Diversifying the Nigerian economy through the return to the land initiative, as articulated in the federal government’s ‘Green Alternative’, can be achieved by the commitment of both the executive and legislative organs of government, writes Adams Abonu
With the Nigerian economy tottering in troubled waters occasioned majorly by a slump in the price of crude oil in the international market with its attendant effect on the naira, the time to seek alternative avenues to national prosperity has come. This reawakened consciousness became more obvious recently with President Muhammadu Buhari’s launch of a Roadmap to revive and properly harness the potentials of the agricultural sector christened the “Green Alternative.”
Since Nigeria’s independence in October 1960, successive regimes have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to reassert the country’s huge status as the food basket of the continent: there was the ‘Operation Feed the Nation, (OFN)’ conceived by the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo between 1977 and 1979, which recorded significant effort in focusing on the agricultural endowments of the country; followed by the futile ‘Green Revolution’ initiative of President Shehu Shagari. Then there was the DFRRI programme of the administration of President Ibrahim Babangida geared towards harnessing the potentials of rural and agricultural sector. A common denomination of these efforts have been the noble objectives to steer the national economy from exclusive reliance on a volatile petroleum sector but a dearth of commitment to achieving desired goals.
With the recent launch of the new initiative by the federal government, THISDAY reports that expectations among Nigerians who genuinely hope for a national economy diversified from exclusive reliance on crude oil sales for foreign exchange earnings have again been reawakened. At a time of foreign exchange crises which has seen the naira nose-dive to unprecedented low, with a food supply conundrum that has led to widespread hunger in the citizenry, these expectations could be understood and the success of the new initiative could be the rescue.
A quick glimpse into the literature of the Green Alternative reveals a well-thought-out mechanism aimed at making the agricultural sector the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. The new Nigeria Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP), the so-called ‘Green Alternative’ is basically a people-oriented strategy that seems focused on meeting the challenges at the heart of limited food production and delivery of quality produce that meets international standards. This implies that as productivity improves domestically and standards are raised for all Nigerian food produces, with more prospects for export which would benefit balance of payments.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) would initially prioritise improving productivity into a number of domestically focused crops and activities including rice, wheat, maize, aquaculture, diary milk, soya beans, poultry, horticulture (fruits and vegetables) and sugar. The ambitious plan is apparently premised on the belief that that the production gap could be closed by partnering closely with private investors across farmer groups and companies to develop end to end value chain solutions.
“What government intends to do is to make food production meet local consumption and yet improve prospects for exporting our surplus. Farmer chains will receive facilitated supports from government as they make reasonable commitment to engaging a new generation of farmers, improving supply of specialised fertilizers and protection chemicals, as well as wider scale use of high yielding seeds.
“Government also expects to work with investors in the sector to sharply the distribution system for fresh foods so as to reduce time to table, reduce post harvest losses, and overall, improve nutritional outcomes like lowering of risks associated with diabetes,” Mr. Hassan Adamu, an official of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture told THISDAY in Lafia.
However, investigation by THISDAY revealed that the federal government’s timely ambition could be better achieved with equal sense of commitment from the two strategic organs of government in policy development and implementation- the executive and the National Assembly.
Godwin Owoicho, North Central coordinator for Youth in Agriculture, an interest group advocating for the commitment of Nigerian youth to agriculture told THISDAY that “while the president and his group could formulate policies that are promising, the needed legislative backing must be accompanied and this is where the National Assembly come in.”
Interestingly, the resume of the two principal personalities that head the executive and legislative organs of government include a robust experiences in commercial farming with requisite charisma. The duo of Chief Audu Ogbeh, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and Senator Abdullahi Adamu, revered Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development are “examples in exemplary service and models to aspiring farmers.
Ogbe, whose fingerprint input is rife in the ‘Green Revolution’ document has a track record of public service cutting his teeth as a young deputy speaker in the Benue State House of Assembly during the second republic proceeding further to serve as minister in the later part of the administration of President Shagari. He was later to serve as the irrepressible Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) upon Nigeria’s return to civil rule. All these while, the Efugo Farms, a large expanse of farmed land in Benue have been a retreat spot of some sort to the knowledgeable public servant.
“That he is at the forefront of the administration’s agricultural revival plans is comforting and bodes well for the sector. The man possesses what it takes to revive farming in tandem with modern expectations and I believe we will get it right with him.
“His predecessor in that position, Mr. Akinwunmi Adesina did a lot to ensure that agriculture regained its rightful place in the economy and that effort should be sustained,” another source from FMARD who craved anonymity said of the minister.
Mobilising accompanying legislations for the ‘Green Alternative’ to succeed for the overall benefits of Nigerians is, agreeably, a beckoning responsibility. With Adamu chairing the important position at the red chambers, the presidential initiative have a worthy partner. The senior ranking senator, who was the first executive governor of agro-based Nasarawa State for two consecutive terms of four years between 1999 and 2007 is also a farmer of great repute. It is to his credit that recent legislative initiatives into agricultural extension services and farming modernization have added to the rising status of the sector.
“When Adamu was governor here in Nasarawa State, we farmers had greater sense of dignity for our profession because he is like one of us. Every farmer in Nasarawa State had access to farming incentives and this greatly improved our yields.
“We hope that his executive experience would be an added advantage to mobilize his colleagues in the National Assembly to give life to (President) Buhari’s visions in the Green Alternative,” Kabiru Ibrahim, National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) told THISDAY in Keffi, Nasarawa State.
Adamu, owner of the reputable Nagari Farms, once affirmed to THISDAY in an exclusive chat in Keffi that “in terms of supporting the efforts of the government in giving farmers value for their services and reviving the huge prospects of the agricultural sector, we, in the national assembly are ready to create the needed conducive environment. This is what the people who elected us expect us to do and we must make laws and amend needed ones to meet the challenges of the time.”
While many Nigerians agree that the recent economic crunch brought about by a volatile crude-oil sector, many also agree that a return to the lands is the viable way out of the economic quagmire. Driving the comprehensive ‘Green Revolution’ roadmap demands commitment, innovation and sense of purpose which the identified drivers must bring to board.