As the nation enters 2019, the National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) Architect Kabiru Ibrahim expressed hope for a better agribusiness environment. In this interview with Daily Trust, he said the best way to boost the sector is to promote and patronize locally- produced products through “limited protectionism” among other things. Excerpts:
When you look at 2018, what do you think were the major challenges for farmers?
Well in 2018, flooding was a serious problem. Many farmers lost everything they have worked for. We also have issues with finance and market for agricultural produce.
If you look at the flood that devastated farms in 2018, do you think there has been enough support from the governments at federal and state for those affected?
You see, whatever support that comes to you after you have lost something would be a far cry from the point of view of the producers, from what they will actually get if they harvest what they planted for instance. So the best way is to mitigate flooding. More than anything else, we should mitigate climate change-it’s very obvious now. The devastation is so much that you will find that there must be some other forces than caused by the normal rain. So we must make effort to mitigate climate change and therefore mitigate flooding, which is more than compensation giving to people who suffer flooding because sometimes we do not have a proper census of the people who suffered, a lot of politics get into it, favouritism gets into it and all that.
As we enter 2019 what is the expectation of Nigeria farmers?
We expect more funding into the sector and better yields.
When you say more funding, in specific terms, how do you mean?
I mean we should access funds from banks more easily. We expect to access fund from banks more easily, our products should have more value from the market. And we need more yield from our farms, That is to say, better seeds or improved seed as well as the adoption of mechanization.
But the government said they have been able to bring down the interest rate from two digits to one digit of 9%? Are you not accessing funds on that rate?
A lot of it is indicated, but if the farmer goes out of his way to seek loan at the commercial bank, it very difficult to get it at that rate but even the 9% that is available through the windows created by the government, we want it to be lower than 9%. If it gravitates to 3 or 5 per cent, it will be better because of it very difficult to repay loans now even at 9%.
You talked about the market for farmers what specific policy initiative do you want to see in place to allow farmers to reap more value for their products?
We want the promotion of locally-produced items, that’s all. The government will do that by limited protectionism. Even though the WTO may be against it but every country in the world protects it own farmers by creating certain hurdles along the way of import. So if people are easily made aware of patronising the domestically-produced items, it will help the produced items to move because we have the population. Again, some deliberate policies should be in place to improve the purchasing power of a typical Nigerian.
In the area of mechanization, affordability is still a problem for the smallholder farmers. What do you as AFAN think needs to be done to ensure that farmers across the country have access to mechanization for their activities?
You see there are two distinct things to be done. One, you must be able to, in the beginning, make available some leasing possibility of mechanization to a large body of people by providing big equipment for hire. Two, by liberalising the access of even the small ones by individual farmers either by subsidizing it or by giving loans to own them i.e. a loan to buy a tractor or other equipment like that should be giving to a farmer with a very long repayment period apart from those producing feeds because some of this equipment will be used seasonally, therefore, it does not bring back any returns immediately.
As the apex body of farmers in the country, what is your assessment of the Anchor Borrowers programme and what area(s) of the programme do you think probably needs to be strengthened?
This is my observation given the numbers of people that are said to be really impacted if you check is very small compared to the population of farmers in Nigeria. As AFAN, we are really not directly involved with the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme because we are not in any committee that determines what happens and identifies who is a farmer or not and probably ensure repayment so that others will get. Because what we have noticed is that there is renege in repayment, in some cases there is complete default, in other cases, some of the programmes are hijacked by some state governments with the exclusion of real farmers. And more often we find beginners benefiting from it instead of the actual farmers who have been doing it for years because there is some control by the government to give certain percentages to their cohorts and that is not good for agriculture; because in agriculture, we have no borders, we don’t segregate against anybody. As you know, it does not matter who produces what, once it is food items you eat it. Whoever you are –pagan, atheist, Muslim, Christian, black or white, female or male produces something once it is a food item, you will just consume it.
As it is, it’s a very laudable scheme, at least it has brought some succour to some people but it can do more by embracing everybody else and by really reappraising to include the leadership of all farmers.
If you look at the seed subsector, do you think that our research institutes have been able to live up to the expectations of Nigerian farmers? And what sort of changes do you want to see in the seed industry as we enter the 2019 farming season?
We must fund research institutes a lot more to be able to meet the expectation of the farmers. We must also deliberately assist the actual seed companies who are doing something serious apart from the ones that are doing it just for money sake and we must punish anybody who brings anything else as seed whereas it is adulterated. Just as you have this policy on fertilizer, where there jail term for people who adulterate. We must be able to do the same for seeds otherwise a lot of people will end up with a lot of rubbish as seeds—and that should cover seed in all respect even in poultry and others.
Many livestock farmers are complaining that the federal government seems to dwell heavily on crops while neglecting the industry. What is your take on this?
Well, we must address the livestock sector more and also we must encourage for there to be a bill for the livestock subsector. The bill should include all livestock and not necessary be sponsored for any other interest than the development of the sector. Value addition in produce from the livestock is also very critical. If you have goats, sheep, chicken, and all that and the only thing you produce is sole in the primary form, you will not necessarily do well. The prices of the primary product is very low but when you’re encouraged to add value, you tend to get more and people will appreciate what is happening probably they will patronize more of the indigenous products i.e. if you look at chicken for instance, if you look at the industry in the United States, they are processed into different forms- fried, roasted in bread, and in many other forms and they are available everywhere and people buy them. In Nigeria, what you see on the ground may be illegally imported chicken, so our border has to be checked.
For beef, we must be able to convert slaughtered animals into very good parts with good vehicles to carry meat or beef around instead of taking the animals said from the north and by the time it arrives Lagos, it is probably just bones. We must increase what we have at the abattoirs, upgrade our transport system- encourages transported animals in refrigerated vehicles or locomotives that move faster. So like that will be able to do anything and people will have choices. For instance if somebody in Lagos wants goat meat, if the goats are in Sokoto in abundance, it should be slaughtered, prepared in hygienic conditions and be supplied to Lagos easily not like you see the animals been carried in trucks and then the trucks having accident or breaking down and the animals suffer before they reach their destinations in flesh alive and then they get slaughtered there on unhygienic conditions and sold. The farmer himself didn’t get much because he is selling whatever he has through middlemen. So there should be a bill sponsor appropriately and including everything that forms livestock.
I remember that in 2018 I attended a public hearing for a livestock bill but the bill sought to create a bureau within the ministry and the ministry itself kicked against it because they have an office of the director livestock that they should be able to do that- you don’t need a Bureau but you can strengthen the directorate by enunciating something that one must comply with, that is very important.