President Goodluck Jonathan
By Mohammad Bello and James Emejo
President Goodluck Jonathan Tuesday in Geneva, Switzerland, hosted the first meeting of Nigeria’s new Eminent Persons Group (EPG). The newly formed group of influential global leaders will be expected to advise the President on actions to help achieve Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda.
The group will also provide a global platform to encourage investment in the country’s agricultural sector.
But the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER) Tuesday projected a gloomy picture on the living standard in the country, stating that despite the laudable economic growth, poverty and income inequality remain prevalent among Nigerians.
In a statement by the President’s Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, members of the EPG include the co-Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates; Chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Mr. Kofi A. Annan; President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Donald Kaberuka; President of the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), Dr. Kanayo Nwanze and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc, Mr. Mohammed Abu-Ghazaleh.
Abati said the group was joined at the Geneva meeting by the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Akinwumi Adesina; Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and other chief executive officers of global multinational and Nigerian corporations.
“Nigeria is undergoing rapid changes in its agriculture sector. We have stopped viewing agriculture as a development programme, but now as a business that can assure food security, create wealth and generate jobs.
“Private sector investments are rising significantly as a result of our bold policy reforms,” the president was quoted as saying
He added: “I am confident that with the support of the private sector and the donor community, Nigeria’s agriculture will further drive economic growth and unlock new opportunities for millions of our farmers and agribusinesses.”
Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Action Plan (ATAP), introduced last year by Adesina, provides a comprehensive government strategy to reduce the cost of food imports, diversify the economy and develop rural areas of the country.
Its goal is to industrialise the sector making it more productive, efficient and competitive. Over the next five years, it is anticipated that the plan will add 20 million tons of food to domestic supply and create 3.5 million jobs along the agricultural value chains.
“We ended decades of corruption in the fertilizer and seed sectors of Nigeria within just three months of this administration.
“We also introduced the use of electronic wallets to deliver subsidised inputs directly to farmers through their cell phones, reaching 1.2 million farmers.
“Our policy reforms and incentives have attracted $8 billion of private sector investment commitments so far,” Adesina said at the meeting.
NISER, however, said that the despite positive economic growth rate so far achieved, poverty rate and income inequality remained prevalent among Nigerians.
Director General, NISER, Prof. Isreal Taiwo spoke Tuesday at a national policy dialogue on growth, inequality and poverty in Nigeria, stating that a study conducted by the institute in 18 out of the 36 states of the federation in 2012 indicated that GDP growth had not impacted positively on the lives of the people as poverty and the inequality gap had increased from where it was in previous years.
According to him, “This study covers the entire country and we sampled 18 states out of 36 and we also sampled two local governments in each of the states. The study also included a survey of the Federal Capital Territory.
“From the information collected, we discovered that although the economy is growing, poverty is not reducing and income inequality is also not reducing.”
He said: “That is the evidence that we have and we cannot manipulate the evidence. What we can do is to provide explanations as to why this is happening and the explanation that we can give is that the benefit of growth is not spreading sufficiently to the poor people.”
He explained that there was need to make technological advancement in order to reverse the trend, adding “We have been focusing on improvements in investment both private and public but we need to develop a technological base in the country, which if developed, will enhance our ability to produce thus making the country grow much faster.”
Nigeria’s labour force participation rate, he observed, was the lowest in the world and needed to be enhanced.
“Our labour force participation rate which is about 50 per cent is one of the lowest in the world needs to be enhanced by bringing more people into the labour market.
“There are a lot of programme in the system such as the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, National Poverty Eradication Programme, but we don’t have enough information about the poor people that need the programmes and this should be focused on,” he said.