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.
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