AGRA Interventions boost agric programmes in Niger, Kaduna
Despite the much-hyped efforts of government in improving agriculture, the national goal of reducing hunger and malnutrition is still a mirage. This is largely due to the growing population, pressure on available resources, lack of a robust mechanized farming system, and inadequate capacity building plans for farmers, among others.
These factors have actually brought to fore the importance of private sector involvement in agriculture, as the government has realised that truly, the sector cannot continue to survive without interventions to support farmers and of course, the need to expand the sector due to the consequence of reliance on mono-sectoral economy.
Although, there had been series of private sector interventions, the strategic partnership currently being experienced from the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), in the last two years, appears to be making a real impact as smallholder farmers have benefitted immensely from the exercise.
For instance, in the two states where it operates – Niger and Kaduna state, investigations showed that their interventions have been successful, as the collaboration with farmers has been strengthened across all facets of the enterprise. They are playing different roles including the comprehensive collaboration with the states, strengthening the capacity of farmers with emphasis on networking between actors and the farmers.
Currently, in Niger State, AGRA has built the capacity of over 167,000 farmers, coupled with the extension services; while in Kaduna State; the consortium project has reached over 280,000 farmers and implementation of multiple demonstration plots and demonstration activity. The Community Based Advisor’s (CBA) project in Kaduna has also reached about 208,000 farmers, with AFEX reaching over 89,000.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development, Niger State, Dr. Idris Gbogan, who disclosed that the state has never had a good agricultural policy in the past two decades, said AGRA has become a household name in the state, as it has attracted different research institutes, universities, among others to transform the fortune of the sector in the state.
He said: “There is a gap between the producers, processors and marketers. Part of the benefit we received from AGRA, is bringing these actors together so that the producers will know the demand before going into production. The off-takers know what they need and what they want the farmers to produce. This chain has been strengthened to a large extent by AGRA; we are trying to put this policy to scale up to other communities….
“Initially, farmers were getting between 1.5MT/ha-2.0MT/ha, but currently, farmers are able to realise up to 5.0MT/ha-7.0MT/ha, which is a great achievement. Even in terms of processing (value addition) for rice; before now the concentration has always been on production but over time, AGRA has built the capacity of processors to produce good quality rice, link them to off-takers and through this, farmers get the full income. Before now, their income was short-changed by middlemen.”
Gbogan revealed that the state is thinking of institutionalising the policies of AGRA, in terms of rice production interventions in the state, to ensure the sustainability of their work.
“AGRA has supported Niger State with a robust policy and development plans. We now have the state agricultural investment plan which has been signed by the Governor. We are also talking of capacity building, most of our units have had series of training from AGRA and unlike other partners, AGRA develops Community Based Facilitators who were identified to have the capacity through little training, they can assist extension workers by relaying information from farmers to them. Over time, we discovered that our farmers are free with each other; so farmers- to- farmers’ extension services are key in AGRA’s projects.”
Permanent Secretary, Kaduna State Ministry of Agriculture, Alhaji Sabiu Sani, said that quite a number of activities are being implemented in the state by AGRA. “I am aware of the one that has to do with soil-related activities, fertilizer system and it is specifically being handled by Professor Chude under the National Programmme on Food Security. I am aware also of the actions towards supporting the seed related issues impacting on seed companies, I am aware of the consortium project that is working on the value chain of maize, rice and soya bean, then there’s also the one that is related to this community-based advisors, that is, parallel extension network support and then creating market linkages and also there is capacity building for the ministry’s senior management staff.”
The State Commissioner for Agriculture, Hajia Halima Lawal, who said the transformation strategy at the Federal level on the sector has transcended to the state, revealed that smallholder farmers are now taking agriculture as a business.
She noted that the state involvement of the private sector, like AGRA in the activities of the sector, is bringing on financial institutions to support actors. “It has moved farmers closer to the market, improve the quality of products, we have engaged farmers and given them education even our research institute; another thing the government has done is to bring agriculture to the front burner and taking it as a business while encouraging participation of the youths. So, they have been successful to a large extent, but this is an ongoing process and we are very optimistic that it will get better.”
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Muazu Abdulkadir, who said AGRA is not only working with the ministry but also the sub-national governments, described the collaborations as successful.”
On ways to address obstacles militating against the elimination of hunger, Abdulkadir said there is a need to use agriculture-related value chains not only to improve and enhance agricultural production but also to stimulate business activities that will empower the people. “For instance, if you go to Kebbi and see the quantum of onions produced and calculate the quantity or percentage of that onion that is wasted after harvest, if you stimulate value chain business and processing activities around onion in Kebbi, you are not only empowering those who produce onions (which means they will have more to sell after harvest) but also, you are creating opportunities for many people to get jobs.”
Executive Director NAERLS, Prof. Emmanuel Ikani said at the institute’s level, in many decades they have not had it as good as what is being experienced with AGRA’s partnership.
“AGRA came and gave us specific tasks to do which is in line with our institute mandate; how to test run methodologies and technology dissemination. They gave us the support and funding and we engaged our staff. We handled two states; Kaduna and Niger states.”
Speaking on capacity of MSMEs involved in input and output markets, Ikani, said: “I think the Nigerian agricultural market is still not structured. There are some private companies that are coming up now but I think that now that there is an emphasis on value chain, the small stakeholders can engage in any of the value chains. The focus was formerly on production, now we are going down to processing and I think those are the areas the small scale businesses can operate.”