Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]
The first term of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, which took off in May 2015 has run its course and has come to an end. Having been sworn in to govern Nigeria for another four years following his victory in the presidential election held in March, an x-ray of his administration’s performance in the agriculture sector in its first term is imperative.
Examining the administration’s footprint in agriculture in the last four years will necessitate a look at its policies and agenda for the sector at inception.
In the administration’s Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) 2016-2020, also known as the Green Alternative, it stated that, “the vision of the Buhari administration for agriculture is to work with key stakeholders to build an agribusiness economy capable of delivering sustained prosperity by meeting domestic food security goals, generating exports, and supporting sustainable income and job growth. The go forward federal priorities (in partnership with state governments) will be the following four: food security; import substitution; job creation; and economic diversification.”
With the above vision for the agriculture sector, stakeholders and the nation at large were thrilled and hopeful that the government would build on the previous administration’s laudable projects in the sector and make Nigeria the pride of Africa as far as agriculture is concerned.
Taking the items contained in the APP document separately, food security seems to be paramount. Being food secure means that sufficient quality food is available, there are enough resources to buy food for nutritious diet and availability of stable access to adequate food at all times. Going by the definition above and the reality of the food situation in the country, it can hardly be said that this vision of the administration in the past four years was realised. Prices of food items have remained on the high side; for instance, a 50kg bag of locally produced rice is still around N20,000 while the imported one is about N15,000.
Though government has done reasonably well in the rice value chain through its support to rice growers, as agreed by agriculture stakeholders, there’s still a shortfall in that area. According to an official of Africa Rice Centre, Ibadan, Nigeria’s rice demand is about 7.8 metric tonnes per annum while production is around 5.8 metric tonnes per annum. Also, the US Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade has stated that more than 3 million metric tonnes of rice was imported into Nigeria in 2018, though the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) denied the claims.
However, efforts of the administration to ensure that domestic food security was achieved in the last four years have been threatened mainly by the persistent insurgency perpetrated by the Boko Haram group and Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes in different parts of the country, especially in the food basket zones in the North-east. Many farm settlements have been destroyed and farmers sent packing from their farmlands and turned into Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). In the South-east and South-south parts of the country, farmers can hardly go to their farms for fear of being attacked by herdsmen. Many lament that after securing loans to cultivate crops, herdsmen unleash their cattle on the crops thereby reducing their efforts and resources to nothing and causing them to incur debts they have no hopes of repaying. This is in addition to threats to their lives.
Commenting on the challenge posed to food security by the herdsmen/farmers’ crisis and Boko Haram insurgency, a stakeholder in the agriculture sector, Mr. Richard-Mark Mbaram, Editor-in-Chief, AgroNigeria, noted that, “the challenge we have with the herdsmen/farmers’ crisis is a serious key point. In the next four years, I expect to see that serious scientific mindset will be addressed on the problem. When I say scientific mindset, I mean systematic capacity to keep the itinerant herdsmen in a sedentary position. It’s very possible. Someone is doing it in Kano. Alhaji Abubakar has been able to demonstrate to us that the Fulani herdsmen can be made to stay in one place if they realise that economically, their fortunes will be better.
“If we are able to demonstrate to the farmers that they can grow grass for the herders and demonstrate to the herders that staying in a place and creating food plots for their cattle will impact not just the food their cattle will be eating but also their weight, they will have no reason to be roaming all over the place.”
Linking food security to availability of power infrastructure, Mbaram said there is “lack of critical infrastructure required to ramp up production in the agricultural sector, particularly power. Power still remains a mammoth challenge. It is impossible for you not to see a need for power if you are in the agricultural space and you are in production, because you need power to process and you need processing to extend the shelf life of commodities and products. If you cannot extend shelf life of commodities, then food security becomes a seasonal issue and once the commodities are out of season, you are in trouble.”
On the administration’s vision of generating exports, some level of success has been recorded in the areas of cocoa and cashew. However, efforts were also made to export yam to Europe and the United States in a bid to diversify the economy and earn foreign exchange. The venture, however, did not yield desired result as the 72 tonnes of yam that left the shores of Nigeria through Apapa port to the US in June 2017 were rejected because the yams were found to be rotten upon arrival in the US. This is owing to lack of proper export facilities that can preserve the shelf life of the produce till arrival at destination point.
Mbaram lamented the inability of Nigerian ports, especially the Apapa port, to support export of agricultural commodities owing to the deplorable condition of access roads, saying “we are not just exploring all other ports we have; Calabar is there, Warri is there; we don’t maximise our potential there.” He, however, commended the government’s inland port project in Jigawa State, urging that it should be made to serve its purpose and at full potential.
Another stakeholder, the National President of Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), Segun Adewumi, speaking on the performance of the Buhari administration in his value chain, cassava, in the last four years, stated that the produce initially did not get the attention of the government but that it has now been included in the administration’s priority crops list.
He said, “cassava is the main thing because it can provide money more than oil. And it’s good they have realised that and are engaging us now. For rice, they are doing very well. The motive is very good but the method seems faulty.” Explaining, Adewumi said: “What we are doing now is called subsistence agriculture. That means we are producing at non-commercial level. We need to commercialise agriculture. For instance, if we are doing rice and it’s yielding two tonnes per hectare, commercial agriculture can take it to 10 tonnes per hectare. In that case, the price will collapse and we can compete in the international market.
“Giving money to individual farmers to cultivate may not help. But if a large expanse of land is cleared, demarcated into plots and allocated to farmers who will cultivate under the best agronomy practice so that they have massive yield, that is when our rice can bridge the rice gap and replace the imported ones. It is not just about growing rice but to give employment to the people.”
He added: “In cassava, for instance, we have specialised equipment like harvester and planter. The work that maybe 50,000 people will do, a planter can do it. So that will collapse the cost of production but you cannot do that if your land is small. No one can export cassava products now except garri. The reason is that cassava chips are taken for $200 in China but to produce it in Nigeria costs $400 so there is no way we can export it.
“What the CBN is doing now excellent; they want to give us money for cultivation and make arrangement for processing. It is excellent if they can carry it out. Cassava is a peculiar crop; you are to process it within 24 hours or it will rot and if it stays longer in the soil, it will begin to lose content. So we have to provide the value chain processing facilities and that’s what CBN is trying to do.”
On the job creation vision of the administration through the agriculture sector, it can be said to have fared relatively well owing to the various schemes and initiatives it created, including the CBN Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, intervention fund to support rice farmers, millers, and marketers, and CBN’s recent intervention in palm oil production, among others. Over all, the agriculture sector under the administration is touted to have created over six million jobs.
However, stakeholders are of the opinion that agriculture holds the potential to take more millions off the job market if the right structures are put in place. The AgroNigeria boss, Mbaram, noted that “when you don’t have huge investment in agriculture, you cannot provide jobs in the quantum you need to really impact the economy.”
Looking at the fourth point in the administration’s agenda for the agriculture sector in its first tenure, which is economic diversification, agriculture cannot be said to have taken the country’s major revenue generation from oil. Stakeholders in the sector argue that government has not invested substantially enough in agriculture to take it to the level of diversifying the economy. According to them, supporting the sector requires huge agricultural financing, public private partnership and commitment from the financial services sector.
With another four years at its disposal to still work at implementing the agriculture sector agenda and improving on its contribution to the economy, concerned stakeholders have advised the Buhari administration on critical steps needed to realise these programmes.
The man at the helm of affairs at AgroNigeria, Mbaram, advised: “Going forward, I advocate a systematic coordinated implementation of policies in the agricultural space with proper funding and a deliberate objective in mind over a long stretch of time. There is so much to be done in the next four years. The next level must be impact level. We don’t need analog mentality now; in fact, we need 5G digital mentality. The management of the agriculture ministry is super critical and the next four years should give us serious digital 5G mindset, capacity, energy and brainwave because the last four years have been very slow. We want to see aggressive growth in agriculture. The economy needs it.”