The systemic revolution in the agriculture sector By Jide Ayobolu

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The federal government has reportedly banned the open grazing of cattle in the country.

The ban is coming days after suspected herdsmen attacked two communities in Benue state.

The decision to ban the group was reached after a meeting of a federal government delegation, security agencies and five governors. Samuel Ortorm, Benue state governor, was said to have made the decision known in a communique issued after the meeting.

“The meeting noted that all animal farmers must ranch their cattle and livestock for better productivity. It also observed the existing synergy between the security agencies and between the states and the Federal Government,” Ortom was quoted as saying.

The closed-door meeting, which lasted for hours, was attended by the governors of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Niger and Taraba states, and heads of security agencies. Ortom also said it was agreed at the meeting that Nigerians should desist from hate speeches that were fuelling the crisis.

He urged Nigerians to see it as a national challenge that demanded the efforts of all to be checked. “As you can see all the governors of the states where we have the most challenging security problem are here,” Ortom said.

“We have dialogued; we have looked at the problem with the security chiefs and appreciated each other.

“One thing that is central is that we have agreed that killing in any form is not allowed; security men must apprehend and prosecute those responsible.

“There is no point politicising these killings; it is the responsibility of all Nigerians to eliminate the criminality that is resulting in the killings.” Audu Ogbeh, minister of agriculture, has said the federal government will establish cattle colonies across the country to curb increasing cases of clashes between farmers and herdsmen.

“We want to handle the issue of cattle rearing and crisis between farmers and herdsmen and actually bring it to a halt. “I know that some people argued that open grazing is our culture, once a culture begins to develop very dangerous trends, leading to warfare between people, bloody clashes and death, that culture is due for re-examination.

“A culture must not be left because it is a culture, if it is harmful, we reform it.

“We are talking of cattle colonies, not ranches. We are talking of massive cattle breed improvement through artificial insemination, we have to start immediately.

“Sixteen states have given us land to work on, the programme is not going to be cheap but Mr President has personally informed me that if we seek help from him, he will give it to us over and above the budget we have.

“In our interactions with the herdsmen, they always say that if we have water and grass, we will not move anywhere” – Chief Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Besides, The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, recently, said that Nigeria earned $ 31 m from the sale of purple hibiscus , popularly known as zobo leaves , in the last one year. Ogbeh also said the Federal Government would also engage in establishing both cashew and cocoa plantations to boost production and export in 2018.

The minister mentioned that fertilizer blending would also be improved to accommodate micronutrients in the product. Ogbeh said the government would also work to ensure quality control of produce both for export and local consumption.

He said, “We are exporting more than we are importing now and most exportation is agro- products. “We are growing in agriculture and from the middle of this year; whoever chooses to eat Thailand rice is welcomed to pay duties.

“We shall impose duties on it because we consider it a wasteful luxury and something this country can ’t afford .

“There are about 12 .2 million members of the Rice Growers Association; we have created more jobs than we have lost.

Furthermore, The Technical Committee on Nigeria Yam Export Programme says it is targeting the export of about 480 tonnes of yams per month in 2018. According to the committee, the United States has already requested for the supply of five containers monthly, which amounted to 120 tonnes of yams monthly and 1,440 tonnes of yams in a year.

The Chairman of the committee, Prof. Simon Irtwange, on Monday in Abuja said that the target would be achieved if all the challenges, which yam exporters experienced in 2017, were surmounted.

He said, “If everything works out well, the U.S. authorities say they will need about five containers every month and one container contains 24 tonnes of yams. “We are trying to aggregate the demand from other countries; so by the time we put everything together, we should be thinking of exporting about 20 containers of yams on a monthly basis.

“When you multiply 20 by 24, the total is 480 tonnes of yams. “We have a work plan and we have a lot of activities that we have already pencilled down.

“We are working with relevant government agencies to provide the necessary support for the programme,’’ he said. Irtwange said that the Nigerian Ports Authority had made available the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal to facilitate the packaging and movement of yams meant for export.

He said that the committee was also working with the NPA to get people who would invest in constructing yam pack houses at the terminal.

“The NPA has already given us the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal, where we can bring our yams and do all the packaging before moving them down to the ports.

“That way, we will avoid the gridlock in Apapa because now, we are using batches to move the yams from Ikorodu to Apapa,’’ he added.

On the challenges which yam exporters encountered in 2017, Irtwange said that the committee had forwarded a report to the Federal Government on possible ways of tackling the perceptible hitches.

“On the issue of transportation, we need cold trucks; we also need yam conditioning centres.

“Presently, there is only one conditioning centre owned by the Nigeria Export Promotion Council in Zaki-Ibiam, Benue State, but that is not enough, we need more.

“On the issues of packaging and production of cartons for the yams, we are also hoping to have local investors. “Right now, there are only two companies that can do this for us — an Indian company in Ibadan and a Chinese company in Lagos — and the problem is that in most cases, they don’t take orders for little quantities of cartons for production.

“A container will take about 1,200 cartons and when you go to the companies for the production of 1,200 cartons, they will say it is too small. “We are also thinking that if there are people that can produce the cartons in small quantities, things will be okay. We want to get those who can produce small quantities of cartons for sale to yam exporters,’’ he added.

Again, Nigeria has saved over N216 billion from the importation of rice alone from Thailand and other countries since the nation’s domestic mass production flooded the markets under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP). Prince Niyi Akenzua, the Executive Director, Risk Management and Finance, Bank of Agriculture (BOA) disclosed recently in Ibadan when he visited Gov. Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Akenzua had led some other officials of the bank on the visit to the state. He said that the figure represented a fraction of a staggering $22 billion (N7.92trillion) spent on importation of foods into the country annually prior to the advent of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. Akenzua said it was worthy of commendation that the country had committed itself to diversifying from oil economy, with emphasis on revitalization of agriculture.

He said he had embarked on advocacy visit around the country to enlist the support and involvement of state governments in ABP, which freed the country from reliance on importation of rice.

“We enjoin Oyo State to participate in the ABP as we have remodeled the programme to expand the scope of beneficiaries. “The pilot scheme was so successful that $600m was saved from rice importation due to massive rice production in the country. “One or two rice millers in Thailand have closed down because Nigeria, which has always been their major importer, has stopped importing their rice. “We used to spend $22 billion importing food into Nigeria and with our consciousness that every square meter in the country is arable land. We felt that it was not sustainable. Of course, the crash in crude oil price has forced us back to agriculture,’’ he said.

Akenzua said that the state could choose a particular crop to produce under the programme, with a promise to co-fund or fund the production of such crop. Ajimobi in his remarks commended the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh for the positive changes he had brought into the agriculture sector since he assumed duties at the ministry. The governor stated that the fundamental problem besetting the country was attitudinal, stressing that the country was not bereft of knowledge, policies and programmes capable of enhancing its economy. Ajimobi said that the state was supposed to be the food basket of the nation if past leaders had seen agriculture as a major solution to unemployment, hunger and economic driver.

According to him, the state is in good stead to be a major agric hub, judging by the concentration of reputable research institutions in the state and its vast arable land. “The state is also strategically located between Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of the country and the North among other comparative advantages.” He advised the new management of BOA to do all that is humanly possible to sustain the momentum in its renewed drive to revitalize the agriculture sector. “You need to change the attitude of our people so they will know that there is money in agriculture. “We are in this sorry state today because of bureaucracy and lack of sustenance of past agric policies. What has happened to Operation Feed the Nation? “Don’t just talk the talk, walk the talk. In the past, some people will just give loans to themselves, which they knew they would not recover and this had crippled the bank.”

The governor stated that the state was ready to take advantage of all opportunities available in agriculture to promote the standard of living of its people. The governor promised to lead by example by also venturing into commercial agriculture, urging the BOA team to advise him on how he could go about obtaining a loan for the purpose.

The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, recently in Dutse assured Nigerians that the Federal Government is poised to satisfy the citizens with fresh massive production of rice within one year as part of efforts designed to discourage the importation of the commodity. Also, he stated that as part of its programme to encourage state governors to key into the massive production of rice, Jigawa state government will contribute over 1.2 million metric tons of the products. Ogbeh, who alongside the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, and the chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on Rice and Wheat Production who is also the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, and the host governor, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, who were in the Auyo Local Government Area on a tour of the massive rice farm, declared that within the next one year, a grain of rice will no longer be imported from abroad.

According to him, “when we told Nigerians about two months ago that in another one year, there will be no need for a grain of rice to be imported from outside, some people did not believe us, but you can see now that in Auyo here in Jigawa State, you can see massive rice fields that can produce between 1.2 million metric tons and 1.5 million metric tons of rice“. This is just one out of the 27 local government areas in Jigawa State. As such, every Nigerian will see season fresh rice to eat, not rice stored in seven years in silos in foreign countries.

“There is no better way of developing our rural people.

There is no need for us to continue to import expired rice from other countries because when we initiated the programme, it was greeted with criticism. As you can see today, our farmers will be heroes and that is the change mantra the Buhari-led administration is determined to achieve.”

He, however, stated that, “the rice farmers who were neglected by successive governments are now well positioned to become major contributors to national economy. President Buhari told us to produce food, we are producing the food. “The governors are taking the lead of encouraging rice farmers in their respective states to embrace the cultivation and production of rice in commercial quantities. Nigeria will soon become a major rice exporter. “We are working hard in this direction and we are sure that we will achieve this dream in no distant time. Very soon, many states across the country will commence the distribution of rice mills to farmers. My ministry is working on this because we want to ensure that milling of rice will not be a problem, harvesting the rice will not also be a problem; as such, Nigeria will become a rice power where from there, we will move to maize, soya beans and others.”

Furthermore, Olam Farm, has affirmed its determination to scale up local production of paddy rice to over 40,000 metric tonnes annually. Project Coordinator, Olam Rice Farm, Mahesh Nimje, disclosed this at Rukubi in Nassarawa State on the increased yield of 2017 harvest. He said the target was to produce over 10 metric tons per hectare in two-circle of annual crop. Nimje explained that his company has unflinching commitment to contribute to government’s target for self-sufficiency in local rice production, adding that it has increased its farm’s hectare under cultivation from 3,800 -4,500 hectares.

He also disclosed that the company plans was to cultivate 13,500 hectares by 2018, as part of its efforts to boost local production of the food crop. He said the management of Olam intends to increase growth in its production capacity, adding that they also plan to increase the number of farmers in its out grower scheme from the initial 3000 to 5000, to cultivate a total of 5500 hectares of farm through the Anchor Borrower Scheme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the International Fund for Agriculture Value Chain programme. To bridge the current gap in rice demand in the country, the company’s project coordinator said about 6 million metric tonnes will be needed, while supply is projected to be 3.5 million mt, thus leaving a demand/supply gap of 2.5 million metric tons. “Olams farms have declared that its investment profile in Nigeria was poised to bringing the needed succour in rice value chain. “We are also optimistic that with the 2016 bumper harvest in our Rukubi farm, Nigeria is close to achieving its target of self-sufficient in rice production soon,” he said.

However, the company’s project director urged the government to increase access to finance for farmers, while also encouraging foreign direct investment, especially in the areas of agriculture. It would be recalled that the government had introduced several policies and measures meant to encourage and upscale in local rice production. This includes the Anchor Borrower Scheme of the CBN and the ban on rice importation.

It is important to note that, the immediate past the minister of agriculture and now the President of African Development Bank (ADB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina lamented that, Nigeria spends over N356 billion yearly on the importation of rice, similarly, Nigeria spends over N100 billion annually to import fish. And, the country spends N1.6 trillion on the importation of wheat, sugar, rice and fish on a yearly basis. The former minister also regretted that, Nigeria has the third absolute number of stunted children in the world with 41 per cent of children under age of five stunted, 23 per cent under-weight and 14 per cent wasted. Also, he said, Nigeria’s import and export ratio has remained at 92 per cent import and 8 per dent export. It for this reason that President Buhari said recently in an economic retreat, as it relates to agriculture that, it has been neglected over the years, and veritable government intervention is required in the crucial sector, that if carefully managed, can lead to self-sufficiency in food production, solve the problem of mass unemployment, increase the country’s foreign earnings, and grow our per capita income. In his words, he stated that, “for too long government policies on agriculture have been half-hearted, suffering from inconsistencies. Yet our real wealth is in farming, livestock, hatcheries, fishery, horticulture and forestry”. He further explained the some of the challenges in the sector, such as rising cost of food, lack of agricultural inputs at affordable prices, high cost of fertilizers, pesticides and labour compound the problem of extension services, import of food items that can be easily produced locally, wastages because of the absence of adequate storage facilities as well as lack of feeder rods to transport foods produced in rural areas to urban centres, just to mention but a few of the difficulties encountered in the sector. He also said that, in solving the problem the public must be carried along and educated about the plans of government so that, they can key into it and benefit maximally from it, in addition, he reasoned that, there must be close working relationship between the federal government and the state governments, to really boost agriculture and solve some of the problems in the sector, for example, the massive availability of feeder roads to make transportation of food from the country-sides to the city centers less cumbersome, there should also be the availability of soft loans to farmers with the CBN bearing some of the risk as well as the exigent need intermittent stakeholders meeting on how to move the sector forward. Agriculture in Nigeria is one area that can turn the fortunes, destiny, direction and dynamics of this great country around for the very best with the shortest space of time. It is also important to note that, President Buhari has said that the Federal Government is making efforts to ensure that Agriculture becomes more attractive to foreign investors. He made this assurance while speaking on the theme of the 8th annual Bola Tinubu Colloquium “Agriculture, work and revolution” at the International Conference Centre, ICC, Abuja. The President, who chaired the event stated that there were many opportunities in the agricultural sector and expressed his disappointment at the fact that food is imported into the country rather than being exported. According to the president, “Nearly all our crop-based farming activities are dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and this makes our agricultural productivity entirely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In the past few years, on the average, we have spent in excess of $11bn annually importing wheat, rice, sugar and fish. We need not, and indeed we cannot afford to continue on this trajectory”. He added, “Agriculture is the key to our economic growth and social investment policies. Our administration’s key strategy is to ensure that Nigeria becomes self- sufficient in the foods that we consume the most. Maize, rice, corn, millets, fruits, poultry products and their derivatives can all be produced at home if we put our hearts into it. Our policy is simple: We will produce what we eat! It is not only logical, it is necessary.” He then implored everyone to work together thus: “I am declaring that we need a new approach that challenges more states and local governments, more organizations, companies and non-governmental organizations and individuals, some of the younger people, who are here to step up and play a role because government cannot and should not do it alone. All hands should be on deck.”

Recently the federal government approved the implementation of the “Green Alternative’’, a road map towards diversifying Nigeria’s economy. The Minister of Agriculture, Mr Audu Ogbeh, made this known on recently in Abuja while briefing State House correspondents at the end of the Council’s meeting, which was presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari. Ogbeh stated that the policy objective of the document, which has a four-year implementation period (2016 to 2020), is to make agriculture the biggest alternative to oil and gas business in the bid to diversify the economy. In his words, “We have just concluded a (Federal Executive) Council meeting in which two issues were discussed. One is the roadmap for agricultural operations in the next three years which we presented to council, today. It outlines our policy and our objectives in trying to see agriculture as the next and biggest alternative in our drive to diversify the economy of this country. The document is titled, “The Green Alternative’’ and it outlines virtually everything we need to do, every policy we need to undertake to achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture and also to become a major exporter of agricultural products, a situation we occupied many decades ago.’’ He said government was aware of the sufferings of many families caused by food shortage. Ogbeh, however, stated that government is working hard to reverse the situation through the implementation of various agricultural programmes.

He remarked that, “We are working hard on the staples to satisfy local production and we are fully aware that there is a major concern in the country for food self-sufficiency and that there is crisis in many families as a result of serious shortage of food.

“But we are working hard ‎and thank God that ours has not become as bad as one South American country, which was also a major oil producing country, by that I mean Venezuela which situation is definitely a 100 times worse than ours.

“But the point is that where we are going –we believe that in a short while, (another year and half in the maximum) we should be reasonably self-sufficient in grains like rice, maize (and) beans. We may not achieve everything in wheat but we will be very close to our targets. Other things are also there in the roadmap, it’s quite a voluminous document but that is briefly what the council has endorsed.’’

It is therefore incumbent upon the government to ensure that this programme those not go the way of the ones before it.

President Buhari has reiterated that with declining revenues from crude oil exports, Nigeria’s hopes of economic resurgence now lie in the rapid development of its immense agricultural and solid mineral resources.

He said that Nigeria had regrettably depended too much on crude oil exports to the neglect of other resources and was now paying a harsh price for failing to diversify its economy early enough.

The president also explained that, “With the downturn in the global prices of oil, we now have to exploit our agricultural potentials”. We have to return to agriculture.

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

 

 

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