2017 is a very interesting year for Nigeria’s agric sector, which was geared towards rejuvenating the economy. It was, however, marred with lots of controversies and was less impactful. TAIWO HASSAN reports in retrospect
President Muhammadu Buhari had emphasised while assuming office as the President and Commander in Chief of Nigeria Army Forces that Nigeria is still an agrigarian economy where agriculture should form the larger bulk of the country’s revenue generation
This perhaps informed why the year 2017 was an historic period for the country’s agricultural sector as it once again received special attention from the Federal Government in its bid to diversify the economy into non-oil sector.
Consequently, all eyes were on agriculture in 2017 with various decisions taken, policy statements released, Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) signed, programmes launched and committees setup at various time as part of efforts to revive the sector and make it a major revenue generating segment of the Nigerian economy.
Floating of rice mills
One of the major events in 2017 was the establishment of many rice mills in the country. This is in line with the administration’s determination to create wealth and employment, ensure food security and sustain livelihood in the country.
The rice mills, according to the Federal Government, were meant for the domestic market in order to embrace self-sufficiency.
One of the turning points in the floating of this year’s rice mills was the participation of private sector operators in revolutionizing the country’s agricultural value chain.
Indeed, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s Anchor Borrowers Programme initiated by President Muhammadu Buhari has justified that Nigeria is a net exporter of rice in the continent.
Basically, it has opened more opportunities for states, rice merchants and farmers to embrace investment in rice production, which is ideal for the country’s growth and development.
Since the commencement of the CBN ABP, Nigeria’s investments in rice production has been growing rapidly, thus the quest to establish more rice mills has become imperative.
In addition, the floating of these rice mills factories has further re-echoed the resolve of the Federal Government to leverage on agriculture to grow the economy and create jobs.
FG’s Home-Grown School Feeding
Controversy however, trailed the establishment of the National Home-Grown School Feeding (HGSF) by the Present Muhammadu Buhari-led government in 2017.
The school feeding programme also played a key role in the year under review as we saw the expansion of the programme to other states nationwide, apart from the identified states for the pilot scheme.
Ideally, the Federal Government’s HGSF programme was designed to improve Nigerian children’s standards of living especially school pupils, but inadequate funding resulted to the late kick-off of the programme and this attracted lots of criticism among agric stakeholders.
During the year, the Presidency, in a statement issued by the spokesman to Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, Laolu Akande, gave breakdown of the total number of meals served so far in the piloted states.
However, as part of the Federal Government’s commitment to extend the school feeding programme to other states, the Presidency also revealed that Delta and Abia states had been captured in the HGSF programme.
Yam rejection saga
Again, one of the key events in 2017 was the embarrassing news that Nigerian yam exports to the United States and United Kingdom were rejected at the point of entry at the ports.
This issue was greeted with mixed reactions among agric stakeholders. This, once again, showed the true state of the Nigerian agricultural produce export market, especially as it relates to yam produce.
Particularly, on June 29, Nigeria began to export yams to Europe and the United States, as part of the moves to diversify her oil-dependent economy and earn the much-needed foreign exchange so as to compliment the effect of the crude oil crash at the international market.
The initial purpose of the yam programme was to earn foreign exchange in the region of $10 billion annually over the next four years by the Federal Government.
Beyond all these arguments, nothing can be more embarrassing than getting to know that 72 tonnes of yam that left the shore of Nigeria through Apapa port to United States last June were also rejected.
The issue surrounding the sudden acceptance of Genetically Modified Organic (GMO) almost let the roof opening in the year under review as mass protests and criticism trailed the news of the approval of GMO beans by the National Bio-safety Management Agency (NBMA).
Controversially, the GMO beans acceptance in Nigeria divided the country’s agric sector into two schools of thought; as there were some category of researchers, scientists, farmers and academicians rooting for GMOs, while others were against it because of its harmful effect to Nigerians.
Like a storm that rocked the boats on the ocean, Nigerians were alarmed to hear that the Federal Government, through the NBMA, had concluded plans to introduce GMO beans (Bt Cowpea) into the market for consumption.
Amid the GMO beans (Bt Cowpea) news, a section of Nigerian academicians called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to wade into the matter urgently in order to stop the GMO beans (Bt cowpea) take-off.
Speaking at an agric forum on GMOs in Lagos, the Chairman, Global Prolife Alliance (GPA), Dr Philip Njemanze, revealed that government, through the NBMA, should apply caution over its intention to roll-out GMO beans (Bt Cowpea) into the Nigerian market, despite its certification and ratification as food consumption for Nigerians.
He explained that the work on the Nigerian GMO beans (Bt Cowpea) was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a $4,000,000 grant through the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), which had already identified the Nigerian market as the hub for the consumption of the GMO beans.
According to him, millions of Nigerians eat beans and the foreign biotechnology companies have long wanted to gain access to the production of this local staple food in Nigeria.
Maize imports saga
Another critical event that shaped 2017 was the Federal Government’s refusal to ban maize importation into the country and, this was marred with wide spread protests and criticism among agric stakeholders.
Besides, the Nigeria Farmers Group and Cooperative Society urged the Federal Government to urgently set a time line to ban the importation of maize into the country.
The group also raised the alarm that non-refusal of the Federal Government to stop the importation of maize would lead to mass job losses among Nigerian farmers.
The group’s National Coordinator, Mr Redson Tedheke, said in an interview in Abuja that the suspension of the import would protect local farmers and encourage massive production of the commodity.
According to him, unchecked importation of maize remains a major threat to local production and President Muhammadu Buhari’s agricultural revolution drive.
He said the continued importation of maize is a danger signal to Nigeria’s food productivity.
Foreign domination of agric
Another shocking event in the year under review was the news that foreigners had taken over Nigeria’s agric sector.
This news was met with raised eyebrows from the Federal Government and local stakeholders in the sector, who predicted doom and danger for the country in future.
Particularly, the Federal Government reported that it had discovered that more foreigners were doing business in the country’s agricultural sector.
According to government, this could be traceable to the high interest rates banks demand from local agriculture entrepreneurs.
Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heineken Lokpobiri, was quoted saying that low access to finance was a major challenge impeding the development of the agricultural sector from within.
Rice smuggling alarm
As 2017 winds down and also because of the yuletide celebration, the Federal Government raised the alarm that smugglers have perfected plans to import over one million tons of rice from Benin Republic through the country’s land borders.
At the peak of yuletide celebration, one of the commodities that top smugglers’ choice had been rice.
Indeed, statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) showed that the country’s total rice consumption is estimated at 6.9 million metric tons.
However, the inability of local farmers to meet the aggregate demand for rice production locally opened the doors for an increase in rice smuggling into the country in order to curtail the wide shortfall in its consumption by Nigerians.
For 2017, stakeholders in the country’s agric sector expected a lot of turnaround in the sector, but continued government’s policy summersaults stifled availability of food in abundance for Nigerians.
Nigeria’s agric and the challenges
Recently, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, linked private sector investments to the growing transformation in Nigeria’s agric sector. But these investors still have to contend with myriad of challenges. TAIWO HASSAN reports
On attaining the mantle of leadership as Nigeria’s president on May 29th, Muhammadu Buhari, without compromising his administration’s role, explained that he would give top priority to the agric sector. Particularly, President Buhari wooed the private sector to invest in agriculture, saying that this is the next ‘big thing’ in the country and it is being positioned to increase the country’s revenue generation.
Since President Buhari’s clarion call, the private sector have keyed in into the Federal Government’s diversification agenda, through their investments in Nigeria’s agric sector. Ogbeh has consistently reiterated that his ministry is fully committed towards the development of the agricultural sector, stressing that key developments in the sector would continually be private sector driven.
He said that the Federal Government would provide the necessary incentives to grow the sector by facilitating financing and support for Small to Medium Scale Enterprises (SME) through investment vehicles such as FAFIN.
Fixing Nigeria’s agric sector
The minister said that the burden of fixing Nigeria’s economy has fallen squarely on his ministry as the oil industry has floundered and the revenue originating from it had taken a plunge, adding that no serious government will fold its arms and watch without doing something. According to him, to fix agriculture and the Nigerian economy, what the administration need to do is to harness the good policies it met on the table and blend with those that they are currently fashioning out, in a coherent and consistent manner such that it will instill confidence in the citizens, investors, market operators, farmers, traders and everyone along the various agricultural value chains.
He said that President Muhammadu Buhari has given his support for the interventions that could move agriculture forward and contribute to repositioning the economy and diversifying it away from overreliance on oil.Ogbeh said : “We have taken up the challenge of boosting local production of food as we reduce our dependency on food imports, boost domestic food production, revive rural economy and expand export earnings.
“With the huge agricultural potential of over 84 million hectares of land, abundant water bodies, particularly the various rivers, all-year-round favourable weather conditions and a variety of agro-ecologies suitable for agriculture, Nigeria is well positioned to feed its population as well as produce for export.
“The policies of my ministry will be proactive and responsive to the stakeholders’ peculiar needs. We will be nationalistic and patriotic in our approach. “We will support genuine investors and we will ensure that food is produced in abundance while we also boost the prospects of investors in the agricultural sector.”
Private sector investments
The increasing attention of the private investors in agriculture is a testimony to the fact that there is a lot of prospect in the sector. Particularly, the private sector investment in various agricultural value chains in Nigeria has re-positioned agriculture in the country in all ramifications. Indeed, the private sector investment has also provided an opportunity for the national agriculture community to familiarize themselves with the Federal Government’s priorities and plans for the sector.
No doubt, statistics revealed that private sector investments in the country’s agric sector has surpassed N1 trillion. Hence, agric experts have advised that the government needs to give more support to the private sector in order not to lose the goodwill the country had been enjoying in agriculture.
“There is risk of reduced investment spending that can lead to loses of opportunity for job creation by 16 priority investors due to lack of satisfaction with government support,” the UNDP Deputy Country Director of Programmes, Mandisa Mashologu said. He added that nascent system of coordination and inconsistency of policies, regulations, laws and administrative practices, which were key challenges, must become a thing of the past, if Nigeria must maintain its enviable leadership position in Africa’s agricultural transformation. Some of the multi-billion naira private sector investments in Nigeria’s agric sector are geared towards guaranteeing abundant food sufficiency and security.
Cosmas Maduka, Chairman of Coscharis Group, a foremost automobile dealer in Nigeria, has invested a fortune on rice production in Anambra State to the tune of 3,000 hectares and promised to increase it to 6,000 hectares soon.
Alhaji Sani Dangote, the vice chairman of Dangote Group, has indicated the commitment of his conglomerate in agricultural mechanisation. Dangote Group was among the investors who witnessed the flag-off of the second phase of the Mechanisation intervention of the Federal Government.
The company is among others taking up Agricultural Equipment Hiring Enterprise centres in Nigeria. Sani Dangote, who is also the chairman of the Nigeria Agriculture Business Group (NABG), said: “There is an urgent need for private sector stakeholders in agriculture to work together towards growing Nigeria’s agriculture, diversifying from oil and gas dependency, encouraging agricultural industrialization, and creating an enabling environment for agribusiness to thrive.”
On rice production, Africa’s richest man, Dangote, announced earlier this year that he was making a $1 billion investment in Nigeria’s rice production, which seemed to vindicate the government’s approach.
The Dangote Group plans to produce one million tonnes of parboiled milled rice over the next five years, equivalent to 16 per cent of domestic demand. Other big players have also jumped in, including the Lagos- based conglomerate TGI, which opened a rice mill in August with a capacity of 120,000 tonnes, and Olam Nigeria, part of Singapore-based Olam International, which plans to boost its existing rice output.
However, despite the efforts of the private sector investors to boost Nigeria’s agriculture, they are still facing challenges in their farming businesses, including access to credit, access to land, land analysis, land management and security on farms. Also included are market access, standardization and post-harvest losses. All these challenges are currently affecting their huge investments in the sector.
With the huge private sector investment in Nigeria’s agriculture, experts have called for creation of enabling environment from government in order to safeguard their investments in the sector.
Dogara’s wife assists 7, 000 women farmers in Bauchi
As part of efforts to encourage women farmers, the wife of the Speaker House of Representatives Mrs Gimbiya Yakubu Dogara has distributed farms seeding to seven thousand women farmers in Bauchi state.
Mrs. Dogara represented by the Coordinator of the Sun Of Hope Foundation Mrs Darambi Kefas explained that the organization had supported 3, 500 women farmers in the constituency last year to cultivate rice which became so scarce for some time now saying 3, 500 youths were included in this year to cultivate maize with a view to eradicating hunger in the society.
She said three thousand five hundred (3, 500) women farmers were provided with rice seeds and additional three thousand five hundred (3500) women with maize seeds saying were donated free of charge by her pet project ‘Sun Of Hope Foundation’.
The women beneficiaries were drawn from Bogoro, Tafawa Balewa and Dass Federal constituency of Bauchi State where the speaker represents.
She noted that the new beneficiaries are being selected yearly from all wards in the three local government in order to carry all constituents along.
Mrs Dogara stated that the foundation intervenes in the areas of agriculture, health, education and children’s welfare said they recently donated medical equipment and consumables to Virginal Vestibular Fistula (VVF) centres in Ningi, Bauchi State, Akwa Ibom and Hajiya Gambo Sawaba VVF centre, Zaria.
” The foundation had in the recent time sponsored free ante natals to pregnant women in Dass local government and offers free medical outreach at the annual ‘Limzaar’ festival in Tafawa Balewa local government”, She said.
Responding on behalf of other beneficiaries, Esther Bitrus expressed appreciation to the Speaker’s wife for the gesture promising that they would make good use of the seeds.
Meanwhile, Mrs Dogara also donated two bags of rice, one bag of maize and baby kits and wares to mother of triplets Mrs Rachael Gabriel at Lafiyan Sara village in the local government.
New agric laws: How far can NASS go?
Just recently, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, called for the enactment of new legislation that can foster, guide and revolutionise agricultural activities in the country. TAIWO HASSAN juxtaposes this move with the realities on ground
Overview of Nigerian agric sector
Indeed, since the nation’s independence in 1960, agriculture had been the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, providing the largest chunk of foreign exchange inflow into the country. Moreover, it contributed about 63 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to official statistics from the National Bureau of Statistic (NBS).
The incomes as at then were derived from the export of major cash crops such as rubber, cocoa, palm oil, cashew nuts, groundnut and cotton, among others. Notwithstanding the low prices that agricultural products suffered at that time, the sector remained resolute by continually sustaining the country’s economy. Indeed, the sector was the largest employer of labour in the country then.
However, on assuming office as the Head of State in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to introduce diversification programme where agriculture, solid minerals and manufacturing sectors were identified to stabilize the moribund economy.
Particularly, the government floated the various economic policies including the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), in order to stem the steady decline in the country’s economic fortunes.
For agriculture, the present administration launched the Green Alternative: Agriculture Promotion Policy (2016-2020) as a roadmap towards the revival of country’s agricultural sector.
According to the government, it is a comprehensive plan and a well thought-out strategy -to meaningfully and systematically address the myriad of challenges militating against the growth of the agricultural sector, with a view to providing innovative solutions for reviving and repositioning the sector for accelerated national development.
However, the agric policy of the government became the toast of some eminent industrialists, commercial farmers, foreign/ local investors and agro-allied industries as they ventured into different aspects of farming in order to provide food sufficiency and security for Nigerian populace.
Nigerian agricultural policy
Indeed, Nigeria has a robust agricultural policy set out in the Nigerian Agricultural Policy 2000, which provides the framework for the implementation of programmes and guidelines for agricultural development. The overreaching objectives of the Policy are:
The achievement of self-sufficiency in basic food supply and attainment of food security, increased production of agricultural raw materials for industries, eradication of poverty, development of the rural economy, and protection of environment.
This is expected to be achieved through the: Creation of a conducive macro-environment to stimulate private sector investment in agriculture, rationalisation of the roles of the three tiers of government in their promotional and supportive activities to stimulate growth, articulation and implementation of integrated rural development as a priority, National programme to raise the quality of life for rural people, increased agricultural production through increased budgetary allocation and promotion of the necessary developmental, supportive and serviceoriented activities, increasing fiscal incentives and promotion of increased use of agricultural machinery and inputs through a favourable tariff regime.
The policy is successfully implemented in areas of food crops such as maize, beans, sorghum, yam, millet, cassava, pineapple, and oranges.
However, the policy is less successful and greater investment will be required in areas of cash crops such as oil palm, cocoa, rubber, groundnut, cotton, cashew and sugar cane, and food crops such as potato, rice, wheat and fruit crops. House of Reps’ new agricultural laws However, having realized that the country had ots of agricultural laws that are no longer relevant and obsolete, the House of Reps called for the enactment of new laws that will take the agricultural sector to new highs while turning it into a major foreign exchange earner for the country in the nearest future.
The Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara while speaking at a two-day public hearing organised by the House Committee on Agricultural Colleges and Institutions in Abuja, recently affirmed that it was time for legislating new agricultural laws for the country.
He said that there was need to ensure bills processed by the legislature were cost-sensitive and did not increase the financial burden of the nation through the multiplication of agencies.
The proliferation of agencies, according to him, is not conducive to the economic well-being of the nation as a new agency “comes with its complement of bureaucracy.”
Instead, he advocated for the amendment of the functions and mandate of existing agencies, where possible. Dogara added: “Furthermore, in cases where there is need to reinvigorate a particular sector and lay emphasis, it may become necessary to carve out an agency from an existing one.”
He reiterated that the agricultural sector requires up-to-date legislation for continuous growth and development. He said, “It is very gratifying to note that giant strides are being made in the sector.
“Up-to-date legislation is required to aid the drive to modernize agricultural practices, drive economic diversification, achieve food self-sufficiency, and ultimately turn agriculture into a major foreign exchange earner in the nearest future.”
New agric bills
The bills being considered by the committee include a Bill for an Act to Regulate the Profession of Agriculture and to make provision for the Establishment, Functions and Administration of Nigerian Institute of Agriculturists, and for Other Related Matters. (HB.838). Also under consideration, is a Bill for the Act to Repeal the Veterinary Surgeons Act. Cap. V3, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and for Other Related Matters (HB. 836). In his remarks, the Speaker urged the committee to ensure the bills were in accordance with legal, regulatorky and economic goals set out for the agricultural sector through appropriate scrutiny.
Agricultural experts, under the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), are however, pessimism about the lawmakers’ stance to promulgate new agricultural laws given the lifespan of the current administration, saying the bills could be waste of national resources.
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