Agriculture-related policies and projects should be fast-tracked, writes Ayo Oyoze Baje
One of the critical sectors of the nation’s economy that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has made appreciable progress is agriculture. And there are empirical evidences on ground to attest to this. For instance, the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has made available N82billion in funding to 350,000 farmers of rice, wheat, maize, cotton, and cassava. Others include poultry, soy beans and groundnut farmers. The recipients have so far cultivated over 400,000 hectares of land to increase food production especially in Kebbi, Niger, Kaduna, Kano, Enugu, Benue, Zamfara, Anambra and Kwara States.
Furthermore, the locally made farm produce have cumulatively enhanced our internally generated revenue (IGR) index and foreign exchange capacity to put the reserve to over $45 billion in cash and bonds even as at 2016. What’s more, the Home Grown Feeding Programme, designed to put an end to importation and market monopoly of farm produce that can be grown here in our country has started making the desired impact.
This is a pilot vehicle meant to boost sustainable economic, agricultural, academic and job creation. This is also being strengthened by the Standing Inter-Ministerial Technical Committee on Zero-Reject of Agricultural Commodities and Produce / Non-oil Exports in Nigeria as inaugurated.
Efforts at improving the standards of Nigeria’s agricultural exports to align with global standards due to the rejection of our produce at the EU Border Controls are also on. It is interesting to note that as at the fourth quarter of 2016 sesame seeds contributed N6.46bn to agricultural product exports while frozen shrimps and prawns added N4.4bn to product exports. Flour and meals of soya beans contributed N2.59bn to agricultural product exports. Cashew nuts in shell contributed N0.95bn and crude palm kernel accounted for N0.62bn of the total agricultural exports.
Notable too is the Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises (LIFE) programme initiated by the administration aimed at bringing life back to rural communities through the empowerment of youth, women and other vulnerable groups across the country. The salutary aim at the outset was to establish 150,000 cooperatives nationwide under commodity value chain groups. The spin-off effect is to operate up to 1,000 cottage industries and ultimately engage about 1,995,500 youth and 997,500 women for enhanced productivity. Eventually, the LIFE programme would add about 5,965,000 metric tonnes of foods to the national food store.
It is expedient therefore to also fast-track agriculture-related policies and projects that are already in place. For instance, the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) should be strengthened for improved delivery of services through consolidation and recapitalization in collaboration with the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). This move is to ensure loan disbursement at a single digit interest regime in the agricultural sector as obtainable in developed and emerging economies.
This would be assisted by the approval of a grant of $1.1 million from the African Development Bank (AfDB) for the restructuring of the Bank of Agriculture aimed at staff training to strengthen service delivery.
Also, an enabling act which is meant for the Ministry of Agriculture to work closely with the Nigerian University Commission and development partners to re-focus the universities of agriculture in the country should see the light of day.
So also should the proposed use of National Soil Map Data. This is based on soil types following the conduct of soil mapping/test to enhance agricultural production and productivity. Besides, the government must walk the talk on the National Irrigation Policy and Strategy. This has been developed and focuses on the need to overcome the irrigation challenges and put available facilities in the country into effective use. Related to this is the status of infrastructure in all the 12 River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs). There should be no delay in the effective use of the facilities for commercial farming. It is worthy of note that the administration has established a N50bn mechanization fund to facilitate the second phase of Agricultural Equipment Hiring Enterprise (AEHE) to roll-out 6,000 tractors and 13,000 harvest and post-harvest equipment units across the country.
Partnerships are important in driving the engine of growth in the food sector. The government has established 40 large scale rice processing plants and 18 High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCGF) plants with a stake commitment of China EXIM (85 per cent) and Nigeria Bank of Industry (BoI) (15 per cent). This came through concessional credit facilities of US$383,140,375.60 for the rice mills and US$143,722,202.40 for the HQCF plants.
This move will stabilize Nigeria’s milled rice production which has increased by about 60 percent from 2.5 million MT in 2015, to 4 million MT in 2017 under the President Buhari administration. With the Lake Rice Project between Lagos and Kebbi States and the coming on stream of one of the largest rice mill projects in West Africa, as initiated in Lagos, there is hope for growth in the sector.
More than 7 million Nigerians are actively employed in agriculture under the Buhari government’s diversification agenda and the Ministry of Agriculture is working to ensure that agriculture will offer 20 million jobs in the nearest future. This paradigm will be upped with the setting up of the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) to deliver commercially significant quantities of affordable and high quality fertilizer to the Nigerian farmer at the right time. This has resulted in the revitalization of 14 blending plants across the country, with a total installed capacity in excess of 2 million MT.
To succeed, this administration must halt the incessant clashes between the herders and the crop farmers. The provision of 55,000 hectares of land by 11 states as part of the 5,000 hectares each expected from the 19 northern states for the development of pasture/paddocks grazing reserves should be driven to fruition.
With the second term evolving, no effort should be spared to draw more job-seeking youth to attractive agricultural policies. Research institutes should be adequately funded. Their findings should be commercialized through partnerships with the private sector. Expectations are high that the gains made so far would not only be sustained but upgraded with modern technology in the areas of processing, preservation, marketing and export to take agriculture to the next level.
Baje wrote from Lagos