Using food to pay debts By Jide Ayobolu

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OrijoReporter.com, Using food to pay debts By Jide Ayobolu

THE Federal Government said foreign exchange revenue from agric produce export will be used to pay the nation’s debts.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, stated this while considering calls made to commence second phase of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme, WAAPP, in the country. Ogbeh also expressed optimism that the debt burden of the country could be drastically reduced through generation of foreign exchange from food exportation.

Read also: The right kind of investment for nutrition By Jide Ayobolu

He said: “A portion of any loan we take now will be dedicated to encouraging agricultural production and exportation of products grown by young people and women. “We just have to earn more foreign exchange because we must pay our debts. According to statistics, we are spending 66 per cent of all our tax revenues on servicing debts.

“If we are servicing debts and not paying the principal, in another 10 years, this country will be in such debts that will make us to be facing major embarrassment.

“So, we will take part of our loans and invest it in agricultural projects that young people pursue for exports, so that we can earn both foreign exchange and Naira. The rest of the loans will go into training of youths and promotion of our produce.”

Meanwhile, the Minister, who also commended the results achieved in the first phase of WAAPP, said the World Bank was working assiduously to ensure the commencement of the second phase of the programme. He said: “The World Bank is preparing for the next phase but this time around, the input from the ministry will be stronger. “They (World Bank) did quite well but there were duplications in our programmes; we intend to streamline them now.”

The objectives of WAAPP has been on transforming West African agriculture by boosting agricultural productivity and its sustainability, reducing hunger and improving nutrition as well as creating jobs and supporting collaboration across borders. The programme has 13 participating West African countries, including Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Ogbeh, told newsmen in Abuja that the new policy would boost agricultural production, while facilitating efforts to improve exports of agricultural commodities. Ogbeh was reacting to calls by stakeholders to commence the second phase of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme, WAAPP.

The minister said the generation of foreign exchange through the exportation of agricultural produce would also help the country reduce its debt burden.

“A portion of any loan we take now will be dedicated to encouraging agricultural production and exportation of products grown by young people and women.

“We just have to earn more foreign exchange because we must pay our debts. According to statistics, we are spending 66 per cent of all our tax revenues on servicing debts. “If we are servicing debts and not paying the principal, in another 10 years, this country will be in such debts that will make us to be facing major embarrassment.

“So, we will take part of our loans and invest it in agricultural projects that young people pursue for exports, so that we can earn both foreign exchange and naira.

“The rest of the loans will go into training of youths and promotion of our produce,” he said.
Ogbeh expressed satisfaction with the first phase of WAAPP and noted that the World Bank was working toward the onset of its second phase.

“They (the World Bank) did quite well but there were duplication in our programmes; we intend to streamline them now. “The World Bank is preparing for the next phase but this time around, the input from the ministry will be stronger,” he said.

WAAPP is a multi-year effort to transform West African agriculture by boosting agricultural productivity and its sustainability, reducing hunger and improving nutrition as well as creating jobs and supporting collaboration across borders. The 13 participating countries of WAAPP are Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

According to the minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, “To begin with, a framework is already in place in agriculture ministry that anticipated what we presently experience. To fix agriculture and the economy, therefore, what we need rather is how to harness the good policies we meet on the table and blend with those that we are currently fashioning out, in a coherent and consistent manner such that we will instill confidence in the citizens, investors, market operators, farmers, traders and everyone along the various agricultural value chains.
President Muhammadu Buhari has given his support for the interventions that could move agriculture forward and contribute to repositioning the economy, diversifying it away from over-reliance on oil. In my ministry, 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 low productivity that has characterized Nigeria’s agriculture for decades was partly a consequence of the misplacement of priority, with the oil sector taking the prime place. For this reason, agricultural research nosedived. The various outcomes of many research efforts ended up on the shelf, with non-uptake by investors. The high level of importation had deprived the local farmers of competitive edge, and this has discouraged many, leading to mass exodus of rural agrarian population to the urban centres. Life in the rural areas gradually ground to a near halt while the urban centres continue to sprawl, with excessive stress on the limited urban infrastructure, increased crimes, growing unemployment and low quality of urban life for most.

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. Just last week, Mr. Cosmas Maduka, Chairman of Coscharis Group, a foremost automobile dealer in Nigeria, was in my office in company of other investors. Coscharis has invested a fortune on rice production in Anambra State to the tune of 3,000 hectares and promised to increase to 6,000 hectares soon. Alhaji Sani Dangote, vice chairman of Dangote Group, has indicated the commitment of his conglomerate in agricultural mechanisation.

On January 12, 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 this second phase.

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.

The role of knowledge and expertise in modern agriculture is significant. We need improved varieties of crops and improved breeds of animals to meet our growing needs for food. As we consider having greater yield per hectare of crops, we will also lay serious emphasis on efficient feed conversion in animals to enable us achieve quantitative increase in agricultural production. From the very foundation of our activities, we will correct the soil nutrient deficiencies, this time ensuring delivery of the right fertilizer to the right soil. This we will do by making use of the information we already had from the national soil mapping.

We are appalled by the news, last year, of the rejection of agricultural product export from Nigeria to the EU. We will not allow such embarrassments in the future. We cannot afford to have our agricultural exports rejected. We will strengthen our regulatory and inspection authorities and ensure that they live up to their mandates. Our desire for export in agricultural products means there will be a vigorous pursuit of investment in quality control and standardization.

Accordingly, we will address quality issues. In doing these, we will transform the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) to make it responsive to issues of safety and phytosanitary standards in food exports so that its reports will be acceptable globally.

Our trade and investment policies need to be well aligned with the new realities in agriculture. Policies are needed to protect the sector. Nigeria cannot afford to continue to be a dumping ground for cheap subsidized food and agricultural products from other countries. We will henceforth empower our own farmers to produce for home consumption and for export. We need to work in partnership with statutory bodies that will make our impacts felt better. In so doing, we have to aim at guaranteeing success by debating and resolving the question of credit to agribusiness and the interest rate charged.

We will work with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council to ensure reliability on the part of our exporters. In our interventions, my ministry will work in close collaboration with the leadership of the National Assembly, especially the Committees of Agriculture. This will help us institutionalize the various interventions that are aimed at moving agriculture forward in Nigeria in a sustainable way.

We will work with the states and assist them as much as we can, particularly with the policy support and the rich human resources at our disposal. I advise the states, for strategic reasons, to urgently commence processes of demarcation between agricultural land and those meant for urban and property development. If that is not done early enough, chances are great that the good agricultural lands would all have gone the way of estate development. And the future of agriculture could suffer a death-blow as a result.

Under our watch, the private sector will be at the forefront while the government will provide the necessary enabling environment for the operators to thrive. We will come up with policies that will promote innovation and profitability, abundance of food and all-year-round farming, which will help to level-off the perennial annual cycles of price fluctuation of agricultural produce, particularly of the main staples. This will be coupled with the use and intensification of irrigation in close partnership with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.
We are mindful of the need to deliver safe and wholesome food to the consumers. Our fisheries and aquaculture systems urgently need to enforce standards that would accord them global credibility. Our crops should compete well in international markets while our animal products should be acceptable anywhere. Traceability and other global best practices will form an integral part of our interventions so that we can operate in the global space in addition to safeguarding the health of Nigerians at home as we produce for export.

As we aspire to play in the global markets, we will ensure transparency, creating and utilizing reliable database for our crops and animals. The statistics of livestock population are due for a review as the last livestock census was done in 1992 by the Resource Inventory Management (RIM).
This is no longer adequate for policy interventions. We will deploy modern science in our animal production drive by establishing modern breeding facilities for multiplication of our indigenous breeds as well as cross breeding with foreign breeds to increase their hybrid vigour.

This will entail the establishment of centres for artificial insemination and record of performance stations as we cannot, as a nation, afford to continue with unregulated breeding of animals, a situation that has led to a loss of proper accountability of our genetic potential. The Ministry of Agriculture, under my leadership will – as a matter of urgency – embark on ambitious programme of dairy production, using both the local breeds and improved cross breeds to produce high volume of milk, under a better condition of nutrition, veterinary care and husbandry.

We will promote investments in, and development of, livestock value chains in beef and dairy. Poultry production will be given a boost. To ensure this, we will assist the poultry industry to embark on a nation-wide registration of farms to make tracking and support easy. As we get over the present outbreak of avian influenza, the poultry industry will emerge stronger. I want to assure the poultry farmers who were affected by the epidemic that the federal government will help in their recovery efforts. I understand Kano State is particularly badly hit as there are so many family poultry farms within the state. I sympathise with them for what they have gone through.

Nigeria has lost many cattle to the activities of rustlers. The recurrent cases of clashes between nomadic herdsmen and crop farmers arise from the prolonged absence of regulation of animal production. Modernizing the production system for cattle, sheep and goats will bring the chaos to a permanent end as farmers will be provided with grazing lands and kept in paddocks. Taking advantage of our abundant water resources, we will grow good quality protein-rich grass commercially all across Nigeria through irrigation to complement the rain-fed production.

Our abattoirs all over Nigeria will be transformed structurally and functionally. The rules of abattoir operations will be strictly enforced. The animals will be slaughtered under the expertise of professionals such that the hides and skins, hoofs and horns could be recovered and processed appropriately. This is expected to revive the ailing leather industry, while providing business opportunities for renderers who convert the other wastes to wealth.

The tremendous annual losses incurred in the process of slaughtering pregnant cows are unacceptable and must stop. We will discourage such practices nationwide practice and save foetuses worth millions of naira in the next couple of years. These will help us to preserve our genetic potential to some degree. We will play by the rule and will utilise the services of our professionals to ensure that animals brought for slaughter in our abattoirs meet standard best practices. There is no reason why we should not compete well with the likes of Botswana in exporting beef to EU.

For far too long, most agricultural research institutions have gone comatose and the three universities of agriculture have wandered away to the Ministry of Education. We recognise the urgent need to revive ailing research institutions and to help them achieve their mandates. The agriculture universities are coming back home to the ministry where they will perform the roles they were statutorily set up to perform.

With appropriate support, they can contribute to the revival of Nigeria’s economy. The same applies to the various colleges of agriculture. The era of agricultural institutions focusing on unrelated disciplines is over! We will invigorate them and re-engage them in order to make them relevant to our policy directions aimed at feeding Nigeria and producing for exports. The scientists in these institutions should brace up for the demanding tasks ahead.

A major part of the deplorable history of Nigeria’s economic history is the alteration in government policies by successive government. We will not embark on policy somersault. It is not good for the economy and for the people. We will therefore not jettison the interventions that addressed the poor farmers in the past four years, but we will correct observable anomalies and loopholes that some unscrupulous Nigerians and their foreign collaborators have exploited to their selfish advantage.

We will fine-tune the Growth Enhancement Support scheme and the e-wallet system. Very soon, we will roll out this year’s interventions for the farmers. Let me, at this juncture, assure the input suppliers that were owed under the 2014 GES support that we are working on securing funds to pay them all on a pro-rata basis to ensure none is excluded. Very soon, they will have cause to smile.

The future of agriculture in Nigeria lies in the hands of the youth. But, they must first of all be encouraged to show interest in agriculture. We cannot afford to have Arab Spring re-enacted in Nigeria. We know how restless the youth can be. We have to help them get employed without hazards involved. We have to groom the new generation of agro-industrialists and agro-preneurs that will take over from us. The programme we are designing will capture many vibrant Nigerian youth and support them in agricultural enterprises cutting across various commodities and levels in value chains.

While grooming the young farmers, we will not displace the old farmers who constitute the majority of food producers in this country today. We will boost their production and at the same time support aspiring commercial farmers on small, medium and large scale. They will exist in a symbiotic relationship. In the peri-urban areas, we will set up agro-industrial parks at the outskirts of the cities.

We will transform the rural economy through our new programme called LIFE, an acronym for
Labour-Intensive Farming Enterprise. This, it is expected, will boost the economy and ensure inclusive growth in the rural areas, which have been neglected for long. None of these can be achieved without emphasis on value addition and engaging the rural communities and the women and youth have to come in. By adding values through processing and proper post-harvest handling, we can turn out massive amounts of exportables such as palm oil, palm kernel, palm kernel shell, cocoa (the production base of which will be expanded to 23 states), cashew, sesame, Gum Arabic, fruits, vegetables and honey.

All of these means re-designing our operational machineries, increase in farmers’ education (e.g. on soil types), re-establishment of the technical committee on fertiliser and making agriculture an all-year-round business. We need to develop our capacities for increased staple production towards self-sufficiency and import substitution in commodities such as rice, sugar, wheat, milk, tomato paste and fruit juice concentrates.

Agriculture is Nigeria’s past, and in agriculture is Nigeria’s future. Let us cooperate together to unlock the potential in agriculture for the common good of all”.
There is no doubt that the present administration is bent on making agriculture the bedrock of

Nigerian economy by making the country self-sufficient in food production, and using earning from food export to offset the country financial indebtedness.

Ayobolu, a public affairs analyst contributed this piece from Lagos State.

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