Real agriculture-based diversification yet to take-off
Stakeholders Lament Tough Business Climate
It is already 12 calendar months, and the onset of the second harvest season (depending on what crop) and the start of another planting season, since the President Buhari administration mounted the saddle.
From the farmers, there are mixed tales, but largely of restricted activities and consumers have been left behind, unable to catch up with galloping prices of food. Inflation, now at 12.8 per cent in April, according to Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, has shrunk whatever was left of disposable income.
Matters have not been made any easier by the late approval of the budget, and the paltry 1.25 per cent slice allocated to the sector, amounting to only N47b for capital expenditure.
Even at that, Dr. Olu Odeyemi, professor of Microbiology at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife and Chief Consultant, Enpost Farms is of the opinion that the President means well for the country and agriculture. He is on the starting block, he infers.
Odeyemi said the President has one thing going for him, which is that Nigerians believe and trust him, adding that it is also a disadvantage because he has not got many people on board to help him.
“He needs more human resources because Nigeria is a massive, huge and complex nation, with a lot of crisis. He needs it, perhaps by the way of setting up active committees. Technocrats are needed to help in the various areas.”
Odeyemi argued that although corruption, which is also affecting agriculture, is being tackled and given attention, the President should not dwell there; the nation has to move faster in other areas.
“The Minister of Agriculture has been talking a lot, and in the right direction, but this has to be matched with action. For instance, how many people has he brought on board as professionals? The country has over 50 agriculturally based institutions and the same number of faculties of Agriculture in higher institutions.
“There is the need to bring these professionals together to proffer solutions to the numerous challenges, while making them part of the solution team. It is not what one man can do. Nigerians need a lot food and want it quickly, as food prices are so high and people are starving, as it were,” he said.
According to Odeyemi, the other side of the challenge is that Nigeria is going through a period of transition; people believe they can get a lot of money through oil, which is like free money. He said government must ensure that the nation transits from oil money to a state, where the money has to be properly earned to raise the GDP, and agriculture is the way.
The place of technology in today’s agriculture continues to be in the front burner, as it guarantees the reduction of drudgery in farm operations, while making it attractive to youths.
Odeyemi affirmed modern agriculture cannot be done the old fashioned way because there are technologies waiting to be tapped from the research institutes, universities and polytechnics.
“They should be harnessed to ensure food security in the country as these would improve the land area cultivated, quantities harvested and better postharvest processing.
“Nigeria cannot afford to be losing as much as 40 per cent of our produce to spoilage caused by inadequate technology, pests and harmful microorganisms, fungi especially,” the Environmental microbiologist said.
Another stakeholder, Dr. Victor Oduguwa, Ogun State based poultry egg producer, said this has been a challenging year, without doubt. The high cost of sourcing the dollar has impacted adversely on cost of product, he said, especially for those things that are still imported.
“People in the sub-sector expect some concessions in things like additives and the like, but that did not happen.”
However, he said much should not be expected of this government in the first year, adding that there is yet hope for better deal.
Mr. Amalu Chuka, an executive of Commercial Agriculture Development Programme (CADP), in Enugu State said he would rather take a viewpoint from the state level.
From that perspective, he commends Enugu State Government for what has been achieved in the first year. “As at today, work is going on in the three geographical centres of the State – Enugu north, West and East, where aggregation centres are being built for storage of grains and other agricultural produce,” he said.
He added; “Coming to other agricultural value chains, through the intervention of CADP, which is World Bank Assisted, and partly assisted by the State government, two hatcheries have been established for the production of Day old chicks (D.O.C).
As a result of these strides, Chuka revealed that the State is now ranking fourth in poultry production, all powered in two years. Accordingly, this has reduced the cost of Day old chicks (D.O.Cs) and the risk of traveling to Ibadan and Lagos in search of the baby birds has been greatly cut down, he narrated with satisfaction.
Formerly, Chuka said it used to sell for N250 per D.O.C in the past, but presently, it can bought at N180 each.
Wilfred Ifeanyi Okonkwo, professor of Agricultural and Bio-resources Engineering at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka told The Guardian government should walk the talk.
“So far, there appears to be more of talking than action from the Federal Government. It is clear that millions of youths are without jobs and the N5,000 per month per youth that could not hold should be used for their empowerment. The result would be more enduring and dividend very clear,” he said.
On a broader basis, Okonkwo said agriculture should be everybody’s affair as one does not have to go the market for every food purchase.
“People could run small backyard gardens to grow vegetables and even some tubers; this will reduce the pressure on families, instead of waiting on government for every item,” the don said.
He argued that the culture of individuals, families, schools and even corporate bodies growing food has been abandoned nationwide and result is lower food output, increased demand for scarce produce and rise in food prices.
In spite of the challenges facing the nation, he said the government should take this opportunity to lay a very strong foundation for what it wants done in the sector, so that the system can bear the weight of super-structures in years ahead.
The OAU Microbiology professor said the time to depend on rain fed agriculture to feed 170 million is past because rain patterns have changed and cannot be relied on.
“Proper irrigation will give us food all the year round. We can truly grow our own rice and other staples to enhance food security, instead of spending huge sums importing what is not sustainable.”
On cassava, he said as the world largest producer, we should get back to the trade understanding we had with some countries in the past, like China, where the crop is used for feed. If the youths know there is income to be earned exporting food, they would be in agriculture.
He said Nigeria should revive crop lines of the past like oil palm, cocoa and groundnut. There is locally developed and internationally acclaimed, rhizobium fertilizer (bio-fertilizer), which can double the yield of cowpea, soybean, and groundnut during the planting season. The groundnut pyramid can still be brought back; some farmers in the north have deployed the bio-fertilizer to their crops this planting season.
Use of Grass in feeding cattle
Against the backdrop of the FG plan to import grass seedlings, Odeyemi said it is not nutritionally profitable to depend entirely on grass to feed cattle because it contains only two per cent protein. “There is pasture legumes available and grows freely in the south and some northern parts of the country, and it contains 25 per cent protein compared to two per cent in grass.
“On grass alone, the animal cannot attain the right weight and meat quality would be left in doubt.”
He said the Agriculture Ministry has been communicated on 10 different pasture legumes in the country that can be used for cattle to increase meat and milk yield.
The OAU-National Merit science award winner added that the growing of these legumes also fertilizes the soil naturally, to the point that maize planted on the soil from where the legumes have been harvested does not need fertilizer that season.
This is the science behind crop rotation that has been taught in primary school in days gone and remains true today, he said.
Odeyemi affirmed that the country has sufficient manpower to bring the country to where it should be, adding that only politicians cannot govern this country; all hands must be on deck to work and move the country forward.