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Groups kick against Agric budget cut

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• Demand gender friendly policies to boost food production
Groups under the auspices of Small Scale Women Farmers Organization of Nigeria (SWOFON), and the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) have kicked against the downward review of the agriculture budget, as proposed by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to the National Assembly.

According to the groups, the reason for the proposed slash of the budget on agriculture was because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but maintained that the sector, if given appropriate allocation, would be a solution to the current economic downturn facing the nation.

The groups maintained that instead of cutting the budget, the government should prioritise the critical sectors that are necessary for the country’s economic rebound, by channelling funds to such sectors.

The National President, SWOFON, Mary Ishaya, during a virtual media briefing, recalled that Nigeria’s Agriculture Policy 2016-2020 provides for increased budget investment and political support for gender mainstreaming, and affirmative action in agriculture in the period 2018-2020.

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In addition, she said Nigeria is a signatory to the Maputo and Malabo Declarations and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme with commitments to dedicate not less than 10 per cent of the budget to agriculture.

Ishaya added that Nigeria is obliged to take steps, to the maximum of available resources, to guarantee freedom from hunger for citizens, to improve agricultural productivity as well as improve livelihoods.

She pointed out that between 2010 and 2020, Nigeria under-invested in agriculture and committed an average of 1.57 per cent of overall budget to the sector, while actual capital releases averaged 59.72 per cent.

Expressing SWOFON’s concern over the impact of the budget cut on its members, Ishaya said: “Our plea is for an increase in the allocation to agriculture to at least five per cent of the overall budget, which is 50 per cent of the Maputo commitment, and would amount to not less than N201.1billion, and if it’s not possible, then the original proposals in the 2020 budget for Agriculture must be protected.”

The group further argued that the 2020 Appropriation Act contained many vague and inappropriate budget line items with no clear deliverables, which need to be re-allocated to more pressing areas given the scarcity of resources.

Meanwhile, Lead Director, CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, said allocations to agriculture, education and health should not be reduced, rather, savings from reprogrammed funds should be dedicated to enhance their allocations.

He noted the need for a strategic targeting of women in agriculture through affirmative action programmes and special projects.

His words: “The budget should promote a commitment to equality of results for the male and female gender. Also, clear mandates supported by funds should be given to the research institutes under the Ministry of Agriculture.”

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“Selection of research subjects should be demand driven – on the request of farmers. The institutes should be mandated to find off-takers and farmers to use the findings of already concluded research. They should liaise and collaborate with local farmers.”

In her remarks, a SWOFON Coordinator, Chinasa Asonye, said it is very difficult for women farmers, especially those in the rural areas to access the interventions from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

She advised the government to liaise with the ministry of agriculture in disbursing the intervention funds if they truly want the funds to get to the small-scale farmers they were meant for.

“I have spoken to my women across the nation and none of them has accessed these CBN interventions. They are just giving the money to the big scale farmers.

“If they want the small holder farmers to access these agriculture loans, they should remove the bottlenecks policies and rigorous processes which makes it hard for small holder farmers to access these loans,” she said.

She also called on the National Assembly to reprioritize some of the expenditure items in the 2020 vote for agriculture to make them functional and specific to the needs of Nigerians, saying it is especially needed in agriculture constituency projects, while specific budget funded programmes and projects for women and youth must have locations, clear deliverables, must not be vague and should be tied to identifiable stakeholders. All these will facilitate monitoring and evaluation of agriculture spending.

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