The New Agricultural Roadmap

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The federal government has launched another national roadmap for agriculture, but the ability to ensure national self-sufficiency in food and agro-industrial raw material production is what will make the difference to Nigerians. Vincent Obia writes

The extent to which agriculture has taken centre stage in the national economic discourse has not been seen in many decades – since crude oil became the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. From the controversial three working days, two farming days policy in Imo State, to the official directive in Abia State that every government official should own a farm, and many hyperbolic agricultural policies being pursued by various state governments, agriculture has emerged as a top issue in Nigeria’s economic calculation.

Yet, besides the photo opportunity and media promotion with all the usual hyperbole, the various agricultural initiatives have not made much impact. The country faces a serious challenge in food security and industrial raw material production.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, disclosed in February in Kano that Nigerians spent $20 billion annually on importation of food. Executive Secretary of Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria, Professor Baba Abubakar, stated at a seminar in Abuja on August 11 that Nigeria spent N1 trillion yearly on importation of rice, wheat, sugar, and fish.

With imports worth N635 billion annually, Abubakar said Nigeria was the largest importer of hard red and white wheat from the United States, and the world’s second largest importer of rice, with the cost put at N356 billion annually. He said every year Nigeria spent N217 billion on sugar importation and N97 billion to buy fish from other countries.

Huge sums are also spent annually to import agro-industrial raw materials that the country has great potential to produce. In October last year, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council, Dr. Hussaini Ibrahim, disclosed that Nigeria spent more than N50 billion yearly on paper and paper products’ importation. Ibrahim attributed the huge capital flight to the inability of the three integrated pulp and paper mills in the country, the Nigerian Paper Mill, the Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company, and Nigerian National Paper Manufacturing Company, to run at optimal capacity.

The companies were established by the federal government in the 1960s and 1970s. H said, “Two of the mills, the NPM and the NNMC, were producing creditably in the 1980s, but the NNMC was shut down in 1993 and the NPM in 1996 due to low level production and poor quality products because of non-availability of local long fibre pulps and other technical problems.”

But the President Muhammadu Buhari government says it is ready to change all that. The government has launched a programme, which it says would mark an important change in the agricultural narrative. The Green Alternative Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016-2020 was launched in Abuja on August 15 as a four-year agricultural development roadmap.

The vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who performed the public presentation of the policy, stated, “There is no question at all that if we get agriculture right, we will get our economy right.” He said the Green Alternative contained strategies to resolve the problems confronting agriculture, stressing that it does not dismiss the past agricultural policies, but seeks to build on the successes of previous agricultural programmes.

It is difficult to differentiate between the Green Alternative and similar policies by previous administrations. Although, the Buhari government has not really attempted to show that the current programme is very different from the earlier ones. Whether it is the Operation Feed the Nation launched by the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1976, the Green Revolution launched by the Second Republic President Shehu Shagari in 1980, the Directorate for Food, Road, and Rural Infrastructure launched by the regime of former military president Ibrahim Babangida in 1986, or the Agricultural Transformation Agenda launched by the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2011, self-sufficiency in food is one fundamental target that the various governments have set themselves. But self-sufficiency in food has eluded the country so far.

That brings into question the whole essence of the centrally proclaimed and supervised agricultural programmes.
Juxtaposed with the robust regional agricultural programmes of the pre-colonial and immediate post-colonial eras, up to the end of the First Republic in 1966, what seems to come out clearly is that the central strategy is not working.

The centripetal agricultural policy formulation and implementation system is a throwback to 1966, when a pseudo-federal system of government was substituted by the military for the true federalism that the country hitherto practised. That misadventure has remained the bane of progress in many aspects of the country’s life. It has bred inconsistency and friction between the development programmes of the federal government and the federating units.

Under the latest agricultural development programme, therefore, the federal government needs to tone down its role and influence, and allow the states formulate and execute their own agricultural programmes according to their peculiar situations.

There should also be a deliberate attempt to strike a balance between production for food and production to feed the agroindustry. Most of the federal government’s agricultural programmes have focused on food, with consequent industrial detriment.

Generally, too, there is the problem of lack of storage facilities, which is scarcely captured in many of the agricultural development programmes. When in season, food is too abundant to be fully utilised and most go bad every year, regular as clockwork. And when out of season, it is scare. The country must begin to invest seriously in food storage facilities to guarantee in and out of season availability. The goals of the federal governments’ agricultural policies are undoubtedly noble. But the Buhari government needs to develop a better strategy for pursuing those objectives.