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Farmers say one-off FG actions not enough to boost long-term productivity

... Border closure has helped, but not sustainable – PAN ... Cassava growers, industrial off-takers sign MoU for 3m tons

A deal signed between cassava growers and some industrial processors in Nigeria, as disclosed to BusinessDay, has a firm commitment for 3 million metric tons expected to contribute towards saving up to N1 trillion spent importing ethanol, industrial starch, sweeteners and other industrial derivatives from cassava.

Rice producers just had what could be described as their best December in decades, likewise poultry farmers and others, yet, some of this ‘good news’ may yet stand on shaky ground unless producing in Nigeria becomes competitive post-reopening of the borders, and a better engagement with the private sector.

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With the border closure, Nigerian farmers may have had better opportunities to sell locally. However, pre-existing challenges that made it difficult for made-in-Nigeria farm produce to compete still exist. These challenges are also likely to remain whenever the borders are re-opened unless those issues are strategically, and purposively addressed.

“Border closure cannot be permanent, in fact it shouldn’t exceed one month as the negative impacts will likely outweigh any positive ones,” says Ezikiel Ibrahim, president, Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), whose industry is a major beneficiary of the border closure.

Although Nigeria has huge agricultural resources and potential, the challenges of lower yields, communal conflicts, poor market access and storage facilities, poor quality and standards and high cost of doing business continue to limit growth of the sector. In the two years prior to a 2019 policy brief by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), it was noted for instance, that the sector only grew by 3.5 percent in 2017 and 2.12 percent in 2018, a far cry from over 6 percent growth experienced in 2014.

Even though government at both the federal level and many states have appeared to give more attention to the agric sector, BusinessDay has through interactions with some sub-sector national leaders in the sector, felt the pulse of the industry, which today is hyped up and full of optimism, yet, lacking sufficient engagement.

Stressing the need for more engagement with the private sector in the formulation of programmes and policies for Nigeria’s agric sector, experts and major stakeholders told BusinessDay that a more participatory process is required, in other to ensure policies fully align with the expectations of those actually operating in the sector.

Government needs to “walk the talk and listen more to players,” states Ade Adefeko, chairman, Agric Trade Group, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), further stressing the need for government to organise an agric stakeholders conference to marshal out long term areas of intervention for the agric sector.

“It should not be government being prescriptive but players making inputs into any plans,” says Adefeko in a phone interview. “We should focus on crops we have competitive advantage in; maize, soya, cashew, sesame, rice. The meat/poultry value chain as well as dairy require emergency intervention.”

Segun Adewumi, national president, Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), also reiterates “there is need for more engagement,” however, noting “cassava growers are very lucky because the potentials of cassava have caught the attention of the CBN governor, who is very passionately pursuing cassava programme.”

The Central Bank of Nigeria, according to BusinessDay’s findings, convened a meeting between cassava producers, processors and end users, where a deal was struck for farmers to cultivate 150,000 hectares of land, with an estimated output of 3 million metric tons that will be mopped up by the local processors.

BusinessDay exclusively learnt about a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between NCGA and some major processors of cassava derivatives in the country, guaranteeing that everything produced is mopped. Cassava derivatives such as Ethanol, Industrial starch, and sweeteners are mostly imported into Nigeria, as local capacity lagged for years. The deal this year, according to NCGA’s estimates would contribute towards saving N1 trillion that would have been spent importing cassava derivatives.

For Ibrahim, president of PAN, the prospects for 2020 in the poultry industry are good, but “the economic dynamics are a bit confusing and challenging”. According to him, “When you want to expand growth, and at the same time increase taxes, it may boomerang.”

Barring the unpleasant security challenges and unfavourable weather, farmers are expecting to have a financially fulfilling year, but they also want government to listen more and carry them along in decision-making.

CALEB OJEWALE

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