• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Setting agenda for the Ministry of Agriculture

Sabo Nanono

The new Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, has reportedly hit the ground running, knowing the enormity of the challenges the ministry must confront and deliver on the Next Level agenda of the current All Progressives Congress(APC)-led administration. Beyond warning members of staff of the ministry to brace up for the tasks ahead and shun indiscipline and lackadaisical attitude to work, he has highlighted the importance of agriculture to grow the economy.

Said he: “For a number of reasons, people tend to downplay agriculture because they do not know its importance to national development.’’ Furthermore, he stressed that if Nigeria got it right in repositioning the sector, it could “colonise West African region without firing any bullet because most of them depend on us from what we produce.” And to drive his vision he has urged the relevant departments to put finishing touches to the ministry’s budget to meet the September deadline given by the National Assembly.

But that is just part of the holistic picture of what needs to be done to fast-track the diversification policy from undue emphasis on crude oil sales to some other productive sectors including solid mineral development, tourism and of course, agriculture. Significant is the need to identify the hurdles that lay between where the country’s agricultural potentials lay presently and Nanono, nay APC’s vision to make the country self-sufficient in food production.

Amongst these challenges is the insecurity incubus in several states across the country, severally traced to the heinous crimes committed by members of Boko Haram insurgents, armed bandits, kidnappers as well as killer Fulani herdsmen. States such as Benue, Taraba, Borno, Adamawa, Zamfara, with pedigree in agriucultural production are some of the worst hit. With Mustapha Baba Shehuri (Borno) as the Minister of state for agriculture he should take more action. Without curtailing their activities, efforts by the federal government through the ministry of agriculture at ensuring food security in such areas would be like pouring water into a basket!

Other issues to tackle include access to arable land, practical knowledge of modern technology to activate and boost the value chain of food production, processing, preservation and marketing. Would the farmers also have access to affordable, modern machines to drive the aforementioned processes? What about access to high-yielding, fast-growing and early –maturing, disease-resistant seedlings as made available by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and some research institutes?

Besides these, other questions are being raised about the quality of our raw food products, when it comes to meeting the international standards for food export. As yours truly recently highlighted, according to Bola Oyedele, the brilliant brain who is the Consultant with Cenovate8 company that facilitates exports of African agric products to the UAE, only last year a demand was made for ginger during the Meet the Farmers Conference in Dubai, running into millions of dollars but no Nigerian was able to meet the demand! But a Chinese man did by obtaining the same quantity demanded from some Northern states in Nigeria! He went ahead to supply such after due processing, according to standard specifications.

Also recently, Prince Ajibola Oluyede, the Chairman of NICERT Ltd, that is into food standardisation revealed that some Nigerian food products, including beans are being rejected in the international market because they do not meet the Federal Law No 10 of 2015 based on acceptable global standards. The new Minister of agriculture should set in motion processes to bridge that quality production gap.

Another worrisome aspect is how to entice and engage more of our job-seeking youth out there to get fully active in the food value chain. As Oluyede stated, as at 2002 over 52 % of Nigerians were actively engaged in profitable agriculture but fast forward to 2015 and the figure has dropped to 22%.Between then and 2018 the figure has risen by only a minimal 2%. Though 36.6% of Nigerians, representing 90 million people are said to be presently engaged in farming (including both profitable and non-profitable types), they are not adding enough value to the food Value Chain.

The piece of good news is that a stable foundation has been laid by the previous administrations of Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and recently, the Muhammadu Buhari government for the ministry to build upon. For instance, the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has made available N82billion in funding to 350,000 farmers of rice, wheat, maize, cotton, and cassava. Others include poultry, soy beans and groundnut farmers. The recipients have so far cultivated over 400,000 hectares of land to increase food production especially in Kebbi, Niger, Kaduna, Kano, Enugu, Benue, Zamfara, Anambra and Kwara states.

Similarly, according to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) the establishment of Special Agro-processing Zones (SAPZs) in Nigeria has the potential of attracting between one to four billion dollars investments into the country, the Chairman of the forum and Governor of Ekiti, Dr Kayode Fayemi has revealed. “This SAPZs which will bring together the farming and the processing community have the potential of attracting about one billion dollars from the African Development Bank. AfDB and up to 4 billion dollars with the entry of private sector investors.”

Efforts at improving the standards of Nigeria’s agricultural exports to align with global standards due to the rejection of our produce at the EU Border Controls are also on. Notable too is the Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises (LIFE) programme initiated by the Buhari Administration aimed at bringing life back to rural communities through the empowerment of youth, women and other vulnerable groups across the country. The spin-off effect is to operate up to 1,000 cottage industries in the country and ultimately engage about 1,995,500 youth and 997,500 women for enhanced productivity.

One’s humble suggestion is that both the federal and state governments should consider special scholarship schemes for those studying agriculture and related courses such as agronomy, food science and technology, nutrition and agric engineering. They should graduate to either run their farms, employ others, or simply act as farm extension workers. They would be the catalysts of government policies on food production to assist the farmers in deploying modern farming techniques, use of tractors, weed killers, planting of hybrid seedlings, application of pesticides, organic farming and harvesters. Some would be useful in the processing and preservation methods. Our hope therefore, is that more will be done than promised on the critical issue of food security.

 

Ayo Oyoze Baje