In Nigeria President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan during the interview with selected journalists in the State House, promised that the country would before the end of next December start the export of cement. He also promised that his government would through the ongoing reform in the agricultural sector stop the importation of rice. He promised that he would under no consideration grant duty waivers for the import of rice into the country. He lamented that less than 11 percent of the fertilizers imported into the country got to the farmers.
To buttress the point of the President Minister of Agriculture, and Rural Development Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina, and Minister of state for agriculture, Alhaji Bukar Tijani led other farmers in Nigeria for a whole one week under the aegis of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) converged in the pyramid city of Kano last Month to rub minds and share ideas with the fellow farmers and non-farmers alike on the way forward for the Agricultural sector of the Economy. They came from different parts of the country, from East to the West and from the North centre to the North West representing all segments of the Nigerian society.
Indeed, the day kicked off with remarks and papers and one of the most interesting papers was the presentation made by the Minister of Agriculture to the farmers association. Before his paper, there was that of the National President of the famers association. In it Senator Abduallahi Adamu, who was a former governor of Nassarawa State and two time agriculture commissioner inn his state, appreciated the Ministry of Agriculture for their huge delegation, made up of its permanent secretary, directors and key officials, saying it was a pointer to the new thinking in Aso Rock, regarding agriculture .
The national president wants agriculture to focus on the peasant farmers in the country, adding that it is the only way towards tackling the scourge of poverty in the land. He quoted a World Bank report on accelerated growth and poverty reduction in Ghana and said tackling poverty in the rural areas in the country had shown that “a national strategy for poverty alleviation must be contingent on a thriving agriculture sector”.
He cautioned that failure to take urgent steps to reposition the sector simply implied that nation would be faced with the grave consequence of not being able to feed itself, a situation which jeopardizes the wealth and welfare of her teeming rural population of the country.
He said they had been intimated of plans by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration to make the country self-sufficient in the production of six specific crops by 2014, with emphasis on targeted crops such as rice, tomatoes, cotton, aqua culture, oil palm and cassava but be warned that it must be built on a practical and sustainable foundation to avoid the mistakes of the past.
The former governor cautioned against lack of synergy between the state and the Federal Government even as he wants the centre to scale down its over-aching presence in agriculture and apportion clear and feasible responsibilities among the three tiers of governments.
Senator Adamu also tasked the Federal Government to come up with a well-articulated roadmap for its new initiative, adding that the new roadmap should answer questions on the issue of time frame for the realization of the set goals, provide a picture of the nation’s production capacity, reveal the size o current import rates and identify the role of federal state and local government.
During the interactive session, a number of questions and challenges were raised by the delegates, including the issue of access to credit facilities, high collaterals from banks, the disruption created by political farmers, diversion of fertilizers and other farm inputs.
For example, Rivers State Chairman of AFAN, Pastor Sam U. Inyang, complained of the inability to the real farmers to access credits and loans from commercial banks in the country, despite, at least, two subsisting agriculture loan programs – N50 billion credit programs, which was carried over from the last administration and the N200 billion agricultural credit facility, initiated by the Jonathan administration, even as he lamented that most peasant farmers could not meet the conditions set by the CBN to get the loans. He equally complained that quiet often, agricultural programmes initiated by the Federal Government and other donor agencies were hijacked and diverted by other bodies not related to farmers, adding that AFAN, members should henceforth the major stakeholders in all these programmes.
On her part, Mrs. Sarah Jiwain, Plateau State Chairman of AFAN, raised questions regarding its new strategy being designed by the government for the distribution of fertilizers, asking the minister to clarify his earlier statement that they had a fresh plan to distribute the input to 200 million farmers in the country. Alhaji A. Adamu Wudil, a rice and maize farmer from Kano State, sought government’s intervention in helping the farmer get markets for the yield as most times, the big problem is coping with the excess yield as most times, the big problem is coping with the excess yields, which, when unattended to becomes a waste. “If farmers produce more than the market can absorb, how can you safeguard the loss? He further tasked the minister on his plans to hand over the distribution of fertilizer to private sector, asking how the envisaged subsidy on fertilizers would work along side the proposed privatization. On his part, Prince Bamidele Ogundele, who is from the South-West, appreciated the Agricultural Transformation action plan, but wants the Federal Government to take it down to the State Government.
The minister, who responded to the farmer’s question and challenges, had delivered a speech which focused on the agricultural action plan and the undiluted passion of President Jonathan to use agriculture as a vehicle for delivery of the dividends of democracy. He lamented that no nation had succeeded in fixing itself without; first fixing the agricultural sector of its economy, nothing that economies like China, Indian, Vietnam and Thailand were today big players in the world economy by transforming their agriculture. Dr. Adeshina was particularly emotional about the case of China, whom he said was able to lift a total of 440 million people out of poverty within 10 years. On the African continent, he mentioned Malawi, Ghana and Kenya as countries that are doing amazing things with agriculture.
He said the same magic was possible in the Nigeria but added that for us to succeed in transforming the agricultural sector, it must be taking out of politics and political realm and be treated with the seriousness it deserves, a seriousness that means that it must be treated as business and nothing more, adding that when that is done, it will create jobs for the teeming millions of unemployed youth diversify the economy from crude oil, reduce the drain in the economy as a result of importation of food while expanding new income sources from the exports of agricultural produce.
The minister listed the challenges, facing farmers in Nigeria to include the difficulty in finding agricultural inputs as farmers travel over 50 kilometers or more on bad roads, looking for improved seeds and fertilizer even as he held that less than five percent of Nigerian farmers make use of improved seedlings, a situation which made worse by the fact that the average use of fertilizer in Nigeria is only 13kg per hectare compares to the global average of 100kg per hectare.
He said the Agricultural Transformation Action plan offered a new lease of life first, he said there was need to end the era of big government, crowding out the private sector in agriculture, adding that it should be able to generate returns at the state levels to help state generate income, create jobs and reduce their dependency on the Federation Account. To do so he noted that there was need to focus on the whole value chain, which will enable us to make all the complimentary investment needed from production to market and ensure that we add value to all our commodities while reducing post harvest loss.
On fertilizers distribution, he regretted only 11 percent of the farmers in Nigeria got the subsidized fertilizer, adding that this was one of the reasons poverty was on the climb in rural areas. He said the action plan also focused on developing markets for farmers to sell their product at affordable price, saying under this, three keys reforms are under way: first we will put in place new marketing institutions to drive all agricultural value chain in Nigeria. They will not be the old marketing boards. They will be called marketing corporations and run by the private sector. They will be accountable to the farmers and the private sector and will ensure that the value chains are coordinated like it is done in other countries.
Apart from outlining the action plan he insisted that Nigeria should be self-sufficient in rice production within four years, nothing that the country currently imports two million MT of rice and spends over N350 billion saved from discontinuing the importation of rice and resultantly generate one million jobs by 2015.
In respect of cassava farming in Nigeria, he regretted that Nigeria was the largest producer of cassava inn the world with 34 million MT but contributes zero percent in terms of value-added in global trade. He lamented that under this climate though our farmers have cassava in abundance, they are surrounded with collapsed price of the produce.
The action plan he stressed, envisaged diversifying the production of cassava and creating new marketing opportunities for the farmers, adding: “we will focus on creating new end uses for cassava, apart from focusing on high quality cassava flour for use in composite flours to substitute for some of the wheat flour being imported.
The action plan, he stressed, intend to expand cassava production from the current 34 million MT to 51 million MT by 2015, adding that the target was to double yields from 12.5MT to 25MT and in the process, generate additional 1.2 million jobs create markets for farmers, stabilized the price of cassava and make it a profitable crop.
One immediate exit post for the cassava farmers in Nigeria is the emerging markets of fuel ethanol. He noted that the Federal Government intended to “move towards utilizing cassava to produce ethanol, adding that this would allow Nigeria to produce 1.2 billion litres of ethanol, using up to 11 million MT of cassava”.
In the end, there was no doubt that the issues raised and debated during Kano conference reflected a summation of the past challenges and failure, the tortuous road resources available in the agricultural sector of the economy.
Earlier, there was a courtesy calls by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina, Minister of State for agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Bukar Tijani, National President of the farmers association, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, formal Minister, Dr. Shetimma Mustapha among others. On both the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero and the Governor of Kano State Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.
At the monarch’s palace, Alhaji Ado Bayero was evidently thrilled by their visit and was profoundly excited by the prospects in the agricultural sector of the economy, arising from the Agricultural Transformation Action Plan being put together by the Federal Government. He sought the prioritization of the agricultural sector of the economy while not that Nigeria’s survival hinges on its ability to feed its people. He was particularly concerned about the need to diversify the economy from its current dependence on the sales of crude oil, even as he longed for a return of the old Kano groundnut pyramid that was once the pride of the nation.
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