria on a path toward recovering our enviable position of the 1960s. To take a few examples: the NBS had it that rice paddy (raw material for milled rice) production was 5.3millionMT in 2011, rising to 7 million MT in 2014 and poised to rise to 12 million by 2019 if ATA continues.
Besides, rice mills are expected to add another 2 million MT of milling capacity by 2017 and end rice importation. It is shameful for a country like Nigeria to import rice. Wheat production was 80,000MT in 2011 before ATA but peaked at close to 235,000 in 2014.
If ATA continues, the target is for Nigeria to produce 600,000MT of wheat grain by 2019, drastically reducing our wheat imports and bringing back life to the violence and poverty-ravaged wheat producing areas of Borno State and north-eastern Nigeria. Same also applies to cash crops: before ATA, Nigeria produced a mere 125,000MT of cotton lint.
By 2014, production had risen to 240,000MT and set to rise to 500,000MT by 2019 should ATA be sustained. The story is the same with cocoa, oil palm, soybean, maize, and many other crops. In concluding, continuing Dr Adesina’s reforms is good for the current administration headed by President Buhari. It will help him deliver quick wins to Nigerians with respect to food security, employment, and diversification of the economy away from oil.
Furthermore, if he appoints somebody who is conversant with the ATA programme and who has confidence and respect of the private sector investors, banks, donors, and the farmers, the country will seamlessly continue the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme in the 2015 wet season by July 2015 – ensuring that farmers get enough seeds and fertilizer to maintain the same acreage planted last year and ensure enough food production to continue to buffer the decline of the naira.
The programme to buy and install rice and cassava mills, set up storage and aggregation centers, and establish the badly needed market corporations will also continue. Dr Adesina will in addition support from AfDB as President. Given ADB’s role as Africa’s foremost development Bank, Dr Adesina will be a strong advocate with other donors to support Nigeria’s agricultural sector.
Nigeria’s Agricultural Sector can easily become the largest recipient of development investment on the continent and continue its march to regain its former position as a global power house of Agriculture. The ball is in President Buhari’s court to sustain the legacy and leadership of Dr Adesina in Nigeria’s agricultural sector and take Nigerian agriculture to even greater heights