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Farmers, professionals seek policy coordination, cheaper loans as new minister assumes duties

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
26 August 2019   |   3:50 am
As the government reluctantly realises the inevitability of shifting the paradigm from the crude oil-based economy to a more diversified one, agriculture constantly comes to the radar as a sector having the most feasible potentialities for Nigeria.

As the government reluctantly realises the inevitability of shifting the paradigm from the crude oil-based economy to a more diversified one, agriculture constantly comes to the radar as a sector having the most feasible potentialities for Nigeria. The country has over 85 million arable hectares of land, a population of over 200 million people and rainfall patterns that are favourable to agriculture.

What are lacking, as experts have identified, are poor application of human and material resources to the sector, industrialization of agricultural products, meticulous policy implementation and national foresights.As the new minister assumes the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, farmers, industrialists and academics suggest he pay attention to agricultural financing, rural development, regionalization of crops for maximum advantages and industrialization of crops through off-taking arrangements. Also, he is urged to avoid controversial policies such as RUGA and implement cassava-flour-inclusion-in-wheat-flour policy emplaced by the penultimate minister of agriculture, Dr Akewumi Adesina.

Better coordination of programmes
There are different programmes in the agricultural sector, but they lack coordination. The Anchor Borrower’s scheme, the cassava value chain development, cash crop backward integration and the livestock subsectors, for instance, run separately. They all appear to lack coordination by the ministry. Therefore, stakeholders expect a more coordinated, synchronized and simplified agricultural policy with targets and deliverables.

Prof. Adebayo Kolawole, former Regional Coordinator of the Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA) projects, said: “I expect a clear and measurable set of agricultural programmes that the minister intends to use for driving the sector over the next four years. I expect better coordination among federal, state and local governments with respect to their interventions in the sector.

“I expect a conscious alignment of the agricultural institutions in the country to ensure that they complement each other in the attainment of the mandates. The minister is expected to give a focused leadership, hoping that will be evident as he settles down in office.”

A farmer and founder of JR Farms, Rotimi Olawale, said considering that Nigeria is entering its post-oil era, the pressure to diversify the economy is intense, and Nigerians are showing readiness to participate and invest in agribusinesses. “Therefore,” he added, “the incoming minister will have to turbo-charge the sector by facilitating extensive collaborations with the private sector to drive growth in the sector which will lead to increased food production, jobs and revenue.”

Market creation, cheaper credits to small-scale farmers
Small-scale farmers, cultivating from one to five hectares of farmland or rearing between 100 to 1000 birds; keeping one to 20 cattle, among others, constitute the largest percentage of the various categories of farmers in the country. Getting credit facilities is difficult for them because they usually have no collateral securities and other requirements by financial institutions. Again, their businesses cannot sustain an expensive cost of obtaining loans, usually at over 20 per cent interest rate. Hence, stakeholders advocate a financial and credit facility inclusion policy to help the small-scale farmers expand their business operations.

In addition, Dr Richardson Okechukwu, a cassava breeding scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), said: “The challenges in the sector are enormous, but the new minister should continue formulation and implementation of good policies to assist small-scale farmers to access inputs and good output markets.”

Creation of output markets is done if contract production is sealed between farmers and processors. Therefore, the government should make deliberate efforts to link farmers to industrial users using its policies. He also advocated support on cost-effective credit facilities and establish community-based shared processing facilities.

“He should support research institutes to empower the extension services department of the ministry with improved content and training, and enable the private sector to establish mechanisation rental services in each local government in Nigeria,” Okechukwu said. He equally canvassed support for livestock and fishery enterprises with improved breeds and low-cost feeds.

“The new executive should fight adulterated fertiliser and agro-chemicals, develop agricultural land that will allow mechanisation in the south by clearing and stumping and prioritise commodities to regions with comparative advantages,” he advised. 

Emphasising that Nigeria leads in the production of cassava, Dr Okechukwu advocated support and actualisation of the policy on inclusion of cassava flour in bread as a means of industrialisaion of the product and import substitution. This, he explained, would create jobs, stimulate productivity and increase the gross domestic product.

Vice Chancellor of the Federal university of Agriculture Abeokuta, (FUNAAB) Professor Kolawole Felix Salako, while calling attention to the university being under the ministry now, congratulated the new minister.“He is coming to a ministry with already laid-out agricultural policies which can adequately improve Nigerian agriculture if executed with vigour and patriotism by Nigerians, not the minister alone,” Salako said. 

Engaging the farmers
Engagement of farmers is necessary for the success of agricultural policies. Extension services are needed to get them engaged. Therefore, the government should invigorate the agricultural extension service system to carry farmers along about new farm technologies, improved seeds, good agricultural practices, government policies and opportunities for them in the policy directions of the government.

President of the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Ibrahim Kabir, said the new minister should engage the farmers more and diligently, and execute the charter of his office to sustainably consolidate the gains of the Agriculture Promotion Policy (Green Alternative).He should also engage the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), he added, as well as the Ministry of Trade and Investment to create synergy to make agriculture the mainstay of the economy.

Risk mitigation
Risks pose dangers to capital and return on investments if not mitigated. Agriculture is a high-risk business because of pests, natural disasters and other uncertainties. Therefore, capital investments in the sector should be protected by all means. Ayoola Fotana, Head, Agric and Micro Insurance at Leadway Assurance, said for every policy or programme that the minister and his team would formulate for the sector, they must have a robust risk management component driven by innovative insurance solutions to ensure the sustainability of such a programme.

He said that would cushion negative effects of natural disasters and uncertainties in the sector and prevent economic wastes.For instance, Fatona explained, an insurance cover at the national level might be purchased for famers to cover catastrophic flooding risks which have become a perennial occurrence in the country for the past four years.“This will eliminate the usual ad hoc assistance by the Federal Government whenever there is catastrophic flooding of farms in the country,” he added.

Mechanisation of agriculture
Mechanisation in agriculture in Nigeria is still a problem. Most farmers still use inefficient means of land preparation, planting and weed management such as hoes, cutlasses and manual weeding devices.Tractors are mounted with various farm implements for land preparation, planting, spraying of herbicides and insecticides, and harvesting. For instance, a cassava or maize farm can be cultivated using a ridger, a planter, a boom sprayer and a harvester.

Using the modern mechanical devices enables farmers to cultivate larger hectares of farmland more economically. It also has the potential to make farmers become commercial producers and Nigeria food-secure if adequate investments are made in acquiring tractors and modern farm implements. Fotona said “the cost of land clearing remains a financial burden on the farmer, which makes his profit margin very thin and minimal. A mechanisation programme that is robust and cheap should be formulated and implemented for the benefit of all categories of farmers playing in the production value chain.”

Pitching its tent with Fatona, Ayoola Oluga, Managing Director of Agrecourse, a farm crowdfunding firm, said: “In my view, the incoming minister of agriculture should encourage the adoption and application of innovations to agriculture to make the sector more competitive and sustainable.”If improved systems are introduced, Oluga believed, food production may just keep pace with the population growth being experienced, thereby ensuring food security.

“The government needs to make policies that will discourage imports and encourage exportation,” he added.Technology-driven initiatives should be deployed in the sub-sectors of agriculture to ensure timely, efficient and effective service delivery of all programmes, they argued.Professor Salako said: “I hold the view that when we strengthen existing structures with necessary modifications to conform with emerging trends, we will build institutions that are stronger and better.

“Reinventing the wheel on agricultural policies, and indeed, many other sectors of the economy, appears to me the reason many institutions are weak. “Note that I did not mean there must not be innovations, or necessary changes in units of any ministry, but we must stop throwing away the baby with the bath water if we want to strengthen our institutions. I believe if the enabling environment is there for those who will implement our agricultural policies with patriotism, the minister shall have to his credit a very significant contribution to a better Nigeria.”

Chairman of Agric Group, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Africanfarmer Magaji, advised the new minister to implement existing policies and projects. “So, the minister has to focus on the youth, and not another giant youth programme. Asia did not develop on all mega facilities and projects, but they focused on small and medium enterprises,” he said.