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Agriculture: Domestic demand points to ‘long walk’ to self-sufficiency

Access to modern farm implement has been a problem to farmers in the country

Since 1960, Nigeria has not experienced a green revolution. While Brazil, India and Pakistan have long ago have had agricultural revolution, the sector in Nigeria struggles; even behind Kenya, South Africa and Zambia.

It is frequent to hear passionate debate in the public space on whether Nigerian agriculture has changed significantly in the last five years of Buhari’s administration or not.

Although agriculture has witnessed remarkable activities since the president’s call for people to return to their farms, the sector is still marred by many age-long challenges: poor access to mechanisation, finance, market and policy summersaults that have reduced the productivity and output of millions of smallholder farmers.

However, a cursory look will explain the journey so far – where we have been, where we are going and how to get there as a country.

 

Where we are

Currently, the administration’s agricultural success story revolves only around the Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) and the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative which many stakeholders believe are laudable programmes.

The ABP has helped to scale up production of grains like rice from three to about six million tonnes, drawing the nation close to self-sufficiency in the 7.1 million tonnes annual national demand.

ABP of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the Buhari-led administration has made available more than N82bn to 600,000 farmers of rice, wheat, maize, cotton, cassava, poultry, soy beans and groundnut, with which they have cultivated about 400,000 hectares and has created about two million direct or indirect jobs.

ABP also scaled up production of maize and the association of maize farmers said they produced 20 million metric tonnes last season.

However, many of the crops listed under the programme are yet to witness same momentum, especially wheat and soybeans.

The Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI) headed by the Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, signed a bilateral agreement with the Morocco to supply phosphate, a basic ingredient in the blending of NPK, to blending plants in the country on concessionary terms. The target is to supply one millio tonnes of fertiliser every year to farmers at N5,500 per bag. This year, the price was further slashed to N5,000.

In 2017, PFI delivered 10 million 50kg bags (500,000MT) of NPK 20:10:10 at N5,500, down from N9,000 per 50kg bag in 2016.

The effort of PFI has resulted in the revival of 11 blending plants across the country, with a total installed capacity in excess of two million metric tonnes and saves the country $200m in foreign exchange (forex), and N60bn annually in budgetary provisions for fertiliser subsidies.

The President Buhari administration has also established a N50bn mechanisation fund to facilitate the second phase of Agricultural Equipment Hiring Enterprise (AEHE) to rollout 6,000 tractors and 13,000 harvest and post-harvest equipment across the country.

The administration has established 40 large scale rice processing plants and 18 High Quality Cassava Flour plants with a stake commitment of China EXIM (85 per cent) and Nigeria Bank of Industry (BoI) (15 per cent) through concessional credit facilities of $383,140,375.60 for the rice mills and $143,722,202.40 for the HQCF plants.

The Buhari administration has commenced the use of National Soil Map Data, with the promotion of the use of soil-specific fertiliser formulations and application in prescribed dosages based on soil types following the conduct of soil mapping/test to enhance agricultural production and productivity.

The administration also came up with “The Green Alternative (TGA) 2016-2020”, a major policy thrust to strengthen agriculture and agri-business.

To take life back to the villages and control rural-urban migration, the president launched the Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises (LIFE) programme to set up 150,000 cooperatives nationwide under commodity value chain groups to establish and operate up to 1,000 cottage industries in the country, and ultimately engage about 1,995,500 youths and 997,500 women for enhanced productivity.

The administration has transferred the four federal Universities of Agriculture back to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as stipulated in their enabling act, to work closely with the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) to focus solely on agricultural training and research.

The presidential taskforce on wheat and rice  headed by the Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, is a major policy action that brought more attention and investment into rice; even though at the expense of wheat.

Lastly, worthy of mention is the setting up of the National Livestock Transformation Programme (NLTP) which was designed to settle the bloodshed between sedentary farmers and herders through the establishment of ranches and strengthening of grazing reserves.

This would be done through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with 64 companies indicating interest to participate; although progress is very slow.

On the legal frontline, the president has signed four very important agricultural bills into law: the National Fertiliser Quality Control Act 2019, the National Agricultural Quarantine Service establishment Act, the National Biosafety Management Bill and the amended National Seed Council Law 2019.

 

Challenges

The hurdles that heralded the nation’s agriculture has remained the same for over 50 years. Many observers said majority of the smallholder farmers still did it the way it was done even before independence through the hoe, cutlass and animal traction.

Mechanisation has remained the biggest headache of the sector. Very few commercial farmers have access to modern farm equipment.

Even tractors elude many farmers, although the current Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Muhammad Sabo Nanono, said the Federal Government would commence its mechanisation programme in September, 2020, with a target to bring in 50,000 tractors under a bilateral cooperation with Brazil.

When it comes to financing, it is the farmers’ worst nightmare. Banks are not willing to finance agriculture, and in some cases, the interest rates are ridiculous; reaching up to 30 per cent interest, which forced Chief Audu Ogbeh, Buharis’s first Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, to say, “Only drug pushers could survive under that interest rate.”

Although there are several opportunities under the CBN financial window, many said the stringent conditions around it made it difficult for farmers to access.

In terms of value chain development, there is deplorable, pathetic, epileptic or in most cases, lack of infrastructural facilities for the SMEs to thrive.

As noted earlier, one of the famous agricultural programmes of the Buhari administration is the Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) championed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) led by Godwin Emefiele.

The programme, which was launched in November, 2015, in Kebbi State, sought to provide the smallholder farmers with the needed credit facility and linked them up with off-takers called the anchors along the major commodities: rice, maize, cassava, soybeans, oil palm, wheat and cotton.

From 2015 till date, the programme is yet to reach 1.6 million farmers in a nation where 70 per cent of its 200 million population are smallholder farmers, prompting fierce criticism from many stakeholders.

When it comes to marketing, farmers are left at the mercy of organised middlemen who milk the farmers because of the government’s inability to organise the system that will protect and ensure farmers get value for their effort.

Livestock, a key sub-sector that contributes significantly to the GDP, is in shambles, and despite the new National Livestock Transformation Programme, no one can point to any success of the programme.

Besides these, there are huge challenges of access to quality inputs such as certified seeds and fertiliser and poor extension services, even though the president in his 2020 New Year message, promised to hire 50,000 extension workers, but with the collapse of oil revenues, it is very unlikely that will be achieved.

The budgetary allocation is far below the recommended; 10 per cent by the 2003 Maputo Declaration, where African leaders collectively agreed, but we have not come close to that. Agriculture gets less than two per cent of the budget.

In addition, poor infrastructure like good roads, electricity, low investment in research and development of new innovations/technologies, poor national strategic reserve system, irregular irrigation and lack of government subsidies are contributing factors killing the sector.

 

What FG needs to do

According to Mr. Ishola Tajudeen, an agricultural economist, the Federal Government has to step up engagement and commitment if it must revolutionise the sector and achieve green revolution.

He said the major critical areas that needed urgent attention were how to scale up mechanisation for smallholder farmers.

This, he said, should be done along the entire value chain; “from farm to fork.”

“Government needs to look at avenues of increasing farmers productivity and profitability as this is the only way of attracting investments and massive youth participation,’’ he added.

Mallam Abubakar Jimoh, a retired agriculturist, noted that production circle must go beyond one season to three circles in a year. The only way to achieve that, he said, was to build more irrigation facilities like dams across the country to keep farmers busy throughout the year.

On marketing, he said government must help farmers’ associations to organise their markets to be effective along the commodity line. This will help government to even intervene in the output for strategic reserves at the period of glut.

“Globally, advanced economies spend billions incentivising and subsidising the sector, including huge investments in research and development. Nigeria must not be an exception,’’ he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the need to strengthen the strategic reserve system for the difficult days such as where we are today and to intervene when the market is down.

To achieve the desired goal in the sector, the Federal Government must widen financial inclusion to reach millions of farmers. This includes losing the stringent conditions attached to some of the funds available. Government must also compel financial institutions to lend a fraction of their loan portfolios to the sector.

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