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.
GMO: Who blinks first – NBMA or HOMEF?
Efforts to establish Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria are currently enmeshed in controversy as two key agencies- National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) accuse each other of sabotaging the nation’s food security. Taiwo Hassan reports
Indeed, Nigeria is one of the luckiest countries in the world that is blessed with large span of arable lands for planting of crops to ensure food productivity and security.
But in spite of the oil, which currently account for 90 per cent of Nigeria’s revenue and foreign Exchange earnings, agriculture remains the base of the nation’s economy, providing the main source of livelihood for most Nigerians. The sector, no doubt, faces many challenges such as outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land (1.8 ha/farming household), a very low level of irrigation development (less than 1 percent of cropped land under irrigation), limited adoption of research findings and technologies, high cost of farm inputs and poor access to credit. Also included are inefficient fertilizer procurement and distribution, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets, which have all combined to keep agricultural productivity low (average of 1.2 metric tons of cereals/ha) with high post-harvest losses and wastes..
Despite these challenges, agriculture still remains the largest sector of the Nigerian economy -employing two-thirds of the entire labour force.
Over the past three decades, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than one percent annually. It is estimated that Nigeria has lost $15 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities. Food (crop) production increases have not kept pace with population growth, resulting in rising food imports and declining levels of national food self-sufficiency.
The main factors undermining production include reliance on rainfed agriculture, smallholder land holding, and low productivity due to poor planting material, low fertilizer application, and a weak agricultural extension system amongst others
Introduction of GMOs
Meanwhile, the introduction of GMOs into the country’s agriculture may not have gone down well with many Nigerians over lack of empirical evidence to ascertain and certify
them safe for human consumption, even though the country is facing challenges in meeting food production for its teeming huge population.
Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food production will need to double in some parts of the world by 2050 and this translates to the need for more land for cultivation, which will not be readily available. Hence, the introduction of GMO crops to make enough nutritious food available with limited land, water and other resources was one of the reasons GMO was approved to compliment food security in the world.
The Nigerian authorities had given legislative approval (‘junk science’) to the NBMA.
Those in support of GMOs said population growth will necessitate the need for more food production.
But this may not be suitable yet for Nigerians who are yet get acquainted to GMO products locally except the foreign nationalities living in Nigeria.
Besides, findings have shown that GMO crops are reportedly resistant to droughts, pests and crop diseases, while some are purported to be packed with extra vitamins, minerals and other health benefits.
However, in order to buttress its stance on aggressively developing of GMOs in Nigeria, the NBMA accused an advocacy group- HOMEF for opposing GMOs empirical test and alleged that it was trying to sabotaging Federal Government’s efforts at moving Nigeria towards food security through the application of technology in food production.
The NBMA in a statement, said it was not established to halt the use of GMOs, but to ensure the safety of GMOs on human health, plants, animals and the environment.
The agency said: “The agency has no intention and will never verbally engage HOMEF, but these statements made against the agency are not only incisive but negate the efforts of the Federal Government to ensure safety in the application of the technologies that assure Nigerians of food security and food safety.”
NBMA accused HOMEF of being unpatriotic, noting that it had never breached the law in the discharge of its duties.
“The attention of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) has been drawn to a series of incisive and unpatriotic statements peddled by the Health for Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) about the agency and its activities,” said the agency in a statement..
“While the agency does not want to banter with HOMEF or any of its kind, it is important to state here that NBMA is a government agency established by law as a regulatory agency to ensure the safe handling and use of modern biotechnology and its products, which includes Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).”
It will be recalled that HOMEF and its partners had last September criticised the approval by the NBMA for the confined field tests of genetically modified cassava in Ibadan, Oyo State – a move they said was designed to flood the country with genetically modified foods.
But the agency in the statement defended its approval of the field tests of some genetically modified crops, stating that the approval followed due process.
Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, accused the NBMA of abandoning its regulatory mandate.
“The NBMA are not the federal government, they are just an agency of the government and they are the ones that are inciting Nigerians because when they say that GMOs are safe and their job ought to stop GMOs but they are bringing GMOs. It’s completely what a regulatory agency should not be doing,” Bassey said.
Despite the controversy trailing GMO crops in the country, the multimillion dollar questions anti-GMO campaigners are asking is the safety of the environment and food
FG okays 2nd consignment of yam export to UK, U.S.
Nigerian yam exporters are set to export second consignment of yams to the United Kingdom and United States of America in the first quarter of this year. Prof. Simon Irtwang, Chairman, Technical Committee on Yam Export inaugurated by the Federal Government, disclosed this in Abuja.
The move, according to the committee, would eclipsed the 72 tonnes of yam that left the shore of Nigeria through the Apapa port to the U.S. and UK in June last year, which was widely reported as being rejected because it did not meet international specifications.
The chairman said that the committee had embarked on a tour of major markets, particularly those in the South-West, to ascertain the quality of the yams at hand.
According to him, the Federal Government is doing everything possible to ensure that yam rejection is not associated with the second phase during the export of the commodity.
“Not all species of yam are good for export. So, yam farmers and traders need to know the species that are good for export. They also need to know how to select, store and preserve them to increase their freshness and ability to stay long without decaying. We also have to let yam farmers know the seed yams they will plant that will be good for export,” Irtwang told newsmen in Abuja, last Tuesday.
He revealed that there would be no publicity for the second export as the flag-off had already been done last July by the Federal Government. He said that yam exports would be done without much publicity until the National Assembly repealed the Export Prohibition Act.
Irtwang said there was constant communication between the committee and companies involved in the production of cartons for yams packaging as well as those receiving them abroad.
He noted that with the lessons from the first export, the second export would not witness any challenges.
However, some stakeholders believe that the Federal Government’s move to commence second phase of yam export in the country will trigger outrageous price of yam and scarcity in the marketplace.
Farmers’ strike: Implications for Nigeria’s cocoa exports
Recently, cocoa farmers threatened to embark on a nationwide strike over the sector’s neglect by the Federal Government. Taiwo Hassan looks at consequences of the industrial action on Nigeria’s cocoa exports
Indeed, this is not the best of time for the country’s cocoa industry despite the role being played by the Federal Government to promote the development of the nation’s non-oil sector after the slump in the price of crude oil at the international market.
Despite the challenges facing the sector, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) has been at the vanguard of repositioning the country’s cocoa industry. But these efforts have not yielded the desired results needed to turnaround the fortunes of the sector under the present administration of Muhammadu Buhari.
Looming industrial strike
Following the instability in the cocoa industry, aggrieved farmers operating in the sector under the aegis of the National Executive Council of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN) a few days ago, insisted that they would embark on a national strike to protest the abnormalities in the sector.
This strike, if allowed, could spell doom for Nigeria’s cocoa production and decline in revenue accruing to the Federal Government from the sale of the commodity at the International market.
The association, in a communiqué after a meeting in Akure, Ondo State, recently, alleged that government procured substandard agro inputs for the sector, which is hampering productivity and consequently decline in profits by its members.
They expressed concern that this was happening, despite the diversification policy of the Federal Government into agriculture.
The farmers vowed to stage a mega protest across the cocoa producing states in the country, including Abuja and Lagos, to make their stance known to the general public on the happenings in the country’s cocoa industry.
They indicted FMARD for the sector’s woes, which is not in tandem with the current realities in the industry.
According to them, they have made several demands, especially in the area of procuring inputs for cocoa farmers, to the agric ministry without positive response and accused government of not carrying them along in its diversification programme.
However, the National President, Raimi Adeniji, the National Secretary, Adeola Adegoke and representatives of 14 states, signed the communiqué on behalf of the association at the meeting.
They said the development negates the Federal Government’s vision to develop the cocoa sector now that the price of the commodity is soaring at the international market.
Indeed, the association condemned the manner of procuring fake and sub-standard inputs for cocoa farmers, which they said, served as wastes and destroys the cocoa trees.
The association said: “CFAN reiterated our earlier call on Mr. President to re-organise procurement process in the cocoa value chain to give room for our contribution.
“Almost a quarter of Nigeria cocoa plantations were destroyed by fire during last year’s dry season without any support from the Federal Government, despite our complaints.”
They appealed to President Buhari to develop the cocoa industry as he promised during his campaigns.
“CFAN appeals to Buhari to intervene urgently to save the livelihood and future of cocoa farmers, considering the diversification campaign of the present administration,” the statement added.
Besides, the association identified economic woes orchestrated by Federal Government’s monetary policy and other farm droughts as the major reasons for the country’s relegation to the seventh position among cocoa producers in the world.
According to the association, the drought, which occurred last year also led to reduction in production of cocoa in the country.
Similarly, the fire outbreak that gutted almost a quarter of Nigeria cocoa plantations during last year’s dry season was a major factor.
They, however, said that lack of synergy between the public and private sector is another reason why Nigeria slipped to the seventh position as against the second or third position, which the country is expected to be.
They explained that this trend has affected the country in a major way while cocoa producers are still getting a little premium on their produce.
The association added that cocoa producers have been affected in terms of collaboration with the government and international cocoa agencies in grants that should come into the sector.
The threat to embark on industrial action by the cocoa farmers would not be in the best interest of everybody as it would further expose the lacuna in this present administration’s diversification programme to revitalise the country’s agric sector optimally.
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