Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]
The present administration under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged to reduce poverty and hunger in the country by empowering farmers with good seeds, unadulterated fertilisers, among other agricultural inputs, as well as implementing good policies. To this end, the government has allocated a budget of N83 billion to the sector for the 2020 fiscal year.
Stakeholders in the country’s agriculture sector, some of who have expressed doubt about the possibility of government taking the sector to its desired place with such budgetary allocation, have voiced their expectations for the sector in 2020.
The President of Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr. Victor Iyama, who said practitioners in the country’s agriculture space have a simple expectation, stated that, “we are all looking forward toward financial inclusion, especially as it relates to access to loans.”
Iyama said, “many people have been celebrating 9 per cent Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) but me I’m looking forward to having maximum, 5 per cent interest on agriculture loans along the value chains. It’s not supposed to be a special window.”
He expressed farmers’ desire to see the government “recapitalising the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) so that it will be positioned to do its set-up objectives. He also noted the sector’s hope of seeing the government, “providing basic infrastructure, especially as it borders on irrigation so that we won’t be depending on rainfall agriculture.”
According to him, “if we can get those things right – three key things, infrastructure, single digit interest of maximum of 5 per cent on agriculture loans to any agric sector along the value chains, and bridging the training gap, which is continuous, the sector will no doubt receive a boost. We are also looking forward to dwelling more on organic farming.”
For his part, agric sector stakeholder, Mr. Richard-Mark Mbaram, Editor-in-Chief, AgroNigeria, said one of the areas the sector will require major attention in 2020 to kick-start it, is agro-industrialisation.
Mbaram said, “we are at a time when we need agro-industrialisation to kick-start the sector and industrialisation has to happen not in the urban area; it has to happen in the rural hinterland. So there needs to be a situation where we ensure that we have infrastructure because infrastructure is the core challenge the rural communities have.”
He stressed the importance of rural infrastructure to the growth of agriculture, saying, “Businesses cannot thrive in the hinterland without connecting roads, water, storage and also power, which is very critical. So if you systematically provide all of these infrastructure in the rural areas in a way that targets dense agricultural commodity productivity zones, you will be able to trigger some form of reinforced productivity in the space.
“So if you reinforce primary productivity, you will have to stabilise value-added, which is processing, and processing can take place not far away from the locations where the primary production is taking place. If you are able to situate processing around areas of primary production, and industries begin to come in to off-take those processed products, or you can even connect them to points where they can be exported, you would have taken the sector to whole new level.”
He added that, “if you have transportation infrastructure such as rail, cargo airports and seaports, you would have galvanised the economy from the bottom up perspective without necessarily expending too much on them.”
Mbaram stated: “When you hear that Nigeria is looking to borrow $20 million, if we are channelling those resources in these kinds of structured and strategic manner, we are certainly going to be in a position where our economy will be given a massive boost and we should be able to pay off these debts in no time. The problem will be where you borrow to continue what I call prodigal economic status quo where you borrow money to service recurrent expenditure. It is madness; you’re haemorrhaging as an economy and just waiting for when you will bleed out.
“So I’m looking into 2020 and I’m seeing the African Development Bank (AfDB) working very hard with the Federal Government, and the president has approved special agro-processing industrial zones and massive infrastructural interventions in rural communities and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is also repositioning.
“The new minister has been intensively reworking the functional dynamics of the ministry and repositioning things. So I’m optimistic that with the guided, serious approach to policy contrivance and implementation, we should be able to have a better managed sector; better in terms of output, and if you have agriculture working, you can say Nigeria is heading towards Eldorado.”
Sounding out the National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Ibrahim Kabiru, on how activities in the agric sector can be enhanced this year to make it more viable, thereby improving the lot of its practitioners, he noted the need for more involvement of government, especially in the areas of power, processing and provision of good seed and other inputs, to incentivise farmers.
Kabiru, who admits that the focus of the current administration has been agriculture, wants government to create the enabling environment for agriculture to thrive. According to him, “the issues of good seed, processing, storage, marketing and transportation are very important. We should be able to transport our produce from where we produce them to the market at less cost.
“We should have rails for movement of goods; that is very paramount. In other places, they have good rail networks for the movement of produce and livestock like cattle. You can imagine if we have a good rail line to move cattle from the North to the South, especially Lagos. The cattle will arrive there healthier, faster and better.”
The AFAN national president also harps on the need for an enhanced produce market, stating that, “when you push people to produce, they should be able to sell what they produce and recoup their funds to be able to go back to the farm.”
In addition, Kabiru, who explains that government does not give loan but is saddled with the responsibility of creating enabling environment for banks to be able to give loans to farmers, called on his colleagues to desist from expecting loans from government.
He said, “banks are business people so if farmers can have good produce, sell it quickly and with good value, the banks will give loans to them. Once the enabling environment is not there, there cannot be agribusiness and banks cannot give out loans but many of our farmers are making that mistake of expecting that government will give them loans. The government is not in the business of giving loans but government is in the business of creating enabling environment for you to be able to borrow. So once you get all these things in place, we will be okay.”
For Oluwarotimi Fashola, the General Manager, Project, Elephant Group Plc, agriculture, especially the rice value chain, should be given a life line and according to him, one of the ways of doing this is to let the country’s land borders with its West African neighbours, that were shut last August, to remain closed.
According to him, “that’s what is going to help farmers, processors and the masses. We don’t want them to flood us with the cheap commodities that are not healthy. So let’s build our agriculture. We can only build from inside out, we cannot build from outside in. Singapore, South Korea, Japan, all the developed world built their internal world; they built their own foundations and that is why they can supply to the world. Let us build our own agriculture too so that we can supply to the world.”