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Govt not engaging farmers enough to develop agric, leaders say as they chart solutions

If the views expressed by some leaders of farmers’ associations in Nigeria are anything to go by, there is a dearth of engagement between stakeholders in the sector and policy makers at the government level, creating in many cases, mismatch in policies and actual needs of the sector.

Some of these stakeholders during a webinar by the Guild of Nigerian Agriculture Journalists (GNAJ), not only spoke about challenges in the agric sector, but they also proffered solutions. Excerpts:

Kabiru Ibrahim, President All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN)

Agriculture is a private business matter and it should be so in Nigeria. Government is only to provide enabling environment for it to thrive. An investment that I am calling for is for Nigeria to commit something substantial to agriculture. The country cannot say we have foreign reserves of  about $30 billion and we’re doing other things. You should bring $10 billion out of it and put into agriculture. Let it be one off and all the crosscutting issues in agricultural production take precedence over every other thing.

Nigeria must also be able to solve the problem of power, likewise solve the problem of storage. Someone has alluded that our problem is distribution; there may be food that cannot be distributed so our transport system has to be looked into. All these issues are important because we may not be able to process anything if there is no power supply.

You cannot have agricultural produce in its raw form and make money. You must add value to it. For the business of Agriculture to be attractive, we must do value addition so that we get more value from what we produce and not end up toiling hard with little to show for it.

Read also: Transportation issues and the risk for smallholder farmers

Also, we cannot ignore the importance of the association, because, unless people are brought together and they are sufficiently incentivised, they may not be able to keep going back to the crop that they have produced and did not give the Maximum Impact desired. It is important to provide incentives and off take what farmers produce. There was a time we had the guaranteed minimum price (GMP) so that if we have a downturn the government or whoever intervenes to buy from the farmers purchases from them and they would go back to the farm. If the prices Skyrocket the government will now release from the grains reserve. That is how it is done, even in the United States where they sometimes have 6 million metric tons of food in their silos.  In Nigeria, these things are not there, but they can be there.

This government is by every means trying, but some of the drivers of agriculture in this country need reorientation. They need to understand that it is very critical for the stakeholders to be carried along. Engagement between policymakers and farmers should be more, we should talk to each other and know exactly what the problems are to be able to solve them.

 

Bello Abubakar Funtua, president, Maize Association of Nigeria

Maize as a strategic grain in Nigeria has to be well recognized. As noted by president of the Wheat association, it is also a crop that should be recognised, not only rice, because food security is not something that should be political. Rather, it has to do with the life of all our people. It is something that has to be given a very serious attention, therefore I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the government in general that whenever it comes to dealing with food production in Nigeria, there is a need to invite all the major stakeholders.

We the leaders of the commodity associations are the drivers and must be carried along, likewise our farmers. There is a need for the government in times like this, to invite all the stakeholders to a round table so that we collectively address all the challenges and find a unanimous solution for all the farmers in Nigeria.

I want to also use this opportunity to call on the Federal Government that whatever our farmers are producing ought to be bought directly from them through our commodity associations. Take the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme for instance, where our farmers are given loans to produce. Since the Federal Government usually buys grains through the strategic grains reserve, it is better to channel this procurement directly through the Commodity Associations to the farmers. This way, government’s money will remain in the government’s coffers. It will be like a revolving loan. A farmer gets a loan, produces then the FG buys what has been produced. This will also help farmers to produce more and they will be more comfortable knowing that they have the market that they can sell their produce at a reasonable price.

Nafiu Abdu, president, Soybean Farmers Association of Nigeria (SOFAN)

Nigeria must be self-sufficient by growing what it eats, and eating what it grows. All over the world, a number of countries have put temporary bans on exportation of crops so that their people will not go hungry. If Nigeria were still dependent on rice importation for instance, the situation would have been bad. Also, the government must be very proactive by making sure that our Farmers provide raw material for our Industries. The federal government must also encourage our SMEs and also the large Industries so that they add value to whatever our farmers produce.

It is very unfortunate that soybean produced in Nigeria is exported raw to the US, where it is converted to something new through value addition. They bring it back and sell it to us at an exorbitant price. That has to stop. The federal government must empower industries and there must be industrial clusters that off take what our farmers are producing. There must be an efficient logistics system, which is extremely important for movement of raw material from the farmers to the industries and from the industry to the finished product markets where they are needed. That is very important and is part of the problem we are facing right now during this COVID-19. A lot of our farmers have produce stored in their warehouse but for us to go and take them to our store is a big problem for us.

Another major issue that government needs to address is access to cheap and long-term credit facilities. It is illogical for you to give a farmer a loan and expect him to repay within six months. I think this loan should be a long term, not only to the farmers but also SMEs so that they can get strengthened with these loans that can be revolving. Another major issue that I would like to address here is issue of research and development. Government must support research in our various institutes and the universities, so that new crop varieties can be produced by our crop breeders. For example, high yielding crop varieties that can withstand adverse weather conditions, and against pests and diseases bedevilling our crops in the country.

Salim Mohammed, president, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria

We need to create a strong and sustainable synergy between the policy makers and the key actors that is, stakeholders in agricultural production. By this we can come to understand the needs of our country in terms of agricultural production. We have to look at the comparative advantages vis-a-vis what the country needs for daily consumption and devise the means on how we are going to make sure that required commodities are adequately produced.

There has to be a strategic policy for crop production in Nigeria. Each crop has its own peculiar characteristics so if the government can develop a crop based policy, at least for a period of five to ten years, such a development plan would help in boosting agricultural production. Also the government has to set up a guaranteed minimum price for each crop and there has to be an immediate off take of each crop. We have a lot of silos in the country but they are mostly useless and housing rodents. Farmers’ associations should have access to these silos, so that they can take their produce for safekeeping before off take.

While the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme by the Central Bank of Nigeria has been laudable, it has to be revisited and reviewed. This can be achieved when policy makers invite stakeholders in agricultural production, and take their inputs on how the program can be structured to effectively meet the actual needs of farmers.

As said earlier, how do you expect a farmer to take a loan and pay back in six months? Are we really serious in trying to produce food in this country? If we are serious then we have to look at the loan tenors.

For wheat, we have a single channel of off take in Nigeria, which is the conglomeration of the flour millers in the country. However, looking at the distance between one milling factory to another, the logistics in transportation of wheat to be used as input adds a lot to the cost of production when it eventually gets to the consumer.

Also, if we look at the characteristics of wheat grown in this country, we have few source of seed in Nigeria. We have only one research institute, which is the Lake Chad Research Institute that was mandated. We need more high yielding seeds because in Nigeria, the average of our production is 3 tonnes per hectare, far below what others get.

Ezekiel Ibrahim, president, Poultry Association of Nigeria.

As we try to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we should note that no drug will be effective without healthy diet. Therefore, we have to improve on the logistics of food distribution in this country. Farmers need to get ease of access to farms and inputs so that they can keep producing food to keep Nigerians healthy.

It has even been said that the hunger COVID is killing more people than the COVID-19, therefore, the most important issue for Nigeria is to sufficient food in the country. We should also strengthen distribution channels in order for to be made available to Nigerians.

Also, we need to domesticate our economy by relying less on import. Furthermore, the ministry of agriculture needs to step up and bring stakeholders together to chart a path for sustainable food production in the country. While the CBN’s efforts in providing finance have been commendable, there is a need for monitoring and evaluation, to determine if the investments on ground have been commensurate with the funds releases. We need to be more practical and serious instead of always working on assumptions.

We can never do more without reliable data, which is currently lacking in Nigeria.  Therefore, we need to build a reliable database because today in Nigeria from government to the private sector, we don’t have reliable data.

If you get 10 people and ask for the same information, they will give you 10 different  Data sets. The death of accurate, quality data is limiting our ability to develop agriculture in Nigeria.

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