BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Editor
A former Chairman of Agriculture, Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, Prince Wale Oyekoya, in this interview, says Nigeria has viable policies that could uplift the agriculture sector in next four years but insisted that proper monitoring of the implementation is required to achieve results. Among other issues, he argues that an end to mismanagement of intervention funds would largely determine the level of success to be recorded.
Nigeria faces imminent food security crisis as a result of widespread insecurity across the states. What should the incoming Minister of Agriculture do in this respect?
Nigeria has been facing food crisis since the time we abandoned agriculture for oil. It is no more imminent but the reality on the ground since staple food like rice, palm oil, beans, and poultry products among others are out of the reach of the common man. What Nigerians are expecting is that the incoming Minister of Agriculture should be a technocrat who is knowledgeable enough to declare a state of emergency in the sector. He should call a meeting of stakeholders in agriculture and work out modalities on how to move the sector forward. Herdsmen and farmers crisis should be addressed immediately.
Do you think the various support schemes provided for farmers by the government in the last four years, have taken the sector further and how best can farmers be assisted for better results?
All the supports the government have been rolling out purportedly to help farmers have been good initiatives but have not really helped the sector because there was no proper monitoring and some are being supervised by the wrong hands. Over N750 billion has been allegedly disbursed to help farmers in the last four years but the effect is yet to manifest in the sector means that the funds have not been well utilised. Corruption and inefficiency are major challenges in the sector. Some of these funds could have been used for mechanization of the sector to improve productions and value chain.
In the first term of President Muhammadu Buhari, the government claimed to have attained food sufficiency, especially in rice production, yet Nigerians still depend on imported rice. What is the true situation?
President Buhari in his first term had good intention for the sector but was later frustrated by poor implementation and corruption. His Minister of Agriculture did not perform like his predecessor, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina. The prices of food items went over the roof during Audu Ogbe’s tenure. Rice production increased but not to the level of self-sufficiency as reported in the media. Importation of this commodity and other items into the country in the face of claims of self-sufficiency shows that something is wrong. The price of rice as of today is on the high side and out of the reach of the common man. Spending trillions of naira in the last four years to import food into the country contradicted the federal government’s claims that Nigeria has attained food sufficiency.
Can you do a critique of the Anchor Borrowers Programme, Presidential Fertilizer Initiative, and the much-publicised Food Security Council with a view to set agenda for the next four years?
The Anchor Borrowers Programme and Presidential Fertilizer initiatives are not as successful as they should be. A lot of farmers were frustrated out of the scheme. Real farmers have not benefited from the scheme. In the next four years, farmers will expect the managers of all these schemes to look for real farmers to help. These laudable schemes can improve food production. The bottleneck associated with access to these funds should be addressed, especially in the interest of rural farmers.
How can the 12 River Basin Development Authorities, RBDAs, be revived for the effective use of their facilities for commercial farming?
The 12 River Basin Development Authorities, RBDAs, are not fully utilised and needs to be operated by private sectors. They should be leased to commercial farmers or foreign investors, who would use them for irrigation during the dry season.
In every dispensation, governments in Nigeria introduce new agricultural policies to replace the ones they met on the ground. One of such schemes is the Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016-2020 document, also known as “The Green Alternative.” In spite of the fact that it is another case of policy somersault, how the policy can uplift the sector?
Every new government wants to roll out its own programmes but it is not helping the sector. They don’t realise that they spend money and time to change previous policies instead of improving on what’s on the ground. From Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, to the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, we have experienced policy somersaults. The situation has not really been helpful to the sector. The opposite is what we have because food prices have been on the increase instead of decrease. The Green Alternatives under Buhari will not make any impact by curbing the food crisis in the country with the insecurity in the country. Another reason policy somersault has always been our problem since independence, is that every successive government want to outdo previous governments.
The federal government needs to empower state governments to develop its agriculture sector so as to generate revenue. States like Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Osun, with their strategic positions, can feed the Southwest region. It can only be achieved if the state executives are focused on. Funding ought not to have been an issue to farmers but the way funds are being been questionable. They should stop regarding intervention funds for agriculture as free money. The government should buy back from farmers by setting up farmers industrial hubs in all the senatorial districts. Cottage industries should also be established in the senatorial districts to create wealth and employment for our teeming youths. If we do these, marketing, warehousing, and exporting would spring up.
Where can Nigeria be in the next four years if the situation is right?
Our agriculture sector could be robust if the three tiers of government do the right thing with the right policies. They should stop paying lips service to agriculture. The government should introduce people-oriented policies and not policies for their cronies, who are importers of food items. In the next four years, millions of our youths could be employed, wealth could be created among the agro-allied industrialists, our GDP will quadruple and there could be an increase in our foreign reserves. Money generated from agriculture can improve our infrastructure.
Do you think certain strategies should be adopted to achieve all you have enumerated?
The strategies are very simple and interwoven. Getting the right people to monitor the affairs of the ministry, and field officers are very fundamental. These people should visit farms and not just sit down in their offices. Adequate budgeting of at least 10% of our GDP in accordance to the Maputo Agreement which Nigeria is one of the signatories is important. There should be an increase in capital expenditure instead of spending too much money on recurrent expenditure. Grants should be given to the real farmers and not with the prevailing higher interest rates of 26 and 30 per cent. Sincere intervention by the government should be put in place. Land Use act of 1978 should be revisited to give adequate lands to the farmers. Another strategy is the mechanization of our agriculture sector from the planting level to the table. Through mechanization, we can improve our products and create more employment for our youths. Adding value to our farm produce would reduce post-harvest loss and generate more money for farmers. Our export needs to be improved. Our regulatory bodies should be retrained on how to meet up with an international standard to prevent our products from being rejected after leaving our shores.