In this interview withÂ Eromosele Abiodun, the Osun State FADAMA III Project Coordinator, Dr. Ganiyu Adediji, speaks on the significance of private sector intervention in small-scale agriculture. Excerpts:
The federal government recently introduced the Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP), otherwise known as the Green Alternative. Do you see any significant difference between the APP and the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of the immediate past administration?
The contents of the two policies are similar. The APP builds on the ATA of the previous administration. The policies are good and okay, but implementation is the key here. We should make sure that the policies are implemented according to their letters and dictates. If the policies are religiously implemented it will guarantee a good agricultural landscape for the country. Policy itself may have some defects, but it is for the implementers to remove the defects.
How best do you think this policy can be applied and made suitable in addressing challenges confronting smallholder farmers and agriculture in the country?
Well, if all the support contained in the policy is given to farmers, it would be very beneficial to them. Policies are nothing but mere papers if there are no benefits accruing to the people in whose interest the policies exist. The federal government is actually doing its best to make inputs available to farmers but for the inflation being currently experienced in the country.Â
One of the cardinal objectives the roadmap to improving the agricultural sector unveiled by the Minister of Agriculture in 2016 is hinged on is the encouragement of new generation farmers, especially the youth. To what extent has it rekindled the interest of youths in agriculture?
In Osun State, the state government has a scheme for youth empowerment known as the Osun State Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES). The state government, through the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, has been doing all it can to ensure that youths in the state are empowered through gainful employment. Recently, some youths were sent to Germany and Shongai Centre in Benin Republic to receive training on modern agricultural techniques. A similar scheme is being run by FADAMA currently. They are given support on the agricultural enterprise of their choice. Another way by which the interest of youths is being stimulated in agriculture is through providing them with farm inputs and access to farm machinery.
It has been over a year since the ban on the importation of rice, which was hailed by many as a step in the right direction, citing its capability to enhance local production of the crop. Has local production been able to meet local demand since? And how much interest is the crop attracting from smallholder farmers (SHFs)?
It is a federal government policy that was well thought-out. However, the implementation would have been a gradual process spread over a period of time. Rice is a special crop that needs a lot of knowledge and skill to cultivate. So, farmers need to be supported and sensitised on the need to go into massive production of the crop. Another challenge is leakages in the policy as result of which the crop is being imported into the country through unorthodox means. If we have been able to produce locally at a reasonable and competitive price there wouldnâ€™t be any market for the ones being smuggled in. Quite unaware to many people is the fact that local rice is more nutritious than the imported rice which in most cases is mere fibre. It has been discovered that some imported rice have been stored for 10 to 15 years before their importation, and so have lost their nutrients. Moreover, rice importation is not sustainable. The billions of dollars spent on rice importation can be used to support our farmers in local production. Interestingly, there have been some private sector interventions in this area. Dangote, for example, is currently supporting local production of rice. Also worthy of note is the massive support BATNF gives to smallholder farmers through its rice enterprise value chain projects across the federation.
Experts have always canvassed for a scientific approach to tackling the problem of climate change. How can the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) be of help here?
NiMET is doing a tremendous job by giving us weather forecast for each year. I think the Memorandum of Understanding the BATN Foundation signed with NiMET, earlier in the year, to provide weather information to farmers, is commendable. If farmers are armed with information on weather conditions, especially rainfall pattern, it is left for them to decide when it will be favourable for them to plant their crops and plan their farming season. Hence, you donâ€™t leave everything to nature or fate. So, it is necessary to work within the knowledge we have of production in our environment. This also includes livestock.
The 2017 budget allocation to the agricultural sector is N123 billion out of which N91.7 billion is for capital projects. This represents two percent of the entire budget, which is far below the 10 per cent allocation for agriculture recommended by the 2003 AU-Maputo Declaration. What is your take on this?
The federal government is serious about agriculture and is increasingly giving attention to the sector. However, if adequate provision is not made for agricultural production, it may become counter-productive. Agriculture is our economic mainstay and without it we cannot survive. So we must invest efforts in the improvement and sustenance of our productivity.
The critical objectives of the FADAMAIII scheme are the reduction of rural poverty and ensuring food security. What is the success rate so far?
FADAMA has achieved its targeted objectives to a very large extent. The latest evaluation report we had shows that more than 75 per cent of targeted farmers have had their incomes increased by more than 40 per cent at least. That is a key indicator of the achievement we have made so far. Also, crop yield has improved. We have about 78 per cent increase in cassava yield and about 40 to 50 per cent increase in rice yield. This increase in productivity would not have been possible without an increase in input. The boost in production has attracted off takers who now come to take cassava to their processing plants.
How has the relationship between farmers and off takers been?
It has been beneficial. The only challenge is the transportation of produce, especially for the processing plants that do not have transportation network. Thankfully, we have discovered a transportation company that is ready to bring their vehicles to the farm gates and off-take the produce to their plants.
How knowledgeable are smallholder farmers about the various agricultural finance schemes, such as the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) and others?
There are several means of securing loans for farmers, but most of them are not accessible to farmers. What we do in FADAMA is give farmers grants, and not loans. BATNF also gives grants to them. They are expected to plow back the money in order to sustain the project. That is the only conditionality attached to it; we do not collect the money back from them. In Osun State, for example, the state government has some loan schemes for the farmers, and they are quite aware of it. Farmers in the state benefit from the scheme through their various associations.
Through the associations the state government enlightens them on the loan scheme. NIRSAL, which is an anchor-borrower scheme, is a good finance scheme as it provides risk mitigation conditions for farmers to benefit from and to be able to repay the loan. However, the scheme is yet to be implemented in Osun State.Â
How can the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) intervene to mitigate the problem of agriculture financing?Â
The BOA has been mandated by the federal government to lend agricultural credit to farmers at single digit interest. I think the lending rate is about eight percent. In the State of Osun, there is a special incentive for farmers. The state government has collaboration with them in which the government provides 50 percent of the total loan package and BOA provides another 50 percent which are given to farmers as loan. There is an agency that is responsible for that in the state. So, Osun State is doing well. However, not every farmer in the state can benefit from this; that is why the intervention of BATNF is valued here.
Considering the challenge of accessing loans confronting the farmers, some experts have suggested that a microfinance bank for farmers could be a way out as is being done in a few states. Do you agree with that?Â
Well, it brings farmersâ€™ needs nearer to them and makes them an authority over their capital or funds. It is one of the concepts that were introduced by FADAMA. It arose from the fact that a lot of resources are pumped into farming. Therefore, farmers are supposed to have some funds set aside for the sustainability of the implementation of the project. The idea is that the fund recouped from farmers could be used to establish a micro finance agency in the state. It is already being operated by some FADAMA beneficiaries in some states, including Plateau State. I think it is a very good idea, if it can be sustained.Â
Experts are of the view that some of the reasons smallholder farmers do not thrive is the failure to regard agriculture as an enterprise, enhance their knowledge of improved farming practices and embrace application of technical knowledge. What can be done to change their attitude towards the agriculture business?Â
Part of the objectives of the FADAMA III project is to change the mindset of farmers, make them realise that they are into business. It is for this reason that FADAMA is no longer being referred to as a developmental project; it is now a business project. Farmers are being educated and encouraged to keep records of every kobo they spend and make from their business, and also to realise that their survival depends on it. So, the new approach is to change the mindset of farmers and make them earn real income from their enterprise in order to be at par with their counterparts in other fields of endeavour. We have been doing that through several capacity building trainings and advisory services so as to make sure that they run their enterprises as a business. The objective here is to make them begin to see agriculture as a business and no longer as a family enterprise for survival.
How will you describe the relationship between the Osun State FADAMA Coordination Office and the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF)?
The BATN Foundation has supported smallholder farmers in transiting from subsistence to commercial farming. It has provided access to finance and input, removing barriers to growth. For example, BATN Foundation began its intervention in Osun State in 2015 with the implementation of the maize and cassava value-chain enterprise development project. The beneficiary farmers were first grouped into local cooperatives and were all supported with the complete tractorisation of their land, the required inputs, including agrochemicals and 600 bundles of cassava cuttings, capacity building and weather forecast information to ensure maximum yield and reduce harvest losses. We are pleased with this partnership from the private sector and hope to have more of it going forward.
To what extent has the Osun State FADAMA boosted maize production following its collaboration with the British American Tobacco Nigeria Foundation (BATNF) to train farmers and staff on the application of the fungicide, â€˜Aflasafe?Â
Aflasafe is not a yield enhancement products, so it is not meant to boost production. It is meant to improve crop quality and make it safe for consumption. It was first introduced in August 2016when we had a training supported by BATN Foundation and facilitated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). About 190 farmers participated in the scheme. We tried to sensitise them about the dangers of Aflatoxin to make sure their produce is safe for consumption and even for industrial use. Our farmers complied with the scheme. One key advantage is that it boosts the market value of the produce and its export. We have succeeded in sensitising our farmers, especially the beneficiaries of BATN Foundationâ€™s collaboration and other farmers to whom the benefit of the collaboration has spread to, in improving their knowledge in improved production of maize.Â
One of the key objectives of the second phase of the FADAMA is the provision of a small-scale community-owned infrastructure. Apart from transportation, which you identified earlier, what other infrastructure are we looking at here?
In area of transportation, FADAMA has tried to make access roads available to farmers. FADAMA also provides boreholes, tube wells, etc. We are also considering small scale irrigation for our farmers. FADAMA also provides assets like tricycles and wheelbarrows for farmers. In the present dispensation, FADAMA has been seeking ways of alleviating the burden that farmers face in transporting their inputs and produce.Â
How about storage which is a critical infrastructure for conservation?
FADAMA is particularly concerned about the storage of staple crops like rice and sorghum. However, there is no serious challenge in the storage of cassava. The only concern about cassava is to ensure that it is harvested at a time it can be off-taken to the processing plant. But for the other crops, adequate storage facilities are being considered as one of the infrastructural facilities. We have an aggregation centre where all the produce can be properly stored.