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Appraising Jonathan’s one-year scorecard in agriculture

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By Sani Adamu

Prior to Nigeria’s independence on Oct. 1, 1960 and in the early post-independence years, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.Analysts recall with nostalgia when the legendary groundnut pyramids dotted the landscape of Kano, as groundnut was the major cash crop of the northern states of the country.
In the southwestern part of Nigeria, there were flourishing cocoa plantations, while the southeastern part was home to thriving rubber plantations.
Agriculture then played the triple role of putting food on the tables of Nigerian families, providing employment for a larger section of the citizenry and generating revenue as well as foreign reserve for the country in a sustainable manner.
However, with the discovery of petroleum at Oloibiri in 1956 and the advent of oil boom in the 1970s, the situation changed dramatically, as agriculture was gradually relegated to the background in spite of huge budgetary allocations to the sector by successive administrations.
Economists say that nowadays, Nigeria’s economy is largely dependent on oil revenues, while the citizens’ interest in agriculture has waned considerably.
They bemoan the steady decline in food production during the oil boom era of the 1970s, with the attendant effects on widening food supply and demand gaps, as well as rising food import bills.
However, the introduction of various ambitious national agricultural programmes by successive administrations to boost agricultural production and restore the lost glory of the sector has not made any difference.
On the global level, the situation appears grim, as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD) have predicted a sharp increase in global food prices in the coming decades with the cost of assorted grains estimated to rise by 15 to 40 per cent due to declining production.
The report indicates that global food prices are expected to rise again without reverting to the average levels witnessed during the past decade.
“If  history is any guide, further episodes of strong price fluctuations of food grains cannot be ruled out, nor can future short-lived crises,’’ says the report.
However, some agriculturalists have attributed the growth in food demand to the spiraling world population, which is estimated to peak at over nine billion by 2050.
The scenario is even more frightening, as a recent World Bank report indicates that several people die on a daily basis from hunger and hunger-related diseases in the developing countries, including Nigeria.
As part of efforts to boost agricultural production in the country, the Federal Government established 12 river basin development authorities (RBDAs) but these agencies have somewhat become moribund.
The RBDAs were primarily established to provide water for irrigation farming and water supply, improvement of navigation, hydro-electric power generation, recreation facilities and fisheries projects but observers insist that they have become a conduit pipe for the wastage of public funds.
Agriculturalists particularly bemoan the pitiable state of Nigeria’s agriculture sector.
Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, the Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), described agriculture as the most neglected and most underdeveloped sector in the national economy.
His words: “Today, Nigeria has lost its pride of place in the export market to other countries. Far worse, the country now cannot feed itself; it and has to import food items, even those it can produce in abundance.
“Nigeria now yearly imports foods to the tune of over 3 billion U.S. dollars (about N450 billion). Imports of wheat, rice, fish and sugar alone cost Nigeria 1 trillion naira in foreign exchange annually and the imports are growing at an alarming rate of 11 per cent per annum.’’
Adamu stressed that Nigeria’s independence was somewhat questionable because of the growing food insecurity in the country, as it continued to rely mainly of food imports.  
“We cannot have peace and cannot develop at the rate we should, when local food production is falling and our farmers are being displaced; when inflation is being fuelled by food imports; when unemployment rate is rising; when poverty is increasing among the population; and when hunger is ravaging the land.
“Obviously, the current situation is as inexcusable as it is unacceptable, and must, therefore, be changed for the better,” Adamu, a former governor of Nasarawa State, said.
Such comments, perhaps, informed the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to launch the Agricultural Transformation Agenda.
The aim of the agenda is to develop the agriculture sector, boost food security, empower farmers and discourage food imports, while stimulating exports of Nigeria’s agricultural produce.
A major plank of the agenda is the Federal Government’s decision to withdraw from direct procurement of fertilisers and other agricultural input.
To provide easy access to agricultural input for the farmers, the government also introduced an e-wallet system to enable farmers to access their fertiliser allocations via SMS on their cell phones.
Less than one year after the initiation of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, Jonathan also initiated some programmes aimed at promoting mechanised farming.
As a first step, the Federal Government approved the importation of 18 large-scale cassava flour processing plants that are capable of processing 1.3 million metric tonnes of cassava per annum.
Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture, made this known recently, while briefing newsmen on the outcome of the just-concluded Nigerian Agric-business Investment Forum in Washington DC.
The Washington forum was designed to showcase Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda, so as to attract and stimulate foreign investments in the agriculture sector.
Adesina said that the importation of the cassava flour processing machines was in line with the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the Jonathan-administration.
He stressed that Nigeria, being the largest producer of cassava in the world, ought to take due advantage of its cassava production by exploring more opportunities in the cassava sub-sector.
He said that the 18 cassava processing plants would boost cassava production in the country, adding that Cargill, a major U.S. company, had signified interest in supplying the machineries to Nigeria.
“Cargill, one of the largest food processors in the world, has expressed interest in investing in Nigeria’s cassava sector.
“Truly, Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world but we are not adding value to our production. We can make more money if we process our cassava into starch, cassava chips, ethanol and other derivative products.
“Currently, we use our cassava for garri, a local staple food. Through our current focus of cassava processing, we intend to make money for our cassava farmers.
“We are importing 18 new large-scale, high-quality cassava flour plants. These plants will process 1.3 million metric tonnes of high-quality cassava flour every year.
“We will have enough cassava flour for our new bread-making initiative and this will also assist us in our drive to create market for cassava in the baking industry.
“Cargill has expressed interest in buying some of these plants; that’s a great endorsement of our policy,’’ he added.
Besides, the minister said that the Agricultural Transformation Agenda had also received a boost with the decision of AGCO, one of the world’s largest tractor manufacturers, to set up two tractor assembly plants in Rivers and Kaduna states.
Adesina said that the local manufacture AGCO tractors in Nigeria would consequently lower the cost of tractors in the country; speed up mechanised farming and make agriculture more appealing, while creating job opportunities for the youth.
The minister disclosed that about 300,000 tractors would be required for the implementation of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda.
Beyond that, Adesina said that another foreign company had agreed to invest in 25,000-hectare rice production venture in the Rima irrigation scheme in Sokoto State, adding that the project would particularly boost Nigeria’s rice production efforts.
He noted that the World Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), World Cocoa Foundation and the International Food Research Institute (IFPRI) had also endorsed the Federal Government’s agricultural transformation programme.
As regards funding, the minister stressed that the World Bank decided to support the programme’s implementation with 900 million U.S. dollars (about N135 billion), while aiding the development of staple crop processing zones in the country.
Moreover,  Adesina said that Nigeria would also benefit from U.S. President Barack Obama’s “Feed the Future Initiative’’, a global initiative aimed at supporting agricultural production.
He said that representatives of the Federal Government and the U.S. government would meet in Washington in June to discuss plans for a new strategic partnership to fast-track the Agricultural Transformation Agenda.
The World Cocoa Foundation has also agreed to provide support for the training of Nigerian cocoa farmers in modern cocoa production procedures.
The minister said that the Foundation would also aid Nigeria’s efforts in establishing a Cocoa Market and Trading Corporation.
However, some observers maintain that the Jonathan-administration still has a lot to do in fostering the growth of the agriculture sector.
Mrs Patience Andrew, a civil servant, urged the President to initiate pragmatic strategies to deal with the factors militating against the growth of the sector.
She stressed that development of the agriculture sector ought to be accorded priority attention because of its economic potential, which included job creation.
Besides, Andrew said that the country’s security would be considerably enhanced if there was food security.
She underscored the need for the government to embark on pragmatic poverty-alleviation and food security programmes, adding that more investments were, nonetheless, needed in these areas to promote the citizens’ living standards.  
Observers believe that the lofty objectives of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda notwithstanding, tangible efforts should be aimed at encouraging private sector participation in the programme’s implementation.
Through such concerted efforts, Nigeria’s agriculture sector will be revamped, while the country will be repositioned to become one of the major exporters of agricultural produce in the world, they add.
Source: NAN

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