Making agriculture work for Nigeria
Following the alarm raised by the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, the Federal Government has appropriately come out with a bold plan to boost food production towards the Sustainable Development Goal of achieving food security by the year 2030. However, it is important that all the factors in the food production chain are included in the planning and implementation.
The planned strategy is to assist states achieve self-sufficiency in some of the food crops in which demand surpasses local supply. Each participating state is to draw up a programme and submit proposals on how to end hunger in the state by selecting two crops and one livestock where the state has comparative advantage. These are supposed to have been submitted by road to the Committee on Zero Hunger Project for onward transmission to the President for approval. This project is supported by African Development Bank and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. It is intended for the programme to take off this first month of the year, 2017 and Benue, Ebonyi, Sokoto and Ogun have been selected for the first phase of the programme. The experience of the first batch will be of great help to other states who may join in the future. There are many questions arising from this announcement by government.
What are the existing state programmes on agriculture? Certainly the planners have incorporated the essential ingredients in the food processing chain: land preparation, planting, irrigation where necessary, harvesting, storage, distribution, processing and insurance cover. It is also the hope that the governor of each participating state is fully committed to the success of the initiative.
The local governments, however, have the greatest role to play. It is their function to have the statistics of agricultural produce in their domain. Unfortunately, the administrators in this tier of government are often handpicked by the state governors, thereby aborting democracy at the grassroots. As a result, the administrators abandon their statutory duties and rely on the state to carry out their functions. Hence, none of the administrators of the 774 Local Government areas has a plan for infrastructure in those areas. None can have since they take orders from the state capitals.
Yet, road administration in Nigeria identifies federal highways, state roads and local government routes. There are appropriate symbols for this classification. This applies for food production because the first routes for evacuation of farm produce are the low volume roads that are the responsibility of local governments. It was this recognition that led to the World Bank assisted Rural Access and Mobility Project whose conceptualisation dates back to 2003. Rural roads are essential for movement of produce from farms to market or processing point. This is an area that has occupied the attention of government for years; advising merging rural development with the Agriculture portfolio.
This new food security initiative, happily, has all the elements of RAMP. It, however, sounds good to announce the programme and to list steps to be taken by participating states but implementation is often the problem.
If it is assumed that the timing aims at readiness for the planting season which commences in the first quarter of each year, will the paper work sail through in good time? In a Critical Path Assessment, what are the deadlines towards successful take-off? The Nigerian experience provides ready reference for red alerts on this new programme. After several workshops and seminars since 2004, out of the six states selected for the first phase of RAMP, only Kaduna and Cross River has made strides. The minister, therefore, ought to be briefed about that programme for which states were selected on political considerations.
Agriculture is a local affair, demanding a bottom-up approach and taking due cognizance of the soil and crops that have thrived in these areas for ages. Considering the persistent thorny issue of land tenure despite the Land Use Act, how is the land for this scheme to be acquired? Are the local farmers, on their land, taken into consideration in this initiative? Will the resident farmers be invited to participate or does the state government intend to jump on land and allocate to “imported” farmers? The experience of Ebonyi, Kebbi and Lagos states in their programme for rice production in the immediate past year should be helpful.
It is good that government has recognised the critical state of food supply in the country and has teamed up with international agencies for a bold initiative. However, a comprehensive approach is needed so that there will be the supporting infrastructure, including electricity and the transportation necessary for the movement of produce from farm to markets and processing centres.