BusinessDay

Experts advocate urgent reset of Nigeria’s agriculture agenda

Leading experts and professionals in agriculture have advocated an urgent reset of Nigeria’s agenda on agriculture, as a way of averting a looming food crisis in the country.

The experts who spoke ahead of a forthcoming workshop and roundtable on modern agriculture and food production in Nigeria identified absence of strategic synergy between agriculture policies and implementation, slow adoption of technology, post-harvest challenges, low funding of research and a weak political will for sustained reforms in food production, as some of the critical areas that need to be addressed.

According to Steve Okeleji, founder of Aquatic Hub Afrique Network, Nigeria is very big on agriculture policies but the problem lies with the implementation of these policies. “Indeed, there are different interventions by the government including grants, supports and credit schemes by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). As good as these policies and ideas are on paper, there is a huge disconnect in that we do not see verifiable and widespread evidence of the successes of these interventions.” He advocates a heightened level of transparency and accountability across the Agric sector with a view to ensuring that farmers are not frustrated by what may be perceived as ‘paper interventions’ that only benefit a select few and exclude great numbers of qualified and deserving practitioners.

Professor Omolayo Ariyo of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta remarked that a nation without food security cannot be said to be truly independent. He pointed out that though Nigeria may have achieved political independence in 1960, “here we are, in 2022, still importing foods to meet some of the basic food needs of our people, when, in actual sense, we should be a leading food exporting nation. So, I ask, how truly independent are we?”

The university don who is a specialist in plant breeding wants the government to direct its resources and energy to tackling the crippling challenges of post-harvest storage and processing, as a good percentage of what is produced every season is lost due to the problems of storage and post-harvest processing. Dr Peter Kolawole of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, who aligns with Professor Ariyo on losses due to challenges of post-harvest storage and processing, stressed the need for increased post-harvest storage and processing capacities. He pointed out that “since we cannot consume everything we produce at once; it is important that we device effectual and modern ways of storing and processing these products for further and later uses. Most of the crops we produce come with moisture. The right thing to do is to remove the moisture from these products, store them and when it is off-season, we can open our storage and utilize the products, as necessary.”

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Although Nigeria is endowed with abundant natural resources, these agriculture experts agreed on the place of technology in taking Nigeria towards increased productivity in agriculture and food security. Okeleji who is also the Managing Director of Aquaseas Company expressed disappointment with the slow rate of adoption of right technology to drive agriculture in the country. Dr Kolawole, on his part, said that Nigeria cannot achieve its potentials in food production if it fails to embrace and integrate proper technology into the practice of agriculture. He added that most of Nigeria’s agricultural practices are still based on tedious and manual processes of the past, that cannot deliver the objectives of self-sufficiency in food production. “Mechanised farming driven by technology is the best route to optimum production. We have to ditch our hoes and cutlasses. Those were good enough for farmers to feed their households but if we want to practice agriculture as businesses, then we cannot compromise technology”, he advised.

Okeleji also reiterated the need for the country to brave odds and defy limitations, as this is the only way Nigeria can join the enviable category of countries that count gains of agriculture. He referenced the country’s strides in rice production. “Many people never believed it was possible for Nigeria to produce enough rice to satisfy local demands. However, this has been proven wrong. The rice revolution spearheaded by former Minister for Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina turned Nigeria into a major rice producing nation and, if that can be sustained, it is a matter of time before Nigeria moves higher from its present position as the fourth largest producer of rice in the world”, he noted.

In all, these experts agreed that the agenda on ways of moving Nigeria’s agriculture sector forward, through the “Modern Agriculture and Food Production Workshop and Roundtable”, organised by AVAS Consulting and scheduled for 1st – 3rd December, 2022 in Lagos, is set and would serve as a veritable platform for cross fertilization of ideas on capacity enhancement, modern and technology driven agricultural systems and processes, as well as policy formulation and implementation that will deliver maximal outputs for practitioners, policy makers and other stakeholders in Nigeria’s agriculture sector.

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